Dancing Rabbit Creek, September 1830
The quiet of the night was disturbed by the sound of crickets in the cool crisp air and water rambling over the stones of a creek. Peggy walked among the pines and towering Oaks covered in yellowing leaves, moonlit patches lighting the uneven dirt path. Ahead she could see the orange glow of a fire, and hear the mumbled sound of many voices.
Lost in her thoughts, Peggy walked, lumbered actually, her movements lacking the gracefulness of youth. Her back, bent with age and the burdens that came with it, was seen in rounded shoulders, full hips and legs that were thick from knee to foot, almost without an ankle. Bronze skin, with the texture of a dried apple, hung over thick heavy brows in a round face with high cheek bones and a heavy nose and lips. While she appeared at once both homely and fragile, it was her eyes, small, dark and flashing, that showed her vitality, sharp mind, and reminded any who gazed upon her she was more than a frail woman. In her youth her beauty was known in far off Mobile, but those days were long past. In any case, it was not the past that brought her out on this cold fall night, but rather the future.
Peggy thought about the day, the treaty talks today were long. John Eaton and John Coffee had pressed hard. The Choctaw people were no longer welcome in this their ancestral home. The Na Hullos, white people, they were eager for this land they called Mississippi. One of seven women, Peggy had sat in the center of the talks, while Killihota spoke in favor of this removal to a land in the west that the Na Hollos wanted. The outcry of the others at the treaty at his favor was loud and fervent. The people did not want to agree to this treaty.
“Immoshi said before he died that stopping the Na Hollos was like stopping the setting of the sun” Peggy thought. Had he not died in that far off place of Washington, Peggy surmised, he would have had his heart broken at these talks. Her mother’s brother, Immoshi was known as Pushmataha, and had been one of the strongest Chiefs that the people had had. She only wished that her brothers had his strength and clarity.
As she walked into the clearing, she saw several groups settled around a large fire burning in the center of the field. The snap and pop of burning wood intermingled with the low hum of numerous voices.
Pierre, her eldest son, a tall, lean and lanky man in his mid twenties knelt down next to the fire, absently listening to a Nitakechi, his hawk-like profile visible in the firelight. In his mid fifties, and tall for the people, Nitakechi carried himself with authority, his lean muscles showing his strength and prowess as a warrior and a Chief. Her brothers Tappenahoma and Oka Lah Homma, along with her former husband Charles Juzan, and Molly Nail were also in the group.
She saw Molly shake her head, her face thin and lacking the heaviness of her own. Molly like Pierre showed some of their white father’s characteristics, while in Peggy it had not shown at all. Only a Na Hullo would look at them and see that they were fully Choctaw. Like her half brother Nitakechi, Molly was tall for a woman, retaining a handsome face, thin and graceful, even though she herself had had nine children to Peggy’s ten. Molly was also among the women elders present at the talks today.
Tappenahoma and Oka Lah Homma resembled both each other and their Uncle Pushmataha; not as tall as Nitakechi, they were stockier, their bulk no doubt enhanced by their love of the white man’s whiskey. Black hair with the beginning of grey framed intelligent eyes that lay in long faces with thick lips and large noses rounded at the tip. All of the men were dressed in traditional leather trousers, but unlike Nitakechi, they each wore a military shirt.
Unlike her brothers, whose speech was accompanied by wild hand gestures, Charles Juzan sat calmly. His hair now gray, he was still a handsome man, with fair skin, blue eyes, and a thin aristocratic face. Born of French parents, Charles had lived most of his life among the people.
As Peggy joined them, she wondered not what the night would bring, but rather how long it would take to get there.
Pierre stood “Mother”
She nodded her head in acknowledgment, but addressed instead Nitakechi, “What have I missed.”
“Not much at this point.” Nitakechi replied “So far we have been discussing only what the commissioners Eaton and Coffee said today. Tell me what is your opinion of today? You have been living among the Na Hullos, what do they think of this treaty?”
Peggy smiled, showing teeth yellow and worn. Although in the white man’s world Nitakechi was not considered a relative, among the Choctaw they were of the same moeity and clan, making them relatives of a sort. The white men at the talks today thought the presence of the seven elder women a formality, not realizing that although they did not mark the paper of these treaties, they had just as much to say in these talks.
“Pushmataha said we couldn’t win this. We can stall and talk, but ultimately we must agree” she said, the sorrow in her voice. “I fear what this means for our people, but I also realize, we have no choice. The Na Hullos have been hammering for it. The leaders in Jackson have been writing to the Father in Washington, to press the issue. It is why they passed the most recent laws, they intend on forcing us to agree.”
Charles cleared his throat, “It is likely the people of Alabama will follow suit. Now that the territory in Florida is part of the United States, even more settlers have been arriving. With the Creeks recent actions, it is likely the settlers will call for the military to force them to move. They fear another massacre like Fort Mims.”
Oka Lah Homma, like his brother and Nitakechi sneered. No love was lost for the Creek. For years in his youth the Creek and Choctaw had raided each other and gone to war, as a result, his mother’s family had been killed. “We helped in the last war with the Creeks, why would they treat the Choctaw the same as those who murder their people? We have never killed the whites. We have only been their friend.”
Charles shook his head, “Yes the Choctaws are known for peace, but the settlers are pressing hard. If we fail to agree, the Choctaw may end up on the receiving end of the army this time.”
Nitakechi nodded, “Greenwood Leflore and David Folsom are over there, I wonder exactly what they think they can get out of this.”
Peggy shook her head, those fools, she thought. An armed group of Leflore and Folsom’s followers had arrived at the trading house intending to attack the followers of Moshulatubbee, Chief of another district. Nitakechi and others had supported Moshulatubbee and it was only by chance that the nation hadn’t disintegrated into a civil war. Unlike others of their age, these two felt it was their right to question and criticize their elders. That the United States recognized them was a problem, mostly because Peggy didn’t believe they necessarily had the good of the people in their hearts. Folsom, who was a staunch supporter of the missionaries was pressing hard not to remove, and Greenwood, she had heard, had written the government saying he could guarantee a removal, what other terms he suggested no one knew. That the two were allies, while seeming on opposite sides was strange, only if one didn’t consider that Greenwood was making appearances that he was not in favor of removal.
When these talks started, Greenwood’s outrage at not being recognized as the sole Chief, a fallacy he had created, had caused disruptions. It was Gaines who had smoothed things over. That the commissioners had allowed the inclusion of Nitakechi, Moshulatubbee and others, now considered by some no longer to hold their positions, was only owed to Gaines. Greenwood had not been pleased.
“I have heard Greenwood has his own agenda, and that David is being led by the missionaries” Pierre spoke up. “Folsom isn’t pleased that the missionaries weren’t allowed on the treaty grounds.”
Two men, Robert M. Jones and James McDonald approached the group. Brothers among the Choctaws, the two men were children of sisters. Both educated, they were among the new generation of Choctaws. McDonald had spent years in the Na Hullo capital studying their law. He had recently moved to Jackson to be near his mother and nephew.
“Aunt” Robert Jones said as he approached. A grandson of her father, the term Aunt was more an honor than a reality. In her people, her father’s relatives weren’t really hers. Jones was a short barrel of a man, with a thin nose, high cheek bones, and fine features. If his skin wasn’t as dark as her own, he may have passed for a Na Hullo. He was accompanied by another of her sons, Jimmy a gangly youth, who had his father’s eyes and nose, and her coloring. “With your brother’s permission, I am taking Jimmy with me. We have agreed he will go to the Academy with the other boys in a few weeks.”
Peggy nodded. Such was the way of the Choctaw. Her brother Tappenahoma was in charge of her children. Her first husband Charles, having lived with the Choctaw and traded with them understood this, but her second husband James Trahern had not. A lawyer from Virginia, he had moved to Jackson along with his brothers William and Wesley. Both Wesley and James had recently died, and their younger brother William was nothing like either of them.
Ambitious, William Trahern was living in the large plantation home of his brother Wesley, and in the guise of handling his brother’s estates, he was keeping the properties that both James and Wesley had acquired from their widows and children. William Trahern didn’t have much use for his brother’s Indian relatives, which included Peggy and her two sons Jerry and Jimmy.
“Moshulatubbee has arranged with the commissioners time for stickball games tomorrow” Robert M. Jones told the group. “He has asked that after the games if you would meet with him and his nephews to discuss the demands of the talks.”
“Of course, after we beat you at stickball” Tappenahoma answered. The rest laughed and nodded. Valor in battle was proof of a warrior among the people, but excelling at stickball was a close second. Competition among the different villages and districts, and other tribes was fierce, and no Choctaw would admit his team was inferior to another.
“Enough talk of the Na Hullo’s and these talks” Peggy said, “Let’s eat, and tomorrow we will see who is the best at stickball.”
So should that be the prologue or the first chapter. Here is the other chapter that will either be the first chapter or the prologue.
Kunsha Tikpi, Choctaw Nation
Nakshopa Hanan , Little Wild Eagle, his little round hands secure in those of Yakpa Hushi , Happy Bird, and Nahotima, She Who Seeks and Gives, toddled on chubby brown legs towards the pool of cool water. Trees blocked the sunlight, leaving only dappled patches of yellow on the cool dirt below. The clear water of the pool was created from the stream by grey white boulders carpeted with fluffs of bright green moss. The soft doe eyes of Happy Bird were alert to the surroundings, watching for cougar, bear or other predators. Fast approaching womanhood, her figure hinted at curves that were almost hidden by the soft hide of the shapeless dress she wore. White beadwork decorated the hem and the neckline, its sleeves loose hitting her just above the elbow. Soft shoes also of hide were laced to her knees, meeting the hem of her dress. Had it been cool a fur would have been wrapped around to keep her warm. As the day was unseasonably warm, she walked with all the dignity of one who perceives herself as an adult, unprotected from the elements.
Her sister Nahotima was similarly costumed, though the decoration was lacking, her dress recently made by her mother from a deer hide her father had brought home. A few years younger, Nahotima had cheeks full and chubby rather like a chipmunk. Her hair plaited into two braids shone blue black. At the cusp between childhood and adolescence, finding herself responsible for Little Wild Eagle, her baby brother, had given a spring to her step.
The hunters had had a successful hunt. Tonight would be a great celebration. There would be a great feast the meat was being roasted over fires. The smell was tantalizing after a summer consisting mainly of the corn, squash and other bounty their mother grew, both girls looked forward to the meat. Needing to help with the preparations the girls were sent off with instructions to keep him out of the way.
Little Wild Eagle laughed and splashed at the edge of the pool when the first cry was heard.
“What was that?” Nahotima spoke, as she quickly grabbed Little Wild Eagle, throwing him on her hip.
In the distance war cries mingled with the cries and screams of women and children. Happy Bird looked around quickly. Though in reality still a child, she knew that raids upon villages by other tribes, especially the Creek were not uncommon. Any and all who were in the way would be slaughtered or captured. If captured a woman or child would be a slave, and sometimes, if lucky, adopted. A man would be tortured. Frightened, her heart hammering as fast as a hummingbirds wings, Happy Bird knew they weren’t safe this close to the village.
“Quickly now,” she took a handful of mud and rubbed it all over the face of her brother and sister, and then her own. “See that circle of bushes, hide and be quiet!”
Happy Bird rushed into the center of a nearby set of bushes, thick and dense, she could easily hide herself, and Nahotima took Little Wild Eagle and did the same. There was no need to silence Little Wild Eagle with her hand. From the time they were infants Choctaws were trained to be quiet, and make no cries while hanging from their cradle board. Her arm around his little round body, Little Wild Eagle almost thought it was a game; however, Nahotima was breathing fast and shallow and he felt her heart beating fast against his back. Not old enough to understand why, he knelt in the bushes quiet and frightened.
After several hours, the moon now in the sky, they crept out from their refuge. The screams and war cries were silent. In the distance, the orange glow of several fires could be seen.
“Stay here.” Happy Bird whispered. “I will give the call of the mockingbird when I return. If you hear anything else, hide. When it is safe take Little Wild Eagle and go to Kunsha, tell them of what has happened. Find father’s brother, the Red Shoes, he will keep you safe.”
Eyes wide, Nahotima nodded. Her heart still beat fast in her chest. She found no matter how hard she tried, she could not keep her body from shaking.
Happy Bird crept silently toward the village. She found the mutilated bodies, their heads bloody, their eyes staring blankly. None of the hide shelters remained. Everywhere there was death and destruction. Her eyes burned from the smoke, and unshed tears. Finding some unspoiled food she snatched it, and ran back to her sister.
“They are dead. The village is burned. There is nothing to return to.” Happy Bird’s voice was dull and listless. “We must get to Kunsha, tell them, so we can come back and give them their cry.”
She handed some berries and dried meat to Nahotima and Little Wild Eagle. The spare meal did little to assuage their hunger, but there was nothing else. Now was not the time to cry. She would do that when she told her clan, then and only then could she mourn her parents and other family members. Their scanty meal finished, Nahotima and Little Wild Eagle looked at her.
The full moon above was the only light to guide them on the five mile journey through a forest with thick green undergrowth. With no weapons, or light, Happy Bird knew that the predators or even the Creeks may be hidden from view. They may not be safe from harm, but they had no choice, they could only flee to Kunsha and the safety of their clan. For with the people, clan was family. Although he was not a relative, her father’s brother would help them, or perhaps, other members of their own clan would take them in. Without a male relative of their mother’s, they no longer had anyone to look out for them, but this was the least of her worries.
Looking to the night sky for direction, Happy Bird headed off to the direction in which she knew Kunsha lie. Nahotima and Little Wild Eagle followed.