My Cherokee Grandfather

A long time ago, before The Trail of Tears, before the Red Indian was banished to the West, he roamed the hills of Appalachia. His skin was tawny, his limbs were strong and muscled. His face was regal and his war paint fierce. He was the Cherokee of the old days. There was a period of time when, before being banished from his home, he was forced to co-exist with the white man.  He took up the ways, to an extent, of his white neighbors, and was sometimes prosperous owning land and house and stock.

It was during this period of time that my story begins.  It is the story of a wealthy Cherokee, a trip of unknown purpose, a love, and a legacy that haunts me even now.  He came doing business and stayed long enough to leave his mark. Do we know all the parts of the story? Sadly we don’t, but we know enough to piece together the story of a Cherokee man and the young girl who bore his daughter alone.

She was very young, no more than a child by the standards of today. And yet she must have been old enough to feel those first emotions of love. To be turned by the dark eyes and black hair of a man much older, much different than any she had known so far. We will never know the details of their story… did they love? Was she a victim of an older, more knowing man? From the story handed down we believe that these two very different people fell in love. It would have been a forbidden, secretive love, kept quiet and away from family and friends prying eyes.  As young love is wont to do, it became a physical thing, and the young girl was found out when her belly began to grow. Her family must have been devastated by the knowledge, but she was only a child after all, and so they must bear the blame for what had happened along with her. Her Cherokee brave was chased out of the hills and she must have grieved for him and felt very alone. After all, the stigma of an illegitimate child in the early 1800’s would have been very harsh. Time wore on but her brave was very brave indeed and returned when she delivered the baby asking to see her and the child. Once again he was outnumbered and chased from the area. He returned many times, in fact, offering each time to take mother and child back West to his home in Indian Territory. He once came with a whole Band of his brothers and the family feared greatly at that time that they would be attacked.  But alas, young girls don’t often have a say in what becomes of them.  He returned one last time and asked if he could at least leave money for his child, but being turned away yet again, he left and bothered the family no more.  The baby was sent to be raised by her Uncle and her mother eventually wed and had more children.

Now, in our family, we carry on that small drop of Native blood left by the Cherokee brave. We see his cheeks in our babies faces, his dark skin and darker eyes. He still leaves his mark on every generation. What was once an embarrassment is now a legacy, as I continue a search of some twenty plus years to put a name to the man who was my Cherokee Grandfather. Will I ever find him amid the many records and archives I search? I’d like to think I will some day. And so, I search and archive in the hopes of leaving the completed story for my children. A legacy of the brave and noble race of my red grandfather… a Cherokee warrior.

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