They picked up their few belongings, and gazed toward the high peaks of the Great Smokies that had sheltered them. Then they moved on, heads down.
- from the Cherokee Heritage Trails Guidebook
The trip was a consolation prize. My granddaughter, Ariel, who traveled to Maine with me two years ago, wasnt happy at all that I was going there again this summer without her. But, she finally agreed, three weeks away from home with just your old, old friends wouldnt be much fun, and all was forgiven when I suggested we take a shorter trip together when I got back.
How would you like to go to North Carolina to see the Cherokee Indian Reservation and learn about the Trail of ?
The Trail of Tears? I know about that! she said excitedly. We learned it in school. Can I go, please?
Now we were both happy. Still, knowing my primary reason for going was to study how the early 19th-century Indian removal affected the history of this part of Georgia, I wondered if she could endure the lengthy, late-evening drama about the Trail, and a day-long trek through an Indian village and museum. I neednt have worried, and I would never have learned as much without her.
What an impact the drama had on both of us. Covering 300 years of Cherokee history, from the arrival of Hernando DeSoto in 1530 and succeeding generations of white men, to the federally mandated Indian Removal Act carried out in 1838, Unto These Hills, is a compelling account of that tragic blot on American history - and a stirring tribute to the endurance of the Cherokee people.
Oh, this is so sad, she said, as the story began to unfold. She might not have grasped the political trickery that lured an unsuspecting people into signing a treaty they could neither read nor understand, but she knew cruelty when she saw it. We grieved as the warrior Tsali and his family were forced at gunpoint to leave their home. The story grows increasingly sadder when Tsalis wife dies from a beating and he and his three sons flee into the hills, but later agree to return and face a firing squad in exchange for the freedom of hundreds of other Cherokee families still in hiding.
But, Grandma, they didnt kill the little boy, just the two big ones and the father, she remembers. I remember her wincing as the sound of gunfire signaled the execution. At the museum the next day I also remember her longing look at the display of a soldier clutching a doll, while he watches a small girl and her family carry only necessities as they leave their home and treasures behind.
What do you want me to tell people in my story? I asked as we were driving home.
Tell them I loved the mountains and the river, and I met two new friends.
What a perfect synopsis of our journey, and of the Cherokee people. She loved the mountains so much she wanted to live there, and she used a roll of film trying to take their beauty home - much like the Cherokee who wanted to stay, or take the image of their hills with them, too.
She loved the river, watching for the narrow, twisting Oconaluftee as we drove, or wading, squealing, collecting rocks, and resisting the pull of the current in the shallow water with one of her new friends. Like the Cherokee who settled along the rivers for sustenance and survival, and formed communities with the new friends they, too, found near their transplanted homes.
Besides her pictures and souvenirs, she took back something I couldnt have foreseen: an appreciation for the land, and how the Indians used what they found in their hills to survive. From the demonstrations of Indian life in the village - her favorite was the pinpoint-accuracy of the blow-gun (or gunner) - to the blueberries we picked on the way home, she, and I through her eyes, have a new gratitude for the greatness of the Creator, and a greater idea of how much all mankind, red and yellow, black and white," receives from Him.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. Her granddaughter, Ariel, is a student at Grovetown Elementary School. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.