By Christy Porter
A group of Native American horse back riders with the Ride for Missions, a nonprofit organization, came through Licking Sept. 28 – Oct. 1. They are riding the Trail of Tears route to raise funds for the youth, mainly male, of the White Mountain Apache in Arizona and the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. This venture is a joint effort between several tribes.
This mission trip began Sept. 10 at Tahlequah, Okla. and they plan to arrive at Cherokee, N. Carolina on Nov. 10. Their trip direction is the opposite of the infamous Trail of Tears route taken in the 1830’s when thousands of Native Americans were forced to relocate from their homelands. “We’re going backwards on the Trail of Tears because we’re going home,” says Len Crow, founder of Ride for Missions.
Licking is a part of the Trail of Tears Northern Route taken by Peter Hildebrand’s detachment, which traveled through Texas County on its way to Springfield. The numbers for the Hildebrand detachment party of the Cherokee tribe removal at the beginning in Oct. 1838 vary from 1449 to 1766, but 1311 appears to be the agreed upon arrival number in Mar. 1939. While the City of Licking had not yet been established, the area was settled. The Trail of Tears route came through Dent County into the Licking vicinity, west toward the Big Piney River and Ellsworth, at one time located where Boiling Springs Road is now. Then it heads south of Success to Turley or Flat Rock (Roubideaux,) on to Hartville in Wright County, finally arriving in Springfield.
Ride for Missions was founded in 1996 by Len Crow, a pastor with the North Country Baptist Church in Orillia, Canada, after he participated in several mission trips to the Philippines. Perhaps much like the traveling clergy of history, Crow, along with teammates, ride horseback across different terrains from North America to Israel to raise funds for orphanages, widows and missions. “We’ve had horses in our family for 43 years and God has allowed us to use them to help raise money for these entities,” explains Crow. Ride for Missions goal is two-fold, raising funds to help others and spreading the gospel, the motto being “We deal in rescuing souls – physically and spiritually!”
The goal for this ride is $60,000 divided equally between the White Mountain Apache and the Crow Indian Reservation. Donations are accepted in route, as well as on their Ride for Missions Facebook page via PayPal, and a GoFundMe page.
According to Bennie Halwood, a Navajo from Arizona, a first time mission rider, and also a pastor on the reservation, “The reservations are losing on average one person a day to suicide. These include the young Native Americans ranging from the young to the older youths, largely due to hopelessness.” He continues, “I’m probably the first Navajo that’s ridden this trail on horseback.”
Lee Standing Ready quickly adds, “This is probably the first time a Navajo and a Lakota have ridden together, coming across the trail.” Standing Ready is a first-time team member from the Lakota Sioux in Ontario, Canada, and is a preacher. His wife Kim is along on the ride and is being very supportive. As well, Josh, Standing Ready’s son, is getting a moving education on the trip. “Where there is no vision, the people perish,” quoted Standing Ready, and added, “Youth on the reservation have no future, no vision, and no hope.” His family left the reservation when he was young and he credits his father’s example to his own success. Upon returning a few years ago, he stated the reservation hadn’t changed, because unfortunately people’s mindset included no vision.
There is Cherokee tribe representation on the trip also. Tina Mae Weber is a first-time riding member of the group; her dog Cinch accompanies her. While not along on the trip, her husband is Sioux Indian. “My heart has always been on the Trail of Tears. I knew the past; this trip has been learning about the present (the present condition of many Native Americans,) where they are today. We took them off this lush, green, countryside with trees and clean rivers, and put them on barren ground, on the reservations. The Native Americans need hope and a direction. They don’t have it, and they don’t have the means for it.”
While Crow is not of Native American heritage, but Scottish, his desire is to help those in need, especially the children and young. Says Crow, “Our hope is to raise money and awareness for the Crow Reservation in Montana and White Mountain Apache Reservation. There are ministries already happening there which we want to support. Each one has their own buildings which they have acquired. They’re teaching the young Native Americans trades and skills which include electrical, carpentry and welding, and to break away from the chain on the reservation, to get away from the vices and temptation. Oftentimes, Native Americans will leave the reservation, but all they can do is get a job that pays minimum wage, which cannot support a family or themselves. They get discouraged and fall back into the routine of succumbing to the vices, and they come back to the reservations and that cycle continues. Some reservations would be characteristic of any small town to someone passing through. That is not representative of all reservations. In fact the majority are not that way. We’re hoping that by training and teaching, when they go off the reservation, they’ll have something to work with and offer. As a pastor, I can see the emptiness and the frustration and the desire for something that satisfies, and that is in a relationship with the Lord, Jesus Christ. That is a key element for us. We want to help in every area we can.”
The White Mountain Apache Reservation has a facility called the Hope Center. However, they need electricity at the facility at the cost of $1200, carpentry and electrician tools, and supplies. The Crow Indian Reservation in Montana is set up as a welding shop and they have a teacher, but they need tools to work with. The Crow Indian men are welcome to come and stay at a donated dormitory and attend the trade school, but it is mandatory you must attend church. There are youth who want to break away from the cycle of poverty and learn a trade.
There are Native American people who have left the reservation situation and are trying to go back in and work within the culture to change the situation. Ride for Missions is helping to fund that.
Sunday evening at 3 p.m. Len Crow and the riders held a public forum to talk about the Indian Removal during the 1830’s and Ride for Missions.
Monday morning, fourth through sixth graders were invited to the rodeo grounds for a talk with the Trail of Tears riders, and to see them off as they covered the Dent County/Salem leg of the trip.
“My wife, Nancy, on this trip, is my greatest supporter. We couldn’t accomplish any of these projects without the best support crew. Richard and Debbie Howell and Duke, their dog, have been with us on many of our rides,” reported Len Crow.
The Ride for Missions team stated, “We would like to thank the Licking Chamber of Commerce for the hospitality and letting us stay at the rodeo grounds.
If there are any other churches and preachers who would like for them to visit, call Tina at 573-259-3557.
Ride for Mission trips:
First trip, 4,200 miles from Fairbanks, Alaska to El Paso Texas; Second trip, 151 miles in 24 hours in the Salt Lake Desert raising money for a Philippine orphanage; Third trip, 308 miles in 46 hours in the Salt Lake Desert on the old Pony Express Trail, raising money for Mexican orphanage; Fourth trip, 1,000 mile relay ride across the Canadian prairie from Manitoba to the Calvary Stampede; Fifth trip, a local community speed ride; Sixth trip, four years ago and their longest ride, 7,000 miles from the Artic Ocean to southern Mexico for four orphanages in four countries, Mexico, Philippines, Guatemala, and their own orphanage in Cambodia; Seventh trip, In Israel across the Judean desert, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea raising money for widows and orphans of the Fallen Israeli Soldiers; Eighth and current trip, The Trail of Tears from Oklahoma to N. Carolina raising money for two Indian reservations.