American Native Press Archives and Sequoyah Research Center

American Native Press Archives and Sequoyah Research Center

The Story of the Cherokees [a machine-readable transcription]

The Story of the Cherokees

By DeWitt Clinton Duncan [Too-qua-stee] (Cherokee)

Table of Contents

DeWitt Clinton Duncan [Too-qua-stee] (Cherokee)

DeWitt Clinton Duncan was born at Dahlonega in the eastern Cherokee Nation in present-day Georgia, the son of John and Elizabeth Abercrombie Duncan, who removed to the West with the tribe in 1839. Young Duncan attended mission and Cherokee nation schools before going to Dartmouth College, from which he graduated in 1861. Because of the Civil War, Duncan did not return to the Indian Territory but taught school in northern states before finally settling in 1866 at Charles City, Iowa, where he practiced law, held petty political offices, and taught school. For more than a decade after 1880, Duncan divided his time between the Cherokee Nation and Iowa, but served the Cherokees in various capacities: as attorney for the nation; teacher of English, Latin and Greek at the Cherokee Male Seminary; and translator of the Cherokee laws. Throughout this period and beyond, he attempted to write a linguistic analysis of the Cherokee language. In the early 1880s he also began to write for Cherokee newspapers, particularly the Indian Chieftain at Vinita, where he took up permanent residence in the 1890s, and the Cherokee Advocate at Tahlequah. Though he became known locally as a poet and fiction writer, Duncan was best known for dozens of letters that appeared under the pen name Too-qua-stee. While the range of subjects of the Too-Qua-stee letters is great, the predominant subject is the United States attack on Cherokee sovereignty. Duncan lived to see the demise of the Cherokee Nation as a political entity and died in 1909.


The seacoast and the territory lying within the present limits of the state of South Carolina constituted the ancient home of the Cherokees. Here they had lived-how long! Time here had ‘snowed its centuries upon them.’ They were here, doubtless, before the pyramids were planted or ever the Sphinx had lifted his head above the Libyan sands. Their nation was venerable when the British Empire was in the cradle of its infancy and the Anglo-Saxon race were clothing themselves in skins and sleeping in the drifted leaves of the forest.

Here it was that the white race became acquainted with them, and commenced upon that career of encroachment which has, for three hundred years preyed upon their rights, robbed them of their peace, and which at the present time is threatening their extinction.

The Cherokees early adopted the practice of purchasing immunity against the rapacity of their white neighbors by feeding their cupidity on that kind of feed the want of which most all tempted them to violence, namely, territory. The Siberian mother, it is said, will feed her children one by one to the besetting wolves, in order thereby to save the more cherished portion of the household from destruction. It was on this principle that the Cherokees, from time to time, sold portions of their territory to the whites in the hope of saving by that expedient small part, at least, of their ancient heritage as a permanent home for themselves and their children.

By these repeated cessions, they were compelled to withdraw from the coast and retire toward the interior; and at the time to which this narrative relates, they occupied a choice district embracing what now constitutes as many as a score of counties on the northern border of the state of Georgia. The climate was mild and healthful. Its surface was adorned with the charming scenery of the Cumberland Mountains and Blue Ridge, and watered by the head streams of the Tennessee and the great Chattahoochee. The white race, with its multitudinous tide of emigration and settlement, had flanked them on the north and on the south, closing in their rear, had rolled on to the Mississippi, crossed over and built on its western bank the two great states of Missouri and Arkansas.

As early as 1819, the Cherokees made the question of civilization a subject of deliberation in the council of the nation. ‘Shall the Cherokee adopt the habits, customs, and institutions of the white race, or shall they continue in the way of their forefathers?’ That was the question. They determined in favor of civilization. Accordingly, they organized a civil government founded on the three fundamental ideas: Law, Law understood, and Law executed. The rights and liberties of the citizens were suitably guaranteed; religion was made free; morality encouraged and education provided for. With the greatest unanimity and most commendable zeal, they addressed themselves to the employments of civilized life, and pleasant homes, mingled with churches and schoolhouses, sprang up and adorned the land. Their newborn industry assailed the hitherto undisturbed dominion of nature, and the forests were hewn down to make way for fields of waving grain.

But this external improvement was only a symptom showing forth a far more important melioration, which was going on in the minds and hearts of the people themselves. They had begun to appreciate and enjoy the blessings of home, and to love wife and children with a more refined devotion. The land, which they inhabited, was no more their cherished ‘hunting ground’, but their country, which they had learned to love with all the fervor of an enlightened patriotism. Their increased intelligence enabled them to discern more accurately the distinctions between justice and injustice, while their moral sensibilities, vitalized by the influence of civilization, experienced a new delight in the triumphs of the former, and flamed with an unwonted indignation at the invasions of the latter. In their estimation, the white men were no more, as in ancient times they had been supposed to be, ‘children of the sun’, but were only men, like themselves, capable of evil as well as good. Their encroachments had come to be looked upon by the Cherokees with peculiar jealousy and detestation, aggravated proportionally to their own advancement in the ideas of human rights. To be, at this period, driven from their country, endeared by so many improved causes of attachment, and sent to new and untried abodes in the western wilderness far beyond the Mississippi, was a prospect, which filled the heart of the nation with sensations of chilly horror.

In 1802, the government of the United States had agreed that the beautiful district of Cherokee lands, as soon as the Indian title thereto could be extinguished peaceably, should be attached to and owned by the state of Georgia. This act implanted that virus which afterwards broke forth into virulence and blasted all the fair prospects of Cherokee civilization. This conditional grant lay dormant for more than twenty years; indeed, it was never to take effect until the Cherokees had amicably consented to part with their title. It was not until these lands were found to be impregnated with gold that the state of Georgia became impatient to enter into possession of this her prospective heritage.

About the year 1828, there lived a man (a Cherokee) near the town of__________, GA. A bright rivulet bubbled along by his garden gate. Standing one day upon the brink of this little stream, about a stone's throw from his cabin door, his eye was attracted by a peculiar particle, gleaming beneath the limpid current. Stooping down, he lifted it upon his finger from the weltering sand, and gold was discovered in the Cherokee country of Georgia.

This interesting event soon became a matter of general notoriety among the Cherokees, and mining at once took its place along with agriculture as one of the staple industries of the nation. The precious metal was not long in finding its way out into the state in search of market.

Intelligence of what was going on among the Cherokees having reached the frontier, its electric shock sent a thrill of excitement well nigh to the utmost limits of the American Union. It was the signal for a general uprising among the whites. Thieves, millionaires, paupers, statesmen, cutthroats and moralist-all agreed in the idea that the progress of civilization had already been retarded long enough by the obstructing presence of Cherokee barbarism, and that if truth, righteousness and peace-the general good of mankind-should be allowed to sustain any further damage through a failure on the part of the present generation to go in, possess and redeem this goodly land, posterity, who would be the real sufferers, would hold them to a most painful accountability. Therefore, businessmen of every grade and character joined in public meetings of consultation for the purpose of devising schemes to drive out the Cherokees and ‘open up their country’. They memorialized congress; they petitioned the legislature of the state of Georgia, and argued that not only the well-being of humanity but the interests and necessities of American commerce were all in harmony with their projects and demanded their immediate execution. Politicians and speculators seconded these movements with zeal, for talent and money looked forward to an alliance of their respective fields of usefulness.

While these things were going on among the more loyal and respectable portion of white people, another large class, calling themselves miners and emigrants, made up of that sort of persons whose efficiency for deviltry is limited only by their opportunity, waited not for the action of the government, but rushed into the Indian country and by force of arms, amid scenes of outrage and assassination, drove out the Cherokees and monopolized the gold region.

By this time, affairs among the Cherokees had become exciting. Their leading spirits talked gravely of war and seemed to lament that an age of intelligence had disarmed them of that reckless valor of olden times and taught them the propriety of calculating the chances of victory before going into battle. To take up arms against such overwhelming odds was impracticable. The strength of the Cherokees was in the justice of their cause; their only available weapon of defense was truth; their only hope was anchored in the honor of the white nation. Accordingly, they appealed to their treaties; they urged the plighted faith and solemn guarantees of the government. The other side, however, shut their ears against the addresses of reason. They would not allow their minds to be troubled by the harrowing questions of justice between the two peoples, but relying upon that popular dogma, rife among civilized peoples, namely, that their own elevation in the scale of human excellence entitles them, by the will of God, to dominion over the whole earth, at least as far as they had power to conquer, they laughed at the treaties, scoffed at the obligations imposed by their guarantees, and ridiculed the idea that so poor a party as an Indian tribe should presume to question the conduct of the white race or should be thought competent to insist upon the benefits of a compact with so great and glorious a personality as the government of the United States.

The state of Georgia sympathized with her citizens. She remembered the promise made to her in 1802 by the general government. True, the event upon which she was to become the owner of the Cherokee lands had not yet come to pass, and she could not yet reasonably insist upon her title. Nevertheless, she memorialized congress upon the subject and demanded that the Indian claim to the territory in question should be extinguished without further delay, and that she be allowed to take possession of the same in pursuance of the compact. But a difficulty here presented itself which was morally insuperable and which might have been easily anticipated. The Cherokees refused to sell their country. The mother had already fed her last child to the wolves, and she had no more to give, whatever the consequences might be. The president of the United States had sent proposals to them looking to a purchase of their lands, but these overtures only proved an occasion for an address from the Cherokees to the president reminding him of the government's obligation to protect them in their homes and urging him, in pursuance of their treaties, to remove intruders from their country.

The predicament was embarrassing. To push the Indian nations away from their ancient homes on the Atlantic coast to locations in the unsettled regions beyond the Mississippi, was a scheme which the president himself (Gen. Andrew Jackson) had inaugurated, and one which he cherished with peculiar fondness and of which he entertained the greatest expectations; it was his ardent desire to see it succeed. But the Cherokees feeling an attachment to their country too strong to be severed decidedly rejected the idea of emigration. To compel them to remove by arbitrary force emanating from the strong hand of the government would have been, in the face of so many guarantees to the contrary, a violation of good faith too flagrant to escape the criticism of the civilized world. A more judicious course must be pursued. The Cherokees could not, according to the terms of their treaties, be compelled to move without their own consent. To obtain this consent was now the matter to be compassed. Money could not buy it, but misery could extort it. What motives they might have for giving it, or what stress might be used for drawing it out of them-these things, it was thought, were not proper matters for scrutiny in the practical affairs of state, and should not be considered in the premises. If the Cherokees should sell their country and emigrate to a new one by their own consent, that is enough; surely the tender conscience of a Christian civilization could have no cause to complain.

In this conflict between a sense of honor and the clamor of expediency, the president was driven to assume not a neutral, but an equivocal position. He neither drove out the Indians to please the state of Georgia nor did he expel the whites as urged by the Cherokees. His sympathies, however, were altogether with the whites. Apparently refusing to take sides in the controversy, he hailed with satisfaction any theory of law, morals or necessity that would tend to absolve the government from its obligations to the Cherokees, and thus free his hands to cooperate with the state. South Carolina had espoused the doctrine of nullification and trampled on an odious law of congress. On that occasion, he coerced that state and threatened to hang her leading statesman (John C. Calhoun) ‘as high as Haman’, on account of his complicity in the offense, but when in the case of the Cherokees, Georgia overrides a treaty of the United States in which not only the sovereign authority, but the honor of the government is involved, this same president was called on for redress by the parties aggrieved, he replied, ‘The general government has no authority to interfere with, or coerce, the action of a sovereign state.’

The Cherokees now found themselves abandoned by the government. They cried to their ‘Great Father at Washington’, but his answers never rose to anything higher or better than hypocritical expressions of parental regard for his ‘Red children’.

Georgia well understood this bias of the Administration, and never lost sight of that purpose the accomplishment of which she knew to be so much in accord with the feelings of the executive. ‘The Cherokees must go,’ was her motto; it had been whispered in her ear at the White House. ‘The Cherokees must go’ was caught up and echoed by the intruders. ‘The Cherokees must go,’ was the war cry throughout the state.

Under the pressure of these circumstances, the governor convened the legislature of the state. An act was hurried through the forms of legislation having in view the two-fold purpose of driving the Cherokees out of their country and putting Georgia in possession of their lands. The agencies relied upon for the accomplishment of this work was oppression and persecution. The statute abolished the Cherokee body politic, annulled all Cherokee laws, and made it a penal offense for any person to enforce, or attempt to enforce, a judgment or process of any Cherokee court. It extended the laws of Georgia over the Cherokee country, and punished all white men with imprisonment who should be found remaining therein without first taking the oath of allegiance to the state government and to support her in her measures against the Cherokees. It also provided for a survey of the Cherokee lands and for dividing them up ‘by lot’ in homesteads to such loyal citizens as might see fit to venture out and make improvements in the wilds of the newly acquired territory. The act was strikingly characterized by its malevolence against the Cherokees. By its terms, no Indian was allowed to bear witness against a white man in any of the courts of the state; and if any Indian should be detected in digging gold, except in the employ of a loyal citizen of the state, he was liable to be arrested and punished with imprisonment.

To put this oppressive law into execution, the militia of the state were called out, armed and mounted. These military companies, so called, were bands of bad men, hastily called together and equipped under the sanction of the state, to be turned loose upon the Indians, in order, by means of outrage and persecution, to conquer their attachment to their country and to coerce their consent to emigrate. They scoured the land, marking their way with deeds of violence and rapine. They soon crowded the jails of the state with Cherokee prisoners, male, and female, under charge of violating the ‘mining law’, and such other accusations as the spirit of unbridled tyranny might see fit to make in order to further its own diabolical purposes.

The effects of the ‘allegiance law,’ harmonized well with the general plan of persecution and oppression. The worst class of white men-those who were base enough to come into the country for plunder-readily ‘took the oath’ and at once made themselves free commoners in the newly opened field of booty. The better sort-those who were among the Indians on no worse errand than laudable business, and possessing an ordinary amount of self respect, and those who had come in the country ‘for the country's good’-gospel missionaries-generally refused to obey it. The former, heeding the dictates of prudence, quietly left the country. The latter looked upon the law as an outrage and deemed it their duty, as the avowed champions of truth and justice, to show their contempt for it even at the peril of their own lives and liberties.

Dr. Elizar Butler and Rev. S. A. Worcester, who were in the service of the American Board among the Cherokees, were the most distinguished of these recusant missionaries. They were arrested by militia on charge of being found in the Cherokee country contrary to the terms of the statute. The moral and religious purity with which the lives of these men were adorned only incited the fiendish spirits of the ‘Georgia militia’ to more aggravated exhibitions of malignity. The prisoners were pinioned. For each, they prepared a rope. One end they tied around the prisoner's neck, the other to the pummel of a saddle. The ruffians then rode away, while these good men trotted along behind them on the way to jail. They were tried, found guilty of violating the statute and sentenced to the penitentiary. They served out their time and were discharged, and returning to the Cherokees in their new home west of the Mississippi, resumed their labors. They gave their lives to the Cherokees, and their works live after them and bless their memory.

The survey of the Cherokee lands, as provided by the statute, was completed. The quarter sections were entered upon slips of paper. These slips of paper were then deposited in a box and thoroughly mixed. He who desired a homestead in the ‘beautiful land of the Cherokees’ had only to thrust in his hand and draw out a slip; the endorsement on it showed the measure of his luck and explained to him his location. This performance was called ‘drawing lots’.

These ‘lots’, as they were called, often fell on valuable improvements belonging to the Cherokees. Chances of this kind were much coveted and sought after by the homesteaders. The law made no provision for protecting the rights of the Indian occupants. The homesteader found nothing in the way to hinder his enjoyment of the most complete license that his evil nature could desire. Affairs among the Indians were reduced to a hopeless state of anarchy. Issues between the two races were decided exclusively by brute force. The stronger force, which was always on the side of the whites, invariably prevailed. One side having power, in all cases, to execute its own sovereign will, had no occasion to invoke the magistracy. To the other, being disfranchised, the magistracy was unavailable. The interposition of judicial authority was neither practicable nor expected by either party. If a ‘lot,’ happened to cover an occupied improvement, the owner was thrown out of possession on private responsibility. Such personal property as was found upon the premises, especially the implements of husbandry and the mechanical arts were appropriated by the newcomer. The poultry was dressed and enjoyed by him, his wife and little ones. The hogs were remarked and the cattle re-branded in the name of the white man, and went to augment his patrimony.

In order to illustrate the extreme, to which this species of outrage was carried, particular mention need be made only of one instance. The author vouches for the truth of this incident, for he speaks with all the certainty of knowledge that sonship can give of the events which usually make up the history of the parental household.

There was a man (a Cherokee) whose premises had been covered by one of these fatal ‘lots’. He was a farmer and had about a hundred acres under cultivation. His improvements were not only commodious, but tasteful. The house he lived in was built of ponderous pine logs hewn to a smooth face on two opposite sides, laid up and notched down with artistic precision. It was a double house with a broad airy ‘entry’ between the two apartments, and flanked with a veranda that extended the whole length of the structure. The yard spread away from the doorsill, carpeted with green sward and adorned with trees and flowers. A gravel walk linked the entrance gate to the threshold, and the whole, including the garden, ran a picket fence, of genteel aspect, which on the east joined hands coyly with the rustic timbers of a rail fence that straggled away enclosing the orchard and pasture lands in the distance. A large gate just back of the barn stood sentry at the entrance of the farm, and a broad road, well beaten and dusty, stretched itself along in front of the premises, being the highway by which the wealthy stockmen of Tennessee drove their herds of cattle and hogs down to market at Augusta, GA.

The harvest had been reaped and the plow had been at work in the stubble land. The man had retired from labor one day and was sitting for a moment's rest on the veranda with his wife and children. The conversation had been confidential and full of the misfortunes that had fallen upon their people and nation. The man's face bore upon it the aspect of indignant soberness as the tyrannous conduct of the whites was recounted, and tears of anxiety and dread coursed down his wife's cheeks as she contemplated the prospects of a dreary abode far away beyond the Mississippi.

The sun had passed the meridian. The clouds had shorn him somewhat of noonday splendor, and he was hanging in the western sky like a lurid ball of fire just over the summit of the Alleghenies.

Two horsemen now came into view far down the highway in the direction of the white settlement. They were armed with rifles certainly and doubtless with other weapons that are visible only in cases of emergency. They were white men. Georgia's ‘lottery box’ had been in operation at Milledgeville, and these men had ‘tried their luck’. It was a good hit for them, for their ‘lot’ covered the man's premises completely. They were coming to see their newly acquired property. The first part of the improvement that came under their notice was the pasture in which the man's horses were grazing. Here they loitered and looked for a time with evident satisfaction. At length, they moved on. The orchard next attracted their attention. Here they estimated the number of fruit trees and tried to take in their quality and variety. They started, stopped, looked and pointed. They were now evidently in the presence of scenes with which they were anxious to strike up an acquaintance. As they sat upon their horses, they seemed, one moment, to be considering the surface of the earth at their feet, as if to acquaint themselves with the nature and quality of the soil. Then with elevated gaze, they stood feasting their eyes on the distant scenery whose charms were sweetening the landscape. Ere long they drew up to the garden out of the highway, some distance, and on private ground. They scrutinized its contents, and to every plant they seemed to say, ‘How are you?’ Here they took eye glances at the barn, corncrib and dwelling. They saw the man sitting with his family on the veranda, but gave him no attention. They moved along slowly with their rifles across their laps, side by side, talking to each other, peering this way and that; advancing, halting, gesticulating, remarking, regardless of those who gazed upon them from the house. By and by, they came to the great gate that stood near the barn. One of them here dismounted, flung the gate open, remounted and they both rode in. On they went, inspecting, prospecting-slowly onward till at last they were lost from sight in the expanse of the farm. They were not gone long, however, ere they came into view, returning. They arrived at the same great gate and passed out still wearing an impenetrable air of inquiry and investigation.

Here the man who had sat on the veranda met them:

‘Gentlemen, what will you have?’

‘Do you live here, sir?" ’

‘I do." ’

‘Well, we must have possession here in ten days.’

‘What do you mean?’

Here one of the white men drew from his pocket and read a certificate showing that he had won the man's premises at Georgia's infamous lottery box. They then rode away in the direction they had come.

The man's dark eye followed them as they went. His deep sense of wrong had hung itself in shadows upon his swarthy brow, and in the tones of one whose spirit, oppressed by a power which it cannot repel, finds its last support in hopeless feelings of contempt, he said:

‘The impudence of a white man! Specimens of a glorious civilization! Those obdurate villains have the hardihood to say that God has a peculiar liking for them and their race on account of what they know and what they are; that He gives them the whole world for a possession, and commissions them on errands of rapine and murder against us as He did Joshua against the poor Canaanites. If that be so, it is wonderful how such great meanness can be so popular in heaven, and be entrusted with such fearful prerogatives over the rest of mankind! Away with such civilization! Let the curse of the Great Spirit fall upon its arrogant hypocrisy. They are stronger than we, that is all. If we had a few more men to do our fighting with, the Cherokees would be in favor at the heavenly court, and God would doubtless give us missions of evangelism against that nation of scoundrels. But we are weak; we must submit. Nations are rarely human when they are not afraid to play the beast.’

A fortnight passed and two emigrant wagons rolled into view. They were attended by the same two white men that had a few days before explored the man's premises. Their wives and their children were with them, also their hired hands. They came trudging, dusty, dirty, evidently weary. A long way they had doubtless traveled. Step by step their teams tugged on, freighted to the bows of their wagons' white arching roofs with all the precious prospects of a new and happy home in the beautiful land of the Cherokees. On they came, soberly and directly, tending toward the big gate just back of the barn. They arrived and halted before its majesty. There was no god in all the Cherokee nation that commanded the reverence of those impious white men like that gigantic gate. They swung it wide open upon its ponderous hinges, though, and in they drove. On they rolled, on, still on. At length, they stopped just in the edge of the stubble lane, a few rods only from where the man's plow was standing in the furrow. They at once began to unburden the wagons of their loads; they pitched their tents, rehabilitated their furniture, and began the days of a new life in a new home. These things done, they hitched their team to the man's plow, and on it moved to the white plowboy's whistle. In the meantime, the man himself had received a threatening notification that his own well-being was conditioned upon his own gentle behavior, and that in case he should attempt any interference, his right to life and liberty would be deemed forfeited. Covered from day to day by the white men's rifles, and menaced by the carbines of the Georgia militia who desired only pretexts for seizing Indians and carrying them away in irons to jail, the man deemed it prudent to let his conduct be characterized by patient moderation.

In this extremity, he thought of appealing to the justice of the white nation. He brought an action of trespass against those bad white men in the superior courts of the state of Georgia. Days wore away ere the case came on for hearing. In the meantime, a system of persecution was inaugurated by the intruders, and daily the man and his family felt their sensibilities galled by insulting epithets and brutal maledictions. Their national pride was outraged by heaping contemptuous ridicule upon their name and race.

At length, the case came on for trial. The suit, in moral significance, was simply an appeal to civilization to verify her boasted claims to superior merit over that barbarism which she had affected so much to contemn. What will she do? Will she, by displays of her keener sense of justice, and the refined equity of her decisions, show the Indians that she is any more deserving of the respect of intelligent beings than barbarism? This she will have to do if she makes good her conceited boastings.

The judge was on the bench. The dignity that clothed him was unexceptionable. His ermine was white enough, pure enough, holy enough, or seemed to be. ‘Surely,’ the man thought, ‘the righteous sit here nearest the throne. Before this bar, the just may hold up their heads and, though poor, wear the aspect of princes.’ Delusion! The books were opened. The parties announced themselves ready for trial. ‘Bring on your witnesses, Mr. Plaintiff,’ came the injunction from the bench. ‘They are here, your honor,’ said the man. ‘Let them be sworn." "Hold!" cried a voice from the defense; "we object to the competency of those witnesses.’ ‘What is the ground of your objection?’ ‘Those witnesses, your honor, are all Cherokee Indians; this defendant is a white man, and the statute of our state provides that no Indian shall be allowed to testify against a white man in any of the courts of the state of Georgia.’ ‘The objection is well taken,’ responded the court, ‘and must be sustained.’ ‘Have you no white persons to testify for you, Mr. Plaintiff?’ ‘None, your honor.’ ‘Your case, then, must be dismissed at your own cost, and it is so ordered.’

Civilization stultified herself, and indignant barbarism withdrew as from the presence of a leper.

The man went home to tell his wife of his discomfiture. The white men returned to their camp upon the stubble. The tents of the intruders became still more cheerful with manifest signs of satisfaction, and their conduct was characterized by a spirit of increased assurance. The Indian's plow continued to follow the white man's team.

The whites, feeling themselves sustained by the results of the late suit, now usurped the authority of absolute ownership of not only the man's premises, but his personal effects; and they rifled his granary, garden and poultry yard without let or hindrance. The man and his family were reduced to the condition of tenants in their own house at the precarious sufferance of the white savages. To enter and eject them, however, was an expedition attended with such peril, as few white men would like to encounter. A different course was pursued.

The man's wife was a brave good woman. No pen can do justice to her memory. She was the mother of two little children; one a daughter, three years of age, the other, a baby son. She had a little Indian maiden in her service as nurse, who was between twelve and thirteen years of age.

One day just as the sun was nearing the summit of the western hills, the man and his wife walked out to make a friendly call upon an Indian neighbor. It is pleasant, you know, for partners in misfortune to meet at times and mingle their grief. The distance was short; the place in sight. The children were left with the little nurse to await the parents' return. Twilight was just beginning to sober the hues of the day; a big black cloud lay upon the horizon, muttering a little thunder. The trip was made greetings over, and the conversation had been running. That little group of oppressed Indians had well nigh finished the canvass and equalization of their common load of troubles, when a gigantic flame of fire leaped up through the roof of the man's house in the distance, and surging up skyward, rolled off in measureless volumes of smoke. Frantic consternation seized the hapless parents. ‘The children! The children!’ Exclaimed the man, and speed brought him like an arrow to the place of disaster. The wretched mother followed, less fleet, but was soon by the side of her husband in the presence of conflagration. The fire was in the midst of its repast. It was one of those times when manhood submits to the arbitrament of destiny, and valor achieves its greatest glory in heroic suffering. The man was helpless, speechless. ‘O, my children! My lost, lost babes! ’ rose from the lips of the mother amid the roarings of the fire and seemed to make all the gray evening sky ache in sympathy with her inconsolable anguish.

And sure enough, where are the children? Have they escaped the flames and run away to some place of safety in the garden? The orchard? Or concealed in some leafy covert along the fence? Or have they, crazed with fright, fled to the wild wood to weather this dreadful night all alone, endangered by wild beasts, poisonous serpents, and the rage of that storm which is gathering beyond the mountains? Or can it be that the darlings, together with their little black-eyed nurse, are all buried in that molten mass that gleams through those wasting doors, and roars up spouting flames through those chamber windows? Plates and rafters thundering down-Oh God! The little ones! Too late! Too late! Their dear ashes will forever consecrate the ruins of their house.

But hold! Yonder stand the white men, aloof a little way, just within the circuit of the fires yellow light. Ask them; they may be able to give some account of the missing children. Ah! It is useless. They are heartless wretches. They are now making merry at the mother's frantic cries. They are laughing, and doubtless, at the ruin, which their own villainy has wrought. Their nocturnal grinnings, gleaming in glare of this fiery heap, look ghastly and picture them as demons holding high carnival in honor of destruction.

The night was dark. O how dark! The moon was off duty; and the stars were blotted out as though with the brush of annihilation. The admonitory thunder in the distance was speaking frightful of rain, swelling streams and sweeping torrents ere the morning dawned. A cry was raised. Loud and shrill it rang till the Indian villages caught the sound and read it in tones the distress of the hour. Friendly aid came in. They ransacked the landscape with torch and lantern, and through the deep darkness sent forth calls bearing in their tones an inspiring tenderness, if perchance a disclosing answer might be coaxed from the little trembling fugitives.

It is vain. They are burned to death! Yet they may be still alive. Let the search go on, and wear the night away in effort, or conquer this horrible suspense more intolerable than torture!

It was a scene for mothers to study-those who deem themselves furtherest removed from the shadows of barbarism-those who are accustomed to awe their little ones to duty by rehearsing to them frightful stories of the Indians' brutality. Would they had been there to mark that tragedy; to follow that grief-stricken mother through the long hours of that dreadful night; to drink in her wailings, and fathom, if possible, the depth of her mental anguish; and having charged up that immeasurable crime to its true author-to that brutal tyranny with which the white race have ground the Indians for the last three hundred years-settle the question whether their own boasted civilization is not a far better nursery of demons than the Indian's barbarism.

The cock's crow announced the approach of day. Ere long the beams of the morning began to break into and light up the coverts of the landscape. Lanterns and torches were discharged. With increased facilities and redoubled diligence, the anxious search went on. The hours were still heavy with suspense. Burned to ashes, or yet alive? Were the painful queries that dwelt in whispers upon every lip and wrung every heart with anxiety. Inquiry, wistful inquiry, probed the smoking ruins. But in vain; no traces of the lost among the heaping coals and ponderous brands.

The sun had climbed wearily up the sky and was well nigh the zenith, when, at length, a cry arose through the branches of a distant forest: ‘Found! Found!’ The long drawn sound, freighted with joyous tidings, rolled down the valley and was caught up and borne along by cheery voices, until its music fell upon the ears of the disconsolate parents, and, as by the touch of divine goodness, changed their sorrow for the dead into joy over the living.

The children and their little nurse were found nearly a mile away from the scene of outrage, concealed in a leafy jungle, trembling with fear and stupefied with cold.

Let the heavens witness this spectacle! -These babes were Indian children fleeing for life before the progress of a ‘glorious (?) civilization’.

There would have been a cloud of impenetrable mystery forever hanging around this tragic affair had it not been for the testimony of the little Indian nurse. It is best given in her own limping English. The mother entrusted the babe to her keeping, and she proved true to her charge. Meeting the mother, she returned the babe safely to her arms, and with the brightness of excitement still flashing in her deep black eyes, she said hurriedly:

‘You go away; white man come, fetch fire, throw baby out door; hit me; say 'Go way-kill you'; take baby, run way, 'fraid white man.’

The ruins of the man's once happy home was sending up laggard columns of smoke in the full face of noonday. The white men looked on from a distance with composure and pursued their usual career, only now with a pleasing consciousness that they had struck the man a blow must, in a very short time, relieve them of his annoying presence. The ‘Georgia militia’ still hovered in the country, and the continually growing influx of arrogant whites was rapidly dispossessing the Indians of their homes and property. It was not difficult at this moment to inventory the man's effects. His hogs, cattle and other livestock had been well nigh, all either maliciously destroyed or driven away and appropriated. A team he had left with wagon and harness. That very day, he ‘hitched up’, and putting his wife and little ones aboard, he turned his face toward the Western wilderness, moved off, and surrendered his place to the service of that ‘glorious civilization before whose effulgence the American Indian, like and abnormal plant beneath the blaze of the meridian sun, naturally pines, withers and dies’. On he went, crossed the Great Father of Waters, cleared the borders of the wild Arkansas, and stayed not till he reached the Red Man's asylum in the Indian Territory.

Years have since rolled away. He and his heroic wife have long since found rest in death. The children still live, and that malignant power, falsely called civilization, is to this day still at their heels demanding their room or their ruin.

Author: Duncan, DeWitt Clinton [Too-qua-stee] (Cherokee).
© American Native Press Archives and Sequoyah Research Center