Recently, WWK blogger Paula Benson wrote a thoughtful post focused on “persistence” and its importance to writers. http://writerswhokill.blogspot.com/2014/03/pondering-persistence.html I’ve found it an important quality in my own career, and in examining it in the light of Paula’s post, I realized where a tremendous source of my own persistence came from.
Today marks the 175th anniversary of the day the last survivors of the Cherokee Trail of Tears limped and crawled into their final destination in Indian Territory. (There were lesser-known but equally devastating Trails of Tears also for the Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, Seminole, and several other tribes.) On the Cherokee Trail of Tears, more than 8,000 people died as they were forced to travel about a thousand miles in horrendous conditions under the armed guard of American soldiers. (Much of what we know about what went on during the Trail of Tears comes from the letters and diaries of American soldiers sickened by what they were a part of.)
The surviving Cherokee were starved and desperately ill with no food or clothing or shelter when they arrived finally. But the Cherokee (and Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, etc.) are a hard people to keep down. Within three years, they built a brick Supreme Court building for the first modern judicial system in Indian Territory (not to mention the first brick building). It still stands in the heart of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the town which became the heart and capital of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. In less than a decade, they had a bilingual newspaper in English and Cherokee (replacing the one they’d had back in the old Cherokee Nation in the Southeast) and the Cherokee Female Seminary, the first institution of higher education for women west of the Mississippi, which continues today as Northeastern State University of Oklahoma. They established the first public schools in Indian Territory also.
In fact, the Cherokee did such a remarkable job at picking up the pieces and starting over from nothing that once again the yonega (white men) wanted their prosperous communities, just as they had back East. And once again the US government took the lands away and this time declared the tribe no longer existed. (They did this also to the Choctaw, etc., who had also been too successful at picking themselves up and rebuilding.) But the Cherokee continued to fight in courts and legislatures to have their centuries-old nation reconstituted—and finally won that battle, too. Once again, in the second half of the 20th century, the Cherokee picked up the pieces and rebuilt their nation and all of its institutions from scratch.
With such a history and heritage behind me and my protagonist, Skeet Bannion, how could either of us ever just give up and stop trying? What a letdown we would be to our ancestral spirits if we did!
So please join me today in remembering and paying homage to all those brave souls of whatever tribe who limped off their Trails of Tears and rebuilt their civilizations all over from scratch multiple times. May they continue to be an example of courage, strength, and persistence in the face of the worst kind of difficulties not only to me and their other descendants but to all of us.