The White Curse
The next afternoon, tired and worn from their journey, Wild Rose and the Irishman arrive at Big-Man’s cabin on Little Pigeon River. By the time the Irishman trudges up the steps onto the porch, she has already gone inside. He tries opening the door, but it is bolted.
“Nancy! Be lettin’ me in. It be cold,” he calls out, banging on the door with his fists.
She allows the Irishman to enter, and then closes the door and replaces the heavy wooden bolt. Pointing to a river cane bed in the corner, she says, “You sleep there. I sleep here,”
He ambles over and sits down on the edge of the bed, staring down at his feet as Wild Rose adjusts the buffalo robes on her bed across the room.
“Thank ya,” he mumbles, humble for a moment.
“Thank ya for to be a-saving me life. At ta settlement and again at ta stake.”
Softened by his changed demeanor, Wild Rose never turns around, but answers sympathetically, “You survived Dragging Canoe’s test. As Beloved Woman, it was my duty. As for as my husband, no choice – but you will not take me!”
Her flat refusal infuriates the Irishman. Looking around the sparse cabin, he asks, “What do we be ta eat?”
“Nothing. You can find meat tomorrow.”
“You be me wife. You to be findin’ us something,” he replies, becoming indignant.
“As husband, you supply meat!”
“Me white wife – ” the Irishman begins.
“I am not your white wife!” Wild Rose says, throwing her bow and quill of arrows at him. In full fury, she conveys to him the proper order of the Cherokee household:
“You want food! You kill it! I cook it!” Sparked by her chiding, his anger builds.
“I don’t be havin’ any idea how ta be a usin’ dis,” he retorts, smirking.
Disgusted by his ineptness, she crosses the room and snatches the bow and quiver from his hands.
“Useless white man!” she angrily mutters in Cherokee.
Even though he cannot understand her language, her insolence ignites a seething anger in the Irishman. Wild Rose, also angry, turns her back to him, placing the palms of her hands on the table for support as she mentally examines her situation. Abruptly and viciously, she is grabbed from behind.
The Irishman slams her face down hard onto the wooden table, bruising her cheek. On top of her from behind, he maliciously gropes her as he jerks violently at her unyielding breechclout. His vile nature peaking, he tells her, “Ya to know I be the man! I be a havin’ ya when I want!”
He viciously spins her around, pinning her arm behind her back, his dirty face within inches of hers. She remains expressionless, not resisting outwardly, yet he continues to grope her with his free hand. He loosens his trousers, letting them fall free around his ankles, and maneuvers himself between her legs. In total submission, she brings her knees up alongside his quivering body. As he moves into position to take her, he releases her restricted arm and abruptly ceases all movement, his face ashen. His breathing labored, he carefully backs away, but Wild Rose remains face to face with him, step for step. Fear-stricken, his pants at his ankles, he slowly but deliberately continues to hobble backwards, gazing at the threat of death in Wild Rose’s eyes. When he is close to the door, he reaches behind his back and removes the bolt, letting the heavy board crash to the floor and the door swing open.
Withdrawing the point of her flint knife from his testicles, Wild Rose knees him in the groin. He is still gasping for air when she jumps up and kicks him in the gut with both feet – a blow that sends him flying out of the door and onto the porch. Slamming the door shut, she secures the large wooden board across the door brackets and locks him out.
Now safely inside, she returns her flint knife to the top of her knee-high leggings, but she is trembling from the adrenalin rush, exhausted. Disgrace fills her spirit, and she staggers across the room and falls on the bed sobbing. Her mind races as she recalls the last few days – how can a life degenerate so quickly by a single error in judgment, she asks herself. Lonely, depressed and dishonored as a Beloved Woman, she finally succumbs to sleep.
At daybreak the next morning the Irishman is asleep on the porch, curled up in a fetal position and shivering from the cool night air. He is awakened by a prickly nudge in his lower back. Slowly opening his eyes, he finds Wild Rose kneeling beside him with the point of her flint knife now at his throat.
“I decide who and who not to take!” she tells him. “I am not your white wife!”
Standing upright with the bow and quiver on her shoulder, Wild Rose bridles her horse and rides away. The Irishman’s fearful eyes grow wrathful as he watches her disappear over the hill.
“Bitch! Ya be gettin’ yours.”
That afternoon Wild Rose returns just before dusk with only one rabbit. As she dismounts, she takes particular notice of the two-wheeled ox cart at the cabin porch. The Irishman is sitting on the porch, laughing and drinking with a grimy and massively overweight white man, both obviously drunk. The Irishman, having found his courage in the crock jug, stands at her arrival, leaning against the post for support. A bit off balance, he blocks the steps as she walks up to the porch and attempts to kiss her. She slaps him hard across the face, causing him to stumble back a step.
Filled with hate, Wild Rose enters the cabin and attempts to close the door, but the Irishman blocks it with his foot.
“Hey, Irishman,” the filthy stranger calls out from the porch. “Can’t handle your injun woman?”
The Irishman, humiliated, drunk and angered, pushes his way in, but just as he steps inside the door, he falls face-first on the floor, passed out. Unable to close the door, Wild Rose lays the rabbit on the table and removes the bow and quiver from her shoulder. Suddenly, two massive hands close around her throat, choking her. Step by step, the stranger forces her backwards toward the bed as she violently kicks and thrashes about, trying with all her strength to fight him off, but slowly realizing her resistance is hopeless.
Reaching the bed he pushes her backwards and falls on top of her, his weight forcing the remaining air from her lungs. One of his dirty hands chokes her, and the other rips away at her breach clout and vest. She grows ever weaker, yet he continues choking her until her eyes close, her body relaxes, and she is still. He shakes her lifeless body, seeking a response, but there is none. He releases a diabolical laugh and proceeds to ravish her lifeless body. Her face is buried under his chest as his body quivers, and his eyes roll back in his head. He lies on top of her, remaining motionless.
Buried under the massive body, Wild Rose’s arm shows a slight movement as she pulls her hand from under the filthy mammoth. With one arm free, she fights to free her face from under his chest. Gasping for air, she wiggles her way out from underneath his body, and falls to the floor covered in blood. Her vest and breach clout torn, she staggers over to the other bed and grabs a blanket, wraps it around her abused body, and curls up on the bed.
After she regains her senses, she staggers over to the bed that supports the naked stranger, her stomach heaving at the thought he had taken her. Slowly she reaches her arm under his body until she finds what she is searching for –her flint knife drenched in his blood.
Still clutching the flint knife, Wild Rose stumbles toward the door where the Irishman lies prostrate on the floor. Trembling, she kneels beside him and puts the knife to his throat, but stays her hand. At last, she staggers out of the cabin and down to the Little Pigeon River, overwhelmed with shame, wearing only the blanket wrapped around her shoulders. Reaching the water’s edge, she lets the blanket fall from her shoulders, releases her emotions with a loud scream, and falls to her knees, sobbing uncontrollably. She places the point of the bloody flint knife to her naked belly, and as her blood trickles down her body, she lifts her eyes to the heavens.
“Yo-He-Wa!” she calls out loudly. “Take me from this curse of white stench!”
The next morning the Irishman wakes up, still on the floor where he passed out the day before. Holding his aching head, he looks about the room and sees the stranger lying, cold and dead, on Wild Rose’s bed, a pool of blood on the floor beneath him. The Irishman reels back against the wall, sliding to the floor in shock. He peers about the room in a panic and mumbles, “Nancy be nowhere ta be found, and da stranger be murdered. Whoever to do such a thing must have thought I be already dead.”
He slowly makes it to his feet and cracks the door slightly to search for signs of life. Cautiously, he steps out on the porch and slowly makes his way down to the river where he sees Wild Rose downstream, bathing fiercely, almost violently, in the cold water. He inches his way closer until he is within a few feet of Wild Rose’s back.
“Nancy?” he whispers.
Crazed, she spins around, stepping from the river and snatching up a blanket to wrap around herself.
“I took you as my husband to save your life. But you – you’re a thief! You stole, trying to take me without my say! The fat man tried to steal from me, too!” she says, her eyes lifeless and cold.
“And where were you? Drunk with spirits! You and the fat man stole from me that which cannot be replaced, my spirit! I am cursed with white stench! White stench takes all, leaves nothing!”
Suddenly, the huge poplar tree on the hill in front of the cabin is covered with crows. Their relentless cawing rings violently in her ears, making her even more disturbed.
“The crows call! For the white curse is on me!” she cries out.
“Yo-He-Wa! My morning cleansing cannot wipe the curse of white stench from my body, my senses, my heart.”
The Irishman watches as Wild Rose collapses to the ground.
“Balance is broken. Yo-He-Wa has turned from me, no longer hearing my words,” she whimpers.
“I am no longer worthy to be called Tsalagi Woman. No longer Tsalagi Woman, no longer Beloved Woman.
All I am is lost! All … ”
Terrified by her crazed actions, the Irishman backs away slowly. At a safe distance, he runs to the cabin and slams the door behind him. It is afternoon before he dares to ease out of the cabin and peep around the corner. At the river, Wild Rose sits on the ground, chanting incessantly in Cherokee. The Irishman walks some distance from the cabin and starts digging a hole with a stick.
Hours later, he fetches Wild Rose’s horse and leads him to the front of the cabin. He takes one end of a rope inside, then stepping back outside, he wraps the other end of the rope around the chest of the horse. As the horse strains, the massive stranger is dragged from the cabin and over to the shallow grave. The Irishman unties the rope from around the stranger and rolls him into the grave. He throws dirt on the body, but the stranger is too large for the grave to be covered, so he gathers rocks and piles them on the body.
Silently, Wild Rose steps up behind the Irishman standing beside the grave. He jumps back. She gazes at the grave, then at the Irishman. Reaching down, she takes him by the hand and leads him to the cabin. As they walk up the steps, she releases the blanket, letting it fall on the porch as she enters the cabin. The Irishman follows and closes the door behind them.
Three months later on a sunny spring morning, they enter Chota riding in the stranger’s two-wheeled ox cart. The rattling of the cart, along with the clattering of crock jugs, alerts the townspeople of their arrival. Wild Rose, her braided hair coiled tightly on her head, and The Irishman, dirty and grungy, are both half-starved.
As they pass through the town, they stop at Tame Doe’s lodge where Wild Rose’s children, Kasewini and Litli Welo, sit playing with Little Carpenter. Seeing their mother, they jump up and tug on her legs, calling, “Ooh-nee-gee! Ooh-nee-gee! Mother! Mother!”
Tame Doe hears the commotion and steps from her lodge as Wild Rose pulls her children up on the cart with her. The children are laughing and hugging their mother, but Wild Rose remains sullen.
“Who is this unaga?” Tame Doe asks with disgust, pointing to the Irishman with venom in her voice. Despondent, Wild Rose mumbles softly, ”Ah-sss-ga-ya-ah-nay’-la. My husband.”
“I know! All of Chota knows!” Tame Doe replies harshly.
“A Beloved Woman taking a white man is taboo! You bring disgrace upon your family, your clan, and the Tsalagi!”
Lowering her eyes in shame, Wild Rose breaks down, sobbing.
“Mother, you … ”
“I am no longer your mother!” Tame Doe cuts her off. “I hear your words no more! I have spoken!”
“We need food,” Wild Rose, emotional, begs.
“We have not eaten in three sunrises.”
Tame Doe spits on the ground, turning her back to Wild Rose with her arms crossed. With no more she can say, Wild Rose and her children leave Tame Doe’s lodge and make their way slowly through town with the Irishman. As they pass by the townspeople, they turn their backs to them, crossing their arms.
Little Carpenter watches the cart leave and turns to put his arm around Tame Doe to comfort her. With a harsh stare, she grunts and jerks away. Torn between shame and concern for her daughter, she watches Wild Rose ride through town with the white man and her grandchildren. Throwing back the buffalo robe that covers the doorway of her lodge, Tame Doe enters, leaving Little Carpenter standing alone, shaking his head.
“Huh! Women think they know everything about such matters,” he says to himself.
Trudging on through town, the Irishman spots Big-Man’s trading post. He urges the oxen toward Big-Man’s crude two-story trading post. It consists of a bottom floor, twelve feet by sixteen feet, with the top story hanging over the bottom story by two feet. As the Irishman pulls to a halt in front of the trading post, Wild Rose looks away, unable to face Big-Man. The Irishman looks up, closely examining the twenty white scalps hanging above them on the trading post wall.
Big-Man, skinning a buffalo, stops and looks up at Wild Rose with an intense gaze of deep concern. She can no longer hide her shame and gazes down at him with lifeless eyes. Their moment of connection begins to revive her soul, but the moment is quickly broken by the sound of the heavy wooden door of the trading post opening.
Alissah’ emerges from the trading post with her baby in her arms. Briefly catching the exchange between Wild Rose and her husband, she takes a stance of ownership, standing defiantly in front of Big-Man and staring hard at Wild Rose.
The Irishman, enjoying the display, laughs contemptuously. Big-Man jumps to his feet, stepping gingerly around Alissah’, and grabs the rope reins of the oxen.
“Tread lightly,” he warns the Irishman.
“You are no longer under the protection of Dragging Canoe at the Great Island. You are not welcome at Chota.” The Irishman laughs again.
“Now that a be where ya be wrong!” With his arms outstretched as if he owns all he surveys, he continues with an air of superiority.
“Nancy, da Mother of all her people be made me her husband!” The Irishman gestures toward the scalps.
“I guess dat be puttin’ da murdering legend of Big-Man in his place as just another savage.” Wild Rose is incensed.
“You are wrong!” she shouts at him.
Embarrassed, the Irishman’s smile now turns to a scowl. Big-Man, no longer able to stomach the Irishman, violently yanks open the door and enters the trading post, slamming the door behind him. With Big-Man out of the way, Wild Rose and Alissah’ size each other up with their piercing gazes. To break the tension, Wild Rose reaches down to touch Alissah’s baby, but Alissah’ snatches the infant away.
“Dragging Canoe says you take a white man and have the curse of white stench on you! No one in Chota will help you!” she proclaims loudly.
“You, the Great Beloved Woman, are shunned!”
Alissah’’ can see that her words cut Wild Rose deeply – and it’s also clear to her that she is starving, Softening. she looks around to see if anyone is watching, grabs a piece of the buffalo meat from the table, and throws it up to Wild Rose.
“Wa-do … ” Wild Rose says humbly Hiding her tears, Alissah’ pauses at the doorway and looks back at Wild Rose with concern.
“The Ada’wehi says the curse of white stench is upon you and can only be cleansed by fire,” she says.
The Irishman is angered at this, and lashes the oxen savagely. The cart jerks forward as Wild Rose, Kasewini, Litli Welo and the Irishman continue through town. Wild Rose forces a smile, speaking and waving to several of the women of the town as they pass. These women who have known her since birth now turn their backs and cross their arms. Wild Rose drops her head in deep shame, unable to look anyone in the face.
“I am as a ghost walking the earth,” she thinks. “I am among the people, but I exist no more. I am shunned.”
Watching from a distance, Ole Hood tells Big Foot, “It’s funny. Tsalagi women marry whites all the time – look at us. But being a Beloved Woman, she would have been better off with a case of the leprosy than to marry that feckless bastard! I‘ll tell ya, nobody knows how to shun a person like the Tsalagi. She could be on fire, and they’d walk right by her.”
“And Dragging Canoe knew it when he laid the burden of that Irishman on her!” Big Foot replies.
“Dragging Canoe knew the Irishman had no real worth, and that she would be shunned. That be for sure!”
Wild Rose and her family come to a wattle-and-daub lodge with a bark roof measuring some sixteen feet wide and twenty feet long, with a buffalo robe hanging over the doorway. On the end of the lodge is a winter asi. Several feet from the entrance is a stone-lined cooking pit with several clay cooking pots next to the front doorway.
“This is my lodge,” Wild Rose says softly, letting her children slide down from the cart before jumping down herself. The Irishman jumps down as well, strutting about with his hands tucked into the top edges of his trousers as he inspects the lodge.
“Hey, woman! When be supper?” he demands, but Wild Rose continues to ignore him. “Nancy! You be deaf, woman? I say I be ready ta eat!”
Drained emotionally and physically, Wild Rose never answers. She steps inside and quickly comes back out with fleabane, dry twigs, sticks, and straw. When the fire is started she addresses the Irishman.
“Find wood for the fire, she commands”
“Ya be da woman! Ya get da wood,” he replies. Little Fellow tells her in Cherokee, “Mother, I will get wood.”
“What be da boy say?” the Irishman asks, grabbing Wild Rose by the arm. Wild Rose jerks her arm from his grasps and replies, “He said he is getting wood.”
“You gettin’ mighty uppity being back home and all, but I will get ya straight.”
The Irishman grabs the boy by the arm and jerks him around.
“What be ya name, boy?”
Wild Rose steps in front of her son, and Litli Welo breaks way from the Irishman. The children gather behind her.
“His name is Litli Welo. Her name is Kasewini.” Mockingly, the Irishman asks, “What kind of name be Litli Welo?”
“Little Fellow,” Wild Rose translates for him.
“Now dat be making sense,” the Irishman laughs.
And dis Kasewini?” The Irishman looks at Kasewini.
“Why don’t I be a calling ya Catherine. Yea, that be close enough. Catherine it be then.” The Irishman smiles sadistically as he yanks the crock jug from the cart and takes a swig.
“She can’t be trusted,” he mutters.
“None of ‘em are ta be trusted.”
Setting down the jug, he enters the lodge door and steps back out with a British trade blanket. Shaking out the wool blanket, he lies down and closes his eyes, cradling the jug in the crook of his arm.
“You do know the English traded those blankets to our people,” Wild Rose remarks casually.
“Yea, so what that be to me?” With a sly smile, she states calmly, “The English used them to spread the pox among the people.” After a second or two her words sink in.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” the Irishman screams. Leaping up, he ferociously wipes the invisible assailant from his body.
“Ya be trying ta kill me with the pox, ya are!”
She turns away, smirking at the Irishman’s insane display.
“Not to worry, I think that one was boiled to kill the pox,” she says.The Irishman continues to jump around, screaming out at her:
“Ya think? What do ya mean, ya think?” His fear of small pox fills Wild Rose with silent delight.