Bainbridge Ferry, Cape Girardeau County, Missouri
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.