In one of the saddest episodes of the brief history of the United States, men, women and children were taken from their ancestral land and homes, herded into makeshift shelters with very few facilities and little food, and then forced to march a thousand miles to a land they had never seen, a land that was as desolate compared to their former home as the Sahara would seem to many of us.
Some four thousand men woman and children died on this journey.
The route they traveled as well as the journey itself became known as "The Trail of Tears" or, as a direct translation from Cherokee would be, "The Trail Where They Cried" "Nunna daul Tsuny".
Many years ago an old man who has long since passed related this story to me.
His grandfather, as a boy, befriended an old Cherokee Indian chief who had been among the few Cherokee that had hidden in the Smokey Mountains of east Tennessee and not been taken to Oklahoma. This friendship between the old Indian Chief, whose name has since been long lost to history, and the young man grew into a strong bond.
Near the end of his life the chief visited his friend and asked him to come with him on a journey, a journey that would be the chief's last, as it was soon time for his spirit to join his ancestors with the Great Spirit in their Sky House.
This troubled the young man but he accompanied the old Indian and they traveled west for some time. Eventually they arrived at a rocky peak somewhere on the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee. Standing here, looking out over the rolling hills of middle Tennessee the old Indian told his friend a short story.
The white man had discovered gold in northern Georgia in 1828, and by 1829 had begun to mine it. The only problem was the Cherokee people who owned the land in that area, and the state of Georgia began to plan for their forced removal. This led to the United States passing the Indian Removal act in 1830 and president Andrew Jackson quickly signed it into law. These events led directly to the Trail of Tears.
Upon learning that thousands of innocent people died for man's lust for gold the young man felt great remorse for his forefather's actions, even though he himself had not had a hand in it.
As he stood there feeling sad inside he noticed the old Indian had a smile on his face.
He asked the old man why, after such a sad story, was he smiling?
The old man walked to the edge of the cliff and stretched out his arms and said; "I am smiling because of what the white man doesn't know and what he will never know. If only the white man had been our friend he could have learned the secrets we have known since before our ancestors came to these mountains."
"What secrets?" The young man asked.
The old Indian chief just smiled even more and stood silently looking into the distance. Finally he turned and said, "I can never tell you, all who know the secret except myself have went to their ancestors, and I have vowed to take the secret with me when I go, but I can tell you this much. If only the white man knew what the Cherokee have always known he could now be shoeing his horses and mules with gold." With this stunning revelation the old Indian chief turned and walked from the mountaintop and would never speak of it again. Soon after returning home he died, and as promised, took the secret to his ancestors.
©2003 Dave Cole