This facts of this story has two aspects, one is the presumed facts written from the annals of history; and second by the confident oral history from the memory of Mary Jane Overton, a proud Chickasaw.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 marks a dark time in American history regarding the new country’s relationship with the Native American population. It first called for the “voluntary” relocation to lands west, then the “forcible removal of all Indians”. The outcome would be that they would reside in the eastern United States to the state of Oklahoma.
May 1838 was set as the voluntary removal date, but many Cherokees remained and did not voluntarily move; many of them resided in my home state of Alabama. Eight years later, Major General Winfield Scott was ordered to round-up and remove the remaining Indians. This forcible removal came to be called the “Trail of Tears”. During those eight years, 46,000 Native Americans were forced to leave their homes in southeastern states.
Many sites in Alabama factored into the removal on the Trail of Tears. Five known routes crossed north Alabama taking many from their homeland on foot, by boat and train through towns like Guntersville, Tuscumbia, my home town of Decatur, Huntsville and Waterloo.
The Trail of Tears is roughly 2,300 miles long and passes through nine states over land and water. Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Many people were either murdered or relocated with very few hiding in remote locations like Bucks Pocket, Little River Canyon, the mountains, and around the Tennessee River.
Many died from exposure, disease, and starvation on their route to Oklahoma. On this forced march were my great-great grandparents. It is estimated that 4,000 Chickasaw, including any of their black slaves as well as lower class white citizens were in this movement. The Trail of Tears is one of the worst tragedies in American History.
The Native American culture is known for its rich oral tradition – instead of using a written language to document their history, these indigenous people simply relied on their verbal language to share their history, customs, rituals, and legends through vivid narratives.
This oral accounting told to me beginning at the age of about six-years-old until my great grandmother died when I was a teenager.
Generations of Secrets and Lies
Mary Jane Overton – “Ma”
“Fosee, my father belonged to the Mississippi Over-Towne Tribe. In his youth, the Tribe tried to continue their peaceful life without contact with the white man’s world. Fosee knew that he was a descendant of many generations of Warriors. Born in a round Birch bark roofed dwelling that stood on the edge of the Chickasaw Tribes town. His parents gave their only child the name Fosee, which meant Bird. His younger days were spent hunting small animals and playing Chukka Ball in the open yard centered in the middle of his peoples circled dwellings”. Ma said in her firm no nonsense tone.
Fosse’s father a name that Ma could not remember held a place of prominence in the tribe. It was said that he was a powerful Warrior and skilled hunter, his wife; Fosse’s mother, again no known name, was said to be the most beautiful woman in the Tribe, her beauty came from Cherokee ancestors, and she was of mixed blood, Chickasaw and Cherokee. Her beauty and gentle nature were the reasons Fosse’s father had chosen her to be his wife.
“My father told me that his father remembered all of the grandparents. However, it was on his father’s side, the grandfather he remembered the most and with clarity. He remembered his elegant clothes made of the softened skins of deer. The colorful decorations sewn upon the breast of his shirts by his grandmother were elegant and of the best beads. His grandfathers white hair flowed about his shoulders and his skin engraved with the scars of many wars from his younger days”. Ma stopped for a moment staring at something no one else could see.
This grandfather Fosse’s favorite looked like nobility. It was said that he would listen intently to the stories this grandfather told around the cooking fires and see the softness in his eyes when he detailed of the loss of family and friends in battles. Within a few short years, after the birth of Fosee all four of his close grandparents had succumb to a disease brought into the town by a white man.
Author’s Note: To be continued in Generations of Secrets and Lies – Part 2