Trail of Tears. How did this historical topic with such a sad sounding name make it in a Christmas story collection entitled With Gladness?
Well, I always write the stories I want to read. Trail of Tears is a dark moment in American history and the people who endured the hardships and injustices and worked to rebuild their lives in a new land. There’s just something courage-inspiring in that history. And it’s overlook, smoothed over, or politicized too often.
I didn’t write the story to emphasize the political conflicts, broken promises, and injustices. There’s actually a lot of faith and hope in the story. However, because the short story focuses on the characters and their situation, it leaves out a lot of historical background. We’ll try to fill in some of the historical details in tonight’s blog post.
The “Battle” For The Land
North Georgia had traditional belonged to the Cherokee Nation and tribes. The Cherokee had drafted their own constitution, had good local government, and attempted to create a formal state of their own within (or separate) from the state of Georgia. The Cherokee people had their own language and alphabet and had agricultural farms; they were well-established and many had converted to Christianity through the influence of missionaries.
In the early 1800’s, settlers weren’t interested in sharing the land with Native Americans, even the peaceful tribes. As they pushed west, searching for new land to farm, the settlers discovered the fertile soil in north Georgia…and they wanted it. Adding to the desire: the discovery of gold.
During the early 1830’s as other Native American tribes – Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole – were relocated from their traditional lands in the South, the Cherokee held on to their land. Cherokee leaders organized petitions and fought court cases, trying to ensure the rights of their people.
The Marches To The West
Between 1836-1839, the Cherokee were forced to leave their farms and communities. Taken to crowded military forts, they waited to be sent, guided, or forced on their journey west – to modern day Oklahoma.
Unfortunately, many Cherokee groups were delayed in their journey and were forced to make the trek during the cold winter months. Many died along the way. During the entire Cherokee “Trail of Tears” about 4,000 people died.
Culture & Legends
“Trail of Tears” remains a tragic chapter in Native American history. The relocation presented many challenges, and perception of the situation has changed through the years.
One example of a Cherokee legend from the “Trail of Tears” is the Cherokee Rose. According to the story, the women were crying and seeing their children struggling and dying. The men asked a spiritual being (some versions say they prayed to God, other say they prayed to their Great Spirit) for help and he promised to give them a sign.
Each woman’s tear became a plant, bearing the Cherokee rose – a white, wild rose with a yellow center. The hardy flower reminded the survivors that they must continue their journey and thrive in their new homeland.
Around them, men, women, and children of the Cherokee Nation huddled, trying not to grumble and forcing back their freezing tears. Yards away, the soldiers laughed with holiday mirth. Laughter, cruel slurs, pity, sincere apologies – they’d heard it all as the sun rose and set, and the moon signaled the long, passing months. In the summer, the news had come to their farms in North Georgia: evacuation. Years of petition and court cases had failed. The white men – searching for gold and seeking prosperous farms – wanted their land. It hadn’t mattered that these first native peoples of America were well-established, running orderly communities, and had adopted many of the white man’s customs through the direction of missionaries.
John rubbed his cold hands. And it hadn’t mattered that many had white man’s blood in their veins. His mother had married a missionary’s son – a good man who had died when John was eight, leaving three children and a grieving widow. That’s when Grandfather had come, arriving from the deep forest to take his place with the family. (pages 33-34, “East To West” from With Gladness)
Your Historian & Authoress,
P.S. Want more details on the Cherokee’s battle to keep their lands and Trail of Tears? Access documents and information on the Cherokee Nation website: History – Trail of Tears