I am sitting in our Dayton, TN hotel exhausted. We started the day at 7am, eating, packing, and heading out to New Echota Historic Site. We arrived there right after they opened. I got teary eyed before we went in. It makes me wonder about my emotional self, though I was well aware of what we would learn today.
The morning was lovely, and I was glad to get started before the heat set in. We did a self guided walking tour of many reconstructed and original period dwellings and meeting houses in what was once the capital of the Cherokee Nation. To think that the Cherokee were forced to leave their lands makes me think of nothing less than the holocaust. They lived in log homes and had farms.
They had their own newspaper and printing press, printing things in both English and Cherokee. They worked with a three house government.
Looking at the different homes was inspiring, especially the kitchens. From the wealthy to the common, the simplicity felt serene. I want to go home and work on our cabin. Clean it out totally.
I am beyond hurt at how a people so established and native inhabitants of a land could be so disregarded as the sacrilege that happened with The Trail of Tears. What many don’t know is that all this disrespect to the native people and their land began with presidents like Thomas Jefferson ( a much beloved man in our country and known as a fighter for equality) who wanted to make the Indian indebted to the U.S. so they could take their land from them and move them west. People only think of Andrew Jackson, a man of the people, hater of the native peoples, and a president who disregarded the laws of his own nation. They did this to a people so bent on preserving their heritage – their right to be separate but equal. A people who, on the white man’s terms proved their civility and capacity to exist as a nation. It’s unreal what the average American doesn’t know about that situation.
I’m finding it hard to even write about what we saw and learned today. It was so extensive. After New Echota, we went to The Vann House, which was a four story European style home built by a prominent Cherokee business man – James Vann.
He had a plantation and around 70 slaves on his land at a time, and up to 110.
What was outstanding was that even the wealthy Cherokee who had adpoted many of the white man’s ways were moved to Indian Territory by force. Their money nor their “civilized” accomplishments could make them exempt from the land hungry white man. Joseph Vann (son of James Vann and the inheritor of his estate) and his family were burnt out of their home.
When we left New Echota the walking tour ended with two quotes by Cherokee government members Elias Boudinot and John Ridge. I copied them into a notebook. In essence, they said that the Cherokee removed from the land God gave them would cease to exist – be blended with the white man. That is essentially what Thomas Jefferson had promised the native peoples whom would give in to the wishes of the American government – they would blend with the white man. And there I stood – Cherokee blood in the veins of a white woman. A dichotomy in the flesh.
Solemn and gloomy is the thought that all the Indian Nations who once occupied America are nearly gone. In the lapse of half a century, Cherokee blood, if not destroyed, will wind its course in the being of fair complexions, who will read that their ancestors, under the stars of adversity and curses of their enemies became a civilized nation.
– John Ridge, February 27, 1826
The time will come when few remanants of our once happy and improving Nation will be viewed by posterity with curious and gazing interest as relics of a brave and noble race… perhaps, only here and there a solitary being, walking, ‘as a ghost over the ashes of his fathers’ to remind a stranger that such a race once existed.
– Elias Boudinot, Nov. 21, 1836
I thought about Arizona and her place in this history. What was she aware of? I know she knew much of what I learned, but I wonder how she perceived it. She lived in both Indian Territory and New Echota. The guide at The Vann House said it was hard to believe that Arizona’s family went to Indian Territory and actually came back. It makes me think more of her father and who he was. Why he was what he was.
On the way to Dayton, we gradually entered into tiny rolling hills. Both John and I couldn’t help but think of Arizona’s walk – over 80 miles from Georgia to Tennessee. So young and strong.
After such a saturated and fun day we are all tired. John is working on the van. There is a hole in the radiator. The girls are being wild with that tired irritability. It feels good just to be.
Kelli B. Haywood has received professional development funding through the Kentucky Arts Council, the state arts agency, supported by state tax dollars and federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.