by Donald E. Sheppard & Mr. Jeremiah Wolfe,
Native American, Eastern Band of Cherokee
Illustrated by Cheryl Lucente
CABEZA DE VACA'S TRAILS Translations
In the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains live a people whose ancestors
came to America thousands of years before Columbus. Ancient tribes had followed
animals over a land bridge from Asia when the oceans were shallow during the Ice-age.
Tribes hunted large animals with stone tipped spears, then roasted meat and fish over
fires in coastal caves and rustic abodes. Hides were used for clothing,
shoes and blankets. Clans moved down the shorelines with the animals and
gathered wild fruits and vegetables along the way. Fire was carried from
place to place. Sea shells were used for knives, tools
and utensils. Colorful feathers and gems were strung with animal
hide and worn for identity.
When our climate got warmer
the glaciers melted, the oceans rose, smaller animals prevailed and people
moved inland with the oceans. Tropical currents flowed into the Gulf of
Mexico, causing rains which kept the Mississippi River full year round.
Fish and migratory animals ate the foods which grew near the river's bottom
lands and thousands of people settled the Mississippi River. They fanned up its
feeders as the climate got warmer. Various clans gathered to form villages
to protect themselves from others and wild animals. Some in the villages
fished, others hunted, some made blankets and clothes from plants and animals,
and others gathered wild fruits and vegetables. Pottery was made from clay
and seeds were planted in fertile places along the rivers. Houses were
made with wood and covered to keep them dry. Fire places were built and
used to smoke fish and meat for the winter. Crops were gathered and stored
in dry places.
Villages united into networks bordered by natural barriers. Dugout canoes
were invented and networks enlarged into nations of people who shared certain
customs and gestures. Culture grew rapidly with the exchange of news, foods,
clothing, metals, and art. The Cherokee Indians, the upper Tennessee River people,
became one of the nations residing along the Great River System; the Mississippi
and all of its giant tributaries. Other nations were forming along the Great
River's other tributaries: the Ohio, the Upper Mississippi, the Missouri, the Tennessee, the Arkansas and the
Red Rivers. Trade was conducted along the Great River from the Rockies
to the Appalachians and down to the Gulf of Mexico. Large cities grew where
the big tributaries merged. Indian economy focused into the continent,
with Illinois at the center of trade, not outward across the seas, as was
the habit of European nations at the time Columbus discovered America.
The Cherokee Indians lived
along the Tennessee River in the Appalachian Mountains. They thrived in the
bottom lands from Virginia southward. They built their houses in villages,
much like Early American settlers did. Villages were separated by day-long
walks, houses were made of wood and stone, fields were planted, nuts and
berries were gathered, game was cured, tobacco was smoked and the Cherokee
people adhered to high ethical standards. "Fire," the center
of life, became the Cherokee word for "home."
Rivers between the Cherokee
mountains, fed by creeks running from all directions, flowed north and
west into the Great River, the Cherokees' lifeline to other Indian cultures.
A network of roads followed those rivers and streams to connect the Cherokee
villages. Steep mountain gaps limited routing choices so Cherokee roads converged
at certain gaps, just as roads do today in those mountains. Village chieftains
lead and represented the people to the tribe as a whole. The people used the
roads to trade and compete with other villages. They continued to grow and
flourish well after Columbus discovered America, but when Hernando de
Soto followed their roads into their villages in 1540 everything changed.
foreign diseases, horses, whips, swords and vicious dogs to America;
he took women, food and slaves as he went. Interior North America withstood
the onslaught to become the only place in the New World that Spain never
colonized. Spain reacted by blaming American Indians for DeSoto's defeat.
They conceived a prejudice against Indians which others acquired.
Our image of the Devil, a "Red Man with a Spear," was born when
DeSoto died in America. It differs substantially from all previous Old World
"Devil" concepts. It was used to symbolize the American Indians
who resisted Spanish settlement of North America. DeSoto devastated America's
Indians with foreign diseases; his people crippled the survivors with
an enduring prejudice. Our pioneers brought that image with them from
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