Friday, August 3, 2007

August 4, 1837

Thanks to George Featherstonhaugh, we get a glimpse of Cherokee Country on the verge of Removal. Observing the events of 1837 in the Georgia mountains, Featherstonhaugh had a knack for capturing the smallest of details with his descriptive prose:

August 4.--This morning, whilst we were at breakfast, a company of Georgia Mounted Volunteers rode through the place on their way to the Cherokee Council. All had their coats off with their muskets and cartouch-boxes strung across their shoulders. Some of the men had straw hats, some of them white felt hats, others had old black hats on with the rim torn off, and all of them were as unshaven and as dirty as they could well be. The officers were only distinguished by having Cherokee fringed hunting shirts on. Many of the men were stout young fellows, and they rode on, talking, and cursing and swearing, without any kind of discipline. Upon the whole it was a picturesque sight, and brought to my recollection the descriptions of the condottieri of ancient times.

Having engaged the stage to take us to Red Clay, we left Spring Place at 8 A.M., passing for twenty-five miles through a wild country with a rolling surface, pleasingly wooded, and sufficiently open to admit of the growth of various beautiful flowers. We crossed the Connesawga, which is a beautiful mountain stream, and were frequently gratified with the sight of fine fat deer bounding across the narrow wood road with their magnificent antlers. The quail, too, were numerous, and the young birds large. The soil being derived from the lower Silurian limestone is very fertile, and certainly I never saw heavier Indian corn than in two or three settlements that we passed, especially at one Young's, about fifteen miles from Spring Place. . . .

Hearing that a half-breed Cherokee named Hicks, whom I had formerly known, had put up some huts for the accommodation of strangers, we found him out, and he assigned us a hut to ourselves, the floor of which was strewed with nice dry pine leaves. It contained also two rude bedsteads, with pine branches as a substitute for beds, and some bed-clothes of a strange fashion, but which were tolerably clean. Chairs we had none; and our first care was to get a sort of table carpentered up, and to place it in such a position that we could use our bedsteads for chairs when we wrote.

Our log hut had been so hastily run up that it had neither a door, nor bore evidence of an intention to add one to it, and its walls were formed of logs with interstices of at least six inches between them, so that we not only had the advantage of seeing every thing that was going on out of doors, but of gratifying every body outside who was desirous of seeing what was done within our hut, especially the Indians, who appeared extremely curious.

Having refreshed ourselves with a cup of tea, we walked out with General Smith, the Indian agent for the United States, to see the Council-house. Crossing the Cóoayhállay, we soon found ourselves in an irregular sort of street consisting of huts, booths and stores hastily constructed from the trees of the forest, for the accommodation of Cherokee families, and for the cooking establishments necessary to the subsistence of several thousand Indians.

This street was at the foot of some hilly ground upon which the Council-room was built, which was a simple parallelogram formed of logs with open sides, and benches inside for the councillors. The situation was exceedingly well chosen in every respect, for there was a copious limestone spring on the bank of the stream, which gave out a delicious cool water in sufficient quantities for this great multitude. What contributed to make the situation extremely picturesque, was the great number of beautiful trees growing in every direction, the underwood having been most judiciously cut away to enable the Indians to move freely through the forest, and to tie their horses to the trees.

Nothing more Arcadian could be conceived than the picture which was presented; but the most impressive feature, and that which imparted life to the whole, was an unceasing current of Cherokee Indians, men, women, youths, and children, moving about in every direction, and in the greatest order; and all, except the younger ones, preserving a grave and thoughtful demeanour imposed upon them by the singular position in which they were placed, and by the trying alternative now presented to them of delivering up their native country to their oppressors, or perishing in a vain resistance.

An observer could not but sympathize deeply with them; they were not to be confounded with the wild savages of the West, being decently dressed after the manner of white people, with shirts, trousers, shoes and stockings, whilst the half-breeds and their descendants conformed in every thing to the custom of the whites, spoke as good English as them, and differed from them only in a browner complexion, and in being less vicious and more sober.

The pure bloods had red and blue cotton handkerchiefs folded on their heads in the manner of turbans, and some of these, who were mountaineers from the elevated districts of North Carolina wore also deer-skin leggings and embroidered hunting shirts; whilst their turbans, their dark coarse, lank hair, their listless savage gait, and their swarthy Tartar countenances, reminded me of the Arabs from Barbary. Many of these men were athletic and good-looking; but the women who had passed from the maidenly age, had, owing to the hard labour imposed upon them by Indian usages, lost as usual every feminine attraction, so that in my walk I did not see one upon whom I had any desire to look a second time.

In the course of the evening, I attended at the Council-house to hear some of their resolutions read by an English missionary, named Jones, who adhered to the Cherokees; a man of talent, it was said, and of great activity, but who was detested by the Georgians. These were afterwards translated,vivâ voce, into Cherokee by Bushy-head, one of the principal half-breed Cherokees. A most refreshing rain fell in the evening, and about 8 P.M., somewhat fatigued with the adventures of the day, I retired to our hut, from whence, through the interstices of the logs, I saw the fires of the Cherokees, who bivouacked in the woods, gleaming in every direction; and long after I laid down, the voices of hundreds of the most pious amongst them who had assembled at the Council-house to perform their evening worship, came pealing in hymns through the now quiet forest, and insensibly and gratefully lulled me to sleep.

-From A Canoe Voyage up the Minnay Sotor

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