It was the third day in the celebration of Nv-da ko-la, or the Bone Moon. Food was scarce during this time and we would gnaw on bones to keep our strength up. The night was cold and the mist from Soco falls made the Smoky Mountains look as they were labeled.
“Awenasa, take Ayita and look in my cabin for an arrowhead.” my mother called me.
I took my little sister Ayita into the cabin and we scoured for an arrowhead. My mother would be hunting soon to try and find us dinner. She hunts for the family ever since Father was captured by The Trail. We brought the arrowhead back and as my mother tied it to her spear, Ayita and I ventured back into the cabin. We were not allowed out of the cabin during the night unless there was an elder nearby. We watched through the crack in the door as Mother picked up her sack and headed into the woods.
Ayita played with a corn husk doll as I stared at the ground. I wondered how Father had wandered onto The Trail. It must of been easy to see; it was the only trail around for miles. Immookalee came in and made a fire. Ever since her father, Chief, had been captured, her brother took over. Immolakee’s name meant waterfall in Cherokee. Mine was “home” and Ayita’s was“the one who dances”. Ayita was always happy and joyful – nothing could make her frown. Until the message came.
The message was delivered by a fellow Sequoyan. Everyone knew him because he spent his whole life as a messenger boy. His name was Galegenoh (Stag) and he used to be able to run faster than all of the villages combined. He was now of old age and his run had slowed to a walk. He handed us a note written on birch.
“Very urgent!” He enunciated.
His English was worse than his Cherokee.
The message explained that mother had been hunting by Soco Falls and a newer, more powerful village had captured her. They had just settled there and they were taxing everyone who stepped foot in their land. Mother needed to trade, but had nothing with her.
As the others discussed what to do, I grabbed Ayita and some blue topaz I had collected over the years, and set out into the forest. We had reached the Soco waterfall, but no one was in sight. I grabbed Ayita and hid behind a tree as a fair-skinned man emerged from behind one of the newly made cabins. He had a large machine with him and held it up to his eye as he tip-toed around. He then disappeared behind the cabin and Ayita and I ran deeper into the forest.
We kept walking until the forest disappeared. In its place was a dark, long surface; stretching for miles. I stepped onto it and kept walking. The surface felt cool underneath my feet as I looked into the sky at the The Bone Moon. As I walked and walked, we came across yet another English-made structure. It was long and winding and reached many feet into the sky. I read the paper on the side of it.
“De-ad mhan’s drop” I slowly drawled out.
I didn’t quite understand what that meant. I walked up the long and winding path. When I reached the top I stared into the horizon. I saw a long line of people trudging along a barren path. The Trail . . . I quickly reach for Ayita’s hand so we could go back, but it wasn’t there. Neither was she.
I quickly ran back through the forest, looking for her. I soon got lost and decided to follow the North Star. It worked for awhile and I found myself again on another path. I then heard shouts and commands coming from behind me. I saw many Cherokee including Mother, Father, and Ayita. All the Cherokee were weeping, including Mother. There were ropes bound around their necks and hands. Their feet were black and blue from the bitter cold.
I ran to them and my mother comforted me with tears. A man came up to me and choked my neck and hands with a rope. I didn’t fight back. I couldn’t. These were the English.
“Welcome”, My mother greeted me between wheezes. “Welcome to The Trail of Tears.”