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In the sixteenth century, the Cherokee Indians occupied mountain areas of North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. They had a settled, advanced agrarian culture. In 1540, they were visited by the Hernando De Soto expedition, and the Spanish explorer later reported that he was impressed with the Cherokee people.
In 1820, the Cherokees adopted a republican form of government, and in 1827 they established themselves as the Cherokee Nation.
By 1832, much pressure was being put on the government in Washington DC, to move the Indians elsewhere so that white people could have their land. This, coupled with Andrew Jackson (who was known to be prejudiced against Indians) being president of the United States at the time, spelled doom for the Cherokees as the pressure mounted for the removal of all Indians to the West. There were five tribes known as the Civilized Tribes: the Cherokee, the Chickasaw, the Choctaw, the Creek, and the Seminole. These five tribes were slated to occupy the land in the West known as Indian Territory.
The Cherokee Nation’s leading chief, John Ross, a mixed-blood Cherokee, struggled hard against President Jackson’s administration to keep his people from being put off their land.
Ross’s struggle continued when Martin Van Buren became president in 1837. The opposition was too great, however, and as the story was told in the first book of this trilogy, Cherokee Rose, in the winter of 1838—39, some fifteen thousand North Carolina Cherokees were forced by the U.S. Army to make the one-thousand-mile journey westward to Indian Territory, which is now the state of Oklahoma. This harrowing journey, during which more than four thousand Cherokees died, has become known as the Trail of Tears.
The Cherokees of Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee had already been forced to go to Indian Territory, also having lost their homes. The same thing was happening to the people of the other four Civilized Tribes.
Repeatedly forced to surrender their lands, the people of the Cherokee Nation, as well as those of the other four tribes, were hoping to find in Indian Territory “a place to call home.”
Two outstanding Cherokee chiefs lived during the period of history covered in the first two books of this trilogy, Cherokee Rose and Bright Are the Stars. Their names are still revered today by the Cherokee Indians: Chief John Ross and Chief Sequoyah. Because they also appear in this book, we include here some background information about these two men who made history in the Cherokee nation.
John Ross was born October 3, 1790, near Lookout Mountain in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. Born of a Scottish father and a mother who was part Cherokee, the blue-eyed, fair-skinned John Ross (whose Cherokee name was Tsan-Usdi) grew up as an Indian. Courageous and highly intelligent, Ross became the leader of the Cherokee resistance to the white man’s planned acquisition of land the Cherokees had lived on for centuries. Because of Ross’s valor in fighting for his people, he was made a Cherokee chief at the young age of twenty-two. Since he was mostly white, though in his heart he was all Cherokee, the chiefs of every Cherokee village in the Smoky Mountains voted to honor him with a second name: Chief White Bird. He married a full-blooded Cherokee woman named Quatie and in 1819 was voted in as president of the National Council of Cherokees.
With the threat of the Indians’ forced move to the West hanging over their heads, John Ross put up a spirited defense for his people. His petitions to President Andrew Jackson, under whom he had fought in the Creek War (1813—14), went unheeded. On May 28, 1830, the U.S. Congress, following Jackson’s leadership, established the Indian Removal Act.
In 1838—39, when Martin Van Buren was president, Ross had no choice but to lead his people, under duress from soldiers of the U.S. Army, toward an unknown western prairie called Indian Territory. On the journey, his wife, Quatie, took sick and died.
Sequoyah was born c. 1773 in North Carolina, and was called Sogwali by his parents. After both parents died while he was yet a youth, some Bible-preaching missionaries to the Cherokee people named him Sequoyah.
Having been a Cherokee chief for five years, in 1809 Sequoyah began working to develop a system of writing for his people, believing that increased knowledge would help the Cherokee Nation maintain their independence from the whites. By 1821 he had developed a system of eighty-six symbols that made up the Cherokee alphabet. The simplicity of his system enabled students to learn it rapidly, and soon Cherokees throughout their nation were teaching it in their schools and publishing books and newspapers in their own language, printing them on their own presses.
Chief Sequoyah had a great interest in the Bible, which was introduced to him in English by the same missionaries who renamed him, and by 1823 he had translated the entire Bible into the Cherokee language, and thousands of copies were printed.
In 1825, the General Council of the Cherokee Nation presented Sequoyah a silver medal for these accomplishments.
In 1838, General Winfield Scott of the United States Army arrived in Cherokee territory of the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina with seven thousand soldiers to prepare the people for a journey that would become known as the Trail of Tears. (This story is told in the first volume of this trilogy, Cherokee Rose.)
During the long, difficult trek westward, the Cherokees found that many of the soldiers were brutal toward them. However, one young soldier, Lieutenant Britt Claiborne, did his best to protect the Indians from the brutality. His kindness soon drew the attention of Cherokee Rose, a young Cherokee maiden. As the journey progressed, Britt and Cherokee Rose fell in love. Knowing they would have to part once they arrived in Indian Territory, they began to pray for a miracle from God that would allow them to stay together and become husband and wife.
During the journey, over forty-two hundred Cherokees died, and in March 1839, the surviving ten thousand Cherokees arrived at Fort Gibson in Indian Territory. General Scott officially turned the North Carolina Cherokees over to Fort Gibson’s commandant, General Austin Danford, and the soldiers who were there to keep all the inhabitants of Indian Territory under control. Scott then had a private talk with Britt Claiborne and told him that since he was a quarter Cherokee, he was eligible to serve on the Cherokee Police Force in the Territory.
Britt applied for a police position, and because of his background as an army officer, he was hired. When Britt told Cherokee Rose, they praised the Lord for this answer to prayer. God had given them their miracle.
In the second volume of this trilogy, Bright Are the Stars, Britt and Cherokee Rose were wed, and Britt proved himself valuable as a police officer, saving the lives of innocent people and bringing criminals to justice. Britt and Cherokee Rose were also blessed with children, Bradley Allen and Summer Dawn. Britt eventually became Indian Territory chief of police, and the family moved to Tahlequah, the Cherokee national capital.
The Cherokee people found genuine happiness in Indian Territory and came to love their new home. The revered and tenderhearted Chief Sequoyah often said that because his people were happy in their new home, to him the stars at night shined with a new brightness.
In July 1885, Craig Parker and his wife, Gloria, lived on their farm some five miles south of Joplin, Missouri. One day, Craig was stunned when the sheriff and two deputies showed up on his doorstep and arrested him for robbing the Joplin National Bank. Though Craig was innocent, he went to trial and was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
Early in January 1889, Britt Claiborne received a letter from Benjamin Harrison, president of the United States, informing him that Congress had devised a plan to set boundaries for the habitation of the Indians in what had been their territory for over fifty years. The land within the boundaries would be called “reservations.” The president said he would be sending troops to the District to make sure the Indians were resettled on the land assigned to them.
The United States government would then allow white people to enter Oklahoma District and claim some 2 million acres of “unassigned lands.” The white settlers would be allowed to claim 160 acres of land per family. Those who lived on and improved their claim for five years would then receive title to it.
In the last week of that month, every newspaper in the United States carried the announcement about the Unassigned Lands Bill. The announcement emphasized in bold print that on April 22, the army would oversee a “land rush.”
In February 1889, young widow Martha Ackerman, her three children, and her parents, Will and Essie Baker, left Wichita, Kansas, in the Baker wagon, heading for Oklahoma District, excited about the prospect of having a new home with 160 acres to farm.
At the same time, just outside of Amarillo, Texas, Lee and Kathy Belden and their two sons drove away from their farm, which was being repossessed by the Panhandle National Bank. For two years, the drought in the Texas panhandle had taken its toll on the Belden farm, as well as on many others in the area. Lee and Kathy were optimistic about going to Oklahoma District to get a fresh start.
In late February 1889, the man who actually committed the bank robbery for which Craig Parker had been convicted confessed just before he died. When Gloria Parker arrived at the Missouri State Prison to be reunited with her soon-to-bereleased husband, Craig told her of reading about the upcoming land rush. He wanted to go to Oklahoma District and start over. Gloria happily agreed with his plan. They would leave Missouri in time to look over the land before laying claim to their new farm.