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Bainbridge Ferry, Cape Girardeau County, Missouri


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Bainbridge Ferry
Image from file

Bainbridge Ferry

The Bainbridge Ferry, in Cape Girardeau County, Missouri, is the location where thousands of people from the Cherokee Nation were transported across the Mississippi River from November 1837 and January 1839, during the Cherokee Trail of Tears. The Cherokee Trail of Tears encompasses the time when the federal government removed 17,000 people from the Cherokee Nation to the newly created Indian Territory, now the State of Oklahoma. The Cherokee were removed from their native lands located in Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, and Tennessee after the Treaty of New Echota, signed in December 1835.

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Diagram of ferry boat: Bainbridge Ferry
Image from file

Several groups of Cherokee left voluntarily in 1837 including the party of Cherokee led by Lt. B.B. Cannon.  This group contained some 365 Cherokee and they began their journey west from Tennessee in October of 1837. Their decision to take a route northwest through Nashville, Tennessee, Kentucky, and on into Illinois and central Missouri was an effort to bypass the poor roads and swamps of Arkansas and southeast Missouri. This route also allowed the party to utilize the Golconda-Hamburg Landing Road which was a popular route through southern Illinois.  This road terminated west of Jonesboro, Illinois at two ferry sites: the Hamburg Landing/Bainbridge Ferry crossing; and the Willard Landing/Green’s Ferry crossing. The volume of pedestrian traffic and wagon traffic moving west on the Golconda-Hamburg Landing Road led to the establishment of several ferries along a two mile stretch of the Mississippi River. Licenses were granted to ferry operators in both Missouri and Illinois for the right to transport people, livestock, and wagons across the river. By the 1810s there were two ferries which were in operation at both the Green’s Ferry site and the Bainbridge Ferry site. The earliest ferry known to exist at Bainbridge was established by Medad Randol around 1805. He owned this site until 1826 when he and other investors were sued and two tracts containing 160 acres were purchased by Johnson Ranney.  From then on the ownership frequently changed hands.

 


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Map of paths for Trail of Tears
Click image for larger version
Image from TwHP Lesson Plan

The Lt. B.B. Cannon parties were the first group of Cherokee to use the Bainbridge Ferry. The ferry would then have been operated by Jacob Littleton and the Cannon party reached the Hamburg Landing on November 12th.  According to cannon’s journal, his party began crossing the river at 11:00 A.M. and continued ferrying across to Bainbridge until 5:00 P.M. The next day the crossing continued but was suspended due to high winds.  The Cannon party completed their crossing of the river on November 14th and camped later that day five miles west towards Jackson.
The next parties were Cherokee who left from two Tennessee depots (where they were temporarily housed) following the route taken by the Cannon party, now referred to as the “Northern Route.” The Northern Route was taken by 11,600 Cherokee dispersed among 11 detachments.  After passing through Nashville, Tennessee, the Cherokee crossed the Ohio River at Golconda and proceeded west towards Hamburg Landing. The first two detachments crossed the Mississippi River in late November.  The remaining detachments arrived at the Mississippi River in December to find the river clogged with ice due to freezing temperatures in the upper Midwest. The presence of so much ice prohibited the use of the ferries and as a result, over 8,000 Cherokee were forced to camp for several weeks in southern Illinois while waiting for the river to clear. It was within the camps in southern Illinois in December and January that many deaths among the Cherokee occurred.  The Mississippi River was finally clear of ice in late January and the ferries resumed operations. It was unclear how many crossed at the Bainbridge Ferry versus Green’s Ferry.  The ferries at both these locations would run continuously for several weeks to transport the thousands of Cherokee across the river. The last detachment of Cherokee crossed the Mississippi River in February of 1839. From here they made their way through central Missouri before turning southward and passing through northwest Arkansas into Indian Territory.

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Bainbridge Ferry
Image from file

Bainbridge was established in the early 1880s as an important ferry crossing the Mississippi River. During the 19th century the community contained numerous dwellings and associated outbuildings.  By the early 20th century, Bainbridge was no longer an active ferry site and the community dwindled to only a half-dozen homes.  Today, only one dwelling remains extant at Bainbridge.
Today the ferry site defined as a rectangular parcel consisting of 1.3 acres.  The Bainbridge Ferry was originally on the western shoreline of the Mississippi River during much of the 19th century.  During the early 20th century, additional land built up on the western bank of the river and the ferry site in now 0.3 miles inland from the present river bed.  The 19th century shoreline of the river adjacent to the ferry remains visible as a series of small lakes and a watercourse which flows south into the river.  The 19th century shoreline is also defined by a mature row of deciduous trees.  The ferry site now consists of cultivated fields and is bounded on the north by a small lake, on the east by the original shoreline outlined by a watercourse, lake, and tree line, on the south by an imaginary line extending through a cultivated field, and on the west by the right-of-way of the Burlington Northern Railroad.

In August 1839, John Ross was elected Principal Chief of the reconstituted Cherokee Nation. Tahlequah, Oklahoma was its capital. It remains tribal headquarters for the Cherokee Nation today.
About 1,000 Cherokees in Tennessee and North Carolina escaped the roundup. They gained recognition in 1866, establishing their tribal government in 1868 in Cherokee, North Carolina. Today, they are known as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Due to its historic association with the Cherokee Trail of Tears of 1837-1839, the Bainbridge Ferry was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on June 21, 2007.

Learn More:
Teaching with Historic Places lesson plan: The Trail of Tears and the Forced Relocation of the Cherokee Nation

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail

Read the full file.

 

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