From Sequoyah’s Journal
These words are taken from the writings of my grandfather, Christian Priber, when first he came to live among the Cherokees in the early 1700’s:
These people are not savages. They can be cruel, but in the most humane of ways. They derive clan identity from their mothers – the fathers exert but little influence upon their progeny. The fields are held in common and cultivated in a most unusual fashion – no rows are laid out, the seeds are tossed atop mounds to grow. The head warrior Moytoy has become my friend. Although thankfully untutored he is much the Great Wit. Certainly he is the intellectual equal and moral superior of any Prussian cavalry officer. Quickly have I learned their Native tongue.
Their chief game is a small white-tailed deer, but the forest abounds with mammoth bison, fleet-footed elk and bear. The taking of small game is beneath the dignity of adult males but the boys slay hare by the score and never does any among these people suffer from want of food.
These people recognize individual identity along clan lines rather than on the lightness and darkness of skin. They do not understand the relationship between European masters and African slaves.
Upon my first visitation in Tellico I was brought before the women in Council. We spoke in a mixture of Spanish and English and I was well received. They questioned me as to my motives and I answered honestly. Apparently they approved of my presence as after a water ceremony I was given foodstuffs and entreated to the most warm hospitality by women of good stature and not wanting at all of exquisite feminine charm.
The Black Drink inspireth visions. Held in its thrall Moytoy saw himself with equipage and purpose such as an Emperor. And myself as his Chief agent of negotiation.
Many hours I spent talking to the women in Council. I told them of the power European husbands had over their wives. I told them that if their husbands acquire Great Wealth as the European men do – that then such men of property would seek to overthrow the women’s position in Council. Some of the women could not conceive of such a thing ever happening. Others believed my proposition instantly…
As my grandfather, Christian Priber predicted in 1740, the Cherokee Nation was created, by twelve angry men, in 1808. These Indians who lived more like whites were all slave holders. They saw the old clan system as the great hindrance to their amassing wealth and power. To them, Clan rules were outdated. The ancient law did not deal with the slavery issue, or with gathering and owning domestic animal herds.
The clan system made the women the benefactors and leaders and these white-thinking men wished to be in complete control of a new order in the ancient land. By marrying Indian women, many whites gave themselves a legal claim to their property and land and wished to pass the property on to their male heirs. These white Indians believed that by clearing the primeval forest and by planting crops and pastures they could attain the highest status of the new American nation.
At Broom Town on September 11, 1808, these legal eagles, calling themselves ‘chiefs and warriors’ assembled and enacted the first law of the Cherokees, written in English it read -
Resolved by the chiefs and warriors and a national council assembled that it is hereby authorized that regulating parties be organized to consist of six men in each company – one captain, one lieutenant and four privates, to continue in service for the term of one year, whose duties it shall be to suppress horse stealing and robbery and to give their protection to children as heirs to their fathers’ property.
Be it resolved by the council aforesaid when any person or persons be convicted of stealing a horse by one or two witnesses, that person shall be punished with one hundred stripes on the bare back, and be it further resolved that persons convicted of stealing other’s property should be punished in proportion to the value of the property stolen, and that if any person shall raise up arms in opposition to the regulating company, and should be killed as a result, the ancient custom of blood revenge shall not be invoked on any member of the regulating company by the clan of the person so killed. Accepted – Black Fox, Principal Chief Seconded – Path Killer Toochalar
1828 – Houston in the Cherokee Nation West
On a clear moonlit night, the steamboat Facility chugged and splashed up the Arkansas River and approached a slate rock landing lit by torches. Sam Houston gripped the wooden railing and stared intently towards the figure on shore as the Facility docked. He saw that it was him, yes, his beloved old chief John Joll-ee. Houston stepped from the boat onto the black slate rock shore and there was Joll-ee, arms outstretched, flanked by negro slaves holding torches alight.
The men embraced and Joll-ee held Houston at arm’s length. “Raven,” Joll-ee said. “Eleven years have passed. But my heart has always been with you. My wigwam is yours. My people are yours. Rest with us.”
“Wa-do, thank you, Father.” Houston began weeping.
The men talked until dawn over delicious food and glasses of apple brandywine. Household members came and peeked around the corner to hear the Lion of Tennessee speak, but no one dared disturb the two dreamers.
“When we came here to the Territories,” Joll-ee said, “we moved into the Osage domain and this has caused much trouble.”
“I have heard, Father.”
Joll-ee rubbed a peach on his sleeve and bit into it. “There are war chiefs and peace chiefs, Raven, but I am a peach chief,” he said laughing. “One time I warred and found it most unpleasant.”
Houston nodded. “War is always an unpleasant, ugly business.”
Joll-ee swallowed a piece of peach. “When we came here our young men had almost forgotten how to fight. The Osage hurt us badly. But then Dutch called himself a captain and he put together a group of gunmen. What he did to bring the Osage to the treaty-making with us I do not even want to know. But now we enjoy peace with them.”
Houston nodded through fever, pain and alcohol. Joll-ee looked closely at his face and said, “You’re not well.”
“That little arrow wound,” Houston said, grimacing. “It never healed and now…it’s worse. I fear I may die very soon.”
“Raven?” Joll-ee said. “You believe that?”
“That is how I feel.”
“I’ll send for my doctor,” his adopted father said.
Two days later the wretched Raven was summoned downstairs. In the kitchen stood the medicine woman, Annie Muskrat, and her two female helpers, boiling water laced with healing herbs that gave off a strange fragrance.
“Have you been drinking?” Annie Muskrat asked him.
“Yes, ma’am,” Houston murmured.
“Then drink some more.” She handed him an old bottle filled with grain alcohol tinctured with herbs.
An hour later, Houston lay unconscious on a wooden table, atop a pile of clean cotton sacks. Annie, puffing on her pipe, stuck him in the arm with her sharp knife. Houston jerked, but did not awaken. “We better tie him down. Wrap his legs and arms with quilts, then tie him to the table legs with rope so he can’t move.” Annie then explained the procedure to her assistants who brought forth boiled knives and clean wooden sticks of various lengths.
Annie opened the wound in Houston’s groin and grimaced at the smell. Houston groaned in his stupor while the peeled sticks held his wound apart and Annie probed the wound with a thin knife. After a few tries she found something, carefully retrieving the solid object from the fevered flesh.
“The Raven was wounded by a Creek bird point,” she said, and she dropped the small shiny flint arrowhead on a clean plate. It remained attached to a rotted black piece of bois d’arc wood and a hard knot of slimy sinew and it smelled horrible.
Annie explained to her helpers that the arrowhead had been lodged in such a position that if Houston’s watali should get hard, the sharp point would push into his inside penis root, causing instant pain and limpness. “I bet it hurt like hell when he rode a horse,” she pronounced to the giggling girls.
Houston was lying in bed in a small upstairs bedroom of Joll-ee’s house. Through the open window, he could see a mile of the great Arkansas River and the vast wild expanse of forest and hills beyond. The woods were ancient and pristine and something blooming out there smelled like the Tennessee of his childhood. Houston was healing. The tiny arrowhead lay on the window sill, washed and rubbed with salt.
He remembered the day the arrow had entered his life. He had been fighting in the Red Stick Creek War at Horseshoe Bend, and as he topped a parapet with the other Cherokee warriors, he beheld a young Creek Indian boy, face painted for combat. As bullets and arrows flew in every direction about them, the boy drew back his bow string and the arrow struck Houston, entering his groin. The pain was white-hot, and when he lost consciousness and fell, the arrow shaft broke off inside him. Doctors had probed him since with doubt, imprecision, and poisoned tools, leaving him worse than when they began. But now he was on the mend. Rachel, Joll-ee’s young daughter, brought his food, bathed him and changed his dressing. She read to him and she made him drink every drop of the Muskrat woman’s herbal tea.
The midsummer was upon the land and Chief Joll-ee held a Green Corn Dance at Wigwam Illinois as he did every year. The festivities took place in a shaded valley meadow below the house where cattle and horses oft gazed. Houston sat alone on a hill above the dance area in the shade of a peach tree, thumbing through a weathered book. One of Joll-ee’s spotted curs was curled up next to Houston, enjoying the Raven’s quiet company. Sam looked up to see Rachel come strolling up the orchard path, holding the hand of a shapely Cherokee woman named Diana Rogers, a niece of Sequoyah’s whose husband was two years dead, lost in the Osage wars.
Rachel introduced Diana to Sam and he was stunned by her dark beauty. Houston stood weakly and was energized by her warm handshake. “What are you reading?” Diana asked.
“An old book by Pliny the Roman,” Sam answered. The three sat in the shade and the day was spent in quiet rustic revelry. The women left Houston alone for a while, but Diana Rogers returned at dusk with two plates of the sacred food. Night fell and they watched from above as the dancers moved counterclockwise around the Fire, their shadows cast away like spokes of a wheel.