One piece of local history that is often overlooked sits right in the back yard of many residents in LaFayette.

Established in 1838, Fort Cumming was a Trail of Tears Cherokee removal fort, named after a Methodist minister named David B. Cumming. Cumming was appointed as an itinerant circuit missionary in 1836 by the Holston (Tennessee) Methodist Conference. Cumming’s mission circuit included Georgia, and he requested reassignment to Arkansas in order to accompany the Cherokees when they were removed.

The fort was established by Capt. Samuel Farris and his group of volunteers, who kept a watchful eye over the Cherokee Indians in the fort until their removal. Featuring a stockade, stables, and possibly even military barracks, the fort was — put simply — a holding place for Cherokees rounded up in the Walker County area.

A May 17, 1838, list of Georgia Militia volunteer posts in the Cherokee Nation confirms that one mounted company was stationed at Fort Cumming. Although Farris generally is recognized as commander at Fort Cumming, another militia captain, Benjamin T. Watkins of Campbell County, also held a position of responsibility and actually assumed command for a brief period.

The stockade was a large enclosure of upright logs; the trenches where the logs were placed can still be plainly seen. There was a rifle tower in each corner after the manner of frontier posts, post holes were formed by sawing flared notches in the logs before they were put in the buildings. On the inside of the tower the port holes were eight or ten inches across, thus allowing room for changing the course of the rifle fire.

In a 1915 article for the Walker County Messenger, Frances Stiles, long-time historian for the William Marsh chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, mentioned one local citizen who remembered “seeing the old fort when it was about half rotted down.” She identifies the fort site as “on the hill just west of the Big Spring where the city of LaFayette gets its water supply.” According to Stiles, the watchtower stood on the hill adjacent to and west of the spring. The fort was located in LaFayette on the site where the water plant now sits.

Records of the Peavine Baptist Church north of LaFayette near Rock Spring include the information that Cherokee prisoners also were housed in the original church while waiting to be moved from Georgia to Tennessee.

In his diary of the removal, missionary Daniel Butrick mourns the imprisonment of hundreds of Cherokees in a fort near LaFayette courthouse. Butrick provided the following account of the roundup:

“Found our dear brother Epenetus Aehaia and his wife and children among prisoners. On the 28th May they spent the night at Dogwood Flat, and the next day heard that soldiers were rounding up Georgia Cherokees. They were taken by a company of soldiers and driven to a fort near LaFayette Courthouse, kept with about 500 others for 10 days and driven to the Georgia’s Trail of Tears camps. While at the fort the whole company of nearly 500 resolved to have nothing to do with the treaty money.”

Around 469 captured Cherokee were moved from Fort Cumming to Ross’s Landing in June 1838 before being removed and escorted to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Records indicate that on June 9, 469 Indians were escorted from Fort Cumming to Ross’s Landing. That same day, a letter from the commander at Fort Poinsett conveyed a surprising degree of humaneness in a request to send all remaining prisoners from Fort Cumming because they were part of families already in the internment camps. At that time, some 60-70 Indians remained at the post and still more were arriving.

While he may have supervised the process, U.S. Gen. Winfield Scott lacked control over the militia, who, paired with U.S. soldiers, forced around 15,000 Cherokee into stockades and held them for removal. Under orders of Gen. Scott, they were considered prisoners of war, though no resistance had been encountered. Conditions in the stockades were less than stellar, and on the journey to Indian territory out west, many Cherokees died. As many as 8,000 Cherokee Indians may have died altogether between the stockades and the trek west. The removal process became widely known as the “Trail of Tears.”

Although some sources give start dates for removal as early at 1836, most of these sources refer to LaFayette in general. Fort Cumming was not mentioned until 1838, which is also the year that this post was abandoned.

A state historical marker that stands near the purported site of the post replaced a boulder with a small bronze marker that placed at the site by the Marsh chapter some years before 1935 and that was subsequently stolen.