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Rivers of War: Snippet Thirty Six

       Last updated: Wednesday, March 23, 2005 10:00 EST



THE RIVERS OF WAR – snippet 36:

    Oothcaloga Cherokee Territory, in northern Georgia

    “No, Colonneh. If I go, it will seem like an official delegation. And no such thing has been approved by the council.” Major Ridge smiled wryly. “You lived among us. You know how quick one chief is to suspect another of conniving with the Americans. If I go with you to Washington—and especially if I agree to anything while I’m there—I’ll be accused of being bribed when I come back.”

    Sam tried to come up with some way to argue the point, and couldn’t. It was true enough. On both counts, for that matter, since it wasn’t simply a matter of suspicion. Bribing chiefs was a standard method by which the United States sowed division among the Indian tribes, and bent them to its will.

    They were standing on the porch of Major Ridge’s big house. Suppressing a sigh, Sam let his gaze wander for a moment across the landscape.

    It was a prosperous-looking countryside, with its well-tended orchards and grazing cattle. Sam could see a few signs left of the depredations committed by the marauding Georgia militiamen, but not many. That wasn’t surprising, given that Major Ridge had been home for weeks before Sam arrived, and had something like twenty slaves to do the work of repairing the damage.

    Sam had wound up being delayed in Fort Jackson for some time before he set off on his expedition. In the meantime, James Rogers had returned to his uncle John Jolly’s island on the Tennessee, with Sequoyah and John Ross in tow. James had wanted his brother John to join them on the expedition to Washington, and Ross wanted to visit his family in nearby Chatanuga before they left. Especially his wife, Quatie, whom he’d only married a few months ago.

    They’d probably all be on their way back here, by now. They’d agreed to meet up at Major Ridge’s plantation before starting off for the capital.

    Alas, it looked as if the main reason Sam had set Oothcaloga as the meeting place had become a moot point. Major Ridge’s refusal to accompany them had been stated in a friendly manner, but very firmly nonetheless.

    Ridge wasn’t considered asgá siti for nothing. If the man said “no,” the word meant “no.”

    “However,” Major Ridge continued, “if John Ross and Sequoyah go with you, as you say they plan to, I will promise to pay careful attention to what they tell me when they return.”

    He said nothing about James and John Rogers. That didn’t surprise Sam. The two Rogers brothers were excellent warriors, but neither of them had a reputation for anything other than their fighting skills.

    “John Ross and Sequoyah have earned enough respect for their words to carry weight, when they return,” said Ridge. “But neither of them is a recognized chief, so we will avoid that problem. That will be better all the way around, Colonneh. We will get the advantage of a good discussion in the council, without the chiefly rivalries and suspicions. Trust my judgment, if you would.”

    Sam nodded. Started to, rather. The nod broke off into a frozen little gesture when he saw that the smile on Major Ridge’s face had become very wry.

    “However, there is a way you can keep me directly connected to the situation, without requiring my own participation.”

    Ridge turned and beckoned to someone who had been lurking inside the house, so silently that Sam hadn’t known they were there. Two young boys stepped forward onto the porch, followed by a girl. The boys looked to Sam to be about twelve years old. The girl, perhaps two years older.

    Ridge placed his hand on the shoulder of one of the boys. “This is my son, who is known as John Ridge, though his Cherokee name is Skahtlelohkee. And the girl is my daughter, whose American name is Nancy.” His other hand came down upon the shoulder of the second boy. “And this is my nephew Gallegina—or Buck Watie, as he is often called. All three of them have been studying at Spring Place, at the school set up by the Gambolds.”

    Sam knew of the school at Spring Place, although he’d never visited it himself. The Reverend John Gambold and his wife were Moravian missionaries who’d emigrated to the United States from Germany. Since then, they’d devoted themselves to bringing learning and the Christian faith to Indians on the southwest frontier.

    He had a bad feeling he knew what was coming.

    Sure enough, Ridge continued:

    “They came home just recently. The Gambolds are fine people, but I would like to place the children in a school which is more substantial, where they can continue their education in the American manner. Since you are going to Washington anyway, I wish you to do me the favor . . .”

    So now I’m a nursemaid, Sam thought sourly.

    He couldn’t refuse, of course, given the nature of his mission. If he was to get any significant number of Cherokees to return to rejoin General Jackson’s forces, Major Ridge would be the key to his success. Most of the other Cherokee chiefs were still too furious at the wreckage the Georgian militia had made of their homes and lands—while they’d been down in Alabama fighting as Jackson’s allies, no less!—to even consider joining Sam’s proposed expedition to Washington, much less volunteer to fight any further in the war.

    Gloomily, he wondered what else could go wrong.

    With the Rogers brothers involved . . .

    A lot.


    By sundown, Tiana and her companions had made it to a small island where they decided to rest for the night. The isolation gave them the advantage of enjoying a campfire. No revenge-seeking Chickasaws could attack them there without making some noise crossing the water—and Tiana’s brothers had even better hearing than she did.

    “Wait’ll Colonneh sees you!” James laughed, as he fed fuel to the fire. He was grinning widely. “He thought you were joking when you told him, three years ago, that you’d have him for a husband.”

    “I was joking,” Tiana said, with as much dignity as she could manage.

    Was I? she wondered.

    It was hard to remember. The difference between a sixteen-year-old and a thirteen-year-old girl was enormous. At the time, Sam Houston had seemed as glamorous and exciting a husband as any Tiana could imagine. Exotic, yet familiar enough with Cherokee life to make such a union seem possible. Not to mention witty, intelligent, good-natured. Even good-looking.

    But she wasn’t sure, anymore. She was a lot more practical-minded than she’d been at the age of thirteen. And Sam Houston had been gone from John Jolly’s island for those three years, back to the American society he’d come from. So she’d had time to think about things without the distraction of his presence.

    Marriage to a white American certainly wasn’t out of the question. Her own mother had done it, after all. But whether it would be successful or not depended mostly on the man’s ambitions.

    The ambitions of Captain Jack Rogers had been those of an adventurer, who liked the frontier and intended to stay there. “Hell-Fire Jack,” they called Tiana’s father, and for good reason. He didn’t care in the least about the good opinion of proper society, as Americans figured it. If they chose to call him a “squaw man,” he’d return the sneer with plenty of his own. What did he care? It wasn’t as if he was planning to run for office, or get appointed to some prestigious position.

    Sam Houston, on the other hand, had different ambitions. Tiana was pretty sure of that. And whatever his other qualities, he was not a man to let sentiment get in the way of his goals. He wouldn’t do anything immoral to advance himself, as he saw it—and Sam had a pretty good sense of morals. But he’d stay focused on his purpose, and not let himself get diverted by passion or desire.

    Something of her skeptical thoughts must have shown in her face, even in the dim light of the campfire. Old Nancy Ward leaned over and asked her softly: “So why did you come, girl?”

    Tiana shifted her broad shoulders. “I don’t know. I guess I just needed to find out. Or I’d wonder about it for years.”

    “Good reason.”

    “You think so?” Tiana was genuinely interested in the old woman’s opinion. Nancy Ward was a Ghighua. The Cherokee word had several translations into English. “War Woman” was one of them. But Tiana just thought of her as “wise.”

    The old woman smiled, wisely. “Oh, yes. Best reason there is to do anything, I sometimes think.”


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