This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
This story is copyright by Owen Hudson, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.
Isaac woke up feeling gloomy, not really knowing why. "Breakfast," he heard his mother call, as he tried to shut out the feeling he had within himself. Isaac's father was absent as usual. He had gone east on 'white man business', as Isaac called it. Sarah, his Cherokee mother, had married a white man, but he'd never understood why she would want to marry a white man. Perhaps she thought life would be better as the wife of a white man.
Isaac is almost a genius, able to focus all his energy on a single problem until it's solved. He's very perceptive, intelligent, knowledgeable and fluent in both Cherokee and English. He's confident that anything is possible if he can focus all his energy and concentrated thought on it. He can sometimes be internal, looking inward for answers, always deep in thought, and not concerned with appearance - crumpled clothes, well worn old shoes. The interesting aspect of Isaac is that although he's most comfortable in his own mind working on a problem, he's very imaginative and charming to others. He has a quiet kind of charm that draws others to him - the Albert Einstein type.
Isaac was raised in a tense household with a lot of arguing, and learned early not to trust the world. Situations can quickly turn into mayhem and concentrating on one small problem or element of the world at a time is the only way he could keep his mind off the craziness. Isaac literally loses himself in his mind. As a child he always felt like an outsider, spending most of his time learning the Cherokee way from his grandmother. Both parents were consumed by one thing or another and never had the time or energy to focus on their son. He had to learn to fit into the family structure by finding a comforting skill to focus on. Throughout his life, he's been misinterpreted as eccentric and a little loopy, but in fact, he perceives the world in more accurate detail than most people. He's gone through long periods of suffering in silence.
Very early in life Isaac began to spend much time in his head, thinking about concepts and philosophies. He's not extroverted by a long shot and quietly loves to share what he's discovered with others. Isaac has an insight into the world that astounds others, knowing a lot about most things. He's charming, quick-witted, and clever. He also keeps secrets very well - no one could break into his vault of secrets - not even those closest to him.
Isaac's parents wanted him to be well educated and sent him to a Baptist missionary school. He never understood the teachings of the missionaries and discarded those teachings that conflicted with his Cherokee values. However, he learned early in his education not to question the teachings of the missionaries - he'd been punished more than once for questioning the meanings of the Bible verses that were taught. He learned to listen to the teachings of the missionary teachers as though he was a believer, but filed most of the information away in his brain as nonsense. He could quote most of the verses of the Bible as well as any of the other school children.
Again Sarah called her son, "Isaac, I said breakfast is ready," as she began to lose patience with him. "Get up this very minute."
Sarah Ridge, 35, could speak, as well as read and write both English and Cherokee. Her mother had taught her how to read and write the Cherokee language. She had learned to write English from her husband and Isaac. She wanted Isaac to learn the white man's ways, thus her motive for sending Isaac to the missionary school. She didn't trust her own decisions, and as a result she always connected with an authority figure or belief system to do the thinking for her. However, Sarah hated being dependent on anything. Therefore, she tended to be passive-aggressive and sarcastic. Also, because she's not always sure what she should be thinking, she can change moods from moment to moment. She's very hard to understand completely because she doesn't understand either herself or the world. She does associate easily with others, so she makes the perfect friend, loyal and trustworthy, however at times, uneven and unhelpful.
Sarah is beautiful by any standard. Perhaps this is why her u-ne-gv (white) husband saw her as a prize. The other Cherokee women rarely associated with Sarah since she acted more white than Cherokee.
Sarah associated closely as a child with her father, whom she saw as a protective figure. She was protected and guided closely by this figure and never developed the skills necessary to be self-reliant, especially in the area of decision-making. This relationship was not the traditional way since the Cherokees were a matriarchy society. The mothers were responsible for the training of the children. The males were trained by the mother's brothers. Sarah can be sarcastic but associative. She sees the success of any system she is associated with as a personal success. She internalized the relationship she had with her father, the protective figure as a child, and added elements to this relationship that simply weren't there. When under pressure, she would often blurt out feelings and predictions of disaster with reckless abandon.
Sarah saw acquaintances as either a friend or an enemy. She often questioned others' intentions, pushing to know what was behind their behavior.
Just as Isaac sat down to his breakfast, the door burst open and in came federal troops. They were ordered out of their home at gun point. They were allowed little time to gather a few possessions.
"My husband is a white man," Sarah argued with the sergeant, who was barking orders to hurry. The Cherokees had been ordered to vacate their homes in preparation for the move to the territory west of Arkansas. Although the Cherokees were given two years to voluntarily migrate west, most Cherokees ignored this order. Most refused to believe that they'd actually have to move. However in Sarah's case, she believed that she was protected since she had a white husband.
"I don't see any white man," the sergeant countered.
"Surely you can tell that my son is half white?" Sarah argued.
"He looks like an Indian to me," the sergeant said. "Now gather your possessions or you'll leave here with nothing."
They were herded into a makeshift stockade called Fort Butler. Fort Butler was built along the Hiwassee River, known to the Cherokees as Tlanusi-yi (the Leech Place) due to a story of a giant leech named Tlanusi living in the river.
It was late May and the weather was already hot and dry. The heat only increased the misery at Fort Butler. The stockade was over crowded and the people weren't allowed to go to the river to bathe. Traditionally the Cherokees went to the water daily to bathe, even in the cold winter days. In fact, the Cherokees were much cleaner than the whites, who often called them "dirty, filthy Indians."
Tsi-s-qua-ya (sparrow), Isaac's grandmother, was the only name she knew for herself until the white soldier asked her name. He had no clue what she was saying when she answered "Tsi-s-qua-ya," so he wrote down Martha. Isaac saw the ga-na-qua-ti-s-di (hate) his grandmother had developed for the white man. But he also saw the tsi (love) she had for her own people.
Martha was a-nuh-wah-tee a-ge-hya (medicine woman) and attempted to take care of the many Cherokees who became u-tlv-gi (sick) while confined to the stockade. She wanted to take them to the water and gather Cherokee medicine from the tsa-lu-yi (forest). However, this wasn't permitted by the soldiers. As more and more of her people became ill and died, she was determined to take the ill to the river for bathing. However, her way was always blocked by a soldier on horseback. One day when she saw that the soldier was Thomas Crowe, a mixed breed Cherokee, she spat on his boot and said, "You should be ashamed." Isaac was sure her words hit home when he saw Thomas pretend not to hear and turn his head.
The many hours of caring for the sick eventually took its toll on Martha and she became ill herself. As she weakened, her care fell to Isaac since Sarah had become further despondent. As Martha's death came near, in a weaken voice she said to Isaac, "A-wo-hi-li (Eagle, Isaac's Cherokee name), I will not live to see us leave this ooh-ay-wah-chew nah-nah-ee (death place), but my ah-doe-nuh-doe (spirit) will always guide you." Her spirit then left her tired body.
Days dragged into weeks, and weeks into months of confinement at Fort Butler; rumors spread that the people would soon be starting their journey to the west to what is now Oklahoma. The drought finally broke in September. Isaac and his mother began the long march that was later to be called nuh-nah-dah-ooh-la-chuh-yee (the trail where they cried or the Trail of Tears.)
Isaac had given up hope that his father would return from the east and was happy to be out of the confines of the stockade. He never saw any of his mother's family, other than his grandmother, in the stockade. Either they had escaped to the mountains or were in a different stockade. He held out hope that they had escaped when he heard the soldiers talking about the escape of some of the Cherokees.
The people were becoming almost hopeful of the future as they began the long trip west. Perhaps they could escape and return home, or the place to the west would be a better place to live away from the whites. They did not know of the hardships ahead of them.
Isaac was glad that his grandmother never left her homeland - or did she?
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