The Last Beloved Woman, Chapter from the Novel, Secret History of the Cherokees

 

Welcome back to Murv’s World.  Here’s another chapter from “Secret History of the Cherokees.” 

 In a nutshell, what is happening here is that the ancient matrilinear culture is being abandoned for a government led by men, fashioned after that of the Americans, as seen through the eyes of the last great female leader of the Cherokees.

Nanye-hi, or Nancy Ward is fondly remembered today by the Cherokees as the last Beloved Woman,  leader of the Cherokee Council of Women.  It was not so much the leader who was lost as it was her position, power and authority.

PLEASE, PLEASE leave comments and criticism before you sign out – we’re looking for your thoughts and ideas.    

1817 – The Last Beloved Woman

      From her window, Nanye-hi could see the Sacred Mound at Echota.  Her aged eyes lingered upon it.  Soon, she thought, they will call to me.  The first time she had seen the spirits that dwelt in the mound, Nanye-hi had been a young girl.  Lost in the woods and alone, she had begun to cry.  Then the spirits had appeared beside her as transparent shades of ancient tall beings.  Although surprised, Nanye-hi had felt no fear as she followed them out of the woods.  From that day, people had stopped calling her Wild Rose.  Her new name, Nanye-hi, had come from theword nunnuh-he, those invisible ones who protect the Cherokee people.

     At the moment Nanye-hi’s first husband Kingfisher had died, the nunnuh-he had appeared to her again.  She had been fighting beside him in the war against the Creek Indians who had sided with the British forces against the colonists.  When Kingfisher had collapsed, her own legs had buckled beneath her.  But at once the nunnuh-he had surrounded her and she had risen to her feet, filled with strength.  She had seized Kingfisher’s sword and rallied the surviving Cherokee warriors, leading them in a furious charge against the enemy.  The Creeks who had lived retreated in a panic. She had returned victorious but alone to her children, Catherine and Fivekiller, to find that word of her bravery in the battle at Taliwa had preceded her home. At the age of eighteen, Nanye-hi had received yet another new name – Ghi-ga-u, the Beloved Woman.

     A sound near the doorway caused Nanye-hi’s eyes to leave the Sacred Mound.  “Martha Washington,” she called out, “you must leave soon, are you ready?”

     “Ise ready Miz Nancy.”  Martha Washington Ward stepped into the room and Nanye-hi regarded her affectionately.  She had purchased the slave woman the same year the Americans had chosen George Washington to be their first president.  Nanye-hi had pictured the president’s wife as the mother of all those Americans.  When she had seen the graceful demeanor of her new African captive she decided to give her the great lady’s name.  Martha Washington had served her for more than forty years now, and Nanye-he held her in complete trust.

     “Bring me my walking stick,” Nanye-hi said to the slave.  Martha Washington obliged the older woman.  The stick, dark with age, had once been the gnarled center stem of a small red cedar tree.  Nanye-hi had found it on her thirtieth birthday, and even then it had laid a long time waiting in the woods, dried hard as iron.  The stick weighed but little.  She held it against her forehead for a moment before she tapped it four times on the floor. 

     “Lean this upright in my seat at the council,” Nanye-hi said as she passed her walking stick to the servant.  “Tell them Nancy Ward is in her place.”

     “Yes Miz Nancy.”  Martha Washington tucked the walking stick inside her heavy shawl and went to the yard to call for the driver. 

     Nanye-hi watched through the doorway until she saw the wagon leave, then she sighed and lowered herself into her chair, her eighty years hanging like lead weights on her shoulders.  She had dreaded this day and what she would learn from the meeting she could not bring herself to attend.  How things have changed, she thought. The council is now filled with young men, some mostly white, who know nothing of our ways, of how we once lived.  Her eyes fell upon the weaving loom that stood dusty in the corner of her room and scenes from her distant past descended upon her.  Lydia…Lydia Bean…

     Lydia Russell Bean, a white settler who had lived at Fort Watauga, near Nanye-hi’s home village, had been wounded but survived as Cherokees had attacked the fort.  The year was 1776.  The white woman had been taken prisoner and carried back to the Cherokee village.  There the women of the village had staked Mrs. Bean to a pole and were ready to light the firebrands at her feet, awaiting only the decision of the Beloved Woman.  In those years of war, Nanye-hi had been called upon many times to decide the fates of prisoners, usually condemning them to the fire.  But she had been impressed by the proud white woman who stood glaring back at the Cherokees, defiant even in her hour of death.  “I will take her as my slave,” Nanye-hi had said.  The Beloved Woman had spoken, and so it was done.

     Nanye-hi had taken Lydia Bean into her own home, treated her wounds and finally nursed her back to health.  Together they had returned to the destruction at Fort Watauga and collected what had remained of Lydia’s husband’s property, including the weaving loom and two dairy cows. 

     Before much time had passed, Lydia had taught Nanye-hi, whom she called Nancy after the English name, how to work the loom and to make butter and cheese from fresh cow’s milk.  Nanye-hi had decided to purchase more cattle from neighboring white settlers and had ordered more looms to be constructed.  “This new meat will sustain us when hunting is poor,” she had told the villagers.  Cherokee women had taken on a new skill at their looms. Encouraged by the Beloved Woman and wishing to please her, they had enthusiastically worked to produce cloth to the extent of neglecting their gardens.

     Although cultivating food crops had long been the work of women, Nanye-hi had suggested that the men should take it up as the women’s new labors kept them ever nearer their cabins.  Cattle had been bred and beef had replaced the much prized buffalo meat, and within a few years the villagers had needed bigger farms to accommodate their growing herds and gardens.  But bigger farms meant more menial work, and the Cherokee men were not accustomed to that.  Nanye-hi had reasoned that if the Cherokees owned adequate numbers of slaves, the farms and the herds would be more productive and the owners would be free to seek more enjoyable pastimes.  Therefore she had enabled the purchase of more human laborers.  The farming men, thus relieved of their chores, had begun to resemble their southern white neighbors more with each day that passed. 

     Late that afternoon Nanye-hi woke, still seated in her chair where she had fallen asleep with her thoughts. She rose creakily and walked across the floor and stood before Lydia’s loom.  She ran her fingers along its dusty surface and asked herself the question that had tormented her for years – did I lead my people in the wrong direction?  Even now, she knew, young mixed-bloods gathered at the council house in Echota.  They struggled to design a government after that of the whites, the descendants of those same colonists that had so intrigued her in her youth.  Even as her age had increased, Nanye-hi had believed it wise to live in peace with the Americans.  Yet she now spoke vehemently against selling Cherokee land to the whites, a crime punishable by death according to Cherokee laws.  But the Cherokee laws no longer seemed to matter to those young men who had taken over leadership of the tribe. The elaborate clan system that had sustained the tribe for millennia was coming to an end.  Nanye-hi could feel it.  She shuddered as she heard the wagon cracking gravel on the drive.

     Martha Washington pulled the door open and entered the room.  She lowered her eyes and removed Nanye-hi’s walking stick from her cloak, gently placing it in her mistress’s hands.  Nanye-hi thanked the woman and said, “Leave me now.”  Sitting in her chair, she held the walking stick close to her breast and leaning back, closed her eyes.  Thoughts began to form in her mind. The power of the Ghi-ga-u is lost, and with it the power of all women… and now even the power of the Council is divided between our National Council and this new group of men to be called the National Committee…all men…there are thirteen of them.  Something happened…General Jackson of the Tennesseans…he found a few Cherokees that he could bribe…a handful of our own people signed away our rights to him…for our sacred land.  Now have come these thirteen…these new young men promise to stop such treachery, to protect the people.  The thirteen will choose a leader from among themselves …a man…who will stand and speak for them and lead them.  A man will be the one who decides, the one who chooses the course for our people…they do not speak of the Ghi-ga-u Nancy Ward…they do not mention her name… 

     In a few moments, Nanye-hi left her chair to stand before the looking glass.  “Ghi-ga-u,” she spoke to her image, “there will never be another Beloved Woman.  You are the last one.”  Her fingers traced the tattooed rattlesnakes that coiled across her cheekbones, their darkened rattles folded within her wrinkled temples.  She turned and slowly sat down in her chair, her eyes trained once again on the Sacred Mound outside the window.  In the glow of the setting sun she saw the spirits of the nunnuh-he rising from the ancient earth mound and hovering above it.  Help me nunnuh-he, she thought, knowing that they would hear, I fear for the mothers and their children. Now they are alone.

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK.  ENTER YOUR COMMENTS AND CRITIQUES BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE SITE!  AND KEEP WATCHING, WE’LL BE PUTTING UP MORE CHAPTERS AND NEW BLOGS – MURV, JAMES, DEBBIE   http://murvsworld.wordpress.com/2010/04/13/introduction-secret-history-of-the-cherokees/

23 Responses to “The Last Beloved Woman, Chapter from the Novel, Secret History of the Cherokees”

  1. bob Says:

    I’m still confused, is this story fiction? I know Nancy Ward was a real woman, beloved by her clan, but the first part of the story, where the plains indians are sitting on their ponies and watching the going ons, well….. anyway, enjoying it very much.

    • murvsworld Says:

      Thanks, Bob! Guess it might seem like one chapter follows the other in time. Instead, we have been putting up certain chapters in no particular order. In this chapter about Nancy Ward, it’s 1817, and she’s back in the East. The horse races, in the other chapter, are being held in Tahlequah years after the Removal. The chapters in the novel itself do follow each other chronologicaly, from the early 1700′s well into the Civil War.

      As for the Comanches who watched from the ridgetop, it was not unusual for them to travel so far east as the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory to steal fine horses from rich landholders.

  2. Robert Says:

    What the hell is bob talking about above? This is well written and may be the single most sensible thing I’ve read from this monumental book of yours. Nancy should be questioning herself. She did bring slavery and cattle. She brought about a good many changes in Cherokee society. You show that all well. Good job.

  3. Judith Anderson Says:

    Fantastic…but what would I expect? smile

    Not being a writer, I can only give my thoughts:

    I loved the inclusion of spirits…the spiritual world…which should be as common as describing the place of events, but seldomly is in historical fiction or non fiction.

    This passage did not seem understandable to me:
    “Nanye-hi had found on her thirtieth birthday, and even then it had laid a long time waiting in the woods, dried hard as iron. ”

    This description:
    “They struggled to design a government after that of the whites,…” I had thought the great Iroquois government had more influence than whites…being Tuscarora (grin). I may be wrong. Let me know.

    Can’t wait for the next passages/chapters!!! Go you three go.

  4. murvsworld Says:

    JUDITH, WE ARE MUCH OBLIGED. THE LINE SHOULD READ, “NANYE-HI HAD FOUND IT ON HER THIRTIETH BIRTHDAY,” IN REFERENCE TO HER WALKINGSTICK.

    THE ORIGINAL PURPOSE AND INTENT OF THE REMODELED CHEROKEE GOVERNMENT WAS TO DO AWAY WITH THE CLAN SYSTEM, ITS POWERFUL WOMEN LEADERS AND ITS ANCESTRAL LAWS—THIS SO THAT MIXED-BLOOD MALE HEIRS COULD INHERIT THEIR FATHERS’ PROPERTY AND PASS IT ON TO THEIR MALE OFFSPRING WITHOUT THE INTERFERENCE OF THE CLANS. THEIR FIRST LAWS ASSURED IT! IT SEEMS DOUBTFUL THAT THEY WERE INFLUENCED BY THEIR NOBLE KINSMEN THE IROQUOIS SO MUCH AS THEIR HUNGER FOR PROPERTY AND LAND, MATCHED ONLY BY THAT OF THEIR AMERICAN COUNTERPARTS. THIS WAS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR A FEW VERY AMBITIOUS MEN TO GAIN POWER, WEALTH AND CONTROL OVER THE NATION. D.DUVALL

  5. murvsworld Says:

    I DON;T SEE THESE “FOUNDING fELLOWS” AS HAVING THE BEST INTENT. IT APPEARS TO ME THEY WERE ACTIVELY, EVEN AGGRESSIVELY SELF SERVING.
    LOOK AT THE FACTS: OF THESE THIRTEEN MEN, TWELVE WERE SLAVEHOLDERS. IF THE FIGURES I FOUND WERE CORRECT, AT THAT TIME (1817) THESE 12 MEN HELD OVER 30% OF ALL THE CHEROKEES’ AFRICAN SLAVES.
    TO ME THEIR INTENTIONS WERE CLEAR—- THEIR FIRST TWO LAWS PASSED (1) ESTABLISHED THE LIGHTHORSE RIDERS AND (2) GAVE THE LIGHTHORSE RIDERS LEGAL DOMINANCE OVER THE OLD CLANS. IN THIS WAY THE LIGHTHORSE COULD PROTECT THE INHERITANCE OF THE MALE HEIRS AND THE POWER OF THE WOMENS’ COUNCIL WAS LOST. MURV JACOB

  6. james murray Says:

    Murv your memory is correct. Judith when we say the Cherokees designed a government “like the white man,” we mean they set up a government that was dedicated to industrial civilization and white supremacy. They didn’t learn that from the Iroquois, they learned it from the Anglos.

  7. bob Says:

    murv, i have two questions, first off, were there buffalo where nancy ward was living? in everything i’ve read before, nothing was said about buffalo being in eastern okla. or wherever it was that nancy ward lived. i’m sure they ran all over western okla.

    secondly, where would janie, find out about joining the group, descendents of nancy ward? i’m asking because jane says sdhe is a Nancy ward descendent.

    i’m interested now, so keep ‘em coming.

  8. INTRODUCTION – Secret History of the Cherokees « Murvsworld's Blog Says:

    [...]  http://murvsworld.wordpress.com/the-last-beloved-woman-chapter-from-the-novel-secret-history-of-the-… [...]

  9. Renee Fite Says:

    ah strong women with spiritual awareness and understanding, now I’m really enthralled-I thought buffalo roamed this far east into Oklahoma, over this whole region when they were at their largest herd size? I’ve read descriptions of the ground shaking when the huge herd of thousands thundered by. your writing flows, is packed with visual images and thought-provoking ideas and colorful characters with much depth. Yeah you guys.

  10. Letty Lou Skinas Says:

    I like what I read, being only half Chrokee you are correct we really dont know if we are Indian or White. From my mother we always really knew who we were, however we had to live in the white world. I will definately buy the book Thanks Lou Skinas

  11. candace Says:

    my deepest Kudos to you and Ms Duvall………this is the best books in a long time about the Cherokees. Please sign me up for a first. I’m sending this to Scott Dingman if you haven’t already………….Candace

    • murvsworld Says:

      I Doubt if Scotty at Oak Tree Books has seen this yet—-we started out with an email list of 96— It seems to slowly be gettin out there to the literata though —-we’ve had well over 1000 visits to the blogs— feel free to send links to all of your friends. We signed on with a New York agent this week, name of Cherry Weiner!!! Thanks, Candace cudos are scarce on the Oklahoma plains. Ha Ha. By the way, our co-writer James Murray won a prize at the Tribeca Film awards in Manhattan, NY for Best Narrative Screenplay last weekend. Thats the little festival of Robert Deniro. Not too shabby, James.

  12. Bill Dengler Says:

    Well written. I can picture myself in the room, etc. with the women. Thoughtful narrative. Didn’t find anything questions or specifics to comment on in this chapter.

  13. Robert Perry Says:

    Having been to the Echota Mound, I’d like to have seen a bit more description of the tall, angular pile of dirt for the people with little brown skin who will be reading. I loved the spirits tht come from the echota mound and look forward to how they guide Nancy in later situations.

    I saw the note about cattle being available in 1776, which matches what I’ve learned about Hardy Perry who first brought horned cattle to the Chickasaw. The French had lost the war and were having to leave Mobile and give it to the British. There must have been a fire sale on horned cattle.

  14. Idiot Window Says:

    Paragraph 1

    A warm, inviting vision of the girl, who is now just a baby, but bears the strength, weakness and warmness that the sun brings, as it will someday bring her to the place that times will talk about, with awe.

  15. Lisa Says:

    I like what I’ve read, all of it. But I have a more personal question for you. Can you please tell me if you know anything of Col. James Rogers (1742 to 1828); he was married to Martha Blackburn. My Col. James Rogers was also sometimes a Capt, depending on which militia he was fighting for at the time. He was the founder of Rogers Station. If he wasn’t Cherokee, then his wife was or one of his descendents. For it’s a big secret that I’ve just discovered. My mother kept this great ancestry of ours from me and she’s gone.

    There was a trader named James Rogers, but he could be John Roger’s son.

    I’ve read that Pathkiller lived the same years as Col James Rogers (1742 to 1828) and was sometimes referred to as James Rogers. But Pathkiller had a lot of anger (justifiable anger) and I can’t see Pathkiller building Cedar Creek Baptist Church.

    Would you please email me if you know anything about my Col. James Rogers or Martha Blackburn. I’ve heard some of the “Ray” and “James” families are Cherokee. Magdalene James my great great grandmother and my great great great grandmother was was Elizabeth Ray.

    Consequently, I was SHOCKED when I saw a picture/portrait of Moytoy for the first time. He looks like he could be the twin of my mother’s first cousin who happens to be a Rogers.

    Thank you. Can I purchase this book from the bookstore? I find it captivating.

    Thanks.

    Lisa

    • Karen Says:

      To Lisa – I am a direct descendant of Col. James Rogers – married to Martha Blackburn and a founder of the Cedar Creek Church. I recently received alot of information about him and other descendants from my uncle.

  16. Lisa Says:

    You may or may not believe this, that statue of Nancy Ward, well she looks so much like my Granny (Rogers) who passed away many years ago, that again, I am in shock.

    Please, would you please email me so we can discuss this? I’d rather discuss this privately.

    Thank you.

  17. Gene Says:

    I too am skeptical of the significant presence of buffalo anywhere in Cherokee country at the time in question. The acceptance of cattle management would almost certainly be through the mixed
    bloods and their entrepreneurial activities.

    A wagon wheel would not ordinarily “crack” gravel in the drive, though it might make “crunching” sounds.

    Nice work on interesting projects.

  18. Pamela Says:

    I like what I’ve read so far, but I’m curious as to why very little is written about William Goyen’s Jr. Had it not been for him, the state of Texas would look a lot different today. He also was very instrumental in orchrestrating the Houston-Forbes 0f 1836. Many associate Goyens to being a black man but he was not! He was American Indian and just mislabled due to the times he was living in. He spoke Cherokee and is listed as a Cherokee in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. Why people aren’t interested in having the truth told is beyond me!

  19. Deen Price Reed Says:

    This is so powerful! I am so proud I am related to this great lady. My grandmother was Mary Starr, her grandfather was Hickory Star. I’m so glad I found this page on the internet. Thank you so much.

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