For a long time she heard her parents and Grandparents arguing. It was not so much personal, as it had to do with what was happening to the Cherokee people and how there were rumors and such. Talk of the whiteman forcing us from our land, talk of deceit, which Grandpa always said was the way with most white men, with few exceptions. White politicians? Grandpa would get so angry at even the word politicians and told us to never trust anything they said and did. All they wanted was Indian land and to kill every Indian they could.
This arguing was serious. As I listened from the loft, I could hear Grandma nearly pleading with Grandpa to sign the rolls of the Cherokee. He refused. I will not sign anything to prove who I am! He nearly shouted and Grandpa was always so tender with Grandma. “If we sign onto those rolls,” Grandpa said, we are signing our death warrant.
“Father how can we remain here, in the mountains and be safe? “ My Mother asked him. “The soldiers are everywhere and more are coming. They will find us and make us leave and take our home.”
“Before they take our home daughter, they will have to kill me first.” “Me too.” My father said in his quiet, serious way. Father always meant what he said. He was not a man who spoke unless he had something important to say.
“Elizabeth,” Mother called. “I know you are listening.” “Let her listen, girl.” Grandpa said. “She has a right to know the truth. She is no baby anymore.”
“Elizabeth, come down and join us at the table.” Grandpa requested and she hurried down the short ladder that led to the loft.
I stood there, somewhat ashamed I had been caught listening to them talk. They sat at the kitchen table – hot steaming cups of coffee and tea before them. Mother and Grandmother looked so worried. Grandpa his stubborn determination seemed to shine through his sky-blue eyes. Grandpa had the most pretty eyes, Elizabeth always felt, at times she wished she had inherited her Grandfather’s blue eyes. Instead she had dark-brown hair and brown eyes, doe-eyes Daddy would say with a grin.
“Sit down Elizabeth.” Grandpa said. “You are nearly a woman, Elizabeth and you being part of this family have a right to know what faces us. We’ve received word that we must go sign onto these rolls that is what they call them; with our names to prove we are Cherokee. There is talk of moving all Cherokee from their homeland. Those so-called “leaders” said it’s called relocation and the US Government has promised us new land far from home. I don’t trust them and confound it, I am staying where I was born and raised.
This family has lived in this land for generations. All up and down the Williams River, our relatives have settled. Our Ancestors were respected and called Governor by the people for their leadership and truthfulness to our people. A white man’s term, but one of respect amongst the Cherokee. We settled herein the mountains. I built this home with my bare hands before I asked your Granny to marry me – and we raised all our children here. No one is going to force me or us from our home and our farm.
So, child, woman-child,” Grandpa said with a slight grin, “we are staying put. We’re not signing their rolls or going anywhere near where those white soldiers and politicians have been meeting with John Ross.”
“The one thing that bothers me is to deny we are tsa la gi. But to survive and stay on our lands, this has to be. We will tell any soldiers that come, we are German and Irish, white, as hard as that is for me to say, we have to say it. We have to hope and pray that our friends and neighbors, who know us well, will not reveal that we are tsa la gi. If they choose to listen to John Ross and others about signing these rolls and leaving our lands, that is their right.
I can only hope that they will not deceive us to save their own backsides. I have talked with close friends and neighbors and they too, are in agreement about signing these rolls and want to keep their farms and family land. But we have to change our ways of living, at least for now. I don’t know how long ‘now’ will be, but it is necessary for us to do so.”
The words Grandpa said made Elizabeth’s heart feel as if it had fallen to her stomach. To deny being tsa la gi? She was proud of who she was – Grandpa was a very proud man, as was her Father, and her Mother and this same strong sense of pride had been instilled in her for as long as she could remember.
“Grandpa, what about the ceremonies? Green Corn? The ball playing and gourd dancing? Does this mean we cannot do anything that is part of who we are as tsa la gi?” She asked. “What about our friends across the river?” She was thinking of her friends and one in particular, a young man called Stands up to Bear, but who everyone also knew as Ned Parsons. She had a special feeling for Ned. She dreamed of them marrying someday and settling along the Williams.
“We know who we are Elizabeth. Nothing will ever change that. But to survive this government land grab and the evil men who want to kill all Indians – we will have to lie. Someday in the future, this madness will end and you will stand proud and marry and raised your children on our lands. But that takes sacrifice, child.”
Elizabeth could say no more. Her heart sank even deeper but she loved and respected her elders and her Grandpa and she would follow him to the ends of the earth, if need be, if he said this was something she had to do.
Her Mother and Grandmother were quiet – unusual for the strong Cherokee women of their family. Elizabeth felt that their silence was agreement for they knew Grandpa and Father would die to protect them and while they too, were frightened of their quickly changing lives, they would support this decision.
“We will live our daily lives as we always have.” Grandpa continued. “But we must remember we are Irish and German and not Indian – not Cherokee – at least for the time being. It is very important Elizabeth for you to remember that and be very careful about what you say around others, especially strangers.”
“Yes Grandfather. I will do as you ask.” Elizabeth replied, trying hard to stop the tears stinging her eyes.
Grandmother pulled her close to her big warm and comforting bosom and patted her hair. “It will be alright Elizabeth. Now let’s get you back to bed.”
Life continued. There was a never-ending list to chores on the farm and Grandpa and Father worked hard as they always did. Elizabeth helped her Mother and Grandmother and stopped attending the Cherokee school. Their way of life, as they had always lived it, changed. There were no more gatherings they attended, no ball games, no ceremonies; they went to for several months.
Elizabeth had not seen her close friends, or Ned. She would mingle now and then with the children of their closest neighbors, but she missed her best friend, Nancy Ann and her life as it had been before everything changed. But she knew that Grandma and Mother did as well The men in the house did not show their true feelings, but Elizabeth knew her Grandfather’s good heart and her Father’s kindness and she knew they too, were sad over the changes they had to make to survive and keep their farm, and most importantly of all, to be free.
Summer passed quickly and it was now fall. The leaves had changed to beautiful colors and as the cold nights came, and the winds, they were falling to the ground, covering the earth in a blanket of color and then brown….like an old worn-out brown blanket. The pines were the spots of green in the deep woods, a reminder that fall and winter would past and where the oak and cherry now laid bear of their leaves, new buds would appear and soon bright greens of color and life continued it’s never –ending cycle.
One fall afternoon, there was the sounds of horses approaching and Grandpa and Father stood on the porch, guns in hand, ready for whoever it was who it was coming to their home. They relaxed when they saw that it was Tom Parker a good family friend.
He dismounted quickly. “Afternoon Frank, George,” he said to Grandpa and Father, a serious look upon his face. “Afternoon,” they responded. “What brings you here Tom?” Grandpa asked.
Tom Parker glanced over at Elizabeth who was within hearing distance. “Spit it out Tom,” Grandpa said. “Elizabeth knows.”
“Got some bad news Frank. I came here to warn you all.” Tom replied. “Well, come on in the house, Tom, let’s sit at the table and have a cup of coffee. You hungry?” “No, thanks Frank, but that coffee sounds good.”
So the men went into the house, with Elizabeth following close behind. Grandma made the hot coffee and then they all sat around at the big kitchen table. Elizabeth was surprised when a cup was put before her, the steam rising, the strong smell one she knew well but today would be the first time she drank coffee. It was a sign. She was not considered a little girl anymore.”
Tom Parker took a long sip of his coffee and then he set his cup down and coughed a little to clear his throat. “Frank, George, heard some talk about the soldiers getting closer to our homes. They’ve rounded up most Cherokee around here and have taken them all someplace – where I am not sure. But they are looking for Cherokee and I hear tell they have gone into homes and forced the people out. The local whites are moving into these homes as fast as they can, stealing everything from the families and claiming it for their own. Soldiers shooting dead unarmed men and their women. Folks being forced from their homes, without coats or shoes or even a blanket to warm them from the cold. They don’t even care any about the babies or the children.
Some of the People are telling these white soldiers who is Cherokee and who isn’t, hoping that these men won’t harm them or their families. Whites who know us? Oh they are happy as can be, telling who Cherokee is. Too damn lazy to work for their own, they want ours. Excuse me, for cussing.” He said, looking at Mother and Grandma. They both waved his words away with their hands, knowing there was much worse to come, than cussing.
“We’re holding a meeting tonight at old Jim’s place. His place is far enough in the woods that the chances of us getting found there are slim. It’s important that you be there.”
“We will be.” Grandpa said.
“Well, I best be moving on, I have other friends to contact. The meeting will be held at midnight tonight. Make sure you have your guns with you. These are dangerous times.”
Elizabeth, her Mother and Grandmother never knew that her Father and Grandfather came across a small group of white soldiers in the early morning hours as they returned to the farm. Grandpa and Father were strong and fierce warriors and they managed to kill the soldiers – six in all, without a shot being fired. They hid the bodies in the woods because they knew that the soldiers would be reported missing and more soldiers would come looking.
They took the weapons they had; their clothing, saddles from the horses and then ran the horses off. When they returned home, shortly before dawn they hid the guns and saddles and burned the soldier’s uniforms. Nothing was said about it – breakfast was made and it was a morning like any other.
The days that followed were long and busy. Elizabeth was taught to shoot as well as any man. Her Mother had always been good with a gun and Grandma who could not longer handle a rifle, was taught to handle a pistol and she did so with deadly accuracy. They had more than enough food and water to provide for all of them for many long months. They were on constant alert, waiting for the soldiers, because they knew they would come.
One early morning, as Elizabeth pumped water for the morning meal, she heard the sound of horses and the voices of men. She rushed inside the house to alert her family that someone was coming and it sounded like a small group, but definitely more than two or three men.
The family was prepared for whoever it was, but they all knew it was the soldiers coming at last. It was late December. Grandpa and her Father went out to meet the strangers. Again, it was a small group of soldiers, but much larger then the men Grandpa and Father had encountered returning home from the meeting.
Grandpa and Father stood on the porch, rifles in hand, waiting. “Lower your weapons,” was the command. “We are soldiers of the United States Army.” Grandpa and Father did as asked but were ready to shoot if necessary. “It’s about time you showed up.”Grandpa said. “What you going to do about these no goods who are trying to steal our farm and land, accusing us of being them Indians, those Cherokees.”
“Well, we heard it the other way around.” The leader of the soldiers responded. “We heard you are those Cherokees.” “You believe those damn no good trash? If they weren’t so lazy they could have their own farms and land, but they want to steal rather than work hard.” Grandpa responded his tone filled with disgust.
“We want to see the inside of your barn and house.” was the response. “On whose orders?” Grandpa asked. “It’s bad enough we’ve had these thieving Indians living around us and we got rights as citizens of this country. Why you have to search our barn and home? Nothing to hide by cows and chickens and pigs in the barn. Inside our womenfolk are preparing the morning meal.”
A single shot rang out and Grandpa fell backward.
Inside the cabin, Elizabeth, her Mother and Grandmother heard the shots and ran for their guns. As Elizabeth held hers, both her Grandmother and Mother ordered her to hide. Grandpa had made a place between the walls – small enough for a person of her size to hide, but Elizabeth did not want to leave them. A second and a third shot rang out – “Go Elizabeth now! Do what we tell you. Do not come out no matter what. If we are to survive, you will carry our family name and who are. You are our only hope for the future. Go now!”
Tears stinging her eyes, fear racing through her body – Elizabeth did as she was told and hid away in that dark small place. There was the sound of more gunfire and the terrible crashing noise as the soldiers broke the door down that led to the kitchen. She listened in terror and anger, as she heard the sounds of the men’s voices, their laughter and while she knew her Mother and Grandmother put up a strong fight, a single shot rang out and she heard a man say, “shut that old bitch up, didn’t I?” Then she heard her Mother’s screams and she somehow knew what her Mother endured, rape after rape as the soldiers used her – and then threw her aside, leaving her for dead.
It seemed the soldiers were there for hours as they looted the food she and her Mother and Grandmother had canned and stocked for what lie ahead. There were loud noises of destruction from below and then she heard the men leave. She didn’t dare come out yet, even though she feared the worse and wanted to help her Mother and Grandmother. It seemed to Elizabeth she stayed silent and hidden for hours before she ventured out. It was very quiet. Fearfully quiet – as she crept down the stairs leading from the loft.
In the kitchen she found Grandmother, dead, shot between the eyes. Elizabeth wept as she closed her Grandmother’s eyes and then rushed over to her Mother. Mother was still alive, although barely.
“Mother! Mother!” she cried as she held her mother’s head in her lap. Her Mother’s eyes fluttered and she opened them – those blue eyes, she inherited from her Father. “Don’t worry Mother. I will take care of you.” Elizabeth whispered gently.
“No Elizabeth,” her Mother barely whispered. “I am ready to walk to the Spirit World. It is time for me.” “No Mother! I won’t let you!” Mother smiled, “It’s not up to you my loved child. Please Elizabeth survive. Live to tell what happened here this day – live to tell how the white soldiers murdered us and raped us. Live to tell the world how the tsa la gi was treated in their home, on their own land. Promise me.” Elizabeth tears burned her eyes. “I promise Mother. I give you my word.” “I know Elizabeth – you will keep us alive forever, for we are a ni yv wi ya. In a voice that was barely audible, her Mother began to sing her death song, and then her eyes closed and she walked on.
Elizabeth sat there holding her Mother for a long time, crying out in Cherokee of her loss – of her anger of her revenge to destroy the people who had done this to her family. But she knew that crying would do her no good now – she had to tend to her family.
She found her Father and Grandfather on the porch, both shot dead by the soldiers. Then she began to dig their final resting place that would be where their bodies would lie forever on their land. In spite of the frozen earth, Elizabeth managed to dig four graves. It took her several days – but at last, she had finished with the last – and she began to pray for their journey – to pray for their spirits to go to the quiet. She prayed for strength to do what her Mother had her promise. She prayed for four days, then she went inside climbed the ladder to the loft and fell exhausted upon her bed and slept for hours.
When she woke, at first, she thought it had all been a horrible dream. But as she washed the dirt from her body, and changed her clothes, this time wearing the clothing of a man, she knew it was no dream. She walked into the kitchen, the blood of her people, those she loved more than anything else in the world, was a silent reminder of their lifeblood taken from them.
She went out to the barn to find that the soldiers had stolen as much livestock as they could – the milking cow was gone, most of the chickens and the pig. They had gone through the barn searching to steal as much as they could carry off.
But they left one horse in the stalls. Hers.
Elizabeth’s first inclination was to stay at the farm. But she knew it was not safe – at least not now. She knew how to read and write in both Cherokee and English and she wrote a warning which she pined to the door – “FEVER” – which would help to keep the thieving whites away. She secured the house and barn, as best as she could, freed the remaining chickens and gathered as much food from Grandma’s root caller as she could carry. She had a handgun and a rifle and knew where Grandpa had hid the ammunition.
She mounted her horse and began to ride – hard at first – for some reason she knew she had to reach the Williams River. She felt she would be safe there and that family along the Williams, whoever had remained, would help her and give her shelter.
It was a long and hard journey to the Williams for a young girl who had never before traveled so far alone. She rode by night and rested by day. Finally she had reached the Williams River.
She found a safe spot – which would provide her with coverage on the river and quickly stripped down and plunged into its icy waters.
She needed cleansing and there she remained for several hours, before she dressed and continued her journey.
As she approached her Aunt and Uncle’s cabin, she hesitated. How would she knew if they were alive and that it was her family that lived behind the warm light that shone through the windows? Or could it be whites who had stolen their home as well?
She waited, listening, looking around in the dark trying to see as much as she could. She prayed for protection and guidance and the Great Spirit spoke within her, ensuring her it was safe.
She dismounted and led her horse to the house. A door opened suddenly and her Uncle’s familiar voice shouted “Who is it?”
She responded in tsa la gi – “it is me, Uncle, Elizabeth.” Her Uncle stepped onto the porch and looked out into the darkness. “Elizabeth?” “She approached closer, removed the man’s hat she wore and revealed her long braids. “Yes, it is me, Uncle. Elizabeth.” Then she fell to the cold ground.
She slept for hours and when she awoke in a strange bed, comfortable and warm, it seemed she had the most terrible nightmare of her life – but this was not her room – not her home and reality came back, tearing at her heart and spirit like a wild beast. She felt a warm comforting hand on her forehead. “It’s alright, Elizabeth. It’s Auntie Mae. You are safe now.”
Elizabeth put her arms around her Aunt and hugged her tight. “Oh Auntie Mae!” and she began to sob and Auntie Mae rocked her back and forth till she could no longer cry.
Later as they sat at the kitchen table, drinking coffee Elizabeth told all that happened. Her Aunt and Uncle stared in amazement as they listened to all Elizabeth told them. It was hard to believe that this young girl had survived and even harder to believe she had done all the things she said. But they believed.
“I will revenge their deaths.” She stated emphatically. “Elizabeth, you cannot do that, you will end up dead for certain.” Her Uncle said. “Oh no Uncle, I will not die. But I will take four lives for those who were taken from me and two more to revenge the destruction of our land and our home and nothing will stop me.”
Nothing did. For months, Elizabeth ventured out into the darkness to levy her revenge to the whites who had brought so much suffering to the Cherokee. The last man she killed was a young white soldier with fear in his eyes, but she did not hesitate in plunging a knife into his chest. She had avenged her family and it was now done.
Elizabeth stayed with her Aunt and Uncle on the Williams River. They heard that the Cherokees who had gone with the soldiers were taken on a death march to a land far away. Many died a long the way, a route that was later to be called the Trail of Tears.
She later married a young man from further up the Williams River and they settled there and had several children. From the time her children were toddlers. Elizabeth began to tell them of how proud and strong they must be as Cherokee – and what had happened on her family’s farm all those years ago. She told them of her promise to her dying Mother and that they too had a responsibility to carry on as Cherokees – and share this history with their children. She made certain her children learned the Cherokee ways and spoke the language.
And there, on the banks of the Williams, Elizabeth lived out her life, watched her own children grow to adulthood, marry and soon she became a Grandmother.
When she passed onto the Spirit World one warm spring day in early May, her husband kept his promise – he took Elizabeth’s body back home to the land of her people and laid her to rest alongside her parents and grandparents in an unmarked grave.
In June, a single wildflower bloomed there – bright red in color, on her final resting place. For years after that, every June, the wildflower returned, a reminder to all who knew her and loved her, of the strong spirit of a young Indian girl, named Elizabeth or as she was called in Cherokee – waya ageya – Wolf Woman.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Written by Jeanne Svhyeyi Aga Chadwick
Svhyeyi Aga Koga
December 27, 2003
Visit Ms. Chadwick’s website at http://eveningrain.com/Cherokeecountry.html