By BR Chitwood
History Soiled and a Beautiful Love Story…
‘The Trail of Tears’
Cloud Dancer is a book I always wanted to write… Back in Andrew Jackson’s presidency, there was what many historians would refer to as a grave misjustice – the infamous ‘Trail of Tears’ – where settled Cherokee Indian Tribes – families – in the Southeastern part of the United States, hoeing their corn, tending their livestock, living a good life, were rounded up unceremoniously and were herded in a harsh winter across the plains to Oklahoma.
The reason for this government decision, and, generally all decisions made, was ‘fat cats’ with money wanting the lands which the Cherokee Nation had been granted by treaty for their own selfish purposes. Most political historians thought at that time and today that act would present itself in history as one of the worst stains on our country. Also, the time chosen for that deadly march across thousands of miles of wintry terrains of all descriptions.
My state of Tennessee was one of the states affected by this government resettlement, and some of my ancestors in our hills and valley were involved in some ways with its final resolution.
So, through my life, I heard the stories connected with ‘The Trail of Tears’, and, now, in these later years of my own life, I wanted to write a book about the long march that would kill so many and leave an ugly spot on the historical record.
As an author, of course, I wanted , an ‘intimacy’ portrayed in the book, romance, love, sorrow, some of the unmerciful deeds inflicted on human beings, and as much as I could write and weave in as much of the agony and hope of those involved – those basically good people who were in fact the true inhabitants of the USA.
[Here’s a chapter from “Cloud Dancer” to hopefully give you the nudge to read the entire book and leave ‘book reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, et al}
The year: 1838
His knees buckled and he fell to the row of earth just plowed. The old mule moved on for a few yards, stopped, shook its heavy head, and snorted. The cumbersome plow fell to the ground. The young man was on his knees, his young face bewildered with a daft sense of displacement and fear.
He looked all around, saw the rolling hills, green meadows, and a huge distant mountain of boulders and trees. With it all, the sun gave the scene extra elegance. Even in his unstable state of mind he acknowledged the natural beauty all around him. His heart thumped loudly with these mind-blowing moments of uncertainty.
What am I doing here?
Where am I?
What’s happening to me? Am I going crazy? Did the doctors overdose me? Is all of this a message from God?
His mind swirled with thoughts and he felt he might pass out from the dizzy disorientation. The shock overwhelmed him. Anxiety controlled his mind and body. He felt a desperate fear that sanity was no longer a part of his world. He looked at his coveralls, the soiled smears, and the old clod hoppers he wore on his feet. He saw in the distance some old buildings, a barn, a house, a pond, and a small shed weathering and gray with age.
He tentatively stood, took in a full-circle view of the land around him. The land stretched east and west for some distance with rolling hills of pastures and other old utility buildings. Looming majestically was a great mountain, girding the fields all around with thin wisps of smoke rising from its heights.
He closed his eyes, hysteria and panic like a wet suffocating blanket covering his mind and body. His breathing was fast and labored and the swoons of dizziness overtook him, making him nauseous. Perhaps, for the first time in his life, he was terrified. He was about to pass out.
Then he saw her, running toward him, some fifty yards away, a lovely young lady in a Calico dress, speaking to him as she approached.
Suddenly he knew her. She was the girl of his hospital delusions. What was she doing here? It did not matter. He needed her help. His weak knees sank to the freshly plowed soil, and he held his arms out in a plea gesture.
“Blake, soldiers are…”
She stopped short when she saw the agony on his face. “Blake, what’s the matter?” The young lady grabbed his dirty hands.
The man spoke: “I don’t know. You called me, Blake. Look, I’m having some sort of memory failure. Tell me about me, please – no matter how silly this all sounds.”
He knew this lovely woman, but this was a more tangible ‘knowing’. She was here – wherever ‘here’ was, and she knew him. She was the woman in a lovely dream-like vision, his Rita Hayworth. And, she obviously knew him. It was all so mystifying and so very real. He was not dreaming. He was here plowing ground in a whole new world, and the woman of his dreams was standing next to him. The air he smelled was real, pungent, and the mule in front of him made it no less so.
The woman looked at him for some long seconds and knew he was serious. “Do you know your name?” she asked.
“No… well, yes, I do,” he softly stumbled. “It’s Blake Fielding. It’s like a time machine transported me to another place and time.” His eyes closed for a time, and despite the beautiful creature standing near him, he thought he was close to dying.
The young lady knelt by him on the ground as she noticed his face turning paler by the moment. She could see his body shaking and his eyes fluttering. She was afraid for him. “Can you remember anything at all?” she asked.
His eyes were now tightly closed. Finally, he opened them and spoke: “I remember being in a hospital.”
He had memory, but not of this place and time.
“Why were you in a hospital?”
“I had a car accident.”
The young woman wanted so much to grasp what he was saying. “You and I are… You’re my friend and my neighbor, Blake Perkins. You are twenty-five years old, and you own this land and your home is there.” She pointed to the aforementioned buildings. “Did you have an accident? Hit your head? Did the mule kick you?”
“No, I don’t believe so.” He shook his head. “I remember being in a car wreck, being in a hospital, and you were there by my side.”
“What is a car?” she asked, puzzled? Her question brought a strange transition. Her question shocked him back to his current reality, a small degree of sanity, and a weird sense of his own survival. Surely it was the injection the nurse gave him.
“Oh, my God! You don’t know about cars? What year is this? More importantly, what is your name?”
“Blake, you’re scaring me. So much is about to happen. My name is Cloud Dancer Smith and my family are Cherokee. You are a white man. We are your friends, neighbors, and we are soon to be forcibly removed from our ancestral home.” She fought to keep the tears from coming, but was unsuccessful.
Blake rose from the ground, his dizziness now gone, and pulled her into his arms. “Fate is playing some ugly tricks on us. Let’s find some comfortable seats and you can tell me what’s going on. Oh, wherever I’ve been, I was known as Blake Fielding. Guess I like Perkins just as well.” He tried for a little humor.
He understood nothing about what was happening but he was feeling better – he was with his ‘Rita’ but her name was Cloud Dancer.
They went up a small rise, sat on the porch of the structure owned by Blake Perkins, and talked.
Blake did not need memory to know that he and Cloud Dancer were more than just friends. His nerves were now less fragile, and he was interested to know the problems being faced by his neighbors.
“Cloud Dancer – what a lovely name. Tell me why you’re so upset. My problems can wait.”
Still perplexed by the behavior of the man she had obviously known for some time, Cloud Dancer began: “The government is soon sending army soldiers to gather up all Cherokees here in the Smoky Mountains Foothills and taking us in wagons far away to a western territory. The nations of Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cree, Muskogee, and Seminoles have endured their long journeys to that land with many lives lost because of fatigue, lack of proper clothing, diseases like cholera, flu, and pneumonia. There were also food shortages, starvation, inhumane guard treatment, wagon accidents, and heavy stress. Thousands of lives were lost. We hoped the government would not come for us.”
Not sure how it came, Blake’s mind quickly registered ‘The Trail of Tears’. He recalled the odious treatment of Native Americans during that tumultuous time in the nation’s history. He listened to Cloud Dancer, still unable to comprehend how and why this new life was thrust upon him. Blake saw the fear in Cloud Dancer’s eyes, saw the tears slip slowly down her cheeks. There was no doubt this young woman was a major part of his life, and the harsh anomaly of his memory loss or transformation was much less a burden now in that knowledge.
The longer they talked, Blake concluded he must live in these moments. He was, for whatever purpose, in another time, another place, another dream, perhaps, and he had little choice but to live in this new world. What else was he to do?
They talked for a long time, occasionally peering down at the grazing fields, the old mule still standing, taking a slow step ahead and snorting. The sun lay across the verdant valley below while Blake and Cloud Dancer considered their options to the impending strife that was ahead.
There were locked moments when they awkwardly caught themselves warmly staring into each other’s eyes.
“Some of my people are talking of running away into the Smoky Mountains. A few have already gone. Some wish to fight for their lands, but they are wise enough to know they would lose not only their properties but their lives as well. One clan filed petitions with the United States government but they were denied. “It’s not fair, Blake. The government takes what is rightfully ours. The Cherokee Nation has never given the white man serious trouble, and it is now because white settlers from across the great waters want to grow cotton on our land that our clan is being rounded up like cattle and moved far away. Our people were here long before the white men came. We listened to the great George Washington, adopted the ways of the white men. We adopted the white men’s difficult language, learned the words we needed to know to survive and live in fellowship. We worshiped in their churches. I am sorry but I do not include you and our good white friends and neighbors. I know that you do not wish this forced government move to happen.”
“Of course, I don’t, Cloud. Of one thing I am sure, and, for reasons not totally clear to me, I know that you and I belong together. That means, I love you. I knew that when I saw you running toward me.” Blake brought her hands to his lips and kissed them.
“That claim has been made many times by both of us, Blake. I do love you and don’t want to lose you.”
“You won’t lose me, dear one. We will not run to the mountains and hide. I will join the volunteer militia group you talk about and go west with you. I will be able to protect you and your family.”
“But what of your land? This forced move is to happen soon.”
“The land will be here. The mule I will leave with whomever might want him. We will get through this, Cloud Dancer. I shall always be near you and your family. Someday, when sanity returns to the world, we will come back to Tennessee and claim what is ours to claim. Will you trust me, sweet Cloud?”
“Always, Blake! As long as eternity might be.” Her long brown hair moved with a sudden breeze, and her brown tearful eyes bore deep into his heart and soul.
After more information was shared, after Blake released the mule from its bondage, after accepting his change of habitat, this hand dealt to him by an insoluble fate, the two visited neighbors and heard their vitriolic comments about the forced displacement of the Cherokee nation. They finished their visiting at the home of Cloud’s parents, Adahy and Adsila Smith, and Blake expressed his obvious irritation with the government’s decision to force the Cherokee to a new land.
Although a visitor often here in their home – as the parents would know – Blake is so impressed by the neat, cultured fields around their plantation-type dwelling. Adahy and Adsila are the perfect representations of the Indian lore of Blake’s youth. Adahy is the ‘Tonto’ partner of the ‘Lone Ranger’, tall, rugged, and angularly handsome, and his voice carries authority but kindness as well. His face is a carved caricature of the stoic deep brown furrowed countenance, and his English is near perfect. His dress is like Blake’s – faded blue coveralls and a colorful shirt. Blake immediately liked the man at their first meeting.
“Adahy, I know I’ve asked you this before, but the name, ‘Adahy’, means what?”
“Literally, it means, ‘lives in the woods’. A good fit, don’t you think?”
“Yes, Indeed. And, Adsila, tell me again your name’s meaning?”
“She is so shy in her ways, and I will answer for her. ‘Adsila’ literally means: ‘Blossom’. Another good fit,” Adahy smiles, “Can you not see Adsila in our good daughter?”
“Indeed, I can, Adahy. I compliment you both on your beautiful property, the work you’ve put into your land and house… I’m so very sorry that our government is taking the action that it is. Andrew Jackson is a scoundrel!”
“Yet, what do we do, my friend?” asked Adahy.
“Perhaps, there is nothing we can do, but I make you this solemn promise, I’ll be with you all the way and will make sure no harm comes to you. I will make sure your food supply is ample and that you have fresh water to drink. At night you will find me near your wagon. In the meantime, if I can figure a way to get us safely away from the westward march, I will do it, or I will die trying to do it.”
Adsila spoke: “You are a good man, Blake Perkins – a good man and a good friend.” Adsila wore an almost identical calico dress as Cloud and she had the same stoic beauty, with long dark hair with a few gray streaks. Kindness and faith were there on her face, along with beautiful and sad eyes.
Blake thought about his anger with Andrew Jackson. With Jackson’s personal hatred for the Indians, who some believed was instilled in his mind by his mother and by the Indian wars, all the good work of George Washington in civilizing the Cherokee Nation meant little. Jackson and his propensity for hatred was responsible for much historical damage to the young nation. How could any white man holding high office be so soulless as to decree that good civilized people were to be uprooted from their homes and lands and forced to relocate in a territory so far away? How could any white man in high standing with a good heart and soul force such a long and arduous journey in the perilous winter months?
Yet, Blake knew that Andrew Jackson was not the only culprit in the Indian Removal of 1829-1838. Yes, Jackson, during his two terms as President of the United States, did put in place the Indian Removal policies, but it was Martin Van Buren who ordered the round-up of the Cherokees. The ugly bottom line was that nearly 4000+ Cherokee Indians died of disease, famine, and warfare on that 1200-mile trek over treacherous ground…16,000 Native Americans started that long terrifying march in 1838-39.
It would likely be most difficult for Blake’s rather shattered memory and mind to absorb that his journey was just beginning.
[End of Chapter Five]
It is my hope that “Cloud Dancer” will become one of your favorite reads. This author truly enjoyed writing it.
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