John Burnett's Story of the Trail of Tears

KP

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Birthday Story of Private John G. Burnett, Captain Abraham McClellan’s Company, 2nd Regiment, 2nd Brigade, Mounted Infantry, Cherokee Indian Removal, 1838-39.

"Children: This is my birthday, December 11, 1890, I am eighty years old today. I was born at Kings Iron Works in Sulllivan County, Tennessee, December the 11th, 1810. I grew into manhood fishing in Beaver Creek and roaming through the forest hunting the deer and the wild boar and the timber wolf. Often spending weeks at a time in the solitary wilderness with no companions but my rifle, hunting knife, and a small hatchet that I carried in my belt in all of my wilderness wanderings.

On these long hunting trips I met and became acquainted with many of the Cherokee Indians, hunting with them by day and sleeping around their camp fires by night. I learned to speak their language, and they taught me the arts of trailing and building traps and snares. On one of my long hunts in the fall of 1829, I found a young Cherokee who had been shot by a roving band of hunters and who had eluded his pursuers and concealed himself under a shelving rock. Weak from loss of blood, the poor creature was unable to walk and almost famished for water. I carried him to a spring, bathed and bandaged the bullet wound, and built a shelter out of bark peeled from a dead chestnut tree. I nursed and protected him feeding him on chestnuts and toasted deer meat. When he was able to travel I accompanied him to the home of his people and remained so long that I was given up for lost. By this time I had become an expert rifleman and fairly good archer and a good trapper and spent most of my time in the forest in quest of game.

The removal of Cherokee Indians from their lifelong homes in the year of 1838 found me a young man in the prime of life and a Private soldier in the American Army. Being acquainted with many of the Indians and able to fluently speak their language, I was sent as interpreter into the Smoky Mountain Country in May, 1838, and witnessed the execution of the most brutal order in the History of American Warfare. I saw the helpless Cherokees arrested and dragged from their homes, and driven at the bayonet point into the stockades. And in the chill of a drizzling rain on an October morning I saw them loaded like cattle or sheep into six hundred and forty-five wagons and started toward the west.

One can never forget the sadness and solemnity of that morning. Chief John Ross led in prayer and when the bugle sounded and the wagons started rolling many of the children rose to their feet and waved their little hands good-by to their mountain homes, knowing they were leaving them forever. Many of these helpless people did not have blankets and many of them had been driven from home barefooted.

On the morning of November the 17th we encountered a terrific sleet and snow storm with freezing temperatures and from that day until we reached the end of the fateful journey on March the 26th, 1839, the sufferings of the Cherokees were awful. The trail of the exiles was a trail of death. They had to sleep in the wagons and on the ground without fire. And I have known as many as twenty-two of them to die in one night of pneumonia due to ill treatment, cold, and exposure. Among this number was the beautiful Christian wife of Chief John Ross. This noble hearted woman died a martyr to childhood, giving her only blanket for the protection of a sick child. She rode thinly clad through a blinding sleet and snow storm, developed pneumonia and died in the still hours of a bleak winter night, with her head resting on Lieutenant Greggs saddle blanket.

I made the long journey to the west with the Cherokees and did all that a Private soldier could do to alleviate their sufferings. When on guard duty at night I have many times walked my beat in my blouse in order that some sick child might have the warmth of my overcoat. I was on guard duty the night Mrs. Ross died. When relieved at midnight I did not retire, but remained around the wagon out of sympathy for Chief Ross, and at daylight was detailed by Captain McClellan to assist in the burial like the other unfortunates who died on the way. Her unconfined body was buried in a shallow grave by the roadside far from her native home, and the sorrowing Cavalcade moved on.

Being a young man, I mingled freely with the young women and girls. I have spent many pleasant hours with them when I was supposed to be under my blanket, and they have many times sung their mountain songs for me, this being all that they could do to repay my kindness. And with all my association with Indian girls from October 1829 to March 26th 1839, I did not meet one who was a moral prostitute. They are kind and tender hearted and many of them are beautiful.

The only trouble that I had with anybody on the entire journey to the west was a brutal teamster by the name of Ben McDonal, who was using his whip on an old feeble Cherokee to hasten him into the wagon. The sight of that old and nearly blind creature quivering under the lashes of a bull whip was too much for me. I attempted to stop McDonal and it ended in a personal encounter. He lashed me across the face, the wire tip on his whip cutting a bad gash in my cheek. The little hatchet that I had carried in my hunting days was in my belt and McDonal was carried unconscious from the scene.

I was placed under guard but Ensign Henry Bullock and Private Elkanah Millard had both witnessed the encounter. They gave Captain McClellan the facts and I was never brought to trial. Years later I met 2nd Lieutenant Riley and Ensign Bullock at Bristol at John Roberson’s show, and Bullock jokingly reminded me that there was a case still pending against me before a court martial and wanted to know how much longer I was going to have the trial put off?

McDonal finally recovered, and in the year 1851, was running a boat out of Memphis, Tennessee.

The long painful journey to the west ended March 26th, 1839, with four-thousand silent graves reaching from the foothills of the Smoky Mountains to what is known as Indian territory in the West. And covetousness on the part of the white race was the cause of all that the Cherokees had to suffer. Ever since Ferdinand DeSoto made his journey through the Indian country in the year 1540, there had been a tradition of a rich gold mine somewhere in the Smoky Mountain Country, and I think the tradition was true. At a festival at Echota on Christmas night 1829, I danced and played with Indian girls who were wearing ornaments around their neck that looked like gold.

In the year 1828, a little Indian boy living on Ward creek had sold a gold nugget to a white trader, and that nugget sealed the doom of the Cherokees. In a short time the country was overrun with armed brigands claiming to be government agents, who paid no attention to the rights of the Indians who were the legal possessors of the country. Crimes were committed that were a disgrace to civilization. Men were shot in cold blood, lands were confiscated. Homes were burned and the inhabitants driven out by the gold-hungry brigands.

Chief Junaluska was personally acquainted with President Andrew Jackson. Junaluska had taken 500 of the flower of his Cherokee scouts and helped Jackson to win the battle of the Horse Shoe, leaving 33 of them dead on the field. And in that battle Junaluska had drove his tomahawk through the skull of a Creek warrior, when the Creek had Jackson at his mercy.

Chief John Ross sent Junaluska as an envoy to plead with President Jackson for protection for his people, but Jackson’s manner was cold and indifferent toward the rugged son of the forest who had saved his life. He met Junaluska, heard his plea but curtly said, "Sir, your audience is ended. There is nothing I can do for you." The doom of the Cherokee was sealed. Washington, D.C., had decreed that they must be driven West and their lands given to the white man, and in May 1838, an army of 4000 regulars, and 3000 volunteer soldiers under command of General Winfield Scott, marched into the Indian country and wrote the blackest chapter on the pages of American history.

Men working in the fields were arrested and driven to the stockades. Women were dragged from their homes by soldiers whose language they could not understand. Children were often separated from their parents and driven into the stockades with the sky for a blanket and the earth for a pillow. And often the old and infirm were prodded with bayonets to hasten them to the stockades.

In one home death had come during the night. A little sad-faced child had died and was lying on a bear skin couch and some women were preparing the little body for burial. All were arrested and driven out leaving the child in the cabin. I don’t know who buried the body.

In another home was a frail mother, apparently a widow and three small children, one just a baby. When told that she must go, the mother gathered the children at her feet, prayed a humble prayer in her native tongue, patted the old family dog on the head, told the faithful creature good-by, with a baby strapped on her back and leading a child with each hand started on her exile. But the task was too great for that frail mother. A stroke of heart failure relieved her sufferings. She sunk and died with her baby on her back, and her other two children clinging to her hands.

Chief Junaluska who had saved President Jackson’s life at the battle of Horse Shoe witnessed this scene, the tears gushing down his cheeks and lifting his cap he turned his face toward the heavens and said, "Oh my God, if I had known at the battle of the Horse Shoe what I know now, American history would have been differently written."

At this time, 1890, we are too near the removal of the Cherokees for our young people to fully understand the enormity of the crime that was committed against a helpless race. Truth is, the facts are being concealed from the young people of today. School children of today do not know that we are living on lands that were taken from a helpless race at the bayonet point to satisfy the white man’s greed.

Future generations will read and condemn the act and I do hope posterity will remember that private soldiers like myself, and like the four Cherokees who were forced by General Scott to shoot an Indian Chief and his children, had to execute the orders of our superiors. We had no choice in the matter.

Twenty-five years after the removal it was my privilege to meet a large company of the Cherokees in uniform of the Confederate Army under command of Colonel Thomas. They were encamped at Zollicoffer and I went to see them. Most of them were just boys at the time of the removal but they instantly recognized me as "the soldier that was good to us". Being able to talk to them in their native language I had an enjoyable day with them. From them I learned that Chief John Ross was still ruler in the nation in 1863. And I wonder if he is still living? He was a noble-hearted fellow and suffered a lot for his race.

At one time, he was arrested and thrown into a dirty jail in an effort to break his spirit, but he remained true to his people and led them in prayer when they started on their exile. And his Christian wife sacrificed her life for a little girl who had pneumonia. The Anglo-Saxon race would build a towering monument to perpetuate her noble act in giving her only blanket for comfort of a sick child. Incidentally the child recovered, but Mrs. Ross is sleeping in a unmarked grave far from her native Smoky Mountain home.

When Scott invaded the Indian country some of the Cherokees fled to caves and dens in the mountains and were never captured and they are there today. I have long intended going there and trying to find them but I have put off going from year to year and now I am too feeble to ride that far. The fleeing years have come and gone and old age has overtaken me. I can truthfully say that neither my rifle nor my knife were stained with Cherokee blood.

I can truthfully say that I did my best for them when they certainly did need a friend. Twenty-five years after the removal I still lived in their memory as "the soldier that was good to us".

However, murder is murder whether committed by the villain skulking in the dark or by uniformed men stepping to the strains of martial music.

Murder is murder, and somebody must answer. Somebody must explain the streams of blood that flowed in the Indian country in the summer of 1838. Somebody must explain the 4000 silent graves that mark the trail of the Cherokees to their exile. I wish I could forget it all, but the picture of 645 wagons lumbering over the frozen ground with their cargo of suffering humanity still lingers in my memory.

Let the historian of a future day tell the sad story with its sighs, its tears and dying groans. Let the great Judge of all the earth weigh our actions and reward us according to our work.

Children - Thus ends my promised birthday story. This December the 11th 1890."
 

Spirithawk

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Thanks KP. I have that story in my files. I don't wish to highjack your thread but, as we belong together as brothers and friends, these stories belong together. Be well my friend....SH ^i^

The Trail of Tears - Legend of the Cherokee Rose

The Legend Of The Cherokee Rose
This is what I was told as a boy.....When gold was found in Georgia, the government convienietly forgot its treaties and drove our people from their land and homes, clear to Oklahoma starting in 1838. Andrew Jackson had turned his back on the Tsalagi, many of whom had fought by his side and had even saved his life when he and his soldiers had fought the Creeks, who had allied themselves with the British, at Horseshoe Bend, Alabama. He even defied a Supreme Court ruling against the removal. The only US President to ever defy the Supreme Court.

It was early Summer when the Tsalagi ( Jah-lah-gee Cherokee ) were forced to start along the Trail, and it was very hot. Most of the time the people had to walk carrying the few belongings left to them on their backs. It was extremely hard on the young, the old and the ill and they dropped along the way. Some of the Tsalagi men, out of sheer frustration and anger, still tried to fight the soldiers and so were killed. One fourth of the entire Tsalagi Nation died on that journey west.

The mothers of the Cherokee were grieving and crying so much that they were unable to help their children survive the journey. The women's tears fell like rain upon Mother Earth. The elders watched and were greatly saddened by this and so one night they held a council and prayed to the Creator above for a sign that would lift the mother's spirits to give them the strength to indure.

The Creator, looking down from heaven and saddened by what was being done to his children, decided to commemorate the brave Tsalagi people and so, as the blood of the braves and the tears of the maidens dropped to the ground, a beautiful rose began to grow where each of the mother's tears fell.

The women looked back and saw the roses spread out along the trail they'd just walked as far as the eye could see. The blooms were so beautiful that they made the women feel beautiful and strong themselves. They felt in their hearts that the rose was reclaiming their land for the Tsalagi.

The rose's petals were white in honor of their tears. It has a gold center which represents the gold stollen from Tsalagi lands, and each stem has seven leaves one for each of the seven Tsalagi clans. No better symbol exists of the pain and suffering of the "Trail Where They Cried" than does the Cherokee Rose.

The wild Cherokee Rose grows all along the route of the Trail of Tears still to this day. Clear into eastern Oklahoma. So that all can see, and none forget, the suffering and the courage of the Tsalagi People......So says Adanvdo Towodi Spirit Hawk ^i^
 

Blues4U

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The Trail of Tears, is indeed, one of our darkest historical events--

Thanks for the post--
 

Spirithawk

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THE LEGEND OF TSALI - A true story of The Trail Where All Cried ( Trail of TYears )

This is the legend of Tsali. He and his family were real people who once lived in a real place. I call this story a legend because of how he became a symbol of our people. Tsali stands as a symbol of courage, loyalty, and devotion of all the Cherokee. It is a story that you should know. You can not be blamed for the mistakes of your ancestors, but you certainly can learn from them that they are never repeated.......SH ^i^

This is as it was told to me......... Long ago, when the troubles of the Cherokee began, the ordinary Cherokee did not understand that anything was really wrong. All they knew was that their tribal chiefs traveled back and forth to the white man's place called Washington a lot more often than they used to. They also knew that upon the chiefs return there were many many quarrels in the tribal council.

Now, up in the hills, where the Ani Kituhwah ( Ah-nee Kee-tuh-wah ) - the True Cherokees - lived, word of the changes came slowly. Much more slowly than to the Cherokee who lived down in the valleys. Many of those living in the hills never left their farms, and when they did they just traveled to the trading post and right back. Few travelers ever ventured into the hills, into the uplands, where the mists of the Smokies shut out the encroaching world. So when the news arived that some of the chiefs had touched the pen, and put their names and marks on a paper, thus agreeing by doing so that this was no longer Cherokee country, the Ani Kituhwah could not believe their ears.

Surely, they told each other, the news must be false. No Cherokee, not even one of mixed blood, would sign away his own and his people's lands. But......that's just what the chiefs had done! The word came that the chiefs were now even more devided amongst themselves. Not all of them had touched the pen. Some were not willing to move across the Mississippi, to settle around Fort Gibson in Oklahoma. "Perhaps we should stay," thought the Ani kituhwah. "Perhaps we will not really have to move." But they knew in their hearts that false hope was the cruelest curse of mankind.

One of the leaders of the Ani Kituhwah was named Tsali. The white men couldn't pronounce his name so they called him Charlie. Some called him Dutch. They were of the oldest Ani Kituhwah blood and pure 100% Ani Kituhwah. Tsali and his 4 sons worked two hillsides and the valley between them, in the southern part of the hill country.

Tsali and his wife and their youngest son lived in a log house at the head of the hollow. The others lived in homes spread out along the hillsides. They grew corn, beans, a few English peas, squashes, pumpkins, tobacco and cotton. Even a bit of sugar cane and indigo. Tsali's wife kept chickens in a fenced pen away from the house. The women gathered wild hemp and spun it, as well as the wool from their sheep. They did all the work of making clothes for the family. But sometimes in the winter, when their chores were done, the men would help at the looms.

Tsali and his family were not rich, in the dollar sense, not like some who lived in the valleys below. They had hardly ever seen the white man's metal money in their whole lives. But they never lacked for food, shelter, clothing or their love for each other.

The missionaries hardly ever came to the high hills back then. Tsali would take his sons, their wives, and his own wife to the great dance ground where the 7 Ani Kituhwah villages gathered each month at the full moon. There they danced their prayers in time to the beating of the women's terrapin-shell rattles, around and around the mound of packed white ashes on top of which bloomed the eternal fire that was the life of all Cherokees.

The occassional missionary would fuss over the children, giving them white men's names. The Cherokee listened politely to the missionaries, for the missionaries were great gossips, and by listening they would learn their news while ignoring the rest. the Cherokee were told by them that this time there was no hope. Everyone would have to move, the Georgia troopers were moving in, all would have to go west.

" Never," Tsali answered. "This is our land and we belong to it. Who could take it from us? Who could even want it? Even we have a hard time farming here. Surely only the land in the lower valleys are of any use to the white man." " They want these hills more than anywhere else," answered the missionary. " Don't you see you poor ignorant Indian? They are finding gold! Gold, downstream in Kituhwah country! That means the gold washed there from up here!!!! I have seen it myself! "

"You mean this yellow stuff," asked Tsali as he held up a pouch and opened it. The missionary neary went wild at the sight of the yellow dust it contained! " I only have this," Tsali told him. " because I wish to go to the trader to buy my wife some new ribbon for her dress. "

The missionary pleaded with him. Then tried threatning Tsali. He wanted to be Tsali's partner. Together they could be rich. But it was all in vain. Tsali had no interest in the yellow metal, and certainly no interest in being partners with the greedy missionary in anything. So Tsali went down to the trading post to buy the ribbon for his wife's dress. And guess what happened?

When the trader saw his pouch of yellow gold dust he went as mad in the head as the missionary. He too wanted to know where it came from. he too wanted, no demanded, to be Tsali's partner. Tsali told him as kindly as his patience allowed, " No, I do not wish to be rich in that kind of manor." So saying he just bought the ribbon for his wife's dress and quickly left.

A month later the Georgia militia came riding up to Tsali's cabin. They demanded his wife tell them where he could be found. When she demanded to know why they were there they told her their intent was to put them off of their place. That the land no longer belonged to them and it was now open for settlement. Then pointing at the riders with him, the militia captain told her that likely one of these two men will claim it.

Tsali's wife looked up and there sat the trader and the missionary glaring down at her. She pleaded that they could not do that, but her words fell on deaf ears. She was told they all would be taken down by the river, herded into the camp there and would be shipped west tomorrow morning. She sent her youngest son to tell Tsali, who was working in the fields with his other sons, the terrible news.

Being assured that his wife was alright, at least when the boy left, Tsali told everyone that they would hide that night in the woods. All afternoon his wife waited. All afternoon so did the white men. When it became dark the militia made camp in Tsali's yard. The white men's women took over the house and cooked the white men's meals. Then late into the night, Tsali's wife and his son's wives , heard a soft scratching. The men had come to get them.

Take nothing but only your knives they were told and quietly they all slipped away. In the morning the white men found them gone! It was spring, and the weather warm, but the rain fell and soaked the Cherokees. They had brought no food and they dared not fire a gun. One of the daughters-in-law was pregnant and her time very close. His wife was stiff and crippled with rheumatism.

They gathered wild greens and the boys trapped small animals and birds in string snares the women made by pulling out their hair and twisting it. In time, they hoped, the white men would give up and go away. But it was not to be so. One of the white men had brought a dog with him. It led the white men to the cave where the Cherokee were hiding. The white men captured the Cherokee and tied the men's hands behind their backs. then they bound them all together. Thus they herded the men and women through the woods, back to Tsali's house.

There the Cherokee could not believe their eyes. The troopers had plundered the garden, trampled the plants they didn't eat. The door to the kitchen was ripped from it's frame. another door hung by one hinge. Clothes and bedding lay in filthy piles around the yard. What the militia men could not use.....they ruined!

Tsali's wife asked what they intended to do with them and was told they all would be taken down to the river to be sent west. Tsali refused to go! Our orders are to shoot all who resist he was told. " Shoot me then!" was his answer. " I will not go" he said quietly " You - nor you - nor you - nobody can make me go." His wife, Amanda, screamed, " If you shoot him then shoot us both! I would not wish to go on living without my husband and I too can not bear to leave my home."

Tsali's four sons stepped close to their father. "We die with our parents" they told the captain. Even the youngest boy stood by his brother's sides. But Tsali told him he was too young to die, everyone else had lived a good life but his was still ahead of him. He pleaded with the captain not to shoot the boy. " Very well" said the captain. " He can't do too much harm if he lives. Let him go take care of his sisters on their way west."

Turning to his men the captain told them to take the boy and young women away. To keep them untill the boats came then load them all aboard. The young boy and women, stunned and silenced, were driven down the road before they could even say goodby, nor would the troopers allow them to look back. Tears streamed from their faces....as behind them they heard the shots........so says, Spirit Hawk ^i^
 

Lyrica

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i don't have the words to express the emotions running through me at this moment. but i have to ask. does anyone really think we've changed? because i don't.
 

Spirithawk

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i don't have the words to express the emotions running through me at this moment. but i have to ask. does anyone really think we've changed? because i don't.

As I've said, you should not feel guilty for mistakes made by those that came before you. You had no control over what happened back then. What you can do is learn from those mistakes and see to it they aren't repeated. In many ways nothing has changed buttttttt......they are changing slowly. It starts with one step and the beating of one true heart. May the Creator smile down on you and may you always walk in beauty....SH ^i^ :)
 

Lyrica

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thank you very much. i will take all the blessings i can get.

but i do not feel guilty for the sins of my ancestors. i do feel a great sadness for them though. and worse, you only have to look at the world with open eyes and see that things aren't really any different. those in power still covet what others have. those without power still follow the covetous ones. others don't, but dont' see any other options.

i have a lot of opinions on the subject, but i wont' say them because it would just start a shit fest. but i will say that until we all decide that enough is enough, things aren't going to change.
 

Deftone

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The wealthy hold all the power and they take whatever they want.

Nothing has changed.
 

es345guy

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Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is a book that will blow you away. Read it a couple of times and don't care to again -brings one down a bit. All the bad deals, reservations, and general hatred of the Native Americans is a bit to take in but the message is the same -genocide. Great read but it seems like work.
 

DRF

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"However, murder is murder whether committed by the villain skulking in the dark or by uniformed men stepping to the strains of martial music.

Murder is murder, and somebody must answer...


...but i have to ask. does anyone really think we've changed? because i don't.

No. I'm sure there are people who read stories like this and get all choked up but probably did a little bit o killin themselves. Or like you and me sitting on our asses in a comfy house built in some part all the way back to that blood...with a full belly while elsewhere right now...no one is innocent.

I'm not pontificating or probably even thinking right,its just sometimes it can get deep - theres definately an ongoing trail littered with bodies.
 

Spirithawk

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My gg-grandfather and gg-grandmother escaped during the Trail Where All Cried. They started out from North Carolina. They hid out in the hills of Southern Ill and later the bootheel of Missouri. It was hard to learn the history of my ancestors as the situation they found themselves in made for a need to be very secretive and tight lipped. Many of the Cherokee now are the same way because it was drilled into them to be so. They just don't talk about family much. Back then it wasn't only illegal for an Indian to own land, it was illegal for them to even set foot outside a reservation without permission. You won't find the word Indian, Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek nor any other such name on the US Census back then either. There were only two races recognised, White and Black. Back then my ancestors were forced to be listed on one of the many Rolls. Many refused and were shot for refusing. Even more gave false names. Even those who gave the right names were often listed otherwise. Those taking the Rolls seldom could read, write nor spell very well. They spelled the names the way they sounded to them, often using a similar English name that sounded similar. Thus it is very hard to trace your ancestry to prove an ancestor is listed on a Roll or that they were even "Indian". Thus there are many many full bloods who are not recognised as even being "Indian". It took me 30 years to prove my ancestry and then, after much thought, I turned down my right to be recognised. I did so for two reasons. Though my gg-grandfather is listed, my gg-grandmother refused to be, and like her, I decided I don't need the US Government, nor a piece of paper, to tell me who and what I am! I'm telling you this for those trying to trace their "Indian" heritage. So that you can understand why you keep hitting a brick wall. Why there is little or no info to be found. Don't be discouraged. You know who you are and sometimes that must be enough. I was raised from birth by my grandmother. She taught me to be proud to be Tsalagi Aniyuhnwiya Anikituhwagi (Cherokee) but it was a very long road learning about my heritage. In high school everyone either called me Cherokee or Billy Jack. lol Some good naturedly and some not so much. I've learned what I have by seeking out and talking with Elders. Who know's history better than those who have lived it? :) If anyone has questions about the Cherokee, or other Nation, feel free to ask and I'll do my best to give you as honest an answer as I know how. If I don't know the answer then chances are I know someone who does. I wish you enough....SH ^i^
 

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