Generations of Secrets and Lies
Elizabeth Ann Johnson-Murphree
Story told by Great Grandmother-Mary Jane Overton – “Ma”
“My father would tell me of his childhood and becoming a man in the Tribe. He went on a vision quest as most Indian boys did as a part of their passage from boy to manhood. Early one morning his father took him to the edge of the forest to a familiar path they often walked. The path led toward what was known as the Mississippi River, and it was at the river’s edge he would stay without water or food for several days. A rule of the ritual. On the trail, he would see many signs of small animals; he walked by bushes where his favorite berries hung in abundance. Yet, he pushed his hunger out of his mind quickly moving down the well-worn path toward the river. When the path ended, he walked through the woods west”. Ma as she remembered.
It was the middle of the day when he came into a clearing filled with tall golden grass. Laying down to rest a few minutes, he stared at the sky and the clouds. He picked out a cloud that the thought looked like his beloved grandfather; he studied it closely absorbed in its shape. The chiseled face with deep furrowed lines and long white hair cascading around strong shoulders, he drifted off to sleep when the sun became warm and welcoming. Waking to what he thought was the sound of his grandfather calling his name he realized that he had fallen asleep. The sun had moved into the western sky, he had to hurry. He walked, and then ran, pacing himself so he would be at the river before dark.
It was time for the sun to set when he stood before the bank of the river, he looked up and down the river, and the massive cliffs embraced the wide river on both sides. He then made several trips climbing to the flat surface of a big rock carrying wood and cedar branches gathered for his stay on the rock. He placed the rocks in a circle for his fire. When the fire was blazing and he had, many cedar branches to lie upon he sat looking into the fire watching the sparks float over the edge of the flat rock down the cliff into the river. He lean over as they drifted to the water then became lost in the darkness. When he was cold and tired, he moved closer to the fire listening to the familiar calls of the night until he fell asleep.
“ My father loved nature, every morning he would meditate as the sun warmed his face and body; even as an adult continued this ritual letting his mind meld with his Soul’ continued”. Ma continued to gather her thoughts.
One day crept slowly into the next, on the third night the spirit of his grandfather came to him. His thoughts returned to the clouds that looked like the grandfather they now sat across from him. His grandfather silently stared into his eyes, penetrating his mind.
When the fourth day arrived, it would be his last night. He could no longer sleep, he lay on his bed of cedar watching visions float in front of him. Before dawn a magnificent hawk appeared. The hawk took his massive wing gliding it over the fire circle, when Fosee looked at the circle he found a rock missing. Pointing to what appeared to be the first rock of the circle the hawks; mind as one with Fosee’. As the hawk pointed he said, “This was the beginning of your life, you entered the world in peace”, then the hawk pointed to the last rock, “This is the end of your life’s circle, beware of the man who lives among the trees”. Fosee stared at the circle when he looked up the hawk was gone, as was his grandfather. He understood the message his grandfather and the hawk had given him; then he fell back asleep.
“My father would tell the story of his quest many times in his life”. Ma would say gently.
Fosee heard the screeching of a hawk then saw it fly directly in front of him as he walked down the path toward home. When he looked, there at the paths edge was his father. He stopped; staring in disbelief as the hawk came to rest on a piece of colored cloth wrapped around his father’s hand, and then flew away. He walked beside his father into the open Chukka yard knowing that his father was proud of him. His mother came out of their roundhouse saying his name softly, he was home, and he was safe. It was then that he told those gathering around him that from that day forward he would be known as Hawk. His father put his arm on his shoulder saying, “So you are no longer a Little Bird”.
His great tracking and hunting skills made even the eldest of the Tribe respected him. He went on Mock raids with his father, not to harm but to put fear into the white man. A source of humor to them, later the Warriors would mimic the terrifying looks of the faces of the white people as they sat around the fires at night reliving the raids.
“He would never change! My grandmother worked the gardens and gathered medicine herbs and roots with the other women; they too would discuss the white people. They were afraid that someday their men or sons would be caught and punished for their amusing antics. The white people coming into the lands were greater in numbers, Hawks mother worried for him and of how the change she knew was coming would affect him”. Ma wished she had known her grandmother, her father talked of her.
Sipsee was the young girl that would someday become Fosee’ wife she was named after the Cotton Wood Tree. No doubt, the beautiful white fine cotton like blooms of this tree that rained like snow inspired Sipsee mother or father in choosing her name. Sipsee had known Hawk since they were children playing in the Chukka yard. Her memories of Hawk went back many years; he would run up and down kicking up the dust playing on his imaginary horse. His long black hair flying in the wind, she remembers when he brought home his first deer and how proud he was of himself when he presented it to his mother. Sipsee would never forget the first time their eyes met across the glowing flames of the gathering fire in the Chukka yard and the lowering of hers in respect of his warrior status.
Sipsee with her dark amber skin, wide doe eyes and long silky black hair had been a source of interest to Fosee for many years. Before his eyes, he said that she had grown from a skinny weed into exquisite flower. She and her family were from a Cherokee Tribe. She in turn could only dream that someday the tall noble warrior would want her to walk with him through life.
“Then came the spring of 1838 and under the brutal forced march perpetrated by the United States government they were removing Hawk, Sipsee and their families from their ancestral lands . Many sold the land they lived on to the white man; others were forced off their land. My mother, father and their parents were among those forced from their land on the western edge of north Alabama”. Ma sat not showing any emotions, but her eyes burned with hate.
This facts of this story has two aspects, one is the presumed facts written from the annals of history; and second by the verbal history confident from the memory of Mary Jane Overton, proud Chickasaw.
Author’s Note: To be continued in Generations of Secrets and Lies – Part 3