Excerpts for Nellie the Brave : The Cherokee Trail of Tears


Nellie The Brave


By Veda Boyd Jones

Barbour Publishing, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Barbour Publishing, Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59789-070-0

Contents

1. The Roundup................................11
2. The First Step.............................23
3. The First Camp.............................32
4. The Stockade...............................40
5. What Happened to Lewis.....................48
6. The Long Summer............................57
7. The Journey Begins.........................68
8. John's Plan................................78
9. The Trail Westward.........................86
10. The Illness Strikes.......................95
11. A Dark Heart..............................104
12. Morning Sun...............................113
13. The Long Wait.............................123
14. The New Land..............................132


Chapter One

The Roundup

Tennessee 1838

"They're here!" Nellie Starr whispered. She peeked around the curtain of her upstairs bedroom window at the soldiers. She counted five men, all on horseback, riding purposefully up the lane toward the house. "They've come for us."

"Will they hurt us?" Sarah asked.

"Yes. No! They won't hurt us physically," Nellie assured her five-year-old sister. "But they will change everything. Everything! Hurry. Keep packing."

"Can I take my doll?"

"Yes, but hurry. Put those clothes in here." She motioned to the black horsehair trunk where she had placed her day dresses and her Sunday dress of blue muslin. She added her papers and pen. She couldn't endure the long trip without writing. And she'd write in Cherokee language, using Sequoyah's syllabary, not English, so the soldiers wouldn't know what she was writing.

A loud knock, more like pounding, sounded a moment before the front door was opened with great force. The door swung so wide it hit the wall beside it with a big bang.

"Nellie!" Etsi, her mother, yelled. Nellie fairly flew down the stairs to the front room. Etsi faced three soldiers. Two stood on the porch.

"It's time to go," one soldier said. "Where's your man to hitch up the wagon?"

Etsi looked at Nellie.

"He wants to know where Edoda is." Nellie translated the soldier's words into her native Cherokee language. Her mother understood some English, but Etsi's command of the language didn't match Nellie's. Nellie had studied hard at the mission school and spoke the best English of all the students, even better than those older than her twelve years. Her teacher said she had a gift for language, and Nellie cherished the gift that let her speak easily with the missionaries.

"Father's in the smokehouse," Nellie told the soldiers. "I'll go get him."

"Mason!" a soldier yelled to a man on the porch. "Get the man in the smokehouse!" He turned back to Nellie. "Let's get going."

"But we're not yet packed."

"You're as packed as you're going to be," another soldier said.

Nellie ignored the man's words and addressed the soldier who had spoken first. More brass on his uniform told her he was in charge.

"Please give us the rest of the day to get ready."

He shook his head, and the second soldier laughed. "As if they haven't had all the time in the world already, Lieutenant Seward."

"One hour," Lieutenant Seward said.

"One hour," Nellie translated to Etsi.

"That's not long enough," Nellie said.

"You've had two years, a month, some days, and now one hour," the lieutenant said.

That was true, but it wasn't true. The false treaty signed by only a few Cherokee-not the rightful leaders-gave them two years to move to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River. But during those two years, thousands of Cherokee had signed a petition to Congress, saying the treaty to sell their lands to the white men was not a real treaty. The Cherokee had hoped that they would not be forced off the land of their forefathers. Now, there was no more hope.

One hour to pack up a lifetime of memories. Nellie glanced at the clock on the fireplace mantle in the front room. Just after nine o'clock. Before noon, they would be on their way to a new land.

Nellie heard a whimper and saw Sarah on the stair landing, her face crumpled, tears of fear dripping from her chin onto her dress.

"It will be fine, Sarah. Go pack." Sarah climbed the few steps to the top. "Hurry," Nellie said.

"We must pack more dishes," Etsi said and turned, her sweeping skirts making a swishing sound as she walked away.

Nellie told the soldiers they were going to the kitchen, and the men followed them to the back of the house.

The kitchen was already stifling in the unseasonably hot June morning. Spring had come early to the hills, and crops had been put in early without any bud getting nipped by a late frost. Summer had come just as early, and the heat of the house was nearly unbearable. Nellie wiped sweat from her forehead with her hand.

Etsi had been putting dishes in a wooden box. She continued packing, wrapping dishes in old newspapers they had saved because they were in the Cherokee language. That way they would have reading material in the new land.

The soldiers sat in ladder-back chairs around the oblong wooden table. Earlier, Nellie had drawn water in the well bucket, and now she poured glasses of cool water for the men. She hoped her hospitality would gain them more time.

One of the men who worked at Edoda's general store had stormed from town not long after breakfast. He had shouted from his horse that the soldiers were rounding up Cherokee, and then he had galloped to his home.

They had immediately set to work. Edoda had run to the field to drive the oxen toward the barn where their wagon sat in readiness for such a sad day as this. Then he ran to the smokehouse to gather food.

From the kitchen window, Nellie saw a soldier point his rifle at Edoda as he followed Edoda out of the tool shed. They headed toward the barn.

"Candle molds. We'll need those," Etsi said. "And let's throw in the candles already made. And the butter churn, but it won't fit in the box. And those pots."

Nellie went around the room, handing items to Etsi, who shifted things to make room in the box for more. The cast-iron pots were too heavy to pack in a box, and Nellie carried them to the front porch, then returned.

"What about the stove?" Nellie stood by the cast-iron cookstove. How could they load the boxes and trunks and still have room for the stove? And how would they cook if they didn't have it?

"I don't know. We'll ask Edoda when he comes in." Etsi put a bag of healing herbs in the brown wooden box and then walked to the front room.

Nellie scurried after her. A quick glance told her there was no way they could load the furniture on the wagon. Too much, too big. They'd need five wagons to fit everything, and that wouldn't do it, either. They could take only the wooden crate Edoda had carried in before the soldiers came. Now to decide what to pack in the crate.

Tick-tock, tick-tock. She reached for the mantle clock. It quit ticking when she tilted it, the pendulum stopping its measured swing. The clock needed winding every eight days. If only she could stop time like she had stopped this clock. If only she could turn back time to the last day Edoda had wound the clock. Then there would be no Cherokee removal demanded by the United States government.

But she couldn't stop time. And now she didn't know how much of the hour was left for packing. She carefully took the weight out of the back of the clock and wrapped it in her handkerchief. She put the clock and the separate weight in the packing crate.

Etsi stood by the stuffed chair where Edoda liked to sit in the evenings. She ran her fingers lovingly across the back and looked at the room slowly, her gaze moving inch by inch as if memorizing every chair and stool and table and picture.

"Etsi, we have to hurry. Hurry."

"We should take the sampler you embroidered," she said and slowly took the framed fabric off the wall and placed it in the crate. "Is your room finished?"

"I'll check on Sarah's stuff. What about Lewis's room?"

"Lewis!" Etsi exclaimed and put her hand to her mouth, covering a moan.

He had left for Old Rivers's house before the warning had come. He'd gone to take the old man an herbal potion that Etsi had mixed for his cold.

"He'll be back any minute. He's been gone long enough." But that was if he didn't dawdle along the way with the other boys in the area if they happened to be down by the creek, which would surely be the way he came home. And there were always other boys around Lewis.

Tears pooled in Etsi's eyes, and Nellie hugged her, then said, "I'll pack his clothes."

She passed a soldier, who had come into the front room to investigate the packing, and climbed the stairs two at a time. She found Sarah in the bedroom they shared, crying in a corner.

"We don't have time for that," Nellie said. She held her little sister for a long moment. "I need your help packing Lewis's clothes."

Sarah sniffed and wiped her cheeks with the back of her hands but followed Nellie to Lewis's room across the hall. "Where's Lewis?"

"He'll be back. We'll use the satchel for his things."

They tossed shirts and trousers into the bag. "There's no room for his coat. He'll have to get a new one when we get to the territory." The thought of replacing the old things gave Nellie new courage. "Hurry."

She heard the rumble of the oxen and the creaking of the white canvas-covered wagon and looked out Lewis's window at Edoda driving the team out of the barn toward the house. The wagon had been packed with things they weren't using day to day but would need later. Now they'd have to load the boxes and trunks they had packed this morning.

"We can carry our trunk down," Nellie said. But it was heavier than she'd imagined. Sarah struggled to carry one end, so they scooted more than carried the trunk to the stairs, where it thumped down to the first floor. They pushed it out the door and left it on the porch. Nellie ran back upstairs to get Lewis's satchel.

What about the bedding? Where would they sleep? They didn't need covers now with the June sun heating the earth, but what about next winter in their new home? Nellie gazed at Lewis's bed and pulled off the blanket. Hadn't the teachers at the mission said that the government would give them blankets and food for the trip and supplies when they reached the new land?

But it would be good to have their own blankets, and they could easily be thrown over the boxes in the wagon. They wouldn't take up much extra room. She grabbed Lewis's coat, too.

She took the blankets from the other beds. In her room, she grabbed the blanket but paused a brief moment to look out the window.

Memorize the trees, memorize the lane, memorize the robin that built a nest outside your window, her heart told her. You will never see them again. Her head told her to carry the blankets to the porch. She ran downstairs, arms full, and piled the blankets outside on the trunk, then found Etsi and Sarah in the parlor, doing nothing, just standing there, holding each other. Nothing more was in the crate. A soldier sat in Edoda's chair.

"Etsi, are your clothes ready to go?" Nellie asked.

"I don't think so."

"Let's get them packed." She took her etsi's arm and led her to the stairs.

"Nellie," Edoda called from the kitchen.

Nellie gave Etsi a nudge to urge her up the stairs. "Help her, Sarah," she said and scurried to the kitchen.

"Could you help me with these heavy boxes?" Edoda asked, an urgency in his voice.

Two soldiers still sat at the kitchen table, but neither offered to help. Their expressions showed impatience, and Nellie sensed that if her family didn't get their things loaded soon, they would be forced to leave boxes behind.

"We don't carry," one of the soldiers said. "Orders." As if that explained not helping a girl and her edoda pack a wagon.

The solid wooden box of dishes and silverware and other kitchen things was heavy. Even with Edoda's strength, it took both of them to wield it out the door. The height of the back porch was nearly the same as the wagon, so they had to lift the box only a few inches, which was a good thing. Nellie didn't know how they could have lifted it any higher.

One soldier stood at the head of the matched set of reddish-colored oxen, holding them still. Lieutenant Seward walked out on the porch, his boots making a heavy clunking noise.

"Mason, you and Willis go to the next farm and get them moving. We can't take all day getting this section to the camp."

The soldier holding the oxen left with another man, and Nellie climbed onto the wagon to hold the reins. Edoda loaded another box on his own and moved some tools around to find a small place for the churn.

"There's a trunk out front," Nellie said. "And pots."

"First I want a few more tools," Edoda said. He ran to the tool shed, his black hat with the crow feather bobbing up and down with every fast step. He returned carrying a hoe and a hatchet.

"No hatchet," Lieutenant Seward said and pointed at the porch. "No weapons allowed."

Nellie translated for her father so there was no misunderstanding, although he knew a fair amount of English and probably understood just fine. If he couldn't take the ax, he surely couldn't take his gun to hunt game, and she didn't want a confrontation about it.

"How do we clear land for a new house without tools?" Edoda asked softly in Cherokee, so softly he may not have intended the soldier to hear, but Nellie repeated his question in English.

"There will be supplies in Indian Territory. You don't have to take everything. The government will pay you for what's left."

Edoda took a couple steps toward the shed.

"Leave it here." The lieutenant pointed at the porch again.

"It would be safer in the shed," Nellie said.

"It won't matter," Lieutenant Seward said. "Scavengers will take it."

A wave of resentment washed over Nellie, followed by a wave of intense sadness.

"Drive around front, Nellie," Edoda said, his voice hard. "Hurry."

"Hee-ah!" Nellie shouted at the team, and they strained against the yoke. She did not often drive the wagon, but Edoda said that everyone must know how to handle stock, so he had taught her the commands for the animals and the way to jerk on the reins or pull them tight.

Nellie pulled the wagon next to the front porch and tied the team to the front rail. She jumped off and ran inside, up the stairs, where Etsi and Sarah were tossing clothes into another trunk.

"Hurry," she said. "What else goes from here?"

Etsi turned dark, soulful eyes to her. "Is Lewis back?"

"Not yet. Any minute, though. Let's get this downstairs."

They pushed, pulled, and tugged the big trunk to the stairs, where it thumped from step to step as they guided it down.

Edoda loaded it onto the wagon and then came into the parlor, where Nellie was looking around for what other small items they could take in the packing crate.

"There's no more room," Edoda said. "We'll have to leave that crate here."

"We must take the clock," Nellie said and fished it out of the crate, along with the clock weight. On a shelf, she spied the glass bottle with the silver inlay that Edoda had brought back when he went to Washington to meet with the government people. She was unsure what it had held at one time but thought it was probably perfume. It had been empty since she could remember, but the lacy silver on the glass had fascinated her, and she had played with it many times, twirling it to see the lovely patterns. She carefully wrapped it and the clock and the weight in a blanket and stuffed them in a corner of the wagon.

"What about the crops?" Edoda asked.

Even though there had been no rain lately, the corn was knee-high due to the early spring. They had already picked two varieties of beans, and the squash and cucumber vines had flowered and now reached across the rows.

Nellie asked the lieutenant about the beans.

"Leave the crops for the next family," he said, looking Nellie straight in the eyes, then shaking his head and looking down at the ground. "We've got to go."

"My brother isn't back from our neighbor's house," Nellie said.

"We can't wait. He may already be rounded up and sent along. You'll catch up to him, or he'll catch up to you."

"Surely we can wait a few more minutes," Nellie said, but the soldier ignored her and climbed on his horse, motioning for the other men to mount their own horses.

"We'll pass him on the road," Nellie assured her mother, whose tears flowed silently down her angular cheeks.

Etsi helped Sarah climb to the seat of the covered wagon, and then she climbed up.

"The lamps," Edoda said and went back into the house.

Of course, they would need lamps. They weren't thinking. None of them were thinking of all the things they would need in the new place. Buckets. They'd need the well bucket.

Nellie ran to the kitchen and got the bucket and ladle, spilling water in the front room as she hurried back to the wagon. Edoda was tying the kerosene lamps to the side of the wagon. He tied the bucket on the other side, then climbed on board. Nellie untied the team and tossed the reins to Edoda.

"I didn't lock the door," Edoda said.

"It won't matter," Lieutenant Seward said and shook his head. "Someone would just break it down."

Nellie declined when Edoda offered her a hand to climb on the wagon. "I'll walk a ways," she said. The team already had a heavy burden to haul. No use adding to it.

They formed an odd parade. Lieutenant Seward led the way with another soldier riding beside him. Then came the wagon, followed by Nellie. A mounted soldier brought up the rear. He led two ponies, which belonged to Nellie and Sarah. Nellie felt she should be riding her pony, Midnight, but a new stubbornness inside her-or was it fear?-wouldn't let her ask the soldier for the right to ride her own pony.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Nellie The Brave by Veda Boyd Jones Copyright © 2006 by Barbour Publishing, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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