Recently Union Realty gave me a task that became a great journey. Let’s get a perspective from The People. Enter, Ms. Nancy, the younger 80 year old Cherokee historian I think I have ever had the privilege to befriend.
Always one interested in the ways of The People, Nancy thankfully listened to the stories and accounts of the Elders and is willing to share. Her family did not go on the forced march, they were a part of the 1000 or so that fled to the mountains and caves.
Tsali, a noted leader of the Cherokee during two different periods of the history of the tribe, led the way for them albeit not exactly by choice. During the 1830s roundup of Cherokee for Indian Removal, Tsali, his wife and brother, his three sons and their families were taken by surprise and marched at bayonet point toward the Indian Agency on the Hiwasee River. When Tsali’s wife paused to care for the needs of her baby, one of the guards whipped her and prodded her with his bayonet, to force her on her way. A secondhand account by Wasidana, Tsali’s son, the mother and baby were forced onto horseback and, in the process, “she got her foot hung in the stirrup. Then her baby dropped. It went that way, out yonder, and bust the head. And it died right then.
In response to what amounted to the murder of the child and the abuse of the mother, a surprise attack was made on the soldiers. One guard was killed and the rest wounded or subdued. Tsali and his relatives fled to the mountains and hid out in a cave in the Smoky Mountains. His successful evasion was reported to the other Indians by grapevine and soon the mountain Cherokees by dozens, then by hundreds, joined him in the hideout, living off roots and berries on the border of starvation. These are the thousand that stayed. Imagine leaving all behind but still able to see your homes. Not knowing how you would teach the young ones the valuable lessons in how to live by the traditions of The People!
Deemed defiant by the US Army, yet seen as defenders of an entire race and way of life. Honestly, the did not know how they would return to their lives, they just knew the wanted to live in the land of The People as they always had.
If Tsali’s freedom went unchallenged, a fateful example would be set for other Cherokees. After being unable to locate this band of Indians, General Scott enlisted the services of William Holland Thomas, a white attorney who had been adopted into the tribe in his youth and would later become its chief. He also represented the tribe in negotiations with the federal government regarding the removals.
Thomas was given a message to the leader of the fugitives. If Tsali and his family would surrender themselves to military justice, the rest of the Cherokees in the mountains could remain free. Now I can only imagine how that sounded to the Tsali family, another lie by the soldiers? The attack on the soldiers had been an act of honor, they were defending their family. Now he is being asked to sacrifice his entire family for the freedom of his people. Tsali agreed.
He, his brother and sons came down from the mountains and gave themselves up. They were made to dig their own graves and were executed right there in the final resting place of the Cherokee heroes. In a singular act of humanity, Tsali’s youngest boy Wasidana was spared.
General Scott honored his word and those in the mountains were free to come down.
Next week, lets talk about what it meant for them to come down out of the mountains. The had no land, no homes but they were as free as those that took the oath.
Thank you again for taking time out of your day to spend with us and as always
Welcome to the Mountains
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