I first met Savannah Rose, we were both little girls, sharing a
tree-stump listening to Grandfather's yarns. We lived in the Southern
Appalachian Mountains, in Georgia, our Enchanted Land, and we were
the Ani-Yun' wiya - the Principal People.
were pushed here because of wars between the Iroquois and the Delaware,"
Grandfather said, "and this is where the white man met us.
We were never the same after that." He went on to describe
how our people became objects of the slave trade to the extent that
a tribal delegation was sent to the Royal Governor of South Carolina
to protect us from Congaree, Catawba and Savannah slave-catchers.
Our history abounded with tales of military prowess and political
intrigue, and our culture was irreversibly altered by white settlers.
We adopted many of their customs, and even as Grandfather spoke,
my mother was repairing a ball gown for Savannah Rose's older sister.
next time Savannah Rose came by, she wanted to hear Grandfather
village doesn't have a Grandfather?" I asked, puzzled by her
course we do," she snapped back, but she could not look at
me. "And this is my village now, anyway."
was happy to tell the "little newcomer," as he called
Savannah Rose, all about Sequoyah and his work on a written representation
of our language.
years later, in 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian
Removal Act, because, he said, "no state could achieve proper
culture, civilization, and progress, as long as Indians remain within
its boundaries." That was the beginning of our troubles.
said that over the last forty winters, white settlers pushed back
our frontiers. They also increased the population of Georgia six-fold.
Originally, whites were forbidden on the land that was inhabited
by the Cherokees, but that law was often ignored. Our people had
ceded land to the settlers, but this did nothing to quench the insatiable
thirst for land that the Georgians had. The whites resented us because
they saw other uses for our homelands. Many of our people moved
to Arkansas and settled near the St. Francis River to avoid white
settlers. They were happy to leave their homes forever and go far
into the West, where the white man could never follow them.
the white man found gold in the land, and killing of Native Americans
and theft of our land became federal policy. The white man's lust
for gold and land was all-consuming.
heard that the government is confiscating our land," I heard
my father telling my mother.
confiscating?" I whispered to my older brother. He shooed me
away, because he was old enough to take part in grown-up conversations.
I went two doors down to Savannah Rose's house, and found her with
her mother and sister.
Jackson is giving the land to the whites," Sav's sister Chemaya
was saying. "Junaluska should never have saved his life. That's
how he's repaying the Cherokee nation?"
can't we do anything?" Sav's mother asked. "Can't we appeal
to them in some way?"
can't even testify in their courts," said Chemaya. "No,
Mother, there is very little we can do."
Rose looked worried as we walked to the stream, and I was so frightened
I could not speak. If they took our land, where would we live? What
would become of our little log house with its broken top step that
my father was always meaning to mend so we wouldn't break our necks?
What would become of us?
chiefs tried hard to keep Georgia and the United States from taking
our homeland. Chemaya told us that they challenged the Removal Act
in the U.S. Supreme Court, and John Marshall, the Chief Justice,
ruled that we were a sovereign nation, and removal laws were invalid.
Only the federal government could deal with a sovereign nation,
and they could only do it with a treaty. That made me and Savannah
Rose feel better, although we didn't know what all the big words
few more winters passed, and Sav and I had more chores to do and
less time to play. But we could now butt in when our parents spoke,
and we stayed around when Chemaya arrived breathless from the council
Watie and John Ridge just sold our land to the whites," she
gasped, holding her sides.
her mother shrieked. "You're sure, Chemaya? They don't have
the authority to do that."
they did, and they signed a treaty, and now the federal government
can remove us, Mother," Chemaya said, with tears welling up
in her eyes. We heard the government paid each of the 20 people
who signed the treaty $2000. Not a bad sum. Our chief, John Ross,
found his legal appeals against the illegal Treaty to be fruitless.
nation was forced to move to the west of the Mississippi in 1838.
Grandfather was long dead, and I was now a young woman ready for
marriage. "We are now about to take our leave and kind farewell
to our native lands, the country that the Great Spirit gave our
Fathers," Vice Chief Charles Hicks said as we prepared to go.
"We are on the eve of leaving that country that gave us birth
it is with sorrow that we are forced by the white man to
quit the scenes of our childhood
we bid farewell to it and
all we hold dear."
family left the concentration camp in Rattlesnake Springs in June,
and we were the first group driven west under federal guard during
the ethnic cleansing of the southeast United States. Thousands of
people had died at the camp during the spring from illnesses brought
on by the lack of clean water and proper waste treatment. It was
a rude awakening for us.
General Winfield Scott had shouted when he addressed our people
in May. "The President of the United States has sent me with
a powerful army, to cause you, in obedience to the treaty of 1835,
to join that part of your people who have already established in
prosperity on the other side of the Mississippi. Unhappily, the
two years that were allowed for the purpose, you have suffered to
pass away without following, and without making any preparation
to follow, and now, or by the time that this solemn address shall
reach your distant settlements, the emigration must be commenced
in haste, but I hope without disorder."
began to round us up soon afterward. The Georgia Militia barged
into our little log house with their bayonets and forced us to leave
immediately, and made us live in a stockade for several weeks. White
looters followed, ransacking our homesteads as we were led away.
I saw them making off with our cows, pigs and chickens, and it frustrated
me because I could not stop them. Grandfather's wife was forced
out of her cabin at gunpoint they gave her only moments to
collect cherished possessions. Somehow we became separated from
my older brother and his new wife we never saw them again.
we were embarking on a long journey in worn-out moccasins, to endure
countless river crossings with only blankets for warmth. As we marched,
we received rations of corn, oats and fodder, and the hunters supplied
meat out of the woods. Each morning when we broke camp we were told
how far we had to go and in what direction. The hunters would spread
out like a fan and go through the woods to the next camping place,
usually about ten miles ahead.
journey our Trail of Tears, made our mothers cry and grieve
so much, they were unable to help us children survive. The chiefs
prayed for a sign to lift the mothers' spirits and give them strength
to care for us. >From that day forward, a beautiful new flower,
a rose, grew wherever a mother's tear fell to the ground. The rose
is white, the color of the teardrops. It has a gold center, for
the gold taken form the Cherokee lands, and seven leaves on each
stem that represent the seven Cherokee clans that made the journey.
camped for several weeks near a creek in Southern Illinois. One
day Savannah Rose and I walked through town with some other girls.
As we passed a hotel one of the girls, a slave named Priscilla,
went up to a man standing in the doorway and asked him, "Are
you Marse Silkwood?"
man was indeed Marse Silkwood, and he recognized her from a plantation
in Georgia. He bought her from the chief who owned her for $1,000.
Some girls have all the luck.
night, my father, Savannah Rose and I huddled around the fire, comforting
my mother as she got weaker and weaker
she was with the Great
Spirit by morning. Cholera broke out and death was among us hourly.
We buried our dead close to the trail. The drought was severe and
our children suffered greatly. Of the 800 persons that left with
our group, 489 arrived.
groups that followed ours were luckier, because Chief John Ross
made an urgent appeal to General Winfield Scott, requesting that
Cherokees lead their tribe west. In September he won additional
funds for food and clothing.
relocated to Oklahoma, and set up a government, churches and schools,
newspapers and books, and businesses. We named our capital Tahlequah.
But part of me was missing. My best friend, Savannah Rose, and her
family found refuge in the Snowbird Mountains and stayed there.
There likely will never be a Cherokee child called Andrew
no such honor to the man who caused so much suffering with his anti-Indian
2500+ Native American Indian Names & Their Meanings