Keeper of Days Past
October 1842 Carroll County, Mississippi
A rooster announces a new day as the sun breaks over the eastern hills, piercing the frost-covered valley below. The light on the harvested cornfields reveals the tattered brown leaves of the cornstalks as they rustle in the autumn breeze. Sitting on the hill above the cornfields is a weathered log farmhouse, a dogtrot structure with a cedar split-shingle roof. The front porch spanning the cabin’s full length overlooks the barren dirt yard surrounded by huge oak trees marking its boundaries. In the distance, encircling the meager flat bottomland cornfields, are dense hardwood forests covering the ridges and hollows of Northwestern Mississippi.
Pacing the front porch of his home is a twenty-six-year-old farmer who stands well over six feet tall. He has a large muscular frame, and is dressed in a muslin shirt, buckskin pants and moccasins. His features reflect his dual heritage. John Thomas has dark hair and darkened bronze skin that contrasts sharply with his blue eyes. Near him on the porch, his five-year-old daughter, Caroline, sleeps soundly in a rocking chair, clutching her corncob doll. She wakes up, yawns and glances up at her father with a smile, unaware of the deep concerns hidden behind her father’s expressionless gaze.
John’s face tightens, but his eyes never reveal his inner pain as he mentally retraces his early life growing up in Eastern Tennessee. The stories of his people hold a tight grip on his soul.
“The days of greatness have long passed for the Cherokee, as the whites call the Tsalagi (Za-la-Gee),” he recalls. “I thank my ey’-doe’-dah (father) Jay-see, called Jesse by the whites. He passed these stories on to me, as I will pass them on to my children. It still pains me we were given white names to meld with this new white world that came to surround us. Tuh-huh, we have lost many of the old ways, but the fire of the ancient times forever burns in our hearts, kept alive by the keepers of days past.
“I remember the morning my Tsalagi Oo-nee-chee (Mother) Nayn-see J and Father left for Arkansas. They were joining a caravan of many other Cherokee families, now known as the Old Settlers. The white government had stolen their farms, and the white soldiers destroyed their crops, killing everyone who resisted. The Old Settlers, no longer able to feed their families, had to leave their native ground or starve. Each person was fully aware of the penalty for leaving. Should they ever return, they would be treated as traitors to their people and killed by their own kind. Going with my mother and father were my younger sister, Mary Catherine, and baby brother, Thomas.
At age ten, I was left behind to care for my aged Oo-le-see (Grand Mother), for she refused to leave her native ground. And there was my older brother, Will. Stricken with smallpox, he was healing but weak, and forbidden by the elders to go with them to the lands called Arkansas.”
John’s mind floats forward in time: “Less than a year later my grandmother passed to the Nightland. For the next few months, my brother – still weak – and I led a starving existence. We happened upon a Tsalagi family in western North Carolina that took us in. For the next year, our bellies were filled, and my brother recovered fully from the smallpox. Not wanting to be a further burden, my brother and I – both healthy by then – left our new family to make it on our own.
“With the constant influx of more whites, those were hard times for Cherokees. Will was taken in as an indentured servant at a store. Not wanting two mouths to feed, the storeowner forces me to leave. I wandered for days from place to place, living off the land.
“I remembered my father, Jay-see, talking of the Days Of Greatness and my Grandfather Isaac, who the Tsalagi called Big-Man. I was only two years old when Grandfather Isaac passed to the Nightland, so I have no memory of him. However, my father talked of him as a great Tsalagi warrior in his young days. He told us of his love of the Tsalagi people, his Tsalagi wife, children and grandchildren. He said Grandfather Isaac had never forsaken us, even though he left the Tsalagi to live as white and had many white children in his later years. I thought surely his white wife and children would take me in. After all, we did share our grandfather’s blood.
“So, I made my way to my Grandfather Isaac’s home on the West Fork of Little Pigeon River in Tennessee, now called Sevierville by the whites. I soon found my Grandfather’s white family wanted Grandfather’s Tsalagi family buried as well. They were not partial to any Indians, much less Grandfather Isaac’s Tsalagi offspring. With the exception of his white wife, Elizabeth, and Polly, her half-breed daughter, they all shunned me. They called me degrading words, treating me as nothing more than their servant. Their words cut more than any hunger. After a short stay, I could endure no more. I left, alone once more.
“Now twelve, I wandered the mountains starving. I found myself in Robertson County, Tennessee, in search of work just to eat. I arrived at a large plantation belonging to John Appleton. The only work Appleton had for a half-breed Cherokee was indentured servitude. I was starving. It was my only option.”
John’s tormented expression is broken momentarily by a smile. “I recall seeing Appleton’s daughter, Milbray, for the first time. She was about nine years old. I remember her warm smile, the first smile I had ever received from a white.”
His face grows grim once more. “I recall her Father scolding her for speaking to an Indian boy.”
His jaw tightens. “What I remember most is John Appleton beating me with his whip just for speaking to his white daughter. But mostly I remember my constant turmoil and shame as a slave under the whip of John Appleton!
“Then, the day of my freedom at age fifteen. Me and another Tsalagi boy called Gee were lazily riding along a narrow road on our way back from the gristmill to the plantation, sitting on top of the two-wheeled cart filled with ground corn. The cart was pulled by two oxen owned, like us, by Appleton.
“Suddenly, the oxen were spooked by a large rattlesnake at the edge of the road, coiled and ready to strike. The snake’s rattling made the oxen bolt, careening down the hollow and spilling the fresh-ground corn. Gee and I managed to bail from the cart just in time.
“As I pushed myself up from the dusty road, I found my face was only a foot away from the huge rattlesnake. The snake sounded his warning, but strangely did not strike. I slowly crawled backwards, keeping a sharp eye on the snake as he watched me. Once I was out of striking distance, I stood and was joined by Gee. We stood there a good while, watching the snake rattling away as we contemplated our future.
“As Cherokee, we always placed great stock in rattlesnakes and wolves, for they hold great powers. Me and Gee took the rattlesnake’s actions as a good sign, believing that the rattlesnake was sent by Yo-He-Wa, the Creator, to free us from the cart and Appleton’s whip. We thanked the snake for having delivered our freedom.
“The snake slithered away, beckoning us with his rattlers to follow. We pondered our punishment if we returned to the plantation. Knowing full well what a lashing from Appleton’s whip was like, we can’t see the bite of the snake as holding any danger. We quickly gathered up as much of the ground corn as we could carry and set off. Following the snake. We kept to the woods, living on the ground corn and what little wild foods nature provided us.
“Several weeks later we reached the Natchez Trail below Nashville. The rattlesnake led us to the campsite of Louis LeFlore. Under Yo-He-Wa’s charge, the rattlesnake had completed his task of freeing us and bringing us to safety. We bade the snake farewell, and he slithered away in silence.
“We found LeFlore was a trader with the Choctaw and had known my Grandfather Isaac Thomas in his younger years. Me and Gee stayed with Louis LeFlore, going with him down the Natchez Trail to his trading post on the Pearl River. Me and Gee remained with Louis LeFlore nearly two years, working for him at his station.
“Then came a day that changed my life once again. Louis LeFlore’s son Greenwood arrived at the station on the Pearl River. I will never forget my first meeting with Greenwood LeFlore. He was a well educated, French/Choctaw Head-Man, smartly dressed and very well spoken. Like me, he was a half-breed. He told us of the Great Dancing Rabbit Creek Treaty between the Choctaw Nation and the United States then taking place, that the Government was sending Secretary John H. Eaton and John Coffee to speak on their behalf. So in 1830 me and Gee go with Louis and Greenwood LeFlore on the journey to Dancing Rabbit Creek in Northeast Mississippi.
“When we arrived, the treaty talks were already underway. The landscape was filled with the many clans of the Choctaw Nation. They came from the west as far as Fort Adams on the Mississippi and as far East as Mobile Bay and Birmingham in Alabama.
“ I was very impressed at Greenwood’s ease and confidence leading the talks for the Choctaw, but the treaty talks did not go well. Many of the Choctaw rightfully believed Eaton and Coffee swindled them by contriving with Greenwood.
“The treaty talks over, many Choctaw thought war with the whites was the answer to stopping the impending onslaught of removal and were not pleased with Greenwood’s leadership. Greenwood knew the removal would take place with or without a war, for Andrew Jackson had deemed it so, and he would not stop until we were wiped from the earth. Many of the Choctaw turned on Greenwood, accusing him of selling out the Choctaw Nation to satisfy his own greed. I was not in agreement with the thought, and not because of my allegiance to Greenwood. I truly believe he wanted what was best for his people, and he knew he was facing an inevitable onslaught.
“ Gee stayed with Louis LeFlore and went back with him to Pearl River and I stayed with Greenwood. I remember each and every step of the long, arduous walk across to Greenwood’s home in Carroll County in Northwestern Mississippi.
“ Less than one year later, the Choctaw were the first tribe Andrew Jackson removed from their eastern homeland to the desolation of Oklahoma. Greenwood managed to secure the fewest possible number of his people to be removed to the west by hiding them out in the no-man’s land of Northwestern Mississippi. I felt accepted there, with the entire region being a refuge for Indians of all Nations escaping the ‘Great Indian Removal.’
“Just as Dragging Canoe had prophesied many years ago, the ‘Great Indian Removal’ – called the Trail of Tears by the Cherokee – was coming to pass. This was not the beginning of this genocide of First Americans; its purpose was premeditated to be their final end. To justify and hide their many years of greed and murder, the whites have written it away in their books as nothing more than a small pebble in their history under the title of ‘Manifest Destiny.’ All Native People to come will carry the scar forever. We will never forget nor forgive these murderers of our families, our women, our children and our way of life.
“ I know Greenwood LeFlore is thought of as being as evil as Lucifer by many of his own people and blamed for the removal. But I also know, each day prior to his passing to the Nightland, his conscience was haunted by the faces of the thousands of Choctaw men, women and children that he could not save. It rent his soul to see his people removed and murdered by the white Americans.
“ However, I have fond memories and will always be very thankful for the guardianship and tutelage under Greenwood LeFlore. Yet, I still could not erase my feelings and memories of my stolen moments with Milbray.”
John’s thoughts drift forward in time to his eighteenth year. “Day and night, I had one objective, to make Milbray my wife, and I told Greenwood of my desire to bring her to Mississippi. He told me that as a Cherokee, I would put myself in great danger by going back to Tennessee, and that he could no longer protect me from being captured and sent to Oklahoma or, worse, murdered. He also told me that in order to bring a white woman across the state line, I would have to post a bond with the sheriff in Carroll County. If I didn’t, I could be arrested and hanged when I returned, and Milbray would be sent back to Tennessee.
“I worked extra hard that year. I saved all the money I made, but I was short of the two hundred dollars needed for the bond. Greenwood gave me the balance, and I paid the bond.
“ I chose January to leave, because the whites move very little in what the Cherokee call ‘The Cold Month.’ On a fine horse given me by Greenwood, I started the long trip back north to Robertson County, Tennessee. It was a hard winter that year. The snow was particularly deep when I hit the hill country.
“When I reached Robertson County, my dream of marrying Milbray was soon broken. Her father answered the door, and I informed him of my intentions. He became highly incensed at the thought of his sixteen-year-old daughter marrying an Indian. My former master blocked the doorway, screaming at me. Pushing him aside, I entered the door of the house, just to catch a glimpse of her standing at the top of the stairs.
“Cursing me, he blocked the doorway and lashed out at me with his whip several times. No longer his slave, I grabbed the whip and ripped it from his soft, white hands. In a fit of anger, he pulled a pistol and raised it to shoot at me. With no other means of escape, I bailed through the parlor window, shattering the glass and landing hard on the wooden porch floor. I quickly ran to my horse and escaped into the cold night.
“Later, watching the house from the darkness, my anger grew. I will not be denied. I returned to her father’s house much later that same night, sneaking through the shattered parlor window now covered with only a quilt. With stealth, I slowly made my way upstairs to Milbray’s bedroom, slipped inside and awakened Milbray with a kiss. Smiling up at me from her warm feather bed, she agreed to marry me. She quickly dressed gathering only a few things for the trip south. Hand in hand, I smuggled Milbray down the stairs and out the shattered window of her father’s house. Once outside, I mounted up with her behind me, arms wrapped tightly around my waist, hanging on for her life. Upstairs a light appeared in her bedroom window, and her father’s cursing shattered the silence of the night air. I kicked my horse to a full run, but the snow slows our escape. Determined to become man and wife, we pushed on through the cold night, battling the snow in a valiant effort to maintain our speed. Looking back from the crest of a hill, we catch momentary glimpses of torchlights in the far distance. Her father, leading a posse, is hot on our trail.”
Suddenly, a woman’s scream breaks John’s thoughts. Then, another scream. He realizes they are coming from Milbray and runs to the door leading into the kitchen. He cracks the door open slightly, but dares not enter.
Off the kitchen is a scantily furnished bedroom. A stout Choctaw woman in her fifties is wiping Milbray’s brow. A dark-haired young woman of twenty-one, she has fair skin now even paler in childbirth. Milbray screams once more as she pushes forth the baby. As the baby cries his first breath, the smiling midwife cleans the baby and binds him tightly in a blanket before handing him to his mother. who lays the baby’s head on her bosom.
Outside on the porch, the sound of the baby crying is heard, then silence. John turns and smiles at Caroline. Together they rush through the kitchen and into the bedroom. Kneeling beside the bed, John gently takes Milbray’s delicate hand in his own callused paw. With tears of relief and joy, they share this moment quietly until the midwife takes the baby from his mother’s breast and hands him to John. Looking wide-eyed at the newborn in his strong arms, he announces, “Yo-He-Wa, The Creator! I name him for the man who fed me, healed me and educated me when this world cast me away. My son will be called Greenwood.”
Ten years later.
It is a crisp fall day on a ridge deep within the hardwood forest. A bare-chested boy, large for his age, with black hair and steel-blue eyes, draws back his bow. With every muscle in his body tensed, he readies himself to release the arrow. His father, standing behind him, whispers, “Greenwood, steady, steady.”
His heart is pounding as he takes aim at the large deer drinking at the spring in the hollow fifty feet below. Greenwood releases the arrow. With an arrow piercing its heart, the huge buck falls to the ground. Solemn, Greenwood turns, looking up at his father’s face for approval of his achievement. John smiles with overwhelming pride at his son’s accomplishment, and Greenwood returns the smile.
Several hours later, John holds the reins of a very large mule pulling the wooden work-sled he and Greenwood are riding. Lying between their feet is the field-dressed deer that Greenwood had killed earlier. As they are pulled up the steep hill to the house, they reach the crest and enter the yard.
The chickens pecking at the dirt yard scatter as John and Greenwood pull to a stop at the front steps. Greenwood’s eyes make known his turbulent thoughts, as he and John are about to retrieve the deer. Greenwood asks with trepidation [?], “Father, I know we are part white, yet treated as a different people. The whites cause me to wonder who and what I am.”
With deep concern for his son, John peers intently at Greenwood. “Only you know the questions of your spirit, and only you can find their answers.” As thunder rumbles in the distance, John looks up at the overcast sky. “You must seek with your heart, not your eyes. Go back to the woods and ask the Great Spirit to guide you. There you will find your answers.”
Greenwood is bewildered by his father’s words. John picks up Greenwood’s bow and arrows from the sled, handing them to his son, and then points to the woods they just left. “Now, go! Seek your answers, my son.”
Still puzzled, Greenwood makes his way across the barren dirt yard and down the hill, through the cornfield and towards the woods. John is cleaning the deer when Milbray steps out the door. “Where is Greenwood?” she asks.
Taking a rag from his pocket, John wipes the deer’s blood from his hands and climbs he steps. Milbray wraps her arms around his waist and rests her cheek on his chest. The proud parents stand on the porch and watch each step of Greenwood’s walk toward the woods.
At the edge of the woods, Greenwood turns to gaze at his father and mother. He raises his hand high toward the overcast sky and waves.
The dark sky rumbles constantly with thunder, and Milbray, concerned, steps forward as if to go after Greenwood. “John, I know there are many things I cannot understand about your people’s ways, but he is my son too,” she whispers. “He seeks the answers his spirit searches for,” her husband explains. “Yo-He-Wa will guide him.”
“But we are his mother and father,” Milbray says. “Why not come to us for answers?”
Holding out his bloodstained hand in hers, John says, “It is the blood. To know who he is, he must first understand the blood he is from.” John smiles, furthering Milbray’s confusion. “There are those Yo-He-Wa has walking both the earth and the spirit world that will guide him on this journey. They alone can calm his spirit and give him the knowledge of times and ancestors past.”
Greenwood, stepping from the barren cornfield into a place he knows so well, is overcome with a strange feeling. Greenwood makes his way through the gnarly terrain walking deep into the large hardwood forest where he killed the deer just hours earlier. He kneels down, touching the deer’s dried blood on the ground. Something is very different as an eerie silence fills the air.
“There are no birds,” he whispers. The usual sounds of the forest are now silent. His body tenses, and the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. With dusk approaching, the forest darkens, but he continues to be drawn ever deeper into the woods, not knowing or questioning why.
He sees the light grey smoke of a campfire coming from the other side of the steep ridge, but pauses before he makes his way up the ridge. At the top, Greenwood lies on his belly and peeks over the edge. Below him in the hollow by a spring is an old woman. Wrapped in a buffalo robe, she sits on a log, poking the fire with a long hickory stick and smiling as she gazes intently at the sparks dancing up into the air.
Greenwood carefully considers the situation, but realizes it is nothing unusual, considering all the different tribes that settled in the no-man lands of Northwestern Mississippi after The Removal. Still, he wonders who this old woman might be.
His curiosity gets the better of him, so Greenwood cautiously makes his way down the ridge. With the stealth of a wildcat, he circles around silently as he approach the back of the old woman. Unsure of possible danger, he takes an offensive position, drawing back his bow with an arrow at the ready, his bead set on the old woman’s back. His heart pounding, he is now within a few yards of her.
Without moving or looking back, she speaks: “O-si-yo Greenwood.” Never looking up from the fire, she motions him with the flick of a finger to join her. “Come, sit by the fire I have made for you.”
Jolted by her familiarity, Greenwood slowly disarms his bow. He is drawn to this stranger and creeps cautiously around to the front of the old woman. As he creeps ever closer to face her, she continues staring intently up at him. “Call me Ooh-lee-see (Grandmother),” she whispers.
Greenwood senses something is very different about this woman. He can barely speak. “O-si-yo… How do you know my name?”
“I know everyone and see everything,” she says, chuckling. “Your father has taught you well the ways of this world.”
Greenwood is somehow instantly comfortable with her, putting his bow aside and sitting on the ground across from the old woman. Although she is old in outward appearance, there is something strangely young about her. He asks with curiosity, “You know my father?”
A loving smile fills her face as she takes the smoldering stick from the fire and points it towards Greenwood’s heart. The smoke burns his eyes, but her voice is soft and inviting as she speaks in the Overhill dialect of the Cherokee. “We still talk.”
“There are questions your spirit has asked of you,” she continues. ‘Yo-He-Wa will heal your imbalance. We will talk and seek the answers!”
The old woman pauses. “ Do not be alarmed,” she reassures Greenwood. “I am the keeper of days past. I want to tell you the story of the ties that bind us to The Creator, our ancestors and The Real People. Yo-He-Wa placed The Real People upon this ground to protect the earth and maintain balance in all things.”
Greenwood impatiently asks, “Tell me of my Great Grandfather Isaac.”
“ You will learn of Isaac in time,” she replies. “To know Isaac is to understand those who touched his heart when he walked this earth, the good and the evil.” The old woman turns very serious, “You must first gain understanding. A living creature is not a single being. A living creature is only a small part of the earth as a whole. Each creature on this earth is molded into what they will become by those creatures coming in and out of their lives. In return each creature drawing one from another creates the whole of the earth.”
Greenwood sits patiently as she continues. “The first law of The Creator is balance in all things. A good nature is born unto all living creatures upon this ground. There is also an equal amount of evil. In our last days of greatness, our balance was taken from us by the intruders, the Virginians, bringing upon us the fire of war.”
“I will start there to tell you a story of our place on this earth, our people, the people they call Cherokee – the Tsa-la-gi, the Real People.”
The old woman pauses and points to the ground in front of him. “Dig a hole,” she commands with authority. Greenwood is puzzled by her strange request, but digs a hole in the black rich soil with his hands. When the hole is six inches deep, the old woman inspects it closely and nods her approval. “That is good,” she says, and then commands, “Spit in the hole!”
He looks at her with disbelief. ”Spit in the hole!” she repeats. Without further hesitation, he spits in the hole. “Now, cover the hole,” she commands. Without hesitation, Greenwood quickly obeys.
After ensuring the hole is well covered, the old woman explains, “Your spit connects your soul to the earth and ancestors passed. Close your eyes. Open your heart and mind as I sing the song of the old language to Yo-He-Wa!”
The old woman looks to the heavens with open arms, palms up and eyes closed. She commences her chant. “He yo wa ya ka ne. He te hu yu ya ka ne.” Greenwood’s eyes get heavier and heavier as the chant progresses. “He wa ta ke ya ka ne. He he wa sa se ya ka ne. He a ne tsu se ya ka ne. He yo wa he ye yo ya ka ne. He a ne he ho ya ka ne.”
Drawn into a deep trance, Greenwood’s eyes close. The old woman smiles, contemplating her words carefully as she plants the story in Greenwood’s heart.
“Your white Great-Great-Grandfather William Thomas was an orphan called ‘Dutch Boy’ by the whites of the Isle of Wight in Virginia. He did not mix well with his own people and was cast away, forced to roam the hill country in search of food and shelter. The Yundi Tsuni (Little People) looked after him, and through a dream told one of the old women of the Tsalagi Uweti Clan of him. The next morning at sunrise, the old woman rose up and went to water for her daily cleansing. Upon leaving the river, she dressed and set out to find the strange boy with white hair and clear eyes she had seen in her dream.
“After several days of searching, the old woman finally found the boy gathering berries in the woods. Although he was strange in appearance, she took pity on the ugly boy and took him in as one of her own. In his years with the old woman, William learned the tongue of the Virginia Cherokee and fit well with our people. Being a stranger, he was accepted and adopted into the Anigilohi Clan. He grew into a strong warrior with long white hair and clear eyes.
“Soon a Tsalagi woman, Ah-we’-nee, took him as her husband. They had three sons he named Jacob, John and Isaac. William gained much favor among the people as a man of honor and a fierce warrior. Because he spoke both our tongue and the white man’s tongue, the Council elected him Peace Head-Man of the town. They called him ‘White Hair.’ ”
As the old woman continues, Greenwood remains in a mesmerized trance.
“The year was 1745. These were restless times for the Virginia Tsalagi as the whites intruded deeper into Tsalagi ground. Without cause or reason, the English soldiers raided our towns. They killed our people and raped our women, taking many young men and women as slaves.”
She pauses several seconds, inspecting Greenwood’s glassy gaze. Satisfied, she continues.
“On a return trading trip from Isle of Wight, the English soldiers follow White Hair back to his town. Isaac is ten years of age when the English soldiers raid their village.
“Isaac is standing beside his mother to protect her when an Englishman bursts into their lodge and grabs her. Isaac attacks the soldier with his tomahawk, but the soldier’s sword is quicker, cutting deeply into Isaac’s face. Isaac reels back unconscious, awakened later by his mother’s screams of pain and terror as the soldier ravishes her. The soldier has his back to Isaac and cannot see the young man as he slowly reaches for his tomahawk. Clutching the weapon with both hands, he stands and buries the tomahawk in the soldier’s back, killing him.
“The sword leaves a deep scar, not only on Isaac’s face, but even deeper into his soul. After the English massacre, White Hair gathers the survivors to migrate further west, deeper into Tsalagi ground, but his older sons, Jacob and John, choose to stay in Virginia and live as white. Reluctantly, William, Ah-we’-nee and, Isaac load their belongings onto a travois and leave their town. They are followed by the last remnants of the Virginia Tsalagi.
“Months later, after constant pursuit by the English, White Hair, Ah-we’-nee, Isaac and the survivors find themselves on top of a mountain with seven springs that feed a stream cascading down the western slope. Upon their arrival, the Virginia Tsalagi begin to call their leader ‘William The Emigrant’ for leading their migration to their safe haven nestled deep into the western North Carolina Mountains. They called the town Ga-lee-kwoo-gee A-ma-ga-nu-go-guh’ or Seven Springs.”
The old woman’s eyes fill with tears, but she collects herself to continue her story.
“The year is 1749. Across the mountains in what the whites now call Tennessee, living in Chota, City of Refuge, there is a twelve-year-old girl. The girl, Nanye’Hi (NAN-YA’-HEE’ )– she who walks among the spirit people – lives with her mother, Tame Doe, and father, Five Killer, who are in their thirties. Nanye’Hi’ was guided by her mother’s brother, Peace Head-Man Attkullakulla, whom the whites call Little Carpenter. Although Little Carpenter is in his sixties, short and stout, he is a man of immense internal strength and wisdom.
“On the rocky banks of the Little Tennessee River that borders Chota, War Head-Man Oconostota (AH-KAH-NAH’-SSS-DOE-TAH) commands a group of fifty warriors, completely covered in red and black war paint. Oconostota himself stands more than six feet tall with dotted tattoos on his face and body to mark his many accomplishments. The warriors are loading five large dugout canoes with muskets, bows, arrows and other battle provisions.
“A skinny, smallpox-scarred boy of twelve, dressed in war paint and carrying his bow, emerges from the wooded trail leading from the town to the river. The warriors laugh at the boy, but Oconostota raises his arms to stop the taunting. Little Carpenter walks out of the trail and stands behind him, placing his hands on the boy’s boney shoulders. Little Carpenter speaks softly to his son in an Overhill Cherokee dialect: ‘My son, you are too young to be a warrior. Come with us and the other children we are taking to the missionaries at Seven Springs for a trade.’
“The boy spins around, defiant, pounding his bony chest with his fist. He proclaims boldly, ‘I am not a boy. I am a warrior!’ The warriors begin to taunt the boy again, but Little Carpenter raises his hand stops their laughter. They become quiet as Little Carpenter addresses his son: ‘These warriors had to prove themselves to become warriors. You too must prove yourself.’
“War Head-Man Oconostota points at the boy and calls out in a censuring tone, ‘This boy is too small. He is scarred, ugly and weak from the white man’s pox. He is no warrior!’
‘Test the boy,’ Little Carpenter tells Oconostota. ‘If he proves himself worthy, take him with you to fight the Muskogee.’ Oconostota deliberates a moment, and then nods in agreement. ‘Tuh-huh, if worthy.’
“Little Carpenter, believing the boy is too young and should not go with the warriors, looks around for a task he knows his son cannot perform. He sees there is a loaded twenty-foot-long dugout left on the bank more than ten yards away from the water’s edge. Little Carpenter tells the boy, ‘My son, you must drag the canoe to the water to prove you are worthy to be a warrior.’
“The boy doesn’t flinch at the impossible task. Laying down his bow and quiver, he puts his back to the canoe, squats down and pushes with all his might, his skinny legs shaking from the strain. The canoe does not move.
“There are chuckles from the warriors. The boy glares at the warriors’ laughter, then focuses all his strength. Trembling from head to toe, he pushes with every ounce of strength he has, but the canoe moves only a few inches. The warriors’ goading lessens. The boy strains and pushes again, this time gaining a foot. He resets again and pushes. The canoe moves two feet. He sets up again, putting his heart and soul into it. Now, instead of laughing, the warriors encourage him. The canoe starts to move, but this time he keeps his feet moving till the canoe reaches the water. Spent, the boy falls prostrate on the rocky bank, his bony chest heaving as he gasps for air.
“Oconostota takes the boy by the hand and lifts the him up. ‘You proved yourself worthy to be called a man. He is now Tsi’yu Gunsini, Dragging Canoe!’ he says, shaking his head in disbelief at the boy’s fortitude and strong spirit. ‘Now you will be given the opportunity to prove yourself as a Tsalagi warrior!’
The old woman continues on with her story: “On the day of the journey to Seven Springs town, Little Carpenter is escorting his long-time friends, Dr. Thomas Walker and Christopher Gist, the first white men to venture deep into the ‘Overhill Country.’ Little Carpenter is also accompanied by Five Killer and his daughter Nanye’Hi’(Nan-yah’-Hee’).
“The small Cherokee settlement of crude log structures is named for the seven springs cradled in linked rock cisterns that sit high on top of a wooded mountain. When the visitors arrive, Little Carpenter is greeted warmly by four Moravian missionaries dressed in all black. The missionary group includes one older man, tall and thin with a gray beard with no lip hair, a younger clean-shaven man and his Irish wife, both in their thirties, and a redheaded Irish daughter about fourteen years old. The older man is one of the original missionaries Little Carpenter had brought to the New World on his return trip from England many years earlier to teach the white man’s words to the Tsalagi.
“Standing beside the missionaries outside William’s crude lean-to log trading post are (White Hair) now called William ‘The Emigrant’ with long flowing white hair, dressed totally in buckskin. Beside him is his Tsalagi son Isaac, age thirteen, dressed in only a breechclout. He is a tall, robust boy for his age with a deep scar running down the left side of his face from above his eye to his lower jaw.
“Tsalagi are a prideful lot, and around strangers Isaac is self-conscious about his facial scar. As Nanye’Hi’ approaches Isaac, he backs away, covering the scar with his hand. To his surprise, Nanye’Hi’ steps up to him and looks up into his eyes with a tenderness he has never witnessed before. She takes his hand away from his face and passes her fingers gently over the scar, saying softly, ‘You must be a brave warrior to warrant such a scar.’
“She leads him to where the other children are playing, and while the men trade, Isaac and Nanye’Hi talk and laugh, forming a close bond. The missionaries gather the children, including the older Isaac and Nanye’Hi’, to sit on the ground in a circle. The older missionary takes her place in the center of the circle.
“The older missionary woman is fighting to keep her wild curly auburn hair concealed. Her daughter, Lidia, is a pretty girl with pinkish complexion, pudgy checks and fiery red hair. Lidia’s black bonnet is tied around her neck, dangling on her back instead of covering her hair as her mother instructed.
“Smiling, Lidia gives several of the white man’s Bibles to the children. She hands one to Nanye’Hi’ to share with Isaac. Nanye’Hi’ reaches out and touches the girl’s hair, rubbing it softly between her fingers, completely infatuated by its strangeness. The girl, unfazed by her action, smiles and speaks to her in a strong Irish brogue: “Me name be Lydia, but dey be call me Lidy! What be ya name?”
“Nanye’Hi’ doesn’t understand, but smiles back. Lidy opens the book, Nanye’Hi’s confusion is clear as she thumbs through the pages. As the lessons progress, though, she pays close attention, slowly absorbing the knowledge of the white man’s language. This is the beginning of her education, an education that would serve Nanye’Hi’ and the Tsalagi well in the years to come.”
A cold damp wind sweeps over the old Cherokee woman telling Nanye’Hi’s story. She looks skyward into the ominous clouds and proclaims, “You were always impatient.”
Pulling her blanket tight around herself, she passes the smoking stick in circles over Greenwood’s head and speaks clearly: “ As those that have walked the spirit world before and guided me to understanding, I will guide you, Greenwood.”
“Open your soul so your eyes will witness what your Great-grandfather Isaac and his people endured in their days on earth. Who we as Tsalagi were, what we as a people stood for, what we as a people have lost.”
“Once witnessed, you will never forget what you are about to receive, both the good and the evil.” In a low, mournful chant, the old woman leads Greenwood on his journey back into another place, another time.
Death & Rebirth
The year is 1754
A crisp fall day marks the nineteenth year of the Cherokee – Creek War over the Northwest Georgia hunting grounds. The red and yellow foliage blankets the misty Smoky Mountains to the east. The rich topsoil has given up its yearly bounty of corn, vegetables and fruits. It has been safely stowed away for the winter that is quickly descending on the City of Refuge, Chota.
The Ada’wehi (A-DA’-WAY-HEE) or shaman builds a War Fire from coals of the Sacred Fire beside Oconostota’s hothouse, keeping it burning for four days as the warriors ready themselves for battle. On the fifth day, the warriors now cleansed for battle, the Ada’wehi places the War Fire in a red clay pot equipped with a wooden handle and carries the War Fire through town. Arriving outside the Council House, he stands beside Little Carpenter. Now in his seventies, Little Carpenter is dressed in his finest robe, turban and moccasins. He is wrapped in the White Feather Robe signifying his position as Peace Headman.
Beside Little Carpenter stands Oconostota. In his fifties now, he is still an imposing figure, dressed in traditional breechclout, leggings and moccasins. To signify his position as War Headman, Oconostota wears the War Headdress made from a wolf’s face and pelt. The face of the wolf pelt sits on Oconostota’s head while the body trails down the length of his back, ending with the wolf’s tail dangling at the back of his knees. All of his visible skin is covered in black war paint that represents death. His choice of weapons are a brass French-made smoker-hawk hanging at his side, his musket and a large flint knife.
Oconostota is flanked by KAI-YAH-TA-HEE, Long Fellow, the Raven of Chota, and the Tassel, dressed in breach-clouts, leggings and moccasins and wrapped in buffalo robes. Both are covered in red war paint with a mask of black war paint over their eyes.
They watch the procession of warriors led by red war-painted Tsi’yu-gunsini Dragging Canoe, now twenty. Stout, stoic and muscular, his face is pocked-marked from his boyhood illness. Beside him is his brother, Little Owl, fifteen, in red war paint. Both warriors have their tomahawks, flint knives and muskets. The black war paint across their eyes enhances their fierce appearance.
The procession consists of thirty male warriors in buckskin and buffalo robes. Their faces and heads are hairless with the exception of topknots. They too are covered in red war paint with black paint masking the eyes. Ten War Women, wearing the same clothing and war paint as the men, follow them. They remain bare-breasted and carry an array of weapons as the men do. A few have muskets, but most carry bows and arrows as their long-range weapons. The Tsalagi, who prefer close fighting, each carry flint knives with their main weapons of choice being either French-made smoker-hawks or traditional war clubs made from buffalo jaw bones.
The warriors make their way through the town toward the Council House. They are leading their horses, both men and women warriors, joining the war party. At the rear of the procession are the wives – their lack of war paint signifies they are non-combatants and safe from attack. Each wife leads horses that pull travois loaded with food and other essentials for the long campaign.
The procession passes Nanye’Hi’s lodge. Outside is her husband “Tsu-la” Kingfisher, age twenty, six-foot and muscular. He is in red war paint wrapped in a buffalo robe carrying two muskets, a bow, and tomahawk and flint knife. He is standing beside his wife Nanye’Hi’ – now seventeen, a tall, physically powerful woman with long, dark brown hair braided and arranged tightly on her head. She is wrapped in a buffalo robe, covering her knee-length breechclout. She wears a loose fitting vest held together by a single leather string at the base of her breast, with knee-high leggings and moccasins. As a wife and not a War Woman, she wears no war paint. The couple are giving their two young children, KA-SE-WEE-NEE, Catherine, age two, and Litli Welo, Little Fellow, age three, the last good-bye hugs and kisses.
Nanye’Hi’s mother, Tame Doe, approaches them as Kingfisher jumps up to mount his horse bareback. Nanye’Hi’, with tears in her eyes, tries to comfort her crying children. “Kasewini, Litli-Welo, I must go with your father to fight the Muskogee. Do not cry – I will return. Stay with OO-lee-see (Grandmother),” she tells them. “ Doh-dah-dah-go-huh-ee – two person, until we meet again.”
Tame Doe takes the children by their hands, leading them away as they cry out for their mother. In the distance, an owl calls out its mournful omen of death, causing Tame Doe to wince. She watches as the owl flies southeast from his perch in the large poplar tree. She turns, looking back at Nanye’Hi’ in horror. Nanye’Hi’ also hears the owl’s call of certain doom. With tears and a hint of uncertainty, she tells her Mother, “doh-nah-dah-go-huh-ee – one person, until we meet again.” Tame Doe rushes to her side, whispering, “Nan-yah’-Hee’! The owl calls for someone to fly to the Nightland with him. Who will accept his call?”
A light snow begins to fall on Nanye’Hi’. Heavy-hearted, she peers up into the overcast sky in deep thought and prayer as the snowflakes fall upon her tear-stained face. But she must focus on the task ahead. Nudging her horse’s flanks, she rides out beside her husband toward the Council House.
Once they reach the Council House, the people form a semi-circle around Oconostota and Little Carpenter. The warriors gather close, and the wives remain at the rear. The warriors receive their final instructions from A-DA’-WAY-HEE, the shaman.
“It is the responsibility of the War Head-Man and I to see that the fire never fades out. If the fire should fade while the war party is away from Chota, return home with defeat upon you. If the fire fades out during battle, Oconostota must retreat, and the war party must return to Chota. Should the war party be in battle and defeat is on them, it is the responsibility of Oconostota, the Ada’wehi and any living warrior to shatter the fire pot and scatter the War Fire. The fire pot must be shattered, and the War Fire scattered, denying our enemy the gain of our War Fire’s powers!”
Mounting up and leading the war party, Oconostota and the Ada’wehi with the War Fire depart Chota. Bringing up the rear, Wild Rose joins the other wives following their warriors and husbands with the horse-drawn travois. As the war party heads southeast to the cheers of the townspeople, two white men watch as they leave. These are two gruff traders dressed in buckskins and carrying muskets, tomahawks, metal bladed knives, buffalo powder horns and minie-ball pouches made from buffalo scrotums. One is Ole Hood, a rather scruffy man in his forties. Alongside him is the cleanly dressed Big Foot Spencer, a Scotsman and giant of a man nearly seven feet tall. Over his buckskin hunting shirt and breaches, he wears a green and black plaid Glengarry wool blanket, and his huge feet are covered with knee-high moccasins. After the war party leaves, Ole Hood and Big Foot mount bareback horses and ride out of Chota, crossing the river headed northeast, leading five packhorses loaded with buffalo robes, deerskins and beaver pelts.
Several days later, they arrive at a stream circling the foot of a very steep mountain. Looking up, Ole Hood in disbelief points up at smoke from campfires on top of the mountain. “Ah, hell! That’s got to be it up yonder. Never heard of a Tsalagi puttin’ a town on top of a mountain, though. It puzzles the mind.”
“Quiet your griping, you old Bodach,” Big Foot replies in a strong Gaelic accent, “We have only one more mountain ta climb.”
“Yeah, and a cold stream to cross first,” Ole Hood grumbles.
Aggravated, Big Foot shakes his head. “I say quiet your bellyaching.”
“Just kind of queer is all,” Ole Hood retorts. “Don’t be getting uppity.”
The two seasoned mountaineers continue to feel their way around through the tree-covered mountain from the south side to the west where they discover a stream that forms a small waterfall for the last hundred feet. Beside the stream is a steep trail snaking its way up the mountain.
“This must be the gap to Seven Springs that Little Carpenter told us about,” Big Foot says.
After almost four hours on the tortuous trail, the two mountaineers break the crest of the mountain and cautiously inspect the situation before exposing themselves further. The town has many log structures on the tree-covered summit, blanketed by a light snow and cloaked in a mist. They can see several springs bubbling up, trapped in man-made pools to hold the water. At one end of each pool are man-made rock gutters for the overflow that leads from the pools to the stream the men followed up the mountain.
As unannounced strangers in this town, they are startled that no guards have confronted them. In fact, the opposite is true – Cherokee men and women alike nod and greet them with a friendly “O-Si-Yo!” Big Foot and Ole Hood return the gesture with a smile, but they remain wary as they roam about the small town, admiring the ample trading of goods. Inwardly, they are filled with anxiety about being allowed to continue unimpeded. Slowly Ole Hood terminates all movement except for placing a hand on Big Foot’s arm. Big Foot suspends his own actions except for a glimpse back over his shoulder.
Ole Hood’s keen gaze is locked in place, he points with his chin toward a group of men huddled around one particular trader. The two observe the men locked in an active banter of mixed English, French and Cherokee languages. The three English-speaking traders are wearing long wool hunting coats. The two French-speaking trappers, however, are dressed in buckskin with buffalo robe ponchos draped over their shoulders, making it difficult to separate them from the Tsalagi gathered around them. The English and French are in forceful conversations, trading goods with a huge young Tsalagi man who remains silent. He is sitting outside his small trading post, a log lean-to with a low roofline. Ole Hood gives a sly nod to Big Foot, pointing out that a much larger lean-to in the rear houses a copper whiskey distillery.
Because most of the trading centers on this one trading post, Ole Hood sizes up the Indian trader.
“He looks to be no more than about twenty years old,’ he mumbles softly to Big Foot, “He seems to be a fair trader, but from the looks of that deep scar on his face, it appears he takes no guff.”
The Tsalagi trader stands silently beside by the lean-to that houses thirty clay jugs with corncob plugs. The interchange between the French and English intensifies over the trading of pelts and buffalo robes owned by the French trappers for the wool blankets, powder and ball owned by the English traders. The French are vigorously waving their arms about while the English are pounding their fists in their palms.
Then the Tsalagi trader makes a sudden chopping motion with his arm. All is silent as he speaks in Mobilian sign language first to the French, motioning them to take five of the clay jugs, one box of ball and one small keg of powder. The French reply in kind, gathering up their bounty and walking away, leaving their furs and robes on the ground. The Tsalagi trader then signs to the English traders who leave their trade goods at his feet and quickly gather up twenty of the clay jugs and half of the furs left by the French trappers, load them on their packhorses and leave.
As the Tsalagi trader puts his goods away in the lean-to, Ole Hood nudges Big Foot toward the trader. They approach carrying their muskets cradled in their arms, leading their horses and pack mules that are loaded with furs and buffalo robes. Ole Hood never taking his eyes off the young Tsalagi, but whispers to Big Foot, “He’s a strange one. Damn, he might’n near tall as you.”
The young trader quickly sizes up both of these white traders with a sharp penetrating stare, addressing them in a Cherokee dialect that is not familiar to the strangers:
“O-si-yo! What’s your business?”
They stop a few feet short of the trader, careful not to come too close until properly asked. Big Foot replies warmly in Overhill Cherokee, “O-si-yo. Name’s Big Foot. This here is Ole Hood. Needing staple goods, powder and ball.” The young trader looks down at Big Foot’s huge feet straining at the buckskin moccasins and snickers. “Big Foot, uh!”
Carrying his cradled musket, the affable Ole Hood steps up to the young trader. He reaches out to shake the young trader’s hand, but the trader declines his invitation of friendship. Disappointed, Ole Hood withdraws his hand and scratches his head with a puzzled look. Turning to Big Foot, he whispers, “Never seen a Tsalagi that didn’t like a good story or a joke.”
The reserved Big Foot scowls, “Hood, don’t ya be startin’! No one wants to hear them damn old stories!” The affable Ole Hood looks up at Big Foot smiling, “Watch this!” Then he turns smiling away at the young trader and says in Cherokee.“O-si-yo! Name’s Hood, they call me Ole Hood. Got a story for ya!”
Still no reaction from the trader. Ole Hood reaches into a small leather pouch on his side and offers the tobacco to the trader, but the trader declines. Hood shrugs, wads the tobacco leaves up and puts them in his jaw. Hood chews the tobacco vigorously while he looks the young trader in the eye, staring at him intently. The trader just stares back blank-faced, never blinking. Turning his head to the side, Ole Hood spits a large plume of brown tobacco juice on the snow. The young trader watches the brown syrupy juice hit the white snow then he slowly returns his full attention back on to Ole Hood. The two men share a short moment just staring at one another.
“Ok then!” Ole Hood remains still a second then suddenly calls out, “Oh, hell! Since you asked.” He cranks up with arms waving and pointing. This causes the stunned Tsalagi warrior to step back with his hand on his smokerhawk and at the ready as Ole Hood starts his story in Cherokee.
“When Big Foot first came to the Overhill Country, the Real People saw these huge tracks, and they thunk it was a giant bear or one of them huge hairy wild things that roam this country,” he began. “They was scared enough, but when they saw this huge hairy creature up close, they messed their breach clouts, I tell ya! Thought it was one of the wild people. A half-man, half-bear sort of sumpun! Since I had a gun, they sent me aftern’ him. I tracked him down – weren’t hard with them huge tracks.”
With a playful nod, Hood smiles up at a snarling Big Foot. Turning his attention back to the Tsalagi trader, Ole Hood carries on in Cherokee. “I found him living in a huge hollow beech tree like some sort of wild animal. He was a dreadful sight all right, hair everywhere. Hell, all he be a-wearn’ was hair. He weren’t wearn’ no clothes! I took aim, but when I saw it might be a man – well, sort of – -and not a giant bear or one of them half-creature, half-man sort of things they talk about at Chota, I didn’t shoot. But I tell you for sure he was a scary sight, but the scariest thing was them big ugly feet. They are so big and ugly they just sit up and stare at ya!”
Hood pauses, shaking his head. “Never seen feet that big before. On nothing!”
Big Foot is clearly not amused.
The young trader laughs and once again sizes up the two men. “Why you called Ole Hood?” he asks in English.
“You speak English?” Ole Hood replies, a little surprised.
The young trader laughs again: “Tuh-huh!”
Angered at being the center of Hood’s joke, Big Foot pushes Hood to the side and steps up to the trader. “Let me be a telling ya why he is called Ole Hood,” he begins. “He be called Ole Hood because he’s been old since the day he be born. His father came in the room the morning he was being hatched and was gonna shoot his mama, ‘cause he thought Hood was an old man in bed with his young wife. But he decided if she was poking summup that old and ugly, he didn’t want nothing else to do with her anyways.”
Laughing heartily, the Tsalagi trader puts out his hand in friendship, now greeting his guests properly. “Welcome to Seven Springs. They call me Is-aac.”
Ole Hood shakes Isaac’s hand, but quickly offends the young man with his next remark: “Kind of strange Tsalagi making a town on top of a mountain. What’s the story?”
Affronted by the comment, Isaac whips out his flint knife and puts it to Ole Hood’s throat.
“Why? You English spies?”
“Now hang on there, Isaac,” Ole Hood nervously replies, dropping his musket and holding up his hands, “We are traders from west of the mountains at Chota.”
Unconsciously rubbing the scar on the side of his face, Isaac apologizes. “The English dogs drove us from our lands in Virginia, killing nearly all our people,” he explains. “My father, William, led us to this mountain to keep us safe from the English.”
Big Foot slaps his thigh. “So, William The Emigrant be ya Pappy? I be damn!”
“Tuh-huh. Why?” Isaac asks.
“He’s well thought of by the Tsalagi in the western towns. Is that where you got them scars?”
Isaac’s eyes grow cold. “I hate the English dogs and the Irish that run with them,” he says.
Ole Hood and Big Foot look briefly at one another with concern, and then smile at Isaac in unison. Ole Hood leans in toward him and whispers, “There is a girl in Chota that has spoke fondly of ya. Said she met you some years back. Her name is Nan-yah’-Hee’! Said if’n we saw you to tell you o-si-yo for her.”
Isaac’s face lights up. “I think of her often.”
Big Foot smiles, “She’s still there – with her children and husband, Kingfisher.”
Subdued by the news of her marriage, Isaac changes the subject.
“What you trade?”
“Beaver and buffalo hides from west of the Little Tennessee River and east of the Mississippi. Yeah, heard you had about the best trade stock in these parts. We ‘bout out of everything.”
Big Foot chimes in, “We trade with the Tsalagi west of the mountains at Chota and in need of supplies.”
At the mention of Chota, Isaac shows interest. “I have heard of Chota over the mountains,” he says. “I have long thought of setting up trade there.”
Ole Hood spits out the spent tobacco he had been chewing and reaches back in the small leather pouch. He puts several more leaves of tobacco in his jaw and also offers tobacco to Isaac. As Isaac accepts, Old Hood looks him dead in the eye and says softly, “Well, no one knows the over-the-hill country better than me and Big Foot. Maybe we can work something out, if you a being interested?”
Isaac smiles. “You look thirsty. Come, let us talk.”
Ole Hood is shocked. “You got whiskey?” he blurts out.
Tuh-huh! My father made whiskey in Virginia,” Isaac says. “We trade Tsalagi for corn. Father makes the whiskey. We trade whiskey to the English dogs and French for blankets, tomahawks, guns, ball and powder.”
Ole Hood and Big Foot break out in huge smiles.
“Damn good system! Everybody’s happy. Ain’t had a taste of the spirits in quite a while.”
Following closely behind Isaac, the two mountain men enter the trading post filled with goods and trinkets. Isaac takes a seat on a buffalo robe laid on the dirt floor. Ole Hood and Spencer lean their muskets against the wall and sit down on wooden kegs. Isaac pours whiskey from a gourd into hand-carved wooden cups, and there is a moment of silence as the three men sip their whiskey. Then Isaac asks about rumors he has heard lately. “I hear that the Tsalagi over the mountains are troubled by the English dogs,” he says.
Ole Hood shakes his head. “The Tsalagi hedged their bets with the British by letting them build Fort Prince George and Fort Loudoun on their ground,” he answers.
Big Foot butts in. “But lately the Tsalagi have been pressed to find new hunting ground to make up for what they are losing to the white settlers crossing the mountains into overhill country.” Big Foot takes another sip of whiskey, and then continues, “In the Northwest Georgia territory, the Tsalagi are still in a war with the Mus-ko-Gee over a dispute about hunting grounds.”
“They left Chota a few days ago the same day we did,” Ole Hood adds, “They were headed south in the direction of the Taliwa hunting grounds. They left in war paint, so it won’t be no buffalo they be after.”
“Tell me more of Chota,” Isaac asks eagerly as he refills their cups with whiskey.
Taliwa, Northwestern Georgia, January 1755,
It was a frigid cold winter’s morning. The hardwood and mixed pine forests of the Southern Smoky Mountains are blanketed in a heavy snow. Materializing out of the wooded embankment is a lone warrior on his bareback horse. Oconostota. He is adorned in black war paint and wolf headdress and is wrapped in a buffalo robe. His musket is resting at the ready across his lap and his French smokerhawk is at his side. His normally fierce eyes are tired and weary as he inspects every bush, tree and rock in the area for any lurking Creek warriors. Every nerve senses danger is near, but his eyes and ears fail to detect the enemy.
The Mortar, a fierce adversary, leads the Muskogee, and Oconostota knows his opponent all too well. His prowess as a fierce warrior and a brilliant strategist has earned him Oconostota’s respect and admiration. A part of Oconostota dreads the day they will meet once again. He knows many of his own valiant warriors will meet their end, yet the warrior in Oconostota craves the battle he knows is soon to come.
Now appearing from the shelter of the woods are The Tassel, The Raven, Dragging Canoe, Little Owl, the Ada’wehi, Five Killer and Kingfisher in war paint. They ease slowly out onto the snow-covered bank of the river. Moments later, more than twenty men and women warriors follow suit. The remaining warriors make their way to the edge of the woods and pause before exposing themselves fully in the openness of the stream bed. Remaining in the safety of the woods are Nanye’Hi and the other wives.
The horses’ nostrils shoot out rhythmic pulses of steam as the nearly frozen Tsalagi war party descends the sloping embankment onto the rock-lined stream bed. As the warriors’ horses enter the knee-deep icy stream, the cracking sound of the ice breaking shatters the winter silence.
Concealed in the evergreen trees upstream is the Mortar, the Mus-ko-gee (Creek) Head-Man, watching intently. Behind him in the woods are fifty of his seasoned Creek warriors, poised for attack. The Mortar continues watching through the branches of the evergreen tree as the Tsalagi War Party advances slowly toward his trap. His eyes focus on the lone warrior he respects most, Oconostota, but he restrains the impulse to strike.
Oconostota hesitates in midstream, his body motionless as he continues to inspect every bush and tree. His uneasy eyes seek but cannot find his adversary. Next to Oconostota are his lead warriors, The Tassel, The Raven, Kingfisher, Dragging Canoe and Little Owl. They sense Oconostota’s uneasiness and become even more wary, cautiously proceeding toward a bend in the icy stream. Oconostota’s inner voice tells him the enemy is close. He comes to a halt, and his heightened tension is an unspoken warning that quickly spreads throughout the entire war party, reaching Nanye’Hi’ who remains in the safety of the woods.
From the protection of his wooded vantage point above the stream, the Mortar slowly draws back his bow, holding the arrow until Oconostota is in position for the clean kill.
Oconostota slowly eases further out into the stream, but stops when he hears a scout on horseback racing up from behind him.
The Mortar releases his arrow.
The scout pulls his mount to a sliding halt just in front of Oconostota and points to the bend of the river that hides the Mortar.
Just as the warrior opens his mouth to speak, the arrow meant for Oconostota strikes the scout in the eye, sending him backward into the icy waters. His blood sprays the white ice and turns the snow a brilliant crimson.
From the tree-lined ridge, the Mortar screams a bloodcurdling war cry, igniting the Creek warriors to attack. Remaining hidden from their prey, the Creek warriors open with a heavy fusillade of arrows and musketry.
The Tsalagi warriors scatter, splintering off in all directions, searching desperately for cover. The chaos of battle ensues as the Tsalagi war party quickly disperses, desperately using what little cover is available on the open stream bed. Many reach the safety of the woods while others find cover behind their dead horses.
Under intense fire, Kingfisher kicks his horse to a full run through the icy waters, hoping to find a better vantage point. He reaches the opposite side of the stream. With musket in hand he dives headlong over a log. Arrows and musket shot pepper the log, pinning him down.
Meanwhile, at the edge of the woods, Nanye’Hi’ – who is carrying the ball, powder and most of the reserve muskets in her travois – sees her husband’s perilous position. She looks skyward a brief moment and calls out, “Yo-He-Ya! Give me the cover of invisibility!”
Breaking out of the safety of the woods with the travois bouncing erratically behind her, she races through the fray at a fevered pace but slows briefly as she passes the warriors so they can grab the sacks of powder and ball from the travois. Now that the travois is nearly empty, her focus is on her husband. She kicks her horse to a faster gait and rides hard across the stream, heading directly for Kingfisher, still pinned down behind the log. Covered with a shower of bullets and arrows, Nanye’Hi’ and her crazed horse jump the log and Kingfisher. The travois hits the log, sending muskets, ball and powder flying in all directions as Nanye’Hi’ bails off the horse. Landing hard on the rocky stream bed near Kingfisher, she crawls around and quickly reclaims another musket, powder and ball thrown from the travois.
Proud of his wife’s action, Kingfisher smiles briefly, grabs the musket from her, and turns and fires. He quickly exchanges the spent gun with another loaded musket from Nanye’Hi’. Taking a spent musket, she loads the powder, patch and ball and uses the ramrod to pack down the charge. She quickly dispenses powder in the flintlock breach and cocks the gun while exchanging it for the next spent musket from Kingfisher. They repeat this action over and over as the battle escalates.
From the far side of the stream bed, the Mortar points to the log on the opposite side of the stream. Instantly a Creek warrior quickly scampers up a leaning tree. From this vantage point, the warrior releases an arrow at his target.
Suddenly Kingfisher is still. Dropping his musket to the snow, he looks up at Nanye’Hi’ with a glassy-eyed stare, then slumps to the cold ground with the Creek warrior’s arrow in his chest. With his last breath, he reaches out to Nanye’Hi’.
Under a hell of arrows and shot, Nanye’Hi’ manages to cradle his head in her lap. She screams at him through her tears, “Kingfisher! Kingfisher!” As Kingfisher’s blood flows from his chest covering Nanye’Hi’ and the snow-white ground, shock consumes her. The battle continues to swirl around her as if she was in the eye of a massive whirlwind, but everything goes silent for her. “How did we get here, to this place, to this time?” she whispers to her husband.
The Tsalagi warriors continue to fight valiantly to ward off their unseen enemy, returning musket balls and arrows into the trees on the ridge above. Seconds later, Dragging Canoe screams a war whoop, bringing Nanye’Hi’ back to reality. She shakes her head to clear her mind and wipes away her tears with her blood-soaked hand, giving her the ghastly appearance of a war-painted warrior. Concentrating clearly now, she pulls Kingfisher’s tomahawk from under his lifeless body. Peeping over the edge of the log, she sees Dragging Canoe waving his tomahawk as he runs headlong toward the charging Mortar and his Creek warriors.
At midstream Dragging Canoe and the Mortar furiously collide in hand-to-hand combat. Dragging Canoe swings at the Mortar with his tomahawk, but the more experienced Mortar ducks his blow, leaving Dragging Canoe catching nothing but air. The Mortar comes up swinging his war club, striking Dragging Canoe in the head, a blow that causes Dragging Canoe to stumble backwards and fall unconscious over the log. He lies lifeless beside Kingfisher’s body and Nanye’Hi’. Racing after Dragging Canoe, the Mortar leaps up on top of the log.
Looking to finish Dragging Canoe, his attention is diverted when he sees Nanye’Hi covered in blood, staring up at him. The Mortar mistakes her for a warrior in war paint. With all his might, the Mortar brings down his war club on her. She dodges the deadly blow, rolling out of his reach. Recognizing Nanye’Hi’s peril, Oconostota races to her defense at a full run, clutching a shiny brass smoker-hawk. Only a few yards away from reaching the Mortar, Oconostota falters as an arrow pierces his thigh. and the Tassel steps in front of him. Suddenly another Tsalagi warrior attacks the Mortar from the side, but the Mortar defeats him with a single blow from his war club.
Crazed with anger, Nanye’Hi’ stands, throwing off her buffalo robe. Dressed in only her breechclout, leather vest, leggings and moccasins, she clutches her dead husband’s tomahawk. Instantly a Creek warrior descends upon her with his flint knife. Without uttering a sound, she sinks the weapon in his head. Staring with wild eyes at her victim, she quickly jerks the tomahawk free. Now completely consumed with rage and fear, Nanye’Hi’ rushes past Oconostota, waving the bloody tomahawk above her head, with a blood-curdling scream. She battles one Creek warrior after another, coming face to face with the Mortar midway of the icy stream. Nanye’Hi’ stares into the Mortar’s cold black eyes just inches away from her blood-covered face. She raises her tomahawk and screams a war whoop.
Realizing she is covered in blood instead of war paint, the Mortar slowly lowers his war club, backs up and walks away. Blank-faced she stands there, her bloody tomahawk still raised, as the Mortar retreats up the hillside with only sixteen warriors. Before entering the safety of the wooded ridge, he turns to look back at Nanye’Hi’ and raises his war club in her honor. In a blink of an eye, he vanishes into the woods.
The battle over, her adrenaline subsides, and her arms become heavy. Shivering from the cold, Nanye’Hi’ staggers around and around in circles, dragging her bloody tomahawk through the icy stream running red with blood of the dead and dying. Wet and chilled to the bone, her lips quiver and her teeth chatter violently. She gazes about until her tear-filled eyes find her dead husband. She screams out at the top of her lungs, “Kingfisher!”
Still clutching the bloody tomahawk, she runs over to the lifeless body, staring down at the man who was her husband and the father of her two children. She falls to her knees in the blood-covered snow beside him. Consumed with unbearable grief, she gently places his head in her lap and strokes his forehead. “Dah-nah-dah’ goh’-huh-ee’. Ah’s-gah-yah’-ah-nayla,” she says softly. “Until we meet again, my husband.”
With tears running down her bloody face, she reaches up and releases the two long coils of braids wrapped tightly about her head. Loosening the leather ties from the ends of the braids, she lets her long hair hang unbound, enveloping her. In her sorrow for her dead husband, she cries out, “Yah-ah-Yo-He-ta-Wah. Master of Life, I mourn. Yah-ah-Yo-He-ta-Wah. Master of Life, I mourn. Yah-ah-Yo-He-ta-Wah. Master of Life, I mourn.”
Oconostota now approaches Nanye’Hi’ and gently touches her shoulder. He removes his buffalo robe and wraps it around her shivering body. She looks down at her bloody buckskins. “Oconostota, this is not me,” she says. “I am not a warrior. I am a wife. A mother.”
Oconostota kneels down and consoles her. “Nan-yah’-Hee’! In every human lives a warrior. All warriors are judged by their enemies to be good or evil. The truth lies only in the heart of the warrior’s people, not the eyes of the enemy,” he explains. “You must seek your own truth of what you are and what you are destined by Yo-He-Wah to become.”
Joined by the Ada’wehi holding the War Fire pot intact, Oconostota raises Nanye’Hi’s arm up, still tightly clutching the bloody tomahawk. As he pulls her to her feet, the remaining warriors slowly gather around her. Once she stands fully erect with the bloodstained tomahawk outstretched to the heavens, the warriors release an explosive war whoop of approval, a sound that reverberates through her body and soul. Her skin is covered in goose bumps, not from the cold, but from an unexplainable transformation of her whole being.
Awakened by the war whoop, Dragging Canoe regains semi-consciousness and is filled with anger and shame. He hears the unrelenting chant, “ War Woman! War Woman! War Woman!”
He sees the warriors gathering about her, repeating the chant over and over:
“ War Woman! War Woman! War Woman!”
Trying to stand on his wobbly legs, Dragging Canoe staggers over to Oconostota and grabs his arm. With rage in his eyes, Dragging Canoe informs him, “I will not return with her looked upon as a warrior. Nan-yah’-Hee’ is no warrior! If she is a warrior, I take my own path!”
Oconostota replies grimly, “Nan-yah’-Hee’ is a warrior! Nan-yah’-Hee’ returns a warrior! I have spoken!”
Setting the War Fire pot on the blood-covered snow, the Ada’wehi stands in support of Oconostota’s declaration and stares at Dragging Canoe.
He proclaims so all can hear, “Nan-yah’-Hee’ stands as a warrior on this bloody ground of Taliwa! Nan-yah’-Hee’ will be presented to the Council as a DA-NA-WA A-GAY-YA, a War Woman!”
Dragging Canoe’s jaw tightens. Turning his back to the other warriors, he looks about the scene of battle with disgust and shame. Seeing his weapon lying in the blood-soaked snow, he angrily snatches it up and jumps on his horse, quickly kicking it into a full run. As he leaves the bloody ground, he is followed closely by Little Owl. With deep concern and pity, Wild Rose watches as her cousins ride out of sight.
Days later, Isaac, Ole Hood and Big Foot make their way west through the Smokey Mountains. They are riding horses and leading five loaded pack mules down a narrow trail on a thickly forested mountain ridge. Ole Hood leads the way with Isaac riding directly behind him.
“Isaac, we usually do most our trading with Fort Prince George and Fort Loudoun,” Ole Hood tells him. “But we’re fearful of catching the pox from the English.”
Riding to the rear of Isaac, Big Foot adds, “The Virginians purposely infected the trade blankets going to the Tsalagi. They have spread the pox through most all the Tsalagi towns.”
“Tuh-huh, the pox has killed off nearly half our people,” Isaac adds.
“That’s a lot of Tsi’yu-gunsini problem with the whites,” Ole Hood says sadly. Isaac is puzzled and asks, “Why does he let you be?”
“Hell, me and Big Foot has known him since he was a pup,” Ole Hood replies. “Besides, our wives are his cousins.” A sly smile comes to Big Foot’s face. “Aye, then there is his other cousin. What a lass!”
“Damn, she gets my nature up just thinking about her,” Ole Hood replies.
Big Foot looks at Hood with disgust, “You be poking a snake if one would hold his head. And poking a bush if you think a snake be in it! Get your mind outta your britches an’ back on your business!”
Suddenly Ole Hood’s face fills with concern. Pulling to a halt, he searches the valley below with a troubled gaze. Isaac and Big Foot halt as well. “What the hell are they doing out here?” Ole Hoods wonders. “They left Chota with Oconostota to fight the Creek weeks ago.”
Slowly nudging their horses onward, the three of them watch two tattered warriors head down another trail into the valley.
“Who are they?” asks Isaac.
“Nan-yah’-Hee’s cousins. The big one’s Tsi’yu-gunsini – Dragging Canoe – and his brother, Little Owl,” Big Foot answers quietly, “Both of ‘um bad news and itching to make a name for themselves.”
“Well, let’s see what’s going on,” Ole Hood says and reluctantly nudges his horse forward. “This should be interesting.”
The three slowly make their way down the narrow mountain trail with their packhorses.
As they reach the bottom, Dragging Canoe sees them, tenses and pulls up. Ole Hood calls out, “O-si-yo Tsi’yu-gunsini, Ki-teg-is-ka. It is Ole Hood and Big Foot.”
Still bloodied and in smeared war paint, Dragging Canoe and Little Owl ride the twenty or so yards to meet them. Both parties come to a stop with neither party speaking. Dragging Canoe’s attention is centered on Isaac. He rides slowly up alongside the tall stranger, inspecting Isaac from head to toe.
“Hood, who is this stranger?” he asks irately. Hood nervously stammers out, “A, a, a, a friend from Seven Springs Town.”
Testing the stranger’s resolve while relieving his own frustrations, Dragging Canoe begins chastising Isaac in Cherokee. This only increases Ole Hood and Big Foot’s uneasiness. Riding around and around Isaac, Dragging Canoe pokes at him with his bow. Isaac, disdainful, can take no more taunting. As Dragging Canoe pokes him again, Isaac grabs the bow and jerks the warrior from his horse. As Dragging Canoe falls, Isaac whips out his smoker-hawk and slaps Dragging Canoe’s head with the handle, reopening his wound. Dragging Canoe falls unconscious to the ground. Enraged by the attack on his brother, Little Owl attacks Isaac, but with a single blow from his smoker-hawk, Isaac slaps Little Owl from his horse.
Ole Hood looks down at the two of them lying unconscious on the ground and shakes his head. “Don’t let Dragging Canoe bother you,” he tells Isaac. “It is just his cantankerous spirit. Dragging Canoe is scarred real bad with the pox, inside and out. He hates ‘bout everyone. Guess we can add you to the list.”
Out of habit, Isaac unconsciously rubs the scar on his face. “We all carry our demons and tortured spirits,” he says, undaunted. The trio of traders rides away with their pack mules, leaving Dragging Canoe and Little Owl lying in the snow.
After several more miles of heavily wooded mountains, the terrain mellows out to lush hills and valleys. They come to the peak of a hill and stop. In the valley beside a wide river is a large Cherokee Town. “There it is – Chota,” Ole Hood says.
Isaac is awed by the sight of a Cherokee town the magnitude of Chota and slides down from his horse to take it all in. “How many Tsalagi live here?” he asks. Old Hood scratches his head. “I ‘spect close to five hundred or so, counting men, women and children.”
Big Foot points toward the river below. “Look. Oconostota and the War Party return to Chota.” They watch the battered war party cross the river entering the town. Then the traders mount up and make their way down the hill with their loaded pack mules.
The returning War Party rides in silence as they approach the river bordering Chota. They are led by a weary and war worn Nanye’Hi’, her hair hanging loose to signify her mourning. She is leading five captured horses and is flanked by Oconostota on her left and the Ada’wehi, carrying the War Fire on her right. The Tassel and the Raven follow closely behind them with only twenty returning male warriors. Bringing up the rear of the procession are three women warriors and six wives dragging travois that carry the wounded.
A solemn young boy sits at the edge of the river, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the war party. As it comes into view, he is suddenly filled with excitement, his mind racing with thoughts of the day he will be one of those returning warriors. The jubilant boy runs up the riverbank and through Chota shouting, “ The warriors return! The warriors return!”
The elders hear the boy’s news, but they are unmoved. They know the warriors’ return is for the young who have not yet absorbed the taste of bitterness that comes with the ever-mounting grief from the aftermath of war, of death. To the elders, the return of the war party is not a joyous occasion. The old ones have heard this call of victory too many times in their life – they remain stone-faced as if unfazed by the news. They have no tears left to shed for the dead, and they know the joy of victory is short-lived.
The townspeople, hearing the news of the returning war party, drop what they are doing. All feel a mix of fear and hope of this dreaded day. The mothers’ and fathers’ stomachs are knotted, as they fear their sons and daughters are not among the living warriors. Grandparents and great-grandparents have lived the experience of returning war parties too many times – the day brings back sorrowful memories of times past. They concern themselves not with those returning, but with those that do not. They prepare themselves mentally, fearing for their children’s and Grand Children’s uncertain future without a father or mother. Wives fear they may no longer feel the warm touch of their mate or hear their laughter.
The townspeople rush through town seeking an answer to one question: “Does my loved one’s body remain on the battlefield and their spirit walks the Nightland?” Each has the same hope: “My loved one returns to me victorious.”
As the townspeople gather at the doorway of the Council House, all fear the worst, and many are in tears, yet they try to remain hopeful as the War Party makes its way up the bank of the river.
The War Party breaks the crest of the riverbank, coming ever closer to the sacred mound that supports the ancient Council House. There is silence as the stone-faced warriors reach the Council House and slowly dismount. The returning warriors’ thoughts are not on their victory, but on the loss of their fallen brothers and sisters. The only thing that breaks the silence is the wailing and weeping of those mourning loved ones. The wailing mixes with chanting of death songs as the last living warrior reaches the Council House.
Little Carpenter steps out of the darkness of the Council House entrance into the bright sunlight. He stands in silence beside his sister Tame Doe and Nanye’Hi’s young children, Kasewini – Catherine – and Litli Welo – Little Fellow. He holds out his arms to greet the returning warriors, his eyes adjusting to the brightness as the war party comes to a halt before him.
Nanye’Hi’s children rush to meet her, and she hugs and kisses them frantically. Slowly she turns away from her family as Little Carpenter greets her with his arms outstretched. He and Nanye’Hi’ share a loving hug. Nanye’Hi’ presents him with her horses leashes and says, “O-si-yo E-du-ji. Hello, Uncle. To honor you, I give you these horses I took in battle.”
Little Carpenter briefly inspects the horses and replies affectionately, “O-si-yo Nan-ya’-Hee’! Your gifts warm my spirit, but you alone have won these rewards. Runners told us of your victory as well as your loss of Kingfisher to the Nightland.” He returns the horses’ leashes to Nanye’Hi’, and she accepts them. Even though she is consumed with grief and fatigue, she stands tall, her chin held high, responding, “My loss of Kingfisher to the Nightland is much for me to bear, but I choose to carry this weight, my burden, to honor him. It is our twentieth winter of war with the Mus-ko-gee over our Taliwa hunting grounds. This war is no more. Kingfisher and many other warriors gave their lives freely so we can hunt our Taliwa grounds in peace.”
Little Carpenter nods in agreement, full of pride in her strength but holding back his tears of loss. Oconostota steps up beside Nanye’Hi’. Little Carpenter greets him with the warm handshake of an old friend, asking softly as he searches the faces of the returning warriors, “What of my sons Tsi’yu-gunsi-ni and Kit-eg-iska?”
Shaking his head in deep remorse Oconostota states coldly, “Dragging Canoe and Little Owl refused to accept Nan-ya’Hee’ as War Woman. They chose their own path!”
When he hears the news, deep despair grips Little Carpenter. Dropping his head in shame, he enters the narrow doorway of the Council House. Then the Ada’wehi, carrying the War Fire, enters behind him. Oconostota, the Raven and the Tassel arrive next, followed by Tame Doe leading the Women’s Council and Nanye’Hi’ with her children, and last, the remaining Warriors’ Council. In a show of honor to the Council, there is a short wait before the townspeople enter.
The large Council Room is lined with a stepped sitting area that encircles the Council Fire. The fire’s smoke hangs low over the room before meandering out a small hole in the ceiling.
A few feet from the Sacred Fire, the Ada’wehi with the War Fire takes his seat in front of the A-ni-da-we-hi – the religious leaders. Tame Doe, as leader of the Women’s Council, takes her place on a stump beside the Ada’wehi.
Facing the fire to the right of Tame Doe is a stump covered in buffalo and deer robes for the Peace Head-Man, Little Carpenter. To the left of Tame Doe is a stump covered in bear and wolf robes for the War Head-Man, Oconostota. Little Carpenter and Oconostota take their designated places, sitting down on their stools.
The council members – made up of clan heads, warriors and elders, both men and women – take their own places. On the other side of the Council fire, the large room is quickly packed as over five hundred townspeople sit with their respective clans.
A silence falls over the room as Oconostota kneels down at the base of the center post. He digs out a buried hand-carved box and hands the box to Tame Doe. She opens it and presents it to Little Carpenter who gently removes the white deerskin from the box. He lays it across his lap and carefully unfolds it to manifest the sacred white pipe. With both hands, he lifts the pipe skyward, and then carefully lays the pipe back on the white deerskin.
Oconostota walks straight and tall over to the massive center post of the Council House and removes the Danawa Ahi Galuyasti, the Ceremonial Red Hatchet of War, from the center post. Kneeling, he wraps the Red Tomahawk of War in the red fox pelt. Tame Doe hands him the hand-carved box that held the sacred pipe, and he places the hatchet in the box. He puts the box in the hole at the base of the center-post and covers the box with dirt.
With the slight twitch of his fingers, Little Carpenter signals Tame Doe, who bows her head slightly in acknowledgement. She is holding a white buffalo scrotum pouch that she hands to Little Carpenter.
Untying the leather strings that bind the pouch, he reaches in and takes out a small amount of dried tobacco and puts it into the bowl of the pipe, while Tame Doe walks over to the Sacred Fire. She removes a burning stick used to light the pipe, and Little Carpenter puffs the pipe to life, waving the smoke up and over his head. He then passes the pipe to Oconostota, who repeats the same motion with the smoke.
Little Carpenter and Oconostota stand with Tame Doe. Oconostota takes the pipe and cradles it in his arm as he motions Nanye’Hi’ to step forward.
Unsure of why she is summoned, Nanye’Hi’ respectfully makes her way down from the Women’s Council. Reaching the Head Men, she stands between Oconostota and Little Carpenter, facing the large audience of townspeople.
Oconostota raises the smoking pipe above his head with both hands as he addresses the assembly. “Nan-ya’Hee’ walked beside Kingfisher as a woman, a wife and mother of their children,” he says. “Proving her strength among the Warriors, she is our War Woman!”
The tribe rumbles with approval, and Little Carpenter waves his arms to settle the approving crowd. Once they are silent, their full attention turns to Little Carpenter as he speaks softly, “Nan-ya’Hee’ places her people first and sacrificed all for her people. She is worthy to be called Beloved Woman. What says the Council?”
There is a huge wave of approval from the room. Tame Doe looks up at Oconostota and solemnly proclaims, “As mother of the Woman’s Council, we welcome Nan-ya’Hee’ as our GHEE-GAH-UH!”
With pride, Tame Doe presents Nanye’Hi’ a leather pouch with a strap. Reaching inside, she pulls out a white swan’s wing. “Only an A-gay-yah – only a woman – can give life! Only a GHEE-GAH-UH can spare life!” she says. “The swan’s wing is Beloved Woman’s power to spare a life sentenced to death! She alone has this power to overturn even the great War Head Man’s authority!”
With tears of joy, Tame Doe turns to Nanye’Hi’, throwing open her arms. Nanye’Hi’, however, is quickly aware of the reality of her responsibilities. As Oconostota passes the white pipe to her, she hesitates in her acceptance. “Women are forbidden to touch the sacred White Pipe,” she says humbly.
“You are no longer a-gay-ya, a woman,” Little Carpenter says. “You are GHEE-GAH-UH and granted supreme powers, as well as a supreme degree of accountability for your actions. As Beloved Woman, you are the spirit of woman giving life, and as War Woman you are spirit of man giving death. Take the pipe.”
Nanye’Hi’ trembles as she receives the sacred pipe. Carefully holding it in both hands, she lifts it to her lips and draws in the smoke. Exhaling, she waves the rising smoke up and over her head, and then passes the pipe to Little Carpenter.
He turns to the large tribe and calls out to them: “Guided by Yo-He-Wa and his law for balance, the Council has spoken. For all her moons, she will be a GHEE-GAH-UH, Beloved Woman, in times of peace, and DA-NA-WA A-GAY-YAH’, War Woman, in times of war! Nanya’Hee’ is no more. She is GEY’-YAH-TAH-HEE’ AH-GEE-LAH’SSS-GEE – Wild Rose Of Chota.”
The council once again whoops its approval. Little Carpenter hands the White Pipe of Peace back to Oconostota who places it back inside the white deerskin pouch and hangs it from a wooden peg in the post. Replacing the Red Hatchet of War with the White Pipe of Peace with is a symbol that Chota is at peace.
As Oconostota returns to his stool, Tame Doe holds up a shawl made of white swan wing feathers. Little Carpenter stands and receives the shawl and motions for Nanye’Hi’ to stand. He gently places the shawl around Nanye’Hi’s shoulders, proclaiming, “This shawl will remain a symbol of Wild Rose’s authority as Beloved Woman.”
Tame Doe then removes a silver broach from a pouch and hands the broach to Oconostota. He holds the broach up for all to see before he addresses the crowd. “This broach is a symbol of Wild Rose’s standing among our people as War Woman,” He places the broach in Wild Rose’s hands. After raising it above her head to show the people, she removes the leather tie of her buckskin vest and replaces the tie with the silver broach.
Oconostota declares in Cherokee, “Wild Rose will take her rightful place between the Peace Head-Man and The War Head-Man at all councils as Beloved Woman and War Woman of Chota.”
Overcome with the honor and responsibility bestowed on her, Wild Rose’s voice cracks as she addresses her people: “As Beloved Woman, my call is for peace. As War Woman, my pledge is to defend this peace against all enemies. My vow to the people is to hold myself and my actions to the highest standard!”
The crowd erupts with cheers and whoops for several minutes, but the jubilant fervor turns to silence at the entrance of the bruised and bleeding Dragging Canoe and Little Owl. They are followed closely by Alissah’kway-tee, a tall and beautiful woman in her early twenties.
Dragging Canoe and Little Owl’s anger is very clear as they strut proudly across the main floor to the inner circle, stopping directly in front of Little Carpenter, Oconostota and Wild Rose. Dragging Canoe poses defiantly and stares coldly at Wild Rose, bringing the proceedings to a halt. Dragging Canoe’s insolent actions anger Oconostota and shame Little Carpenter. Oconostota springs from his stool to face him. “ Your disrespect is not tolerated within the Council House!” he says disdainfully.
To defuse the very tense standoff, Little Carpenter stands and approaches Dragging Canoe. He greets his two sons warmly: “O-si-yo my sons. We will talk of this later.”
Turning his attention from Oconostota, Dragging Canoe looks down at Little Carpenter, then back at Oconostota. He then turns his hard stare on Wild Rose. He calls out loudly, “You look on this woman Nan-ya’Hee’ as a warrior?”
Little Carpenter responds coldly to his disrespectful remark. “Nan-ya’Hee’ fought as a warrior. She led us to victory over the Creek. The Council has spoken! She is Beloved Woman and War Woman! She is now Wild Rose of Chota! For all her remaining moons she will be addressed at Wild Rose!”
Oconostota’s anger grows as he and Dragging Canoe continue their death stare. Having his fill of insolence, Oconostota commands with cold authority. “Abide by the council’s decision or leave Chota! I have spoken!”
Dragging Canoe tries to contain his rage but it is quite obvious. He struts out of the inner circle, followed by Little Owl and Alissah’. Before reaching the narrow hall, he turns and announces, “You, Oconostota, have spoken! I, Dragging Canoe, hear not your words! The day will come that I will be War Head Man! I have spoken!” He quickly vanishes into the dark hallway.
Dragging Canoe’s disrespectful outburst brings rumblings of disapproval from all the clans. It also angers Little Carpenter, but his feelings of rage are soon replaced by disappointment and shame as he watches his sons leave the Council House.
The reunion of the warriors returning and the red hatchet and white pipe ceremony completed, the townspeople exit the inner chamber. Once outside, most of the women hurry off in preparation of the feast later that night. Many of the other townspeople return to their lodges and resume the daily activities of the town. Many, however, remain outside the Council House listening to the war stories and other exploits of the elders, while others cluster together to discuss the politics of the day’s events.
Meanwhile, Ole Hood, Isaac and Big Foot cross the river and enter Chota from the far side of town. Chota is cradled safely in the large bend of the Little Tennessee River. Isaac has never seen a Cherokee town of this magnitude and is in awe at its size. The numerous lodges dotting the valley amaze him. Coming from a secluded town of less than fifty people, Isaac cannot fathom a town that houses over five hundred men, women and children. He reminisces about his own town and how the population had faded in the last ten years of his life on Seven Springs Mountain. Even in his youth there were fewer than a hundred people that made the journey to Seven Springs from Virginia. They consisted mostly of elderly men and women.
Life was hard on Seven Springs Mountain. If you were a skilled hunter, you lived; if not, you died or left the mountain. Many of the elderly died off within a year of arriving at Seven Springs. Many families left for an easier life of the larger Cherokee towns. Over the years, the young men and women in search of suitable mates outside their clans left, never to return. That mountain was his whole world, and because he was a skilled hunter and trader his family thrived there, but they were the exception.
The seclusion also made him suspicious of everyone outside the mountain, even the traders he has known for years. He thought the traders’ tall tales were fabrications and lies brought on by the whiskey he sold them. He knew nothing about the outside world except the pain and violence he carried from his boyhood. As the last scene he experienced in the outside world plays over and over in his mind, without thought he strokes the scar left by the Englishman.
“I have never before trusted anyone outside the mountain, except one – Nan-ya’Hee’,” he mumbles. “So why do I trust these strangers, Ole Hood and Big Foot?”
Looking up from his memories of his past, Isaac gazes admiringly upon a huge round-shaped structure on a large mound. He is filled with amazement of the magnificent structure as he points up towards the Council House and asks, “What’s that?” Before him sits a vibrant new world, now open to him at Chota.
Chuckling at Isaac’s curiosity, Ole Hood says, “ Son, you should get off that mountain more.” Isaac ignores the comment, but now realizes the stories of Chota and other great Cherokee towns were not tall tales of drunken traders, but real.
Ole Hood points to the Council House. “That’s the tallest point of the town – it’s a large man-made mound covering many acres. What you see sitting on top of the mound is the seven-wall Council House,’ he explains. “Each side represents one of the seven clans of the Tsalagi. Inside, each of the Seven Clans marks their designated area with the individual colors, hides and feathers of their clan. The Council Houses are designed by the Ada’wehi to adhere to the design passed down from ‘the Ancient Times.’ And, Son, you think Chota is sumpn’ – you should see the Middle Town of Cowee.”
Ole Hood continues Isaac’s education of the Cherokee world outside of Seven Springs Mountain. “The Council House is the center of all activities,” he says. “At all times the Ada’wehi – that’s a shaman, also called the Atsilasvti or Fire Maker – tends the Sacred Fire. The Council House holds all that is sacred.”
As the trio goes by the well maintained and robust fields of corn mixed with beans, squash and potatoes, Isaac remains in awe. Heading toward town, they pass the many mud-covered lodges made of logs and river cane with bark roofs. The lodges randomly dot the valley. Ole Hood explains, “These summerhouses vary in shape and size, depending on the size of the mother’s family.”
Isaac scans the town’s varied architecture; some houses are small, square structures while others are large and rectangular. All of the structures are built with upright poles forming the main framework. The outside wall coverings vary from house to house as well. Some are covered with bark, some wood, and others with woven river canes, but most are wattle-and-daub – a white clay stucco that covers both the interior and exterior walls.
Smoke from the many cooking fires hangs low over the ground as the women heat stones and place them in large clay bowls of boiling water for cooking. Under the supervision of the mature women, younger women and men are buzzing around with their many daily activities. Many of the female children are busy weaving baskets; others are making clay pots, tanning hides or sewing buckskin into winter clothing. Several other women grind corn, pounding large pestles up and down in a huge oak tree stump used as a mortar.
Isaac is dumbfounded by what he is experiencing outside the confines of his remote mountain home. Ole Hood muses, “They must be getn’ ready for sum big doings.”
Ignoring Hood’s comment, Isaac takes particular notice of how the women in Chota are dressed very differently than women in Seven Springs. Chota women dress in various forms of buckskin and woven fabrics for clothing. The older women wear a variety of one-piece dresses that range from just above the knee down to mid-calf with leggings and moccasins. The younger women of childbearing age dress in buckskin and woven fabric blouses, midriff-length vests of various designs or nothing at all above the waist. They all cover their lower bodies with a combination of knee-length breechclouts or skirts with leggings and moccasins. The breastfeeding women wear the same with either no blouse or a blouse with one strap over the shoulder, leaving at least one breast exposed for easy nursing of their babies.
With winter approaching, other women and the younger men go about preparing their asi or winter house. Asis are very different from the summerhouses – small, dome-shaped, wattle-and-daub structures that resemble a beehive or an upside-down basket that is partially sunken into the ground.
Ole Hood leads them to a large corral where they unload the pack mules and settle in their horses. Having put their horses away and stored their goods in the lean-to, Isaac, Ole Hood and Big Foot walk up to the outside of the lodge belonging to Running Deer.
Little Bird, age ten, and Dancing Rabbit, fifteen, look up from sewing hides to see the massive Big Foot walk up with Ole Hood and the stranger. Huge smiles cover their faces as they drop their work and race to Big Foot’s side, giggling and squealing with excitement.
Running Deer, a pretty woman in her late twenties, hears the commotion and walks around the corner of the lodge carrying two large water bags. Upon seeing Big Foot, she drops the bags, spilling water all over the ground. She jumps up on Big Foot, wrapping her legs around him and kissing him all over the face.
Big Foot lifts her in his massive arms and kisses her passionately. “This is my wife, Ah-wee ah-dee-see – Deer Running,” he tells Isaac with pride.
She slides down from Big Foot’s arms to the ground, but remains at Big Foot’s side, her arm wrapped around his waist. Big Foot points out his daughters with even more pride.
“And my daughters Gee-sss-kwah uh-chee’ (Bird, Little) and – “ he begins, but before he can finish, Dancing Rabbit steps up to Isaac with an admiring smile. “Gee-sss-doo gah’-lee-sss-gee-ah – I am Dancing Rabbit!”
Taken aback, Isaac smiles and nods. “O-si-yo!”
“Oo-lee-hey-sss-dee to Chota.” Dancing Rabbit’s flirtatious welcome makes it quite clear to Isaac she is of marrying age and interested.
Ole Hood has other things on his mind. “ Running Deer, what’s the ruckus at the Council House?” he asks.
“Runners brought news of the Creek defeat, and Oconostota has returned to Chota,” she answers. “There is word of a new War Woman carrying the battle to the Creek after Oconostota was wounded.”
Smiling, Ole Hood whispers to Big Foot and Isaac, “Let’s go see what’s going on.”
A suddenly prideful Ole Hood pokes out his chest and tries to suck in his gut. “Let’s get a closer look at this here new War Woman!”
With a lively step, Ole Hood and Isaac make their way toward the Council House, followed closely by Big Foot’s giggling daughters, not able to hide their infatuation with the stranger. Trailing behind the group are Big Foot and Running Deer, wrapped arm in arm.
As they pass one lodge, a robust woman in her thirties steps out with six young female children from three to ten. She sees Ole Hood and storms toward him with a look of vengeance in her eyes, berating him at the top of her voice while shaking her finger at him with every word.
“Hood! Where you been? You been drinking whiskey and taking other women?” she demands to know.
Her six daughters echo her every word while shaking their fingers at Hood.
Hearing the outburst, Ole Hood and Isaac stop and turn slowly to face the source of the onslaught. A lily-livered Ole Hood waves his arms, trying to calm the irate woman. “Now, June Bug, you know I, I, I wouldn’t do anything like that,” he stammers.
The six daughters echo his every word and action.
Ole Hood cowers from the woman’s continued badgering and the echoing ensemble. but Big Foot grins from ear to ear. “Ah, to see such a loving family,” he says gleefully.
Leaving Ole Hood to his browbeating, Isaac, Big Foot and his family walk on, striding up the massive mound crowned by the Council House. Big Foot is still chuckling. “ If ya be wondering? That be Hood’s loving wife, June Bug, and the pride of his loins, his loving children,” he informs Isaac.
From down below, they hear Ole Hood trying to run up the hill after them. “Oh, hell! Don’t leave me!” he calls out in a pitiful tone. Isaac looks back down toward the bottom of the mound and shakes his head, unable to comprehend the situation. They all come to a stop watching in amusement as Ole Hood struggles, gasping for air. Down below they hear June Bug coming toward them, hot on Ole Hood’s heels.
“Hood! You come here!” she yells.
Ole Hood whispers to Isaac and Big Foot, “I wonder what this War Woman looks like?”
“Aren’t you in enough trouble with the Missus?” Big Foot asks.
Looking down in despair, Ole Hood shakes his head. “Yep. And you don’t know the half of it! She’s pregnant.”
“Again! To hell with ya!” Big Foot bellows, throwing his arms in the air. He snatches up Running Deer’s hand, leading her up the hill. She is half-running just to keep up with the long-striding Big Foot as he stomps up to the crest of the mound.
“You don’t understand!” Ole Hood calls out to Big Foot as he desperately tries to keep up.
“The only time she ain’t mean is when I am poking her! It ain’t my fault her fields are so fertile!”
Following close behind Big Foot and Running Deer are Little Bird, Dancing Rabbit and Isaac. Lagging further and further behind are Ole Hood with June Bug and children in tow, harassing him all the way.
Reaching the crest of the mound, they make their way through the crowd to the narrow doorway of the huge Council House. As they arrive, Oconostota, Little Carpenter, Tame Doe and Wild Rose step outside. The awaiting crowd quickly gathers around the war heroes. Oconostota and Wild Rose visit with family, friends and other townspeople briefly, but their main focus is on consoling the family members that lost loved ones.
Spotting Isaac, Little Carpenter is drawn to the tall stranger and approaches to within inches of him. Isaac stands a foot taller than Little Carpenter who inspects him closely from head to toe and back up, staring him in the eye. “O-si-yo. Who are you, Big Man?” he asks.
“O-si-Yo! I am . . .” Isaac begins to reply.
Ole Hood steps forward and addresses Little Carpenter respectfully. “O-si-yo Little Carpenter! This is Isaac. He is from the Upper Middle Town of Seven Springs. He is with me and Big Foot.”
The tired, battle-worn Wild Rose is still reeling from the death of Kingfisher. She fails to recognize Isaac as she walks past him, but after a few steps, a deep feeling grips her soul. Glancing back, she sees Isaac’s scar, reminding her of an old friend from long ago. She spins around briskly and strides with authority directly back to the tall stranger, stopping just inches from him. Her abrupt actions capture the curiosity of the crowd.
Looking up, she examines the stranger’s face, looking deeply into his sad brown eyes. Without hesitation, she reaches up and touches the scar on his face, the same scar she touched as a child.
Taken back, Isaac steps away, but her touch on his scar ignites Isaac’s reminiscence of their time together. He remains speechless, searching deep into her dark eyes. “Is-aac! It is me, Nan-ya’Hee’!” she says.
Regaining her composure, she turns to the now silent but inquisitive crowd. “When I was a child, my father and Little Carpenter took me to Seven Springs Town on the mountain to trade,” she tells them. “Is-aac and I became great friends over the weeks I was there.”
Peering intently up at Isaac, Little Carpenter says, “I know this town and your people. Big Man, you are welcome at Chota!”
Little Carpenter, Wild Rose and Isaac join hands, lifting them up to the crowd’s shouts of approval. Wild Rose calls out to the crowd, “I had lost my friend and now have found him!”
Purposely separating themselves from the rest of the crowd are Dragging Canoe, Little Owl and Alissah’. Seeing Wild Rose’s camaraderie with the stranger, Dragging Canoe’s antagonistic attitude and jealousy toward both of them increases.
With his arms widespread Little Carpenter calls out, “We celebrate the return of our victorious warriors and the Beloved Woman’s reunion with her friend, Big Man. After the warriors’ five-day purification, we gather for a Victory Dance!”
Standing behind the crowd is Little Owl and an annoyed Dragging Canoe, accompanied by his woman, Alissah’. Ignoring Dragging Canoe, Alissah’ gazes longingly at the tall stranger called Big Man. Dragging Canoe sees Alissah’s infatuation with the stranger, but as a man he has no power over her actions.
The crowd soon disperses and Dragging Canoe is ready to leave. Impatient, Dragging Canoe clutches Alissah’s arm, but she jerks her arm from his grasp and glares at him. Dragging Canoe’s jaw tightens and he leaves in a fury. She stays, catching another glimpse of the stranger as he looks in her direction. She says nothing, but her eyes and smile speak for her. As the stranger’s attention returns to Wild Rose, she giggles. Skipping lightly away from the crowd, her thoughts are on the tall stranger they call Big Man.
As Wild Rose, Isaac, Big Foot and Ole Hood, followed by their families, leave the main part of town, Wild Rose takes Isaac’s arm, pulling him to the side. “Is-aac, I have been gone many moons. I must be with my children,” she says. “We will talk more after purification.”
Understanding Wild Rose’s responsibilities to her warriors and family, Isaac nods in agreement. “I look forward to that time.”
With a warm smile, she departs with her two children, but stops momentarily to wave goodbye. His heart soaring, Isaac continues to gaze at Wild Rose as she disappears into the crowd.
Stepping up beside Isaac, Ole Hood clears his throat to get Isaac’s attention. Isaac turns to Ole Hood, who becomes very serious. “Isaac. Uh, failed to mention she is in mourning. But that aside, you know a stranger living at Chota is required to be taken by a wife,” he says. “To be truthful with ya, they are more of a spy than a wife. It’s their job to keep an eye on ya till they know you can be trusted.”
Big Foot adds with a smile, “Hope a pretty one sets her eye on ya!”
Ole Hood adds, “Hell, I believe June Bug still tells the Head Men every time I take a squat. Can’t grudge her for that. It’s her duty.”
With a smirk Big Foot says, “Yeah, ask Ole Hood for matrimonial advice!” Ignoring Hood and Big Foot’s babbling, Isaac concentrates on Nanye’Hi’, his memory and thoughts of her unbroken.
Later that afternoon, Wild Rose and all the men and women from the war party, with the exception of Dragging Canoe and Little Owl, arrive at the sweat-house to begin the purification ceremony. Each warrior steps inside the structure covered with buffalo hides and takes a seat on the floor around the War Fire. Tame Doe, as head of the Women’s Council, had prepared the Black Drink from yaupon bush leaves, and Wild Rose, as Beloved Woman, serves it. The Black Drink initiates their purification through regurgitating and releasing bodily fluids into pots. As the pots fill, the mother of each warrior’s clan removes his or her pot and replaces it with another. Once cleansed by the Black Drink, their fasting begins.
On the fifth day, cleansed by the Black Drink and their fasting completed, the men and women emerge from the sweathouse. Led by the Ada’wehi and Oconostota carrying the War Fire, the warriors walk to the river’s edge where Ada’wehi instructs them, “You are to prepare for your second purification, the Go To Water Ceremony! Remove all clothes worn on the warpath!”
The men and women remove all their clothes, placing them in a pile. The clan mothers then gather the clothes and place them in the War Fire the Ada’wehi has built by the side of the river.
As the clothing burns, the Ada’wehi, prays, “Yo-He-Ya! Hear my words! Take this, fire. Burn away and fend off all disease and evil cast on them by their enemy!”
As the last of the clothing burns, the Ada’wehi calls out, “Go to the water! Cleanse your being!” One by one, the warriors enter the river, dunking their heads seven times, then vigorously washing their bodies from head to toe. Cleansed inside and out from war, they step out of the river. The Clan Mothers meet each warrior with new clothes made by their clan. Clean and dressed in the new clothing, the warriors’ bodies and souls are now purified.
The Ada’wehi calls out once more, “Pass your weapons of war through the purifying flames of the War Fire!”
The Women’s Council brings their weapons to their respective warriors. The warriors accept the weapons and approach one at a time, passing their weapons through the War Fire as the Ada’wehi chants over and over, “The warrior and weapons are now purified!”
The purification completed, the Ada’wehi and Oconostota carry the fire pot – followed by Wild Rose and all the warriors of the war party – to the Council House. Once inside, the entire war party gathers around the Sacred Fire. The Ada’wehi prays while he adds the War Fire to the Sacred Fire as he chants. “Yo-He-Ya! We offer the War Fire’s power of victory unto the Sacred Fire, increasing the power of the Sacred Fire. We take our enemies’ power and give their power to our people!”
The ceremony complete, the Women’s Council brings food and drink to the warriors. Having fasted for five days, the warriors gorge themselves in silence.
Later that night a huge fire is built outside the Council House. The Victory Dance commences with the beating of the drums. As the drummers chant, a great feast takes place. Dressed in their finest white muslin shirts and crimson muslin robes, the Head Men, Ada’wehi, Elders and Women’s Council take their places around the fire with their clan and families.
A large deer and other meats are roasting on the fire. The women of the town bring corn, sweet potatoes, squash, corn, beans, cornbread and other foods, laying them out on blankets. The townspeople take their time eating. Many of the men and women take their places in the dance around the fire, while others lie about, talking and laughing.
Sitting with Ole Hood and Big Foot’s family, a very somber Isaac sees Wild Rose arrive with her children, as well as Tame Doe and Little Carpenter. He eases through the crowd until he is standing alongside Little Carpenter who welcomes him. “Big Man, it is good you are here. Enjoy yourself.”
Isaac nods, but his mind is on Nanye’Hi’. His plan to talk to her is quickly dashed as her children, Tame Doe, Five Killer, Big Foot, Ole Hood, June Bug and families gather around her, vying for her time. Not wanting to be rude or forward, he stands back from the crowd.
Oconostota, the Raven and the Tassel are sitting with their wives and children, eating, talking and laughing. Oconostota’s mood is broken momentarily as he gives Isaac a suspicious stare. Isaac catches the meaning of Oconostota’s look, yet he returns his attention back to Nanye’Hi’, watching her laughing and playing with her children and talking with friends. She catches him staring at her, and he shyly diverts his eyes, only to quickly return his gaze toward her. But she is still watching him intently, embarrassing him further. She laughs for the first time in months. Because she is in mourning, she tries to conceal her joy, but she can’t hide from her ever-guarding mother.
Isaac makes his way slowly toward her. “Nan-ya’ Hee’, will you dance?” he asks her.
Impulsively, she steps toward him, but her gatekeeper and mother, Tame Doe, instantly steps between them and gives Isaac a disapproving look.
“Her name is no longer Nan-ya’Hee’! She is now Beloved Woman and as Wild Rose of Chota she is held in high honor and standard!” Tame Doe proclaims. “You see her hair is down in mourning for Kingfisher! Her time of mourning must be honored! Be gone from her!”
Tame Doe then turns her disapproving stare on Wild Rose. “It is taboo. You wear your hair in mourning!” she chides her. Shamed, Wild Rose steps back.
With the Victory Dance in full swing, Dragging Canoe, Alissah’ and Little Owl approach the fire. Isaac keeps his eye on Dragging Canoe and Little Owl, and they return his intense stare. When Dragging Canoe notices Isaac and Alissah’ exchange glances, he angrily grabs her by the arm, but she violently jerks her arm away, turning her full attention back on Isaac.
To further demonstrate her independence as a Tsalagi woman, she leaves Dragging Canoe’s side. She walks with purpose directly toward Isaac. Dancing Rabbit shyly approaches Isaac, too, but she is intercepted by the more aggressive Alissah’ stepping in front of her. Alissah’ maneuvers into a position that is clearly visible for all to see her intentions with the stranger. With amorous admiration, she whispers, “O-si-yo, I am Alissah’-kway-tee – join me in the dance.”
Ole Hood, trying to be discreet, nudges Isaac with his elbow. “You have to accept. The women choose who will be their mates. If you don’t accept, she will be offended, and you can be cast out of Chota or worse,” he whispers. He notices that Dragging Canoe is watching Isaac and Alissah’s interaction intently and nervously makes a motion across his throat with his finger.
Isaac returns Alissah’s gazes of admiration, shyly responding, “O-si-yo, I am Is-aac.”
“Alissah’-kway-tee accepts you,” she replies softly, and leads him out to the fire where the couple joins the dance.
Isaac, already very unpopular with Dragging Canoe, makes the situation worse by accepting Alissah’s invitation. Wild Rose, too, is unhappy, watching with displeasure at Alissah’s advances and Isaac’s acceptance of her flirtation.
Ole Hood whispers to Big Foot, “The Canoe sure had his eye on Alissah’.”
Big Foot whispers back, “The problem is, she didn’t have her eye on him – she has her eye on Isaac.”
After several dances, Alissah’ leads Isaac over to her blanket just outside the glow of the fire. Alissah’ sits down, guiding Isaac by the hand to join her. As they sit on her blanket Alissah’ initiates all the talking, flirting and laughing, but Isaac is a more than willing participant. After a short while, Alissah’ leads Isaac away into the darkness.
From the back of the crowd, Wild Rose is keeping a sharp eye on the couple, deeply saddened by their obvious attraction to one another. Unable to tolerate their flirting any longer, she takes her children and leaves the dance.
Across the fire from Wild Rose, Dragging Canoe is also enraged at their fascination for one another. He and Little Owl quickly leave the Victory Dance.
A worried Big Foot, observing the situation, shakes his head. “This ain’t good.”
Caught up in his own delusions, Ole Hood is disgusted and hurt. “Ain’t that a hell of a note?” he complains. “In town one day and Isaac up and steals Alissah’-kway-tee right out from under me!”
“What world ye be living in, you Old Bodach?” Big Foot exclaims. “What makes ye think you could get a fine young lass like that?”
“You know she had a thing for me!” Ole Hood continues.
Shaking his head in disbelief, Big Foot takes Running Deer by the hand and walks away from the festivities with Ole Hood following after them.
Right on Ole Hood’s heels is June Bug. “Hood, where are you going?” she rags him. “Don’t run from me! Come back here!”
Months later as dusk envelopes Chota, Wild Rose is sweeping the ground outside her lodge with a straw broom when she catches a glimpse of Alissah’ racing along the wood line at the edge of town. Her curiosity aroused, she watches closely as Alissah’ scampers off in the direction of Isaac’s lean-to lodge. As if stalking a wild animal, Wild Rose follows her, crouching behind the bushes twenty yards from Big Man’s lodge. From her vantage point she sees Alissah’ is now within thirty feet of Isaac’s lodge. Wild Rose looks about but cannot find Isaac. Smiling seductively, Alissah’ calls out softly “Big Man!”
Wild Rose catches a glimpse of someone walking up the path through the woods coming from the river. It is Isaac, dressed in only a breechclout and still wet from bathing in the river. At the sight of Alissah’, his smile conveys his desire for her. Alissah’ seductively steps up to Isaac, their bodies nearly touching. She turns away, slowly and intentionally brushing her breast against his chest.
Wild Rose’s anger builds as she watches Alissah’s seduction of Isaac. Isaac grabs Alissah’ by her arms and spins her around to face him. Their lips are nearly touching as they gaze into each other’s eyes. Alissah’ kisses Isaac and he responds with passion. It is clear to Wild Rose that they are openly continuing their courtship. “Isaac will not wait until my year of mourning is ended,” she thinks to herself. “He will accept Alissah’s taking him.” Isaac pulls back the buffalo robe covering the doorway to his lodge, and Alissah’ steps inside. As the door-flap closes, Wild Rose’s regrets and frustrations tear at her soul.
Wild Rose returns to her lodge sobbing, but quickly wipes away her tears and tries to distract herself. Knowing Isaac is naïve about women – and knowing Alissah’s brazen nature –Wild Rose can’t help having deep concerns. She lays on her bed trying to sleep.
After tossing and turning for hours, she steps out of her lodge and cautiously makes her way past Tame Doe’s lodge (and her watchful eye). Moments later, she arrives at Isaac’s lean-to. Listening intently, she can hear Isaac and Alissah’ engulfed in passion, her heart shatters.
Walking deeper into the woods, her pace quickens until she is running. After hours of running non-stop, she falls to the ground, completely spent, her heart overflowing with the pain of loss. “ First I lost Kingfisher at the hands of the Creek, and now I have lost Isaac to Alissah’,” she cries. After hours of weeping, sleep finally overtakes her.
The next morning, the sun awakens Wild Rose. At first she is unsure of where she is, but she gathers herself, gets her bearings and runs toward home.
Three hours later, she reaches a very familiar trail and stops to catch her breath and drink from the river. When she sees her reflection in the water, she realizes she is dirty and trail-worn, so she removes her clothing and slides into the cool waters. Several minutes later, she emerges from the river, replaces her clothing and begins to run again. This time she is running to something, not away.
Still following the river, she seeing her sacred place stone and stops. She wades out into the waist-deep water and plunges headfirst into the water. After a short time, she emerges from the river renewed and sits on the flat rock, contemplating her future. In the distance, she hears a woman’s laughter and follows until she catches a glimpse of Alissah’ standing outside Isaac’s lean-to. She watches intently as Alissah’ takes her time adjusting her breechclout before replacing her vest. As Isaac steps from the lean-to, Alissah’ embraces him fervently.
Alissah’ and Isaac walk casually through the woods toward the river, laughing and talking. When they stop at a rock with a flattop surface, Isaac notices the rock is wet. He places his hand on the rock as his eyes search the woods carefully. “Who has been at his secret place,” he thinks. Isaac is uneasy as he and Alissah’ offer up their prayers, and he constantly surveys the area as they disrobe before entering the river.
Wild Rose works her way through the woods to a point upstream that is in clear view of Isaac and Alissah’. As Isaac steals glimpses of her, she slowly removes her clothing and enters the waist-deep waters of the river. She calls out in an inviting tone, “ O-si-yo Is-aac!” Her greeting to Alissah’ is more subdued.
Isaac’s response is friendly but guarded, but the response from Alissah’ is only a cold stare of contempt. Alissah’ knows Wild Rose’s reason for this brazen display.
Wild Rose calls out again as she splashes the water excessively. “I have already done my daily cleansing at my sacred place,” she says. “The coolness of the water felt good on my body, so I returned.”
She continues to splash about in a sensuous manner to insure Isaac and Alissah’ are very conscious of her presence. Isaac tries to ignore her actions, but his eyes are drawn to her. Alissah’ is very aware of Wild Rose’s intent and of Isaac’s attraction to her.
The seductive display now complete, Wild Rose steps from the river and dresses very slowly before leaving. Alissah’ is angry, and she and Isaac quickly dress without a word between them. Alissah’ takes him by the hand, leading him up the trail and away from Wild Rose. All of this takes place under the watchful eye of Tame Doe.
As Wild Rose leaves the river, she is encouraged by Alissah’s anger and Isaac’s reaction to her display. She slowly makes her way up the hill feeling very pleased and confident.
“Isaac will wait till I am out of mourning before Alissah’ takes him as her husband,” she thinks. As she steps from the woods entering the edge of town, Tame Doe steps out from behind a tree blocking her way. Tame Doe’s face is stern. “ Why do you shadow Big Man? You are in mourning!” she scolds. Tame Doe clutches her arm spinning her around to face her. “ Daily cleansing is for purification, not seduction of a man you are forbidden to take! You bring shame on yourself and your clan! This man has been chosen! He will be taken by Alissah’! They are to be married!” she states sternly.
Wild Rose is dazed by the news
“Alissah’ has come to me asking for the blessing of the Women’s Council,” Tame Doe says. “As mother of the Women’s Council, I gave her our blessing.” Stunned, Wild Rose lowers her head to hide her tears and slowly staggers away.
Over the next few months, Wild Rose endeavors to diminish the growing relationship between Isaac and Alissah’, but her period of mourning hinders her ability to intervene. The day of Isaac’s and Alissah’ marriage is fast approaching, and Wild Rose is helpless to stop it. For the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom choose the rock marking Isaac’s silent spot in the woods next to the river, and the Women’s Council clears the knee-high grass from around the rock to forming a large circle of bare ground. Seven days prior to the wedding, the Ada’wehi comes in with burning embers from the Sacred Fire, builds a small wedding fire and blesses the ground.
With the sunrise of the wedding day, the embers of the wedding fire burn low. The family and friends of Alissah’ are the first to arrive, forming a continuous circle around the fire.
Isaac’s father and mother are unable to make the arduous journey from Seven Springs. Big Foot, Ole Hood and their families arrive, gathering at the circle as Isaac’s adoptive family.
Alissah’s mother and her oldest brother, the Raven, take their places beside the sacred fire. Running Deer, standing in as Isaac’s mother, enters and stands across from Alissah’s mother.
As leader of the Women’s Council, Tame Doe enters the circle with two blue blankets and one white blanket draped across her outstretched arms. She makes her way around the circle of friends and family, blessing and greeting everyone. All those who have gathered sing Tsalagi songs that reverberate throughout the assembly.
The Ada’wehi completes his blessing of the circle and takes his place facing Alissah’s mother and Running Deer at the Sacred Fire. Wild Rose, Little Carpenter and Oconostota enter the wedding circle carrying cedar branches crossed over their bodies. They take their places to the side of the wedding fire, and the assembly quiets. The Ada’wehi turns toward the Raven. “Raven, as Alissah’s brother, will you accept your responsibility as e-du-ji, as uncle, guiding Alissah’s children spiritually as well as the ways of this world?” he asks.
The Raven nods. “Tuh-huh.”
Alissah’ and Isaac enter the wedding area’s outer circle. She is dressed in a white buckskin breechclout, blouse, leggings and moccasins while Isaac wears a white muslin shirt and crimson wool robe. The bride and groom approach the Ada’wehi standing in front of the wedding fire. Running Deer takes her place beside Isaac, and Alissah’s mother takes her place beside her daughter. The Ada’wehi blesses the couple, taking one blue blanket from Tame Doe to cover Alissah’s head and shoulders and a second blue blanket from Tame Doe to cover Isaac’s head.
After another blessing, the Ada’wehi removes each blue blanket, handing Isaac’s blanket to Alissah’s mother and Alissah’s blanket to Running Deer. The Ada’wehi then takes the white blanket from Tame Doe, covers the wedding couple’s heads and addresses the assembly: “Under the watchful eye of The Creator, this blanket is the beginning of their new life together.”
Running Deer hands a hindquarter of venison to Isaac who in return gives the venison to Alissah’. “My promise is to provide food and protection for our family,” he pledges. Alissah’ hands the venison to her brother, the Raven.
Alissah’s mother hands Alissah’ a basket holding a pone of corn bread and corn that she passes to Isaac. “This corn symbolizes my willingness to care for and provide nourishment for our family,” she says. Isaac then hands the basket to Running Deer.
The Ada’wehi addresses Alissah’ and Isaac. “Your exchange of gifts reflects the roles of Kanati, first man, and Selu, first woman, put here by the Creator to watch over the land and his people and to maintain balance. These gifts of meat and corn are a vow you, Big-Man, the husband, will hunt for and protect the family.”
“Alissah’, the woman, will tend the corn and will bless her house with children either a bow or a sifter.” By this he means a boy who hunts with a bow or a girl who nourishes and gives life.
Tame Doe steps forward with a gourd. “The Tsalagi first man was Ka-nah-tee, the Great Hunter. The first woman was Say-Loo, the Corn Mother,” she says. “To honor first man and first woman’s life together, keep this gourd of strawberries preserved in honey in your home as they did. May it be a reminder to watch the sting of what we say to those we love and to always keep the sweetness of To’-hee-doo, the Good Peace, the harmony of body, mind and Spirit.
“You will live by these vows and the Creator’s law of balance until that day Alissah’s spirit passes to the Nightland or the day she no longer desires you as her husband. Maintain balance, and the Creator will bless you!”
The Ada’wehi backs away, head bowed. “Doh-dah-dah-go-huh-ee – until we meet again.”
The wedding party and guests reply in unison, “Day’-dah dah-goh’ huhn-yuhn’ – until we meet again.”
Oconostota, Little Carpenter and Wild Rose step forward, dropping their evergreen branches on the wedding fire. The green foliage pops and crackles on the hot coals, casting a heavy grey smoke skyward. Led by the bride and groom, the wedding party steps up to the wedding fire and waves the smoke up and over their heads. The ceremony over, Wild Rose rushes away before anyone sees her tears.
The families, led by the bride and groom, make their way to the Chungke Yard where a huge feast has been prepared. The entire town is in attendance with two noticeable exceptions – Wild Rose and Dragging Canoe. Isaac searches the crowd for Wild Rose, but she is nowhere to be found. Saddened by her absence, he joins the celebration, taking Alissah’s hand. At the onset of the rhythmic beat of drums and chants, the wedding couple enters the yard. The bride and groom lead the first dance, joined by all the town’s inhabitants except for Wild Rose.
The townspeople eat, dance and celebrate until dusk. As night descends, the bride and groom make their way hand in hand through town, with the tribe following the wedding couple to their lodge.
Once inside the lodge, the crowd outside erupts in one last celebratory whoop. Alone inside Alissah’s lodge, they slowly remove their wedding apparel. She wraps her arms around Isaac’s neck. Isaac reclines on the river cane bed with Alissah’ on top of him, kissing him passionately.
The joyous celebration reverberates through the town, pounding in Wild Rose’s ears, then only silence. Deeply depressed, she lies on her bed, sobbing. “I know I must accept that Isaac now belongs to Alissah’, and he is lost to me forever,” she mutters.
With a stubborn air of tenacity, she lifts her head and wipes away her tears. “Or is he?” she murmurs to herself.
On a hot summer morning, a sweaty Isaac and Alissah’ are dragging small logs with his horse. Isaac stops beside a partially constructed cabin next door to Alissah’s lodge and unhooks the ropes from the logs.
Walking to the river for her daily cleansing, Wild Rose passes by and pauses to bid Isaac and Alissah’ a good day: “O-si-yo!” They return the gesture in unison: “O-si-yo!”
Alissah’ enters her lodge, but Isaac watches closely as Wild Rose saunters toward the river, her long unbraided hair cascading down her shoulders, Stopping for a moment, Wild Rose takes a quick glance back at Isaac. As he follows her with his eyes, she smiles playfully before disappearing into the woods. Isaac, confused by his repressed feelings for Wild Rose, can’t seem to free himself from thoughts of her.
The following week, the shirtless and sweaty Isaac stands on a wooden ladder that leans against the lower log wall of the trading post he is still constructing with the assistance of Ole Hood and Big Foot. They are straining to push another log up to Isaac for him to set in place. Seeing Wild Rose approach, Isaac ceases to pull up the log that Ole Hood and Big-Foot are desperately pushing up from below. Hood calls up to Isaac, “Are you going to take this log or not? I don’t know about your end, but it’s getting mighty heavy down here on this one!”
Aggravated by the distraction, Isaac yanks the log up just as Wild Rose walks past. Isaac takes particular notice of her playful greeting to Ole Hood and Big Foot. “O-si-yo!”
They return the greeting: “ O-si-yo Wild Rose!” Ignoring them, she gazes longingly up at Isaac with her full attention. “O-si-yo! Big Man!”
Isaac waves at her, “O-si-yo! Wild Rose!”
In attempt to remain longer, she remarks, “Alissah’ will have a good strong lodge to raise her children.”
“This is not a lodge!” Isaac retorts. “This is my trading post. She has her lodge!”
They share a longing gaze before Alissah’ appears, bringing Isaac water. Their moment broken, Wild Rose acknowledges her:
“O-si-yo, Alissah’. This is good – you have a husband that is such a good provider.”
Alissah’ glares suspiciously up at Isaac, then back to Wild Rose. Sensing their sexual tension, Alissah’ stakes her claim on Isaac.
“ Tuh-huh! My husband is a good provider!” she replies curtly.
The undertone in Alissah’s voice is very clear. Wild Rose nods, and then gives Isaac a sultry glance as she hurries away. Standing on the top of the ladder, Isaac absorbs her every gesture and smiles back in reply, unaware that Alissah’ is witnessing their unspoken exchange. Alissah’s jaw tightens, and she angrily strides back to her lodge as Wild Rose turns away, and Isaac returns to his task.
The next morning, sitting cross-legged on a buffalo robe in the Council House, Wild Rose is in secret negotiations with the Ada’wehi. She hands him several strands of wampum, he smiles, pleased with his payment. He chants an incantation to her, and she repeats the incantation back to him word for word. The Ada’wehi nods his approval – both are satisfied with the arrangement.
As Wild Rose exits the Council House, the morning sun breaks over the eastern mountains. She makes her way through town, coming to her familiar trail to the river. She darts into the woods, careful not to be seen.
The remains of a fire smolder as Isaac sits outside his trading post, tanning a hide. He catches a glimpse of Wild Rose near the woods by the river. Puzzled that she would take her daily cleansing so early, he drops the hide and follows her. When he sees Wild Rose is at his silent spot, he watches and listens in silence.
Kneeling, she recites an unfamiliar incantation: “Now! Listen! You and I are truly set apart! It was decided that you think of me. You think of my entire body. You think of me from your very soul. You think of me, never to forget that I walk about.”
“This is my name, Nan-ya’Hee’,” she continues. “I am a woman of the Wolf Clan! The morning doves will be calling: Gu:le! Hu:! Hu:! Hu:! Hu:! You say, you man, that your name is Is-aac, that your people are Tsalagi.”
The incantation over, Wild Rose smiles and looks into the sky. “Wa-do Ada’wehi! Wa-do Yo-He-Wa!” she utters softly.
Confused by her actions, Isaac slowly walks along the river, contemplating Wild Rose’s strange incantation. In the distance he hears Alissah’ call out, “Big Man! Big Man!”
Battling his confused feelings for each of these women, he is fully aware of his obligation to his wife Alissah’, but those feelings are mixed with his overwhelming guilt over his enduring feelings for Wild Rose. As he breaks out of the woods, he is caught off-guard when Alissah’ appears in front of him and asks, “Big Man, what are you doing by the river?”
He replies defiantly, “At my silent place for daily cleansing.”
Alissah’ pays particular attention to the fact he is not wet. She passes her hand over his chest and holds it up for him to see it is dry. Dusting her hands together, she holds them up, signifying her doubts. Saying nothing more, she walks past Isaac into the woods. In the far distance, she sees a wet Wild Rose sitting on the rock, putting on her moccasins and leggings. Alissah’ turns and leaves as Wild Rose stands, quickly replacing her breechclout and vest.
Now dressed, Wild Rose makes her way along the path toward the town. She steps from the woods, but when she sees Alissah’ having an intense one-way conversation with Isaac, she stays hidden.
Alissah’ enters her lodge with fire in her eyes, leaving Isaac standing alone. Wild Rose witnesses the situation, but remains hidden behind a tree. Smiling shrewdly, she whispers, “Wado Ada’wehi!”
December 1755, The Great Island Town
On a cold harsh night, Little Owl approaches Dragging Canoe. He is standing by a huge fire outside his asi, looking out onto the river. Dragging Canoe hears Little Owl approach but never turns around. “Brother, is Big Man still at Chota?” he asks.
Apprehensive to answer, Little Owl finally replies, “For now. In the spring he leaves with Oconostota to fight the French and Shawnee. They will join Ostenaco War Head-Man of Tom-mot-ley.”
“What of Alissah’ Kway-tee?” Dragging Canoe asks.
Little Owl pauses, anticipating Dragging Canoe’s reaction. “She is big with Big Man’s child,” he answers.
Dragging Canoe stares out over the river. He grits his teeth and barks out, “Go! Watch Big Man. Shadow his movement.”
The Ohio Expedition
It is early spring in Chota. Wild Rose’s children, Kasewini and Litli Welo, are laughing as they chase each other in and out of the lodge, but Wild Rose herself is nervous as she prepares for her first battle as the reigning War Woman. Her mother, Tame Doe, braids Wild Rose’s into a single ponytail, applies the black war paint that forms a mask across her daughter’s eyes, and speaks to her sharply.
“You must accept that Big-Man and Alissah’ have their life,” Tame Doe says. “You’re near the end of your time of mourning. Still you mourn, but for who? Your life is with your children, not Big-Man.”
“I mourn, not for Kingfisher, but for myself,” Wild Rose answers. “I have my children, but there is a part of my life that only Is-aac can fill.” Her mother is not satisfied with that answer. “Are you going to war for the people or to be with Big-Man?” she demands.
“I have nothing to say. It is the Council that has spoken,” Wild Rose replies with authority. “They say the French are the enemy of the English – and now our enemy. So, we enter once more into war. Nothing more!”
Trying to restrain her anger, she snatches up her bow, flint knife and tomahawk and runs from the lodge with her mother and children chasing after her. Her heart is torn at leaving her children, and Tame Doe’s words have brought her to the breaking point. She grabs the reins and mane of her horse and throws her leg over his back, kicking him until they spin to face the Council House. As the procession of warriors and townspeople passes her lodge, she nudges her horse forward, blending into the procession. Her expression is hardened to hide her pain. She is unable to look back, even to wave good-bye to her children as they run behind her. They call out to her, and their tears slash at her soul, yet she must remain focused on her duties as War Woman.
The gathering villagers cheer the war party of twenty-seven men and three women, including Dancing Rabbit, now eighteen, as they ride through town. Wild Rose is focused straight ahead, face blank as they go by Big-Man’s trading post. Alissah’, now three months pregnant, makes sure Wild Rose sees her embracing Isaac passionately as he wipes the tears from her face and kisses her good-bye. Big-Man waves to Wild Rose, but he is ignored. Shrugging his shoulders, he continues his final preparations, collecting his brass smoker-hawk, musket, bow, and buffalo robes.
Big-Man’s affection toward Alissah’ tugs at Wild Rose’s heart, but she shows no emotion, continuing on toward the Council House. She never stops or speaks as she passes Oconostota, who shrugs off her rudeness and continues leading his horse. He walks against the procession, greeting the townspeople as he makes his way to Big-Man’s trading post. As Big-Man carefully loads the last of his belongings, Oconostota approaches Alissah’. Smiling, he rubs her stomach and tries to be reassuring.
“O-si-yo. I will have your husband back safely for the birth of your child,” he says, and then turns to Big Man.
“You staying with the women or going to war with the men?” Oconostota asks sarcastically. Big-Man ignores his jab and mounts up. As he and Oconostota slowly ride toward the Council House, Alissah’ stands still, tears running down her cheeks. Big-Man’s decision to fight in this war is not without reservation, though. “I do not trust the Red Coats,” he mumbles under his breath, “That time has passed,” Oconostota says, reaching a hand out pats Isaac’s shoulder. “They are now our brothers.”
“Without balance, how can we be brothers?” Isaac retorts with venom, his visions of his childhood still vivid. In his mind, he sees the English army invading his small village, burning everything in sight. He recalls trying in vain to protect his mother. He remembers the Englishman’s sword cutting his cheek. As he and Oconostota join the other warriors at the Council House, he rubs the scar on the side of his face.
“They will never be my brothers!” Big-Man vows to himself. Big-Man and Oconostota ride pass Wild Rose. Seeing her eyes filled with tears, neither man speaks to her. Her children and Tame Doe catch up with her at the Council House. Unable to ignore their cries any longer, she slides from her horse and hugs her children. Tame Doe watches with trepidation as her husband, Five Killer, mounts his horse.
In tears, Wild Rose remounts and joins the war party. Among the warriors gathered at the Council House are the Ada’wehi with the War Fire, Wild Rose, Big -Man, Oconostota, The Tassel, The Raven, Five Killer and Dancing Rabbit, along with thirty Tsalagi warriors. Os-ten-a-co and thirty warriors from To-mot-ley ride in, sharing greetings with old friends and fellow clan members.
Also riding up to the Council House is Major Andrew Lewis, a British officer in his forties – a small-framed man with an air of self-importance. The equally arrogant Lieutenant Coytmore accompanies him. Coytmore is in his thirties, tall and slender. His disdain for the Cherokee is very clear as he observes what he considers a lesser people. A third officer, Ensign Bell, is also in his thirties, and has a rosy look about him. Behind them are fifty pristine British soldiers, armed and mounted. Big Man inspects the soldiers closely – especially their shiny steel swords – and a coldness fills his soul. Wild Rose and Oconostota ride up to his side, and Oconostota whispers, “Hold your hate for another day.”
Mounted on a magnificent bay horse, Major Lewis rides out front and slowly turns to face the soldiers and warriors. “We are to make a forced march to the Ohio River,” he proclaims loudly. “Once we gain the advantage of the northern shore, we shall engage and destroy the French vermin and the Shawnee that fight with them!”
Chin up, the stiff-backed Lewis kicks his horse to a gallop, the English soldiers and warriors following his lead to ride north out of Chota. Big-Man snarls with contempt at the British Union Jack as it waves in the breeze ahead of him. Just as the army leaves Chota, they pass Running Deer’s lodge on the outskirts of town. Big Foot and Ole Hood stand with their wives to bid them farewell.
Upon spotting Big Foot and Ole Hood, Major Lewis raises his hand and brings the army to a halt. “Why aren’t you coming with the rest of the warriors?” he asks with suspicion and repugnance.
Ole Hood closely looks Lewis over and spits a brown stream of tobacco juice on the major’s well-groomed horse.
“I ain’t no warrior,“ he says. “Besides,” he adds with a sly grin, “Someone has to look after the womenfolk.”
“Ya need me to check in on your missus?” he asks Lewis with a hint of lechery.
Big Foot has his own answer for Lewis. Standing nearly as tall flat-footed as Lewis is in the saddle, the trader steps close to the officer. “This is your war, Englishman – not ours,” Big Foot tells him with disdain. “Besides, I am a Scot. I trust no damn Englishman!”
Taken back by Big Foot’s statement, Major Lewis gives the two men a haughty look.. “You will regret your insolence,” he says.
“Doubt it! But you may,” Big Foot snarls back. And in an insulting tone, he adds, ”Sir!”
Slightly unnerved by Big Foot and Ole Hood, Major Lewis quickly kicks his horse to a full gallop. Following his sudden departure, the soldiers and warriors proceed, and as Big-Man passes by Big Foot and Ole Hood, they step toward him. “Isaac, watch your back, I don’t trust him,” Big Foot tells him. Ole Hood agrees: “I don’t have a good feeling about this, Isaac. No, I for sure don’t.”
Big-Man rejoins the warriors in the procession, and soon Wild Rose rides up to his side. “So, we leave our home, our children and our families for the long journey north to fight not our enemy, but the Englishman’s enemy,” she says, avoiding eye contact. “I ask, why?”
Big-Man looks straight ahead and does not reply for he has already asked himself the same question.
February 1756 The expedition against the French and Shawnee crosses New River.
Over the following weeks, the expedition crosses many rivers – the North Fork of the Holston, the Clinch, and the Big Sandy, slowly negotiating their way north along “The Old War Trail” towards the Ohio River. The northern Kentucky backcountry with its heavily wooded mountains takes its toll on soldiers and warriors alike. Even with spring nearly upon them, the mountain air holds its chill, and dusk falls quickly.
When they are unable to find a suitable campsite, they must feel their way through a deep hardwood forest strewn with boulders, high ridges and deep hollows. Trudging on through the thick forest, they soon find themselves on an open rocky bluff jutting over the violent cauldron of the Ohio River a hundred feet below.
The once-pristine English soldiers are now dirty and bone-tired. The soldiers and warriors dismount, canvassing the campsite, walking out the kinks of the arduous ride.
The experienced warriors distance themselves as far from the English as possible and quickly make camp, working hand in hand with one another. With the help of the War Fire and fleabane carried by the Ada’wehi, one group of warriors concentrates on building large perimeter fires for security against bears, wolves, and human intruders. The huge outer fires light the woods as well as the campsite. Others build smaller fires in camp and rig up spits to cook on. Several warriors skin and clean the rabbits, squirrels, and raccoons they killed on the day’s journey, preparing them for their hot nightly meal.
Major Lewis, seeing the organized warriors making camp, gathers Lt. Coytmore and Ensign Bell. “We make camp here for the night. Have the men prepare the area!” Instantly, Lieutenant Coytmore spouts instructions to the exhausted and inexperienced soldiers who continue to go about their chores in a haphazard manner.
Oconostota and Big-Man are standing and talking on the bluff when Major Lewis calls out in a demanding tone, “Oconostota, come here!” They ignore the summons, inciting Lewis to call out again even louder,“ Getting no response, he struts over to where they are standing.
“Oconostota, we must discuss the security of the night camp,” he says, but receiving only a cold blank stare from Oconostota and Big Man, returns to his camp in silence.
“The whites want to teach us how to set camp,” Oconostota says with a grin. The two chuckle as they walk over to the English camp that is in total disarray.
Major Lewis gathers Coytmore, Bell, Oconostota and BigMan together and resumes barking out instructions: “The English in this camp! You Indians over there! Place Indian sentries out around both camps!”
Annoyed by the orders, Big-Man asks Lewis, “Why don’t the soldiers stand their own watch?”
“My soldiers need their rest!” Lewis replies.
Big-Man glares down at him with disgust. “I will stand watch over you,” he says in a treacherous tone. Lewis’ eyes reveal his sudden fear, but he says nothing. Turning to walk away, Big-Man mumbles, “This is Shawnee ground.”
“Shawnee?” Lewis replies nervously, “The Shawnee are north of the Ohio River?”
“The Bloody Ground of Cain-Tuck-ee is all Shawnee ground,” Big-Man, says, enjoying Lewis’ discomfort. “They have been shadowing us daily.” Hiding his pleasure at the major’s nervousness, he adds, “Not to worry – Shawnee don’t like attacking in the light. They prefer the dark of night for their bloody work.”
Shaken by this information, Lewis directs Ensign Bell to have ten of their men stand guard. Bell scurries off as Lewis nestles himself in closer to his men. Watching Lewis cower, Big-Man and Oconostota walk away hiding their smiles, but Big-Man’s thoughts force his face to tighten. “I could cut Lewis’ throat for the pleasure of it,” he admits.
Oconostota affirms his thoughts: “Tuh huh! Soon!”
The two warriors split off, going to separate parts of the Tsalagi camp. Exhausted, Big-Man, heads to the tip of the rocky bluff and prepares his campsite. From his fire pouch he removes his flint and the dried stalks of fleabane called “firemaker.” Striking the flint near the shredded fleabane, the warrior ignites the firemaker, adding twigs and wood to quickly build a fire. As he watches the flames, he reflects on the violent currents of the Ohio River below and on his own turbulent life.
After all the warriors have eaten, they prepare their sleeping spots, and soon the entire Tsalagi camp is asleep, worn out by the long march. Wild Rose wraps herself in a buffalo robe, and once under the robe, she removes her moccasins and deerskin vest to use as a pillow. Trail worn, she is soon asleep.
Big-Man stealthily walks over to the English camp and gives it a once-over inspection. They have just started eating, and many of them were so tired they have fallen asleep without any supper. Big-Man walks away, undetected by the English sentries, shaking his head in disgust.
When he returns to the warriors’ camp, Big-Man gathers more firewood and throws several large limbs on the fires, watching the sparks dance toward the heavens. He looks over at Wild Rose as she sleeps under the warmth of the buffalo robe and reaches down to pull the robe up over her bare shoulder. Her eyes are closed as if asleep, and a warm smile appears on her lips.
Walking through the camp, Big-Man makes his way to the rocky jag overlooking the river where he lays his blanket on the rocky ground. A cool north breeze chills his face as he stares into the churning waters. The snoring from the camp indicates everyone is asleep, so when he hears something move behind him, he jumps up, smoker-hawk drawn. It is Wild Rose, bare-footed and wrapped only in her buffalo robe.
“I could not sleep,” she says. “Can I sit with you?”
Isaac is shivering, but he cannot tell if it is from the night or the tension he feels when he is alone with her. Seeing he is chilled, she opens her buffalo robe and drapes half of it over his shoulder, snuggling her warm body next to his. To divert his awkwardness, he turns away and focuses on the river. Moments later, the strains of the day overtake her, and she falls asleep, her head resting on his shoulder. Looking at her sleeping face fills him with contentment, and a rare smile crosses Big-Man’s lips.
The next morning as daylight breaks, Big Man, watches the red sky reflecting on the river, a sign that means severe weather is coming. The fires of the camp are now only glowing embers. He looks down at Wild Rose’s face and long dark hair covering his lap. As he gently brushes the hair from her face, she slowly awakens to see Big-Man smiling down at her. She gently reaches up and touches his scarred face, returning his smile. Suddenly she remembers they are not alone. Panicked, she jumps up, and her alarmed state makes Big-Man laugh heartily. Wrapped in the buffalo robe, she brashly makes her way through camp over to her bed, her head held high. Big-Man watches her as she quickly dresses and prepares for the day.
On a morning round of the camp, Oconostota walks up behind Big-Man and startles him.
“How was your night?” he asks with a hint of sarcasm, Oconostota chuckles, then turns serious, saying. “Walk with me.”
“The girl Nan-ya’Hee’ is no more. She must hold a higher standard than other women,” he says to Big-Man in a stern fatherly voice.
“She must be held in high esteem as a Beloved Woman and called by her rightful name, Wild Rose of Chota.”
As Oconostota departs his sharp words cut Big Man deeply. Standing on the edge of the bluff, he gazes over the river.
“Oconostota is right,” he muses. “She is no longer that girl, Nan-yah’-Hee’. I am no longer that boy, Is-aac.”
The camp starts to wake, and fires are stirred to heat the food left from the night before. The warriors eat quickly as they prepare to move out. Big-Man finds Oconostota and tells him, “I will go and find a suitable crossing downstream.
Dah-nah-dah’ goh’-huh-ee.’ Until we meet again.”
“You are right about Wild Rose of Chota,” Big-Man adds before turning away to mount his horse.
He kicks it to a full gallop just as Wild Rose walks up to Oconostota. He sees clearly that her feelings are hurt that Big-Man rode out without speaking to her. “You and Big Man have much to talk on,” he says as they watch Big-Man ride away. “Go! He needs you.”
Wild Rose quickly gathers her belongings and rides out of camp as the warriors finish packing the last of the camp. The soldiers in the English camp are all still asleep, including their sentries. Oconostota shakes his head in disgust. “They are a poor race,” he says, looking up with arms spread wide. “Yo-He-wa. Have pity.”
The warriors are soon ready and mounted with the packhorses loaded. Oconostota and Ada’wehi lead the warriors as they prepare to leave camp. Their movement wakes the English camp, and Major Lewis steps out of his tent half-dressed.
“Where are you going?” he demands of Oconostota.
“Down river to find a crossing,” the unconcerned warrior replies.
“You can find us later after your guards wake.”
Angered by his men’s obvious lack of soldierly qualities compared to the warriors, Lewis yells for Coytmore, who rushes up still adjusting his uniform.
“Have the men ready to move out in thirty minutes!” the major tells the junior officer.
By the time Wild Rose reaches the crest of an open hillside, it is noon on a beautiful spring day. She looks down on the tranquil banks of the Ohio that contrast with the muddy river, now swollen to a mile wide and filled with turbulent currents, eddies, and whirlpools. From a distance she can observe Big-Man who is at the river’s edge inspecting the current. She watches as he picks up a large tree limb, throws it into the river below, and watches closely as the whirlpools suck it under the muddy waters. It reappears downstream before disappearing again.
Wild Rose sees this as an opportunity to speak to Big-Man in private and to confront him about their feelings for one another. Kicking her horse to a fast gallop, she rides up behind Big-Man, and quickly dismounts. Big Man casually turns to her as if unconcerned by her presence, and keeps the conversation on the task at hand.
“We cannot cross the river – it is too strong,” he tells her. “It is not the river I am concerned with – it is us,” Wild Rose blurts out, no longer able to contain her feelings.
“There can be no us,” Big-Man replies harshly, “Alissah’ has taken me as her husband! You mourn Kingfisher!”
“I no longer mourn Kingfisher,” she snaps. “That time has passed long ago!”
Before Big-Man can answer, the warriors ride down the hill coming to a stop beside them. Oconostota realizes they are in the middle of a contentious conversation and examines them both closely, but says nothing.
Breaking the tension of the moment, Big-Man turns his attention on Oconostota. “We cannot cross the river,” he states bluntly. “The current’s too strong.”
The sound of the English army approaching breaks their conversation. Soon Lewis, Coytmore and Bell appear on the hillside, along with fifty mounted soldiers, dusty and dirty from the long journey. Oconostota accepts Big-Man’s opinion about the crossing and tells him, “I talk to Lewis.”
After galloping up the hill, Oconostota pulls up alongside the major. “Lewis, the river is too strong,” he tells the officer in English. “We cannot cross! We must have dugouts to cross the river!”
Lewis’s loathing for Oconostota is clear, and he is grave in his response: “You will cross the river with the supplies! We do not have time to build dugouts! Follow my orders, or we will no longer furnish you and the Cherokee with supplies, powder or guns! Is that clear?”
Oconostota’s face shows his disdain for the major’s insult. Jerking his horse around, Oconostota rides down the hill joining his warriors.
From the hill above, Lewis observes as Oconostota issuing orders to his warriors. He watches as Oconostota kicks his horse rides toward the river. He is quickly followed by a number of warriors. Reaching the bluff they pull up and stare down into the swollen waters of the Ohio River.
“That is how you handle these ignorant redskins,” he boasts to Coytmore. “They are like children. We must constantly demonstrate our superiority, and they will obey.”
As they carefully examine the turbulent waters below the Headmen are joined by an angry Big-Man.“We cannot cross this river!” Big-Man insists. “We will drown! The horses will drown!”
“We must cross!” Oconostota retorts. “But why?” Big-Man demands to know.
“If we do not cross the river, the English will no longer supply us with guns or supplies.”
Infuriated, Big-Man proclaims, “We do not need the English or their guns!” He remains in place, staring into the river.
Oconostota, Ostenaco and The Tassel gather the warriors to council near the edge of a bluff twenty feet above the muddy waters below. Big-Man takes notice Wild Rose is not with them. He searches the broad meadow and the river for a sign of her. Then he hears a familiar female voice behind him. “Be careful what you lose. It may never be found again.”
He spins around to find Wild Rose sitting on her horse. With trepidation, they watch as the warriors ride their horses back one hundred yards from the river. The warriors stop momentarily, and then Oconostota releases a bloodcurdling war whoop! He and his warriors race at full speed across the open meadow, and at the edge of the bluff, riders and horses take flight before plunging headlong into the deadly cauldron. The packhorses are immediately swept under.
“Cut the packs from the horses. They will drown!” Oconostota calls out.
The warriors, risking their own lives, manage to save many of the packhorses by cutting their packs and now expend every ounce of energy fighting the deadly currents. Wild Rose and Big-Man kick their horses to a full run along the riverbank in pursuit of Oconostota and the warriors being swept downstream. Reaching an eddy in the river, they dive into the river just as Oconostota comes sweeping by them. Big-Man grabs Oconostota and The Raven by their topknots, as Wild Rose grabs The Tassel. Swimming with all their strength, Big-Man and Wild Rose pull them from the raging currents and up onto the bank. The five of them lie there gasping for air as Ostenaco drags himself up on the bank beside them.
Major Lewis watches the debacle from the hill above. “I should have known the savages are totally incapable of following the simplest of orders,” he rages, kicking his horse to a full run. The English soldiers follow, riding more than a mile downstream to where the last of the surviving warriors are fighting to make it back to the safety of the riverbank. Major Lewis and his army approach Oconostota, The Raven, Ostenaco, The Tassel, Wild Rose and Big-Man, who are still lying on the riverbank trying to catch their breath.
Major Lewis turns to his men and begins screaming at them: “Imbeciles! Don’t just sit on your horses! Save the supplies, you idiots!” His soldiers bail off into the river from their mounts, trying desperately to retrieve the supplies. They make no attempt to save the last of the warriors being carried downstream to their death. Focusing his rage, Major Lewis gives a direct order to Oconostota. “Retrieve those provisions! You are to blame for this mission failing, and you will pay the price, not me!”
Oconostota looks Lewis coldly in the eye. “You want them – you retrieve them!”
“Abandon the savages,” Major Lewis calls out to his men, Coytmore turns to Bell. “Ensign, retrieve what provisions you can – we will cross at a more suitable ford downriver!”
Lewis and Coytmore ride away with twenty of the soldiers.
“Lieutenant, I could care less about these wretched dogs, but save those supplies,” the major says. “The savages are expendable, but those provisions are essential to carrying on the war with the French – and to my standing with Governor Lyttelton!”
“Major, these savages take you for a fool. They must pay!” Coytmore replies.
“Make no mistake – they will pay. I will wipe these treacherous vermin from the earth if it is the last thing I ever do!”
With an early spring storm erupting in thunder and lighting on the horizon, the warriors quickly gather as many of the horses as they can. Oconostota and Big-Man watch helplessly as the remaining horses and warriors are swept downstream.
“You are right. The English say we are brothers only when they need us to fight their battles for them,” Oconostota says, “They are not our brothers.”
The wet, muddy survivors climb out of the water as the storm breaks and torrents of rain begin to fall. Many are on foot, having lost their mounts to the river.
“Come, we must find higher ground to make camp,” Big-Man tells them.
Later that afternoon, the warriors make camp in a small, well-drained meadow surrounded by trees on three sides and a large open hill on the fourth side. Several warriors start gathering firewood in a useless attempt to build fires in the pouring rain. The women use willow trees and branches covered with buffalo robes to build temporary shelters. However, Big-Man takes no shelter from the rain – he stands vigil, aware they are on enemy ground and vulnerable, subject to attack by the Shawnee as well as the English dogs that deserted them.
Eventually, the rain subsides, giving the warriors a chance to dry out. With the help of the War Fire and dry fleabane, the Ada’wehi manages to start a fire despite the wet wood. As several fires around camp come to life, warriors return with several more horses that made it safely onto the riverbank.
As night falls on the meadow, Wild Rose prepares to bed down for the night, but her thoughts are of Big-Man. Peeking out of the shelter, she sees him standing guard, never flinching from his duty as the heavy thunderstorm beats down on him. She sloshes through mud and rain to the drowned campfire, cuts a piece of meat from the spit and brings it to him. “I saw you have not eaten,” she says.
Big-Man takes the food, but can no longer look at her. His regrets are too overwhelming.
“What troubles you? Is it me?” she asks.
“No. Not you. It is the English.”
Wild Rose strokes Big-Man’s head and says softly, “Do not worry – they have gone, and we go back to Chota.”
“Go. Get your rest,” he tells her gently, realizing that her feelings have been battered by his earlier harshness. “Tomorrow will be a long day.”
“What about you? You have not slept in two nights.”
Concerned for her welfare, Big-Man becomes gruffer. “Go! Leave me.” Reluctantly, Wild Rose walks away, alone and heartbroken, to her temporary lodge. She peers into the dark skies above as if searching for an answer, but she finds none. Before falling asleep, she peeks out to see Big-Man staring out toward the river, consumed in thought. “What is he searching for?” she wonders.
The next morning at sunrise, some of the warriors begin rising to start the day’s travel home. Big-Man has been awake all night, but before resting, he sloshes through the mud over to the bushes by the horses to urinate. The horses on the tether line are very nervous and unsettled. When one whinnies, Big-Man hears a horse in the distance answer the call. Taking a moment to listen more closely, he gazes toward the ridge, the morning sun in his eyes. What he sees there fills him with fear. It is Lewis, Coytmore, and Bell, along with fifty mounted soldiers lined up to attack. From the ridge above, Big-Man faintly hears Major Lewis call out: “Give no quarter! Take no prisoners! Charge!”
Frantic to warn his fellow warriors, Big-Man runs from shelter to shelter screaming, trying desperately to wake those still asleep. “Wake up! Attack! Attack!” he yells as a wall of red-coated horsemen bears down on the camp. Major Lewis, however, has remained on the ridge in complete safety. “The coward,” Big-Man mutters.
Mired in mud, Big-Man, Oconostota, and the other warriors urgently try to mount a defense, but before they can organize, the soldiers are twenty yards away, opening fire with their pistols. Twenty warriors fall, some dead and some wounded. The wounded try to escape, but the soldiers are upon them, slashing them with their swords. Behind the first wave are another hundred soldiers running in on foot, shooting and stabbing the warriors with bayonets.
Oconostota aims his musket at a British soldier only ten yards away, but his gun misfires, still damp from the rains. The soldier smiles, then charges with his two-foot bayonet. Oconostota stands in place as the soldier bears down on him. The warrior in Oconostota refuses to be a victim. He draws the only weapon he has left – a six-inch-long flint knife. The soldier charging headlong toward him is at a full-speed run, and now only a few feet separate Oconostota from the Nightland.
Seeing Oconostota’s peril, Big-Man plants his feet and throws his smoker-hawk with all his strength. The weapon travels more than thirty yards toward Oconostota’s pursuer and finds its target. The soldier crumples face down in the mud with Big-Man’s smoker-hawk buried in the back of his head.
Big-Man runs to the dead soldier, jerks the weapon free and throws it again, finding its next victim just yards away. In three quick steps, he retrieves his weapon. Another soldier lunges toward him with his steel blade, but Big-Man sidesteps the soldier’s sword and swings his smoker-hawk, splitting the soldier’s forehead.
After killing one soldier, Wild Rose retrieves her tomahawk and looks across the camp for her next victim. She catches sight of Coytmore in the distance, mauling Dancing Rabbit as she fights unsuccessfully to free herself from him. Wild Rose rushes through the mud and the madness to Dancing Rabbit’s defense.
Coytmore punches Dancing Rabbit until she is only half-conscious, then drags her up the muddy hill by the hair. He stumbles slightly, giving her the opportunity to reach the flint knife concealed in the top of her leggings. Gripping the knife with the last of her strength, she buries the weapon in the back of Coytmore’s thigh. Screaming, he drops to one knee, releasing his grip on her hair. She tries to escape stumbles down the muddy hill, but the enraged officer limps after her in pursuit until he sees Wild Rose running toward him with her tomahawk drawn. Wild Rose is more determined than ever to kill Coytmore, but she is sidetracked by another soldier coming at her. After killing him with her tomahawk, she looks up to see Dancing Rabbit running to the safety of the woods. Coytmore has now made it back to the safety of his soldiers and is lying on the ground, overcome by pain. “You savage bitch,” he screams at Dancing Rabbit. “You will pay for this!”
Wild Rose turns her attention back to the surviving warriors. Heavily outnumbered, they retreat to the safety of the woods above the meadow, forced to leave twenty of their Tsalagi brothers lying dead in the mud. This once tranquil meadow is now a bloody killing field.
Reaching the safety of the wooded ridge are Wild Rose, Big-Man, Oconostota, Ostenaco, The Tassel, The Raven, Dancing Rabbit, Five Killer, and the Ada’wehi with the War Fire extinguished, along with only ten other warriors. They lie on the ground at the edge of the woods, desperately preparing for another charge, but the soldiers, having excessive casualties as well, decline to make another charge. Instead, they busy themselves chopping and mutilating the bodies of the warriors with their swords. Their shining steel knives take the warrior’s scalps. The wounded warriors who surrender are stabbed, then scalped.
The survivors taking refuge on the hill are helpless to mount an attack and can only watch the carnage below. At last Big-Man can take it no more – he stands and screams out, “I will hide no more! The Redcoats will know Big-Man’s tomahawk!”
A few of the soldiers react to his taunting, and musket balls pepper the ground and tree limbs around him. Oconostota grabs Big-Man and pulls him down.
“Not this day. Yo-He-Wa demands balance,” Oconostota says grimly. “They want scalps? We give them scalps!”
Several months later, June 1756
On a hot summer night, the tattered war party – now numbering only nineteen – enters Chota on foot. Cries of grief resonate through the town as families deal with the loss of their family members killed by their so-called allies, the English army.
As Big-Man and Wild Rose walk slowly toward Big-Man’s trading post, they hear muffled cries coming from Alissah’s lodge. He starts to enter, but Wild Rose steps in front of him, placing her hand on his chest. Once inside, Wild Rose finds a very pregnant Alissah’ lying nude on a river cane bed in severe pain, attended by Tame Doe, whose face reveals her anxiety. Alissah’ moans as she grabs her knees, drawing her legs up to her chest. Tame Doe kneels at Alissah’s side and wipes her perspiring face with cool water. “It is time,” she whispers.
Tame Doe and Wild Rose lift Alissah’ into a squatting position. Alissah’ looks into Wild Rose’s eyes and senses something with her has changed. Suddenly, Alissah’s face contorts, and she releases a muffled moan, pushing with all her might. The child emerges, falling slowly down on the bed, chest first, the baby is clutched gently in Tame Doe’s experienced hands. Tame Doe and Wild Rose look at one another with deep concern.
“We must take the child to the river – it is oo-yo-een go-we-lo’-dee, a bad omen, for a baby to land breast first,” the older woman murmurs.
The baby, still covered in blood and amniotic fluid, has yet to cry. Exhausted from childbirth, Alissah’ lies back on the cane bed as Tame Doe cuts and ties the cord, and rushes out of the lodge, clutching the baby to her body as she darts through the woods to the river. Kneeling at the river’s edge, she gently places the baby in the cold river and releases it. As the baby sinks, the rushing water washes away the birth fluids from the baby’s face and body. Tame Doe scoops up the baby – now crying loudly – and rushes back to Alissah’s lodge just as a worried Big-Man enters.
After she swaddles the baby, Tame Doe lays the infant on Alissah’s breast and tells the new parents, “He is fine.”
“A bow, or a sifter?” Big-Man asks with a relieved smile. Very weak, Alissah’ says, “A bow. Your son.” As Big-Man cradles the boy in his arms, Wild Rose slips outside so he cannot see her sadness. As she is leaving, she rushes past the Ada’wehi entering the lodge to bless the child.
As the sun rises, a cool fall breeze blows the burnt-orange foliage covering the trees. Alissah’, clutching her baby to her breast steps out from her lodge where she finds Big-Man covered in red and black war paint, loading his bow and musket and adjusting the blood-stained smoker-hawk hanging at his side. Held loosely in his hand is a strand of white shale, but as he sees Alissah’, he slips the necklace into the pocket of his coat. The two embrace momentarily before she takes a step back, searching his eyes for answers to her unasked questions.
“Big-Man, we await your safe return,” she whispers, noting his coolness toward her. Big-Man kisses his son, then mounts his horse.
A very concerned Ole Hood and Big Foot approach Big-Man.
“You sure you want to do this?” Ole Hood asks with unusual self-restraint.
“Once ye start down this road of revenge there can be no end,” Big Foot quickly adds.
Ignoring them completely, Big-Man quickly joins Oconostota, The Raven, The Tassel, Five Killer and the group of twenty warriors made up of fifteen men and five women wearing red and black war paint. They each have their muskets, bows, arrows, tomahawks and flint knives. Wild Rose joins them, wearing war paint. Still in mourning, she lets her hair hang loose in a long, flowing ponytail.
The mounted warriors methodically make their way out of Chota with Big-Man and Wild Rose riding side by side. He turns around and looks back for Alissah’, but doesn’t see her. She is standing in the shadows of a nearby hut, holding her child as she watches the warriors leave town. The sight of Wild Rose with Big-Man riding side by side saddens her deeply. As the war party disappears from her sight, she returns to her lodge with her baby.
As dark descends on the cool fall night, the war party approaches a small white settlement. The warriors maintain complete silence as they take their respective positions along the tree line. They are only fifty yards from the split rail fence that marks the settlement’s perimeter. They closely survey the settlement – two small dogtrot log cabins, a log barn, and a corral holding two milk cows and several horses. Through the cracks in the main cabin’s rough wooden shutters, the warriors’ catch glimpses of the settlers moving about as they finish supper. They are laughing and talking, totally unaware of the dangers lurking just outside their door.
Easing closer in a crouched stance, the warriors fan out, approaching the cabin in unison. Reaching the split rail fence undetected, they take their positions quietly, but the spooked cows and horses start to mill about. The door on the cabin opens suddenly, releasing a burst of light out onto the small porch.
Big-Man draws back his bow with arrow ready to strike. Holding at the ready, he watches intently as a figure steps out the door. Seeing it is a woman, Big-Man eases the tension off his bow. Unaware, she walks off the porch and out into the yard toward the warriors, just five yards away. She throws out the scraps from supper, scraping the pan clean with a wooden spoon. As she reenters the cabin, a bearded white man in his forties walks onto the porch with a lighted pipe. He leans against the porch post and takes several puffs, allowing the smoke to circle his head as it rises into the darkness.
The night shields the warriors, now ready to attack. Taking a deep breath, Big-Man stands, slowly draws his bow once more, and releases the arrow, striking the unsuspecting man in the throat. The pipe dangles from his lips momentarily before dropping to the porch floor. Gurgling blood, he clutches his throat, staggers forward, and falls face-first to the ground. The woman hears him fall and turns to see her blood-soaked husband gasping his last breath.
Her scream is quickly answered by Oconostota’s war whoop piercing the night. Wild Rose, Big-Man and the warriors leap from the darkness, searching out their prey. The settlers still huddled inside can see the red and black painted faces of the warriors dancing in and out of the splinters of light shining from the cabin. The warriors’ demonic appearance alone creates a panic among them.
The woman is at first stunned by the ghastly death of her husband, but soon regains her composure and races inside, slamming the door as others in the cabin quickly secure the shutters. The settlers quickly place their muskets in the shooting slots cut in the shutters and release random fire, filling the darkness with bursts of light, noise, and smoke. Unable to locate their targets in the darkness, they achieve no results.
Several warriors dash about the settlement, setting fires to the buildings while Oconostota directs others to designated positions to ensure their prey will not escape. The night once again is silent except for the popping and crackling of multiple fires. The growing fire on the thatched roof enters the interior of the main cabin and forces the trapped settlers to flee for their safety. One by one, the men are the first to step from the burning cabin, only to be cut down by arrows and musket balls ripping through their flesh. The cabin is now engulfed in flames, forcing the women and children to escape. As they flee the burning trap, they are snatched by the warriors, tied up, and thrown on the ground. Believing that all the settlers are apprehended or killed, the warriors stop their onslaught and turn their attention to the hostages.
Only seconds before the cabin is completely consumed by flames, a woman and her seventeen-year-old son appear in the doorway, their silhouettes backlit by the rising flames. Seeing that the warriors are preoccupied with their hostages, they attempt to make their escape. Then another figure staggers out of the doorway, coughing from the smoke. He is a short man in his thirties, dressed in an English uniform. Two warriors catch a glimpse of the man’s escape and rush the cabin, but the man uses the woman and her son as a shield, pushing them into the oncoming warriors. The warriors, entangled with the woman, are unable to catch the man as he runs into the woods and turn their attention back to the woman. As she is being dragged away, she screams at her son, “Run, James!”
Fearing for his mother, the boy disregards his own safety and attacks the warriors. He kicks one of the warriors, but the other warrior clubs him and leaves him for dead, dragging his screaming mother away from the burning cabin.
The Redcoat escaping fills Big-Man with rage, and he releases a bloodcurdling war whoop. The Redcoat is almost to the edge of the woods when he looks back to see the huge warrior in war paint running straight for him with a French smoker-hawk in hand.
Wild Rose sees Big-Man running and follows the frantic race through the woods. Catching the Redcoat, Big-Man throws him hard to the ground, placing his flint knife to his throat. His eyes are cold as he methodically cuts the side of the soldier’s face. The blood oozes down his face as Wild Rose approaches and calls out, “Big-Man! Tlaw!”
Trembling in fear, the Redcoat begs with a thick Irish brogue, “Just be a killin’ me and be done wit it.”
“No, I want you to feel the pain my people felt at the sword of the Redcoats,” Big-Man coldly replies, “You will die slow. I want to see you burn as my people burned.”
As the two make their way through the woods, the soldier pulls out a knife hidden in his coat. Swinging wildly, he stabs Big-Man in the side. The warrior grabs the Redcoat’s wrist, easily wrenching the weapon from his hand, then backhands the Redcoat, sending him to the ground. Blood oozes from Big-Man’s side as he pushes the Redcoat forward through the dark woods toward the light of the burning settlement.
Big-Man approaches Oconostota, throwing the Redcoat to the ground.
“The white man pulled a knife hidden in his coat,” he says.
Seemingly unmoved, Oconostota looks down at the miserable Redcoat before calling out in English, “Strip them! Strip them all!”
The Red-coated Irishman protests vigorously in a heavy Irish brogue. “No, if ye be a strippin’ us, it be a sin against God! The humiliation be too much ta bear. If ye must, at least have da decency ta be killing us, so we not have ta carry dis sin and degradation.”
Oconostota walks up to within inches of the Redcoat Irishman and stands over him, looking down with contempt. He slowly kneels so he is eye to eye. “You abuse our children and women, then kill and scalp them,” he says. “Does your God not see this as your sin? Yet being naked is a sin against your God! Our God respects women and children. If this is your God, I want nothing to do with him.”
Oconostota jerks and rips away all the clothes of the Redcoat Irishman, throwing him into the circle with the other captives – five women ranging in age from seven to forty along with a girl and two boys. Upon Oconostota’s directive, the warriors rip the clothes off all the captives. The traumatized women’s screams fill the air as they plead with their attackers to no avail. Once stripped, the whimpering captives look down in shame at their nakedness and the shredded clothes lying in tattered piles on the ground.
With blood still oozing from his side, Big-Man wanders out into the woods followed by Wild Rose. Finding a hickory tree he takes his smoker-hawk and whacks off a piece of the bark. As he removes his coat, the white shale necklace falls from his pocket. Wild Rose reaches down and picks the necklace, examining it closely. Big-Man reaches for the necklace, and their eyes meet briefly before he returning the necklace to the pocket of his coat.
He covers his wound with the cool inner bark of a hickory tree, and Wild Rose helps him tie the buckskin tightly over the bark. The air between them is tense. Neither one is able to look the other in the eye for fear of releasing their passion for each another. In silence Big-Man walks away, unable to tell her of his feelings for her, and she as a mourning wife is forbidden by her mother to encourage him further.
Grudgingly, the couple follows the flames back to the settlement where they find the warriors preparing the captives for their journey. The warriors tie the naked men and women together with a long leash around their necks. As the warriors gather and mount their horses, the captives reach down and gather up what remains of their tattered clothing. As they try to hide their nudity and humiliation, the warriors laugh and taunt them. The last warrior holding the leash gives it a quick jerk, and the procession departs. Behind the smoldering fires, burn the last of the settlers’ dreams as they disappear into the darkness.
With pieces of the burning cabin still falling around him, the teenaged boy left for dead begins to come to his senses. His skin is scorched from the flames, yet his pounding head is his first concern. He gently reaches up, feeling for his scalp, and is relieved it is still in place. Slinking away from the burning cabin, he reaches the stream and immerses his body in the cool waters.
The boy is now driven by one thought: “I must find my mother.”
He makes his way across the field and into the woods, following a trail parallel to that of the warriors and the captives. He rushes his pace to a point where he can clearly see his mother’s nude body being dragged away. Sickened by the sight, he throws up. Hearing the muffled sounds of the boy’s sickness, Oconostota stops and listens closely, but hearing nothing more, he proceeds cautiously.
Once the warriors and captives are out of sight, James breaks down sobbing. Eventually he manages to return to the settlement. At the burned-out cabin, he digs out his father’s charred body – identifiable only by the arrow still protruding from his throat. He breaks off the arrow and holds his dead father in his arms, crying uncontrollably, realizing that his family’s whole world has been burnt down around them.
“Father, I vow revenge on the savage that took your life and captured my mother!” James promises.
The next day is overcast and rainy. The fall air is bone-chilling. Oconostota, Wild Rose, Big-Man, The Raven, The Tassel and Five Killer, along with twenty warriors, arrive at the Great Island Town. The captives carry the remnants of their tattered clothing, shivering as the mountain wind bites relentlessly at their naked flesh.
The Tsalagi townspeople harass the captives as they are paraded through the town, beating them with thorn-covered black locust branches. The lacerated captives are numb from their pain, the cold and humiliation, but the townspeople continue their taunting. Oconostota sees the captives have had their just treatment and calls to the townspeople, “Hah-ley’-wee-sss-dah’ – stop!”
“Cover yourselves,” he tells the captives, and they gather their torn clothing, trying desperately to cover themselves. Dragging Canoe walks up, first inspecting the captives, and then turning his attention to Oconostota, The Raven, The Tassel and Five Killer, greeting them with respect:
“O-si-yo’.” Big-Man and Wild Rose, however, get only a scornful glance from him. The Irishman, putting on the remnants of his tattered uniform, stares at Dragging Canoe with contempt, and Dragging Canoe returns the unspoken insult. Hoping to mend ill feelings with Dragging Canoe, Oconostota addresses him with favor.
“Dragging Canoe, these intruders were living on ground north of The Great Island. As Head-Man of the Great Island, they are yours to do with as you wish.”
The Irishman is foolishly defiant.
“Why be ya taken me prisoner? I be a English. We are friends of da Cherokee! I be demanding ta be released!”
Playing with the Irishman, Dragging Canoe asks in English, “If you are our friend, why do you live on our land without permission?” He reaches down and cuts the leather binding from his hands.
“I will give you a chance for life. You are free to go,” he says in a friendly tone before his expression turns very cold.
“If you pass my test!”
“What test that be?” the Irishman asks arrogantly.
Dragging Canoe steps up to him, standing only inches from the Irishman’s face, and releases a deafening war whoop. Seeing pure death staring him in the face, the Irishman finds he has overplayed his hand. He sees he has one option – to run.
The Irishman sprints through the harassing and screaming crowd, finally making his way out of town. He is in a panic and at an all-out run. Reaching the top of the next hill, his bare feet are sore and cut. Stopping to catch his breath, he scans the valley below. He sees two young warriors, eager to prove themselves, running hard in pursuit of him. The Irishman tries to run again, but the rocks and unyielding terrain have cut his flesh and bare feet to the point he can hardly walk.
Knowing he can run no more, he prepares to take on the young warriors. The young fleet-footed warriors are quickly upon the crest of the hill. Jumping from behind a rock, the Irishman wrenches the tomahawk from one warrior and kills him. After a short brutal battle, he kills the second warrior as well.
He relieves one warrior of his moccasins and throws the two dead warriors’ limp bodies down the hill. With his feet protected and a tomahawk in hand, he turns and makes his way down the hill and dives into the river, swimming vigorously toward the opposite bank.
Seeing the deaths of two warriors on the hill, Dragging Canoe is incensed. He commands,
“Little Owl, take two warriors and bring me the white man!” The warriors quickly mount their horses and are soon out of sight.
The Irishman reaches the far bank of the river and continues his run for freedom through a thick forest. Thinking he is free and out of danger, he goes at a slower pace and in late afternoon, he comes across a narrow stream. After drinking his fill, he rests against a tree and falls asleep. Little Owl and the two warriors on horseback follow the easily defined trail of The Irishman. With the forest getting thicker, they dismount and continue on foot.
The exhausted Irishman is awakened from his deep sleep by a tap on his foot. Opening his eyes, he sees the three warriors standing over him. Suddenly he is snatched away by a leash around his ankle. The warriors mount up, dragging the Irishman away by one leg.
Reaching the Great Island Town late at night, they stop in the center of town where Dragging Canoe stands at a huge fire in front of the entire tribe. The Irishman is semi-conscious from his brutal dragging over the rocky terrain. Dragging Canoe walks over to inspect the Irishman and leans over, looking coldly into The Irishman’s fear-stricken face.
“White man, you were given a chance for life!” he says in English.
“Now you will die!”
Dragging Canoe motions to the warriors, saying in Cherokee.
“Take him to the stake!”
Little Owl and the warriors drag the Irishman by his leg to the stake. As they tie him up, the villagers start to pile wood around him. Dragging Canoe waves his arms, signaling his warriors:
“Start the fire.”
The crowd erupts in war whoops in a show of approval.
Wild Rose turns to Big-Man.
“He passed the test and should be set free!”
Still nursing the knife wound, Big-Man is indifferent.
“He is English – let him burn!”
Angered by Big-Man’s response, she retorts, “You see him as only English! He is a man that passed his test for life! He should not burn!”
She steps forward from the crowd, but Big-Man grabs her by the arm to stop her. She jerks her arm from his grasp and pulls out the swan’s wing from the pouch draped over her shoulder.
Stepping up to The Irishman, she waves the swan’s wing above her head. She calls out loudly, “Stop! Dragging Canoe, this man survived your test. Why do you commit him to death?”
His jaw clenched tight, Dragging Canoe stands firm and tells her, “The captives are a gift from Oconostota! I will do with my captives as I want!”
The Irishman pleads with Dragging Canoe, “But me be an English soldier and a brother ta the Cherokee!”
Oconostota is standing off to the side. Angered by the Irishman’s pleas he steps up to the Irishman and speaks out.
“The English say we are brothers. Then you and Lewis killed and scalped our people on the Ohio!”
Trembling in fear, the Irishman protests.
“I be in no part participated in Lewis’ actions on the Ohio.”
Wild Rose turns to Oconostota. “I also was at the Ohio. It is true. He had no part of the massacre of our warriors there. As a Beloved Woman I wave the swan wing! I grant him his freedom.
His anger building, Dragging Canoe grabs the Irishman by the arm, and out of nowhere Big-Man grabs The Irishman by the other arm. The two warriors share an intense stare, which is broken by Big-Man glancing over at Wild Rose for a split second, then back at Dragging Canoe.
“No! He is my captive! Not Oconostota’s captive!” Big-Man proclaims strongly.
“He was found on Great Island Ground. He is mine!” retorts Dragging Canoe, knowing his response is the final word. The two warriors stare coldly at one another. Big-Man is enraged, but knows he must relent. Reluctantly, he releases his grip on the Irishman’s arm.
Dragging Canoe turns his attention back to Wild Rose. “Nan-ya’Hee’, I honor you as Beloved Woman of Chota and spare his life. But he is promised no tomorrows after you leave the Great Island. Unless … ”
Sensing the sexual tension and unspoken bond between Wild Rose and Big-Man, Dragging Canoe stares at each of them in turn before continuing.
“Nan-ya’ Hee’, take him with you.” Releasing a sigh of relief, Wild Rose relaxes. As she is about to cut the Irishman free, Dragging Canoe continues, “As your husband!”
Stunned, Wild Rose refuses vigorously.
“No! You see my hair hangs in mourning for Kingfisher. I take no man!”
“Your hair hangs loose, but your time of mourning has passed,” proclaims Dragging Canoe as he turns and nods at Little Owl. “Take him!”
Still stunned by the turn of events, Wild Rose turns to Big-Man, seeking salvation. His blank face is unresponsive as he clutches a two-foot necklace in his fist so tight that his knuckles turn white. Receiving no response from Big-Man, she looks back at Dragging Canoe. Emotionless, she drops her head and gives in, mumbling, “I take him.”
A devious smile appears on Dragging Canoe’s tightened lips. He raises his hand, stopping Little Owl, speaking softly to Wild Rose.
“Take your white husband, your white curse. Leave my sight! I have spoken!”
Dragging Canoe turns, piercing Big-Man with his stare. “Where are you now, Big Man? You take Alissah’Kway-Tee from me. I take Nanye’Hee’ from you. We are now in balance. That is Yo-He-Wa’s law.”
With a conniving laugh, Dragging Canoe walks away, spurring the crowd’s rumblings and taunting of Big-Man as he turns his back to them and walks away dejected. From a distance Dragging Canoe scrutinizes Big-Man’s every movement with disdain as he walks slowly to his horse.
Dragging Canoe’s smile turns to a vicious glare as he watches Wild Rose and the Irishman stand alone with only desperation to hang onto. Dragging Canoe mutters to her, “You stole my standing as a warrior at Chota! I was shunned! Your white husband is your curse, and Chota will shun you! We now have balance, Cousin!”
Reaching his horse, Big-Man slowly picks up the reins and quickly mounts. Nudging his horse, he makes his way into the darkness and enters the river. Reaching mid-stream, he slowly and purposely drops the two-foot strand of white shale from his fist into the rushing waters. Having watched Big-Man disappear, Wild Rose turns her attention to the Irishman. “You! Come with me.”
She quickly mounts her horse and leaves The Great Island, followed by the Irishman trotting along behind her on foot.
“Ta where we be going?” he asks between breaths.
Unsure herself, she thinks for a moment, then blurts out, “Big-Man’s cabin on Little Pigeon River.”
The Irishman is stunned by her answer. “Are ya ta be sure?”
“I cannot bring you to Chota,” she replies honestly. “As Beloved Woman, I lose honor among the people by marrying beneath me.”
“Beneath ya? Beneath ya, ya say!” the Irishman replies, appalled.
“Ya be forgettin’ I be white, and you’re just an Indian?”
Wild Rose replies calmly, “I have not forgotten. You forget. I took you only to save your life. Nothing more!”
The Irishman asks coyly, “Since I be now ya husband, what be me wife’s name?”
“Beloved Woman or Wild Rose.”
“Ya be expectin’ me ta call me squaw wife Beloved Woman or Wild Rose?” The Irishman replies.
In an instant, Wild Rose jumps from her horse and knocks him to the ground, her knife at his groin. “I am no white man’s squaw! If you must call my name, call me Nan-yah’-Hee’!”
Wild Rose’s black eyes are filled with hate and disdain for him, but she returns her knife to her legging and leaps upon the back of her horse.
“OK! OK! Nancy it be then,” he says, smiling sheepishly. “Nancy. Kinda has a ring ta it, don’t ya think?”
Enraged, she kicks her horse to a gallop. Laughing, the Irishman calls out, “Hey, Nancy, wait up for ye husband!”
Releasing a rage-filled scream to clear her mind, she halts at the edge of the river to wait on him. His irritating laugh further infuriates her. No longer able to stand his presence, she bails her horse headlong into the racing currents, leaving him alone in the darkness.
The Irishman walks slowly, nervously looking back over his shoulder for Dragging Canoe. Seeing he is being left behind, he quickly picks up the pace and calls out, “Nancy! Hey, Nancy! Wait up!” Reaching the river, he dives in, swimming feverishly after Wild Rose.
Once on the opposite bank, he finds Wild Rose in deep thought. Now scared to speak, he just stands there, shivering from the cold. Her disgust for the Irishman is clear – she cannot even bear to look at him. Staring into space, she tells him coldly, “Follow me. Keep up or die.”
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.
Cleansed by Fire
It was fall; Chota buzzed with morning activities: people gathered water, collected wood and shook nuts from fallen pinecones for the winter. Wild Rose, despondent, stepped from her lodge followed by The Irishman who pulled up his trousers as if he’d just conquered the world.
Her face expressed the cost her Cherokee soul bore for being The Irishman’s wife; sullen and tense, she had lost her golden Cherokee pride. He had touched her again and walked from the lodge in silence.
She made her way into the woods to refresh herself, forget the night, to escape into the sanctuary the forest. She came face to face with a large rattlesnake. The snake rattled, warning her of danger. She ignored the warning as if inviting the snake to bite her and end her misery. The two locked in a deadly dance. The snake struck, missed and recoiled. Wild Rose got down on her hands and knees, approached the deadly snake on her belly. She was another blood animal. A Cherokee. A force. The rattler struck again, and she miraculously caught it behind its head. The strong muscular body writhed and coiled in anger. She grabbed the coiling body and cautiously made her way back to her lodge.
Stepping quietly to the back of her lodge, still clutching the rattlesnake, she thought, this will end the poison on me and my children.
Suddenly she was face to face with The Irishman. He jumped back.
“What be ya a doin’ wit dat snake? Kill me wit it?” She smiled at the thought and called out,
“Litli Welo, Kasewini!”
Moments later Litli Welo and Kasewini appeared.
“Yes Mother,” they answered. As she held out the snake she said, “Come, we must take the poisons from your mouth so you will not have the rotted teeth like the white man.”
Litli Well and Kasewini stepped up and chewed on the flesh of the squirming rattlesnake. As they finished, each spat on the ground. She held the snake high above her head and called out in Cherokee, “Snake, take the poison and spoilage from our mouths!”
Wild Rose then chewed on the snake herself and spat on the ground. The Irishman seemed in a state of shock.
“Do you want to clean your mouth of spoilage?” she asked. The Irishman shook his head no. She shrugged her shoulders and laid the snake on the ground.
The Irishman shuffled backwards as the snake meandered out of sight. He turned and ran toward the front of the lodge where he snatched up a crock jug and took a long swig. He smirked, hiding his insecurities behind his cocky facade. He took another swig, wiping his mouth on the dirty sleeve of his muslin blouse. He rubbed his dirty oily hair violently in a frustrated fit, then halted suspiciously peering around at his surroundings. The convulsion over, he picked up a stick and stirred the smoldering embers. As he stared intently into the bed of fiery coals he became even more infuriated.
Wild Rose slipped away from her lodge and walked slowly through town, not speaking nor looking up. She took a nervous glance over her shoulder to see if he followed. Seeing that he still lounged on the blanket sipping whiskey, she hurried her pace and quickly covered the short distance until she could no longer see him. Once out of sight, her face and body relaxed; a Cherokee pleasure returned to her as she watched the women skinning hides and preparing meals around open fires.
As a hunting party led by Big-Man, Ole Hood and Big Foot left town and she wondered if her Cherokee life would ever return to her. She smiled. She thought so. She was Cherokee. She will be again. She spoke to several townspeople.
The other Cherokee do not return the gesture; they turned their backs: the reality of what had become her life lived strong around her. As long as The Irishman was her husband, her life will never be normal. This she knew. But she did not know how to make him not her husband. She she entered the woods again, depressed with the knowledge.
She wandered through the trees to the river’s edge and peered into the crystal clear waters, at her sacred place, but today even the large rock in the river did not give her peace.
Yet she noticed something seemed different, moving as if stalking prey, she discovered a white shale necklace coiled on the rock like a snake. She reached down to examine the necklace, touching it with her fingertips. As if bitten, she yanked her hand back, and looked around to see if anyone watched her. She was alone. She reached down and picked it up from the rock and let it fall from her hand and dangle from her delicate fingers. She held the two-foot long necklace up to the morning light closely examining long strand of white shale.
“Even the Yundi Tsuni (Little People) taunt me,” she thought.“If not the Yundi Tsuni,” she wondered. “ Who could have left the necklace?”
Upon further examination she uttered softly, “It is something very familiar about this necklace.” She wondered if this was the necklace Isaac had in his pocket that night at the settlement and again in his fist that night at the Great Island?
She clutched the necklace tightly in both hands, held it to her breasts and looked about fearfully.
“If not Isaac who? What if it was left by the Yundi Tsuni?” Nervously worrying of offending the Yundi Tsuni, she knelt down bowing her head asking aloud.
“Yundi Tsuni, with your blessing I request this necklace?” She lifted her coal black eyes, gazing into the deep blue sky: tears rolled down her cheeks, joy filled her soul. She fell backward onto the knee-high grass with a throaty giggle. She felt the excitement of a young girl as she gazed at the clouds passing overhead. She could not contain the strange mixture of laughter, tears of joy. As she lay in the grass the sun warmed her face. She became drowsy and fell into a deep sleep.
Yet when she awoke reality overcame her. She jumped up franticly, took in her surroundings as if lost.
“Was this a dream?” She examined the necklace in her hands and her smile returned. She put the necklace around her neck, stripped her clothes and stepped into the water for her daily cleansing.
After bathing she sauntered along the river, feeling truly alive, she laughed and fondled the necklace: as she walked further on through the town, the people she greeted were perplexed by her childlike manner, but her mind was finally clear.
A clenched jaw and a tightened face replaced the smile as she approached the lodge. Joy was replaced by the reality of The Irishman and what has become of her life. She trudged on, her shrunken spirit enveloping her, haunting her once again. The Irishman was drunk. She removed the necklace and hid it in the pocket of her vest. The Irishman stumbled about the front of the lodge in a drunken stupor. He saw her standing at the rear of the lodge.
“Nancy! Where the hell ya be so long?”
She cringed at the name, Nancy, and replied curtly, “My Sacred Place for daily cleansing.”
She walked toward him but as she passed the grungy Irishman he grabbed her arm. He clutched her in a bear hug around the waist kissing and slobbering on her neck and shoulders. She pushed him away, turning her face away in disgust. The townspeople in the area witnessed his sickening advances but turned their back to her. She was again humiliated by his actions and continued pushing against his chest, but he persisted.
“I will show you your sacred place!,” He cried.
With one last push Wild Rose broke free, but he reached out, grabbed her arm, snatched her around and threw her backwards through the door. She disappeared into the darkness of the lodge as the The Irishman stood in the doorway slightly aroused and staring at her with his contemptuous superior gaze. He pulled his dirty shirt up over his head and dropped it to the ground. The buffalo robe door flap closed behind him as he pushed his way into the room.
“Get out ya little heathens! Get out of my sight!”He yelled at the children as he grabbed Catherine and pushed her outside she stumbled into hard ash covered ground. He dragged Little Fellow by the arm before shoving him out. Little Fellow landed hard on the ground beside her.
Shortly after sunset a deeply distressed Wild Rose emerged from her lodge. Moments later The Irishman stepped out, he reached down snatched up his shirt from the ground and put it on. Catherine and Little Fellow shrunk at the sight of him and rushed to their mother’s side, wrapping their arms around her. She comforted her children in Cherokee.
“I am fine. Go back in the lodge.” The children skirted around The Irishman before slipping back into the lodge.
The Irishman snatched a couple of pieces of wood from the diminishing woodpile and threw a log on the fire. He snatched up a crock jug and drank. Wild Rose busied herself around the outside of the lodge, but soon slid out of sight. She worked her way to the rear of the lodge. The Irishman, suspecting something, snuck to the other side of the lodge and hid in the shadows near the rear corner. Very nervous, she worked her way cautiously along the rear wall. When she reached the corner The Irishman jumped out grabbing her by both arms and pinned her against the wall.
“Where are ya be a going, Nancy?” he taunted venomously.
She jerked away and ran through town, covering her face to hide her shame. On passing Big-Man’s trading post, she looked to see if Big-Man had returned from hunting. His horse was tied to a post out front, but Big-Man was nowhere to be found. She took a few steps, but stopped as Alissah’ held her baby on her hip and stepped out of the trading post.
Wild Rose wiped the tears that welled in her eyes before turning back to face Alissah’, she walked over to within a few feet of her. Alissah’ stood in the doorway of the trading post; her belongings were stacked neatly outside the door. Wild Rose was apprehensive as she looked up at Alissah’.
“O-si-yo,” Wild Rose said warmly.
“O-si-yo. What do you want?” Alissah’ replied coarsely in Cherokee.
“I must talk to Big-Man.” Wild Rose humbly begged in Cherokee.
“What do you want with my husband, you have a husband?” Alissah’ replied coldly in Cherokee. Wild Rose turned to walk away but Alissah’ saw her distress, and lost much of the edge from her coarse tone and called out in Cherokee, “I am not blind. I have seen the way you look at one another.”
Wild Rose turned to face her, apologetic and humble in Cherokee, “This was never meant to be.” Alissah’ retorted in Cherokee, “Yes it was. I saw the way you looked at one another when first he came to Chota. I will keep no man that wants another woman of higher standing. Big- Man is no longer my husband. I set him free. He is yours.”
“But I am shunned and no longer Beloved Woman,” she replied.
“Take him!” Alissah’ cried in anger. Wild Rose humbly replied, “Wah-doe Alissah’.”
While holding her child she reached down gathering the last of her belongings, Alissah’ said in Cherokee. “He is at his Sacred Place by the river. You know the place I have seen you there many times.”
Alissah’ walked next door to her lodge and spoke without looking at her says softly in Cherokee, “Go to him.”
Alissah’ disappeared inside her lodge leaving Wild Rose alone to contemplate. She walked in circles, stunned by Alissah’s gesture. She gathered her senses as she looked to the East and saw an orange, harvest moon ignite the evening sky.
She worked her way slowly through town so as not to attract attention. However, once near the trees her pace quickened till she ran. She ran past the few townspeople who were mulling about. They looked at her as if she has completely gone mad. As she reached deeper into the woods, she stopped to catch her breath and contemplate what might be.
The Irishman staggered back and forth near the lodge, still drinking. His suspicions increased.
“Big-Man! Dat bitch!” He took another sip, corked the jug and threw it down, grabbing up his flintlock pistol from inside the cart. He staggered through town waving his pistol wildly. He caught a glimpse of her entering the woods. He picked up his quickened clumsy pace and took a separate trail to cut her off. When he reached a vantage point, he stopped to catch his breath.
As the moon reflected off the water, a knee-deep fog rolled in and covered the ground. Wild Rose continued her quest to find Big-Man while her mind raced in deep thought: for the first time in a long time she contemplated the promise of a future. She stopped momentarily, removing the necklace from her vest pocket. She examined the necklace, clutched it tightly as if this delicate strand of white shale was her only lifeline.
Suddenly she saw Big-Man bathing in the waist-deep river less than twenty yards away. Her long wait was over. Her pulse quickened as she watched him step out of the river. He wiped the excess water from his body with his hands, ringing the water from the long single braided ponytail dangling from his topknot. He walked over to the rock using it as a seat leaving only his upper torso in sight. The deep grass and a light fog covered the lower half of his body. He worked his damp body into his buckskin pants, and then he sat and stared at the reflection of the moon dancing on the water. She was unsure of herself and filled with self doubt; she dropped her head and turned to leave and stepped on a dry twig. The twig snapped!
Big-Man jumped to his feet and searched for the source of the sound. He saw the silhouette of Wild Rose’s back lit by the rising full moon seeping through the trees. Their eyes lock, staring intently at one another, neither can breathe, neither can move.
Wild Rose ran to Big Man and he received her in a warm passionate embrace. He saw that she clutched the string of white shale. Gently reaching down, he lifted the end of the necklace up letting it dangle between them as he studied it closely. He looked up into her eyes and asks in Cherokee, “Where did you find this?”
Her face tightened, confused by the question.
“I found them laying here on this rock, my sacred place. Why?” she asked.
The tension lasted for several moments as they both gazed at one another in bewilderment. He smiled and took the necklace from her delicate hands shaking his head in disbelief. He said in Cherokee, “Believing you were lost to me I threw this necklace into the river as I was leaving the Great Island that night so long ago.”
He lifted the necklace over her head and placed the strand around her neck.
“I am glad the Yundi Tsuni look over us.” She smiled up at Big-Man.
“Wa-do Yundi Tsuni!”
The necklace dropped down her neck, coming to rest across her breasts. She released the fish-bones holding her long pony-tail and her hair fell across her shoulders, outlining the necklace.
As The Irishman snaked his way through the woods he could hear them talk. He cocked the pistol, but ducked behind a tree to calculate his next move. He saw they were so consumed with one another their normal alertness had disappeared. The Irishman peeked from around the tree, looked down at his pistol and loathing filled him like a plague. He lifted the pistol and aimed it at Big-Man’s wide bronzed back. His breathing intensified and his hands trembled; if he missed, Big Man would have grounds to torture and kill him. He blinked into the blurry fog, lowered the trembling pistol to his knees. Even in his drunken stupor, he knew he is no good against a better man, he knew he can only bully women and children and staggered away in disgust. The clouds cover the moon darkening the woods. The Irishman slinked away like a dog vanishing into the darkness.
The clouds slid away and the moon revealed the two lovers sharing a long passionate kiss. Wild Rose took a step backwards, released the silver broach at the front of her buckskin vest as it fell to the ground she pulled the leather string releasing the knee length breach clout reveling her completely nude body in the moonlight. Big-Man lifted her up as she wrapped her legs around his bare muscular body. He slowly lay her down softly on the cool grass, where they are consumed by fog.
Several hours later Wild Rose was still wrapped in Big Man’s arms.
“I must return to my lodge,” she said.
“The Irishman is drunk and alone with my children.”
Isaac reluctantly nods, “tuh-huh.”
Their embrace over she quickly dressed. Isaac remained at the river as she walked away.
She hurriedly made her way through town searching for signs of The Irishman. She hesitantly approached the lodge, stopping a safe distance away to survey the situation once more before entering. She removed the necklace, admiring it briefly before placing it in her vest pocket.
The fire in front of the lodge has diminished to only glowing embers but she sees no sign of The Irishman. She walked from the darkness of the shadows into the faint glow of the embers.
She approached the door of her lodge and cautiously pulled back the buffalo robe covering the doorway. A burst of firelight illuminated her two children sleeping peacefully on the river cane bed. She walked quietly to her children, leaning over and kissing both of them gently on the forehead. She was pleased. They are safe. She turned to her river cane bed in the opposite corner of the room. Still fully clothed, she lay down and covered herself with a wool trade blanket, her back to the door. Almost asleep, she heard The Irishman cursing as he stumbled home outside. She shuttered as the familiar sick feeling returns deep within her belly. He threw several pieces of wood on the popping fire; she pulled the blanket up tight around her chin, evermore alert and wary.
Outside, the Irishman plopped to the ground in front of the fire. He grabbed his crock jug, drank and stared as if in thought. After several more drinks, he wiped his mouth. He slammed a crock jug against the rocks in the fire pit and called out in a loud slurred voice, “Where’s be me other jug?
Consumed by fear once again, she rolled over peeking over the edge of her blanket. The fire outside had flickered back to life, a small beam of light pierced a crack at the corner doorway and lit her troubled face. Through the crack, she caught glimpses of him staggering about, throwing more logs on the fire.
All of a sudden the buffalo robe covering the doorway jerked open; the fire outlined the Irishman’s short stubby body. His drunken eyes searched the room. Wild Rose pretended to be asleep as he staggered in and fell to the floor cursing. The Irishman wobbled on his hands and knees and crawled towards her bed. He brought himself to a semi-erect stance leering over her bed. His grotesque breath made her wretch and she curled into a tight ball, pretending to sleep. He leaned over slobbering on her. She found it strange that during the last three months she had become accustom to the distinct smell of whiskey on his foul breath.
Yet tonight, after the clean smell of Big Man, the smell of whiskey gagged her. He reached under the blanket, groped for her breasts and thigh; she attempted to knock his hand away. Furious, he jerked the blanket off and slapped her repeatedly about the face. The children started crying.
“You are my wife. You are not the wife of Big Man.” He screamed as he slapped her head back and forth.
Little Fellow sprang like a cougar and jumped on The Irishman’s back to defend his mother. The Irishman flung the child across the room and he slammed into the wall. The Irishman grabbed Wild Rose by the hair and jerked her from the bed. Frantic, she reached for her flint knife, but couldn’t find it. He smiled bringing her knife up to her face.
“Ya be a looking for dis, now would ya? Ya dropped it at da river! But dat’s not all ya be a dropping at da river tonight! Now tis it?”
He grabbed her hair, dragged her across the dirt floor; she fought back wildly scratching at his hands and arms. At the lodge’s doorway, she gained her footing, she sank her fingernails deeply in the soft tissue of his face. Her eagle-like talons ripped the soft flesh of his cheek.
Suddenly he dropped her, wincing and screaming in pain. He swung his fist and struck her solidly in the mouth and nose. She slumped to the floor bleeding. Her body listless, he snatched her up by the hair and leg, slinging her out the doorway and out of the lodge.
She landed with a thud in a cloud of white ash dust sprawled face down on the ground. The Irishman staggered out of the lodge, stood over her and screamed, “Ya be a calln’ ya’self a wife? Ya be nothing more than Big-Man’s whore!”
Weakened by the blow, her legs wobbling, she slowly regained her footing and tried to stand but The Irishman slammed her across the face with the back of his hand, knocking her down again. As she lie face up in the ash, he reached down and grabbed the front of her buckskin vest. The silver broach binding the vest ripped away, flying off into the darkness. Releasing the vest, he grabbed another a fist full of hair, jerked her up, flung her over on her belly, he latched on from behind, wrapping his arm around her neck choking her. She gasped for air till her body was limp. He took her by the arm and leg and slung her limp body towards the fire. Falling short of his intended target, she landed face down on the stones at the edge of the fire, the flames singes the ends of her hair.
Her battered, bruised and bleeding face was crusted with the dust of white ash and blood. She feebly tried to push herself erect. After several tries she finally mustered the strength to mange a staggering half-erect stance. Dazed, she stumbled, blood flowing from her mouth and nose, yet The Irishman continued his assault. It was clear now that he meant to kill her. Slowly. Deliberately. He slapped her to the ground again, kickings her in the stomach, stopping only to catch his breath.
Exhausted, The Irishman staggered over to the cart and jerked out another jug of whiskey. He grabbed the corncob cork with his teeth, he popped it out and spit it on the ground. He leaned against the cart for support, taking a long slow swig. He stared in disgust at her sprawled half-naked body on the ash-covered ground, her face less than a foot from the fire.
She coughed and gasped for air as she gathered the last of her strength. She planted both of her hands firmly on the ground and slowly pushed her nude torso up by her trembling arms. As she rose from the ash like an apparition, the reflection of the fire in her piercing black eyes was a dim flicker compared to the fire of hate filling her Cherokee soul. She gained her strength from the centuries of Cherokee women before her and stood. She moved slowly but deliberately into the lodge.
Once inside, she hurriedly gathered The Irishman’s clothes, musket, powder horn and the remainder of his belongings. She held tightly to his belongings, staggering towards the door, pushed the buffalo robe aside with her elbow. The Irishman’s back silhouetted against the flaming fire. The crock jug cradled in his arm, in a drunken stupor he laughed sadistically.
She stepped cat-like from her lodge, hesitating for a second.
He mumbled. “I guess I be a shown her who be head of da house and it be no damn woman!” He released another laugh that echoed in her Cherokee soul. A strange demonic feeling came to her; she dropped his belongings to the ground, gathered the last of her strength, jumped up into the air and kicked him in the back with both feet, sending him face first into the fire.
The whiskey and The Irishman erupted in torrent of flames. He kicked and thrashed against the fire, but was still in flames as he rolled out of the fire pit. He slapped at his burning clothing screaming hysterically. Wild Rose stood above him covered in white ash: a ghostly apparition. She methodically picked up his belongings scattered about on the ground. She grimaced in pain, as she stood fully erect then forced one foot in front of the other and slowly made it over to edge of the fire.
As she stood there with his belongings, she lifted her lifeless eyes and stared across the fire at The Irishman.
She cried out for all to hear in Cherokee. “I am no weak white woman! I reclaim my soul from the curse of the white man’s stench! I am a Tsalagi woman! As Tsalagi, abuse of a woman is punishment by fire! Cleansed by fire, my balance is restored!”
She tossed his belongings onto the fire. The flames engulfed all that he has. Wild Rose stood tall staring at the Irishman when the powder horn exploded sending fire flying everywhere.
The Irishman covered his head to protect himself. She stood tall totally unaffected calling out once more.
“I am not your wife! Your wife lives in a jug! I rid my lodge of you and your belongings! You are no longer my husband! I no longer carry the curse of the white man’s stench on my body or my soul!”
His burned and distorted face was drenched with fear, but The Irishman managed to gain his footing: he screamed in pain, and stumbled away into the darkness like a dog for the second time that day.
The explosion and the screaming woke the town. Tame Doe wrapped a blanket around herself and stepped from her lodge. The scattered fire at the far end of town filled her with fear for her daughter.
She whispered, “Nan-ya’Hee’…”
As she ran through town; she passed Big-Man in front of his trading post and runs by Alissah’ in front of her lodge.
Edging cautiously closer, Tame Doe stepped into the fleeting light of the scattered fire outside of her daughter’s lodge: Wild Rose stood bruised and battered in the remnants of the fire light. Approaching slowly Tame Doe took her blanket and wrapped it around Wild Rose’s nude body as townspeople gather around.
Wild Rose was triumphant. A Cherokee Woman. She cried for all to hear:
“The fire has burned away the curse of the white man’s stench and my shame.”
Hesitant to approach at first, Big-Man ran up to Wild Rose and swept her up in his arms and called out.
“Litli Welo! Kasewini! Gah’-loo-juh!”
Big-Man and Wild Rose disappeared into the darkness followed by Catherine and Little Fellow.
Having followed Big-Man, Alissah’ remained hidden in the shadows at the corner of Wild Rose’s lodge holding her child. She was saddened by the night’s events and she turned to leave she stepped on something sharp with her bare feet; she looked down and finds a silver broach lying in the dust. She picked it up. She recognized it as Wild Rose’s silver broach. With broach in hand she walked slowly back toward her lodge with her child on her hip. Reaching Big-Man’s trading post, she starts to knock but hesitates. She placed Wild Rose’s silver broach on a keg beside the door and returns silently to her lodge.