IMAGINE THIS: Tsalagi
I grew up in Oklahoma surrounded by tales of the Five Civilized Tribes (Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee). As a school girl, I visited the Cherokee Heritage Center in Tahlequah with my classmates. The story of the Trail of Tears was very real to me.
This week I leave fantasy behind and give you the opening to a historical fiction tale, “The Trail Where We Cried.”
I ran down the lane toward Marjorie’s homestead, my sturdy leather boots pounding the packed earth of the path. The winter snows had receded, but the ground was still cold and hard. The early spring breeze was still cool enough to redden my cheeks and I was glad of my warm jacket and woolen mittens. For once I didn’t even mind that my blonde curls were tucked up inside a red knit cap.
I’d raced through my chores that morning and begged Ma’s leave to visit Jorie to witness the spectacle. Ma shook her head, amazed that I would want to see all those God-forsaken heathens parading past the Miller homestead, but she’d given in at last. With her final reminder to keep a safe distance from the savages ringing in my ears, I’d pocketed a withered apple from last fall’s harvest and bolted out the door.
The breeze, though still chilly, held the promise of spring. A soft, sweet smell of burgeoning green life and dark, rich soil. Jorie’s father was already in the fields, breaking sod for the year’s planting, but he’d set his sons to watch the road. The Miller’s wanted no trouble from the filthy injuns traipsing past their land.
Jorie and I giggled as we took our places safely behind her brothers. She’d watched the procession every day, but I’d only heard tell of it before. My eyes widened in amazement at the hundreds of red skins plodding down the road. I’d never seen so many folk in one place. They were like a river flowing past Jorie’s place. A dirty, smelly river to be sure, but what could you expect from heathens who didn’t know no better?
“Sure glad they’re not stoppin’ here,” said Jed, Jorie’s eldest brother. Though we all knew that the end of their trail, the Indian Territory, wasn’t far enough from our home in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
“Might be a good thing to let them know they’re not welcome here abouts,” Ben suggested.
“What’ve you got in mind?” asked Jed.
“Ma tossed a passel of rotten fruit from the root cellar this morning,” Ben answered with a sly grin. “Fancy a little pitchin’ practice?”
Shock zinged through my belly. I’d never done nothin’ as wicked as throwing squishy, nasty fruit at another person, but that didn’t stop me from loading up my apron with ammunition. After all, filthy injuns didn’t really qualify as people.
* * *
The soldiers told us we would reach our destination within the week. I didn’t believe them. My life had been reduced to an endless trail of misery. I would walk until I died, just as my mother and sister had. My father hadn’t even begun the journey, dying of fever while still penned within that horrible stockade.
The sun shone in a cloudless blue sky, but it shed no warmth. The snow had finally gone and this piece of road was packed and dry, but my blistered feet found no relief. The leather boots I’d worn on the day of removal had long since fallen to pieces. Now my only shoes were blood-stained rags.
I closed my eyes and plodded on, following my uncles and the mothers of my clan. I couldn’t smell the sweetness of the day, only my own foul stink and that of my people. I’d forgotten what it was to be clean and well-fed and content.
All of life’s goodness had been stripped from us along with our homes and land. No joy remained in the world. Only tears and despair and this endless trail.
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