BY: Annie Cooper Perry and Robert J. Perry
For The Tuscumbian
The Walk of Life is a memorial to the Southeastern Indians that were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands to Indian Territory in the 1830’s.They were transported by steam boat and keel boats from Tuscumbia Landing, Alabama to Indian Territory. To those Indians heading toward the west, the setting sun; this was a symbolic path to their final resting place – Death. These Indians gave up everything to move to an unknown land. Many died along the way.
The town of Tuscumbia was named for a Chickasaw Chief and the lands use to belong to the Chickasaw Nation. What is unique about Tuscumbia and those migrations is that the Town residents provided for the food, clothing, and supply needs of the migrants. To make the present day event more uplifting, symbolically the walk must go in the opposite direction of Death; e.g. it must go toward the Rising Sun or Life. It is a prayerful journey done in silence but ends at a place of festival and joy. The Walk of Life begins at the Tuscumbia Landing in Sheffield, Alabama. The Participants walk 2.2 miles to the east and end up at the Oka Kapassa Festival in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Oka Kapassa means “Cold Water” in the Chickasaw language.
The Tennessee Valley was one of three principal areas of settlements in the original frontier.
Tuscumbia Landing in those days was a portal that led into the Old Wild West, the one that ended at the Mississippi River. Tuscumbia was a frontier town that became one of the first commercial distribution points by its location near Muscle Shoals. Because boats couldn’t pass the rocks and whirlpools of Muscle Shoals, the first railroad west of the Appalachian Mountains was built in 1833. Boats from Chattanooga were unloaded at Decatur and the railroad carried freight to the steamboats at Tuscumbia Landing that traversed the Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers. The tribes that were transported from Tuscumbia Landing were the Creek, the Cherokee, and Chickasaws. In 1993, Tuscumbia Landing was listed in the National Register of Historical Places and it is also listed in the National Historic Trails System. The National Park Service is nearing completion of a conceptual design for Tuscumbia Landing. This design not only focuses on the forced removal but also on the joyful return of the American Indians to Southeast USA, their former home. Aaron Mahr of the National Trail Service stated that “one could not think of Tuscumbia Landing without thinking about the return walk”. For the many tribal people who return each year, Tuscumbia Landing is now the portal for the Return.
The Walk of Life is held each year in September during the Oka Kapassa Festival and has become a signature event; everyone is invited to participate in this memorial and celebration.
For more information, call Annie Cooper Perry at 256-381-0700.
Photography by Mary Carton at RosedaleGardens. Photos may not be used without her permission.