In 1838, most of the
Cherokee people were removed
from their ancestral lands in
the Appalachian Mountains. The paths of The Removal came to be known as
The Trail of Tears.
This fiction story is to remind
us today of the suffering
endured by the Cherokee during
that time, when, it is said, over 4,000 Cherokee died on The Trail of Tears.
It is also said that when they buried their loved ones who died along The
Trail, they sang the song, Amazing Grace.
He cradled her, tried to suffuse
the warmth of his body into hers as the rising sun made a feeble attempt
to warm the frozen morning. But a chill held her in its grasp, the same
coldness that had claimed their two small sons. The little warmth in Yonvglegi
left him yet did nothing to strengthen Awiusdi's waning life force. She
slipped away on quiet, unseen feet, and he couldn't stop her leaving.
When the last breath left her body,
a numb, unbelieving denial gripped him. He smoothed the raven's wing of
her hair with a rough hand, gently caressed her sunken cheek. She was gone,
and he was alone.
“Move,” the soldiers shouted as
they strode among the groups of Ani-Tsalagi. “Time to get going.”
Yonvglegi's sister touched his shoulder.
“You must lay her in the wagon. We will bury her when they let us stop
“Please. They will--” Her words
broke off when a soldier shoved her. She rose and padded away.
The soldier tapped Yonvglegi's back
with the butt of his gun. “Get up. Put the body in the wagon and go.”
Yonvglegi struggled to his feet
with Awiusdi's body in his arms. He couldn't let her go. He stumbled to
join the people who were arising, continuing their forced journey, their
backs to their mountain homes which lay in the distance behind them, their
faces toward an unknown future. And they walked.
By midday, his arms were leaden
masses, shot through with pain. But he couldn't lay her in the wagon. He
struggled on, no tears marking his impassive face, the agony of his soul
hidden behind his half-closed eyes. The tears slid instead down the cheeks
of the white people who gathered along the way to watch as Ani-Tsalagi
When evening came and the day's
trek ended, his mother's clan gathered round him. The men dug Awiusdi's
grave. At last, Yonvglegi laid her in the ground as the people sang the
song taught them by missionaries, the song they'd sung at each hastily
dug grave where they'd laid their loved ones in their final rest.
* * *
Private Jones dug a candle from
his bag and lit it. He found his pencil stub, opened his diary and wrote:
“They buried three more today, so
quiet, except for the singing. At each burial, they sing 'Amazing Grace'
in their own language. They don't cry, but I do. My heart rages for them.”
* * *
Yonvglegi, exhausted and sore, did
not sleep. He lay on the icy ground beside Awiusdi's grave, his heart aching,
wishing he could follow his love to the spirit world, but he remained tied
to this one by some stubborn thread of survival.
And when the cold gray light of
another morning crept over him, he arose with the others, left his heart
behind him and walked on.
to Amazing Grace, sung in Cherokee by Walela.
I wrote this story in memory
of my great-great-great-grandparents, who went to Oklahoma on The Trail