A Novel

      I was headed west. I crossed the northern part of Georgia riding the high trails and crossed the Chatooga river near itís birthplace. It was a small stream here. I then followed the river on its flow south until it ran into the Coosa. I turned west and went up a good sized mountain and onto a plateau. I stopped at the top to look over my back trail. I saw no signs of life or anybody following me. From the high ground I could see a scattering of houses and barns spread out over a long valley. The plateau took me two days of riding. I came down to the big river called the Tennessee at a place known as Gunterís landing. I then rode away from the river a good distance and followed itís direction west. I knew of the trail I followed from Agigage Wah-ya. He talked of it often and said he had traveled it many times. He spoke of the beauty of the land known as Alabama and told me we had relatives there until the Cherokee conceded the land to the government. I indeed had ridden through some of the most beautiful forests and valleys I had ever seen. The ground where I rode was flat and I preferred traveling there instead of fighting the thick brush and hilly country to the north. I rode with all the belongings I had in the world atop my packhorse. The weather was warm, but a cold breeze in my mind caused every hair on my body to bristle.
      The cold wind blowing in my mind was not the winter wind. It was the bitter wind of lies and broken promises. A once proud people were now reduced to nothing more than animals. The Cherokee nation was being forcibly moved from their homeland to some far away place. Their sparkling streams and rivers were far behind. Their mountains would no longer speak to them the music of greatness. Theirs would be an existence of shame and hopelessness.
      Not me. I am Tse-quo-ni, Cherokee warrior of the high mountains where the sun appears.
      I had been hearing the sound for a while. It was strange, unlike anything I had ever heard. I knew the river called Tennessee was close again. I had been seeing in the distance the thick trees and green brush surrounding it rising up on the otherwise flat and open land. The sound drew me toward the river. I had to see what was making it. I tied the big black and my packhorse in a patch of grass just inside the trees along the river. The horses were happy to have the grass and I was happy to be out of the saddle.
      The noise was getting louder as I belly crawled into the thick brush lining the riverís edge. I had a clear view of the big river. I saw the beast making the foreign sound. It came around a bend in the river, heading in my direction. It was coughing an awful sound and belching black smoke from a pipe stuck up in the air. Wheels turned in the water on both sides. The swirling smoke masked my view at times as it engulfed the entire boat. As it came closer, I noticed four flat boats lashed together and tailing the boat making all the noise. My heart grew sick as the evil snake came by me. I saw men, women, and children of the once great Cherokee nation huddled together on the flat boats.
      I could see their faces. They wore the look of defeat. I looked for familiar faces. I saw none. My mother and sister could be on these boats, I thought. Perhaps they were on the far side out of my view.
      The thought occurred to me to take my rifle and shoot the soldiers guarding them. Then they could escape. Then another thought replaced it. No. The Cherokee people chose this. They forgot the old ways and accepted the ways of the white man. They trusted the white manís promises. They did not fight. They were not Cherokee.
      As I lay watching the passing boats grow smaller in the distance, I remembered the story Agigage-wa-ya told me. In the white manís tongue his name was Red Wolf. One day while checking our snares we found a possum staring at us. As we approached, the possum sulled and played dead. Red Wolf used the occasion to teach me a lesson. He repeated the story often as I grew up. He asked me if I knew why the possum had no hair on itís tail.
      ďI do not know grandfather,Ē I said.
      ďThe possum once had the most beautiful tail of all the animals in the forest,Ē he said. ďIt was covered with thick curly hair. The rabbit was jealous of the possumís beautiful tail. He told the possum the beauty of his tail would give him a place of high standing when the animal council met. The possum was so proud. But jealous rabbit pointed out how dirty the tail was and asked if he could help by washing it. The possum agreed. Jealous rabbit applied a special potion to the tail that would make the hair fall off. He then wrapped the tail in a snake skin and told the possum to remove it only during the meeting of the animal council or it would get dirty again. The possum did just that and removed the skin in front of all his friends to find his tail naked. The possum has lived in shame since. That is why he grins so sheepishly and plays dead. Now, can you tell me why the possum has no hair on itís tail?Ē
      I tried to answer him but my answer did not please Red Wolf.
      ďIt is because he trusted someone who was not worthy of trust,Ē he exclaimed.
      The truth of grandfatherís story had become a part of my life. Trust no man until you are certain of his loyalty. The Cherokee people trusted the white man and now they look like the possum. They will live in shame forever. Not me. Tse-quo-ni will yield to no man. I will live and die free.