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Rivers of War: Snippet Forty

       Last updated: Monday, March 28, 2005 10:00 EST



THE RIVERS OF WAR – snippet 40:

    CHAPTER 17

    June 28, 1814 Oothcaloga

    “Of course we had to bring our sister with us,” James Rogers said firmly. “She needs a better education than she can get with the Moravians.”

    He shot Sam a sly look. “She’d have been furious with us if we hadn’t, seeing as how she insists that you’re her future husband. But how can she manage that—you being a fancy officer now—if she doesn’t get a proper American education?”

    Sam rolled his eyes.

    Tiana was the half sister of the Rogers brothers. He’d met her during the three years he’d lived with John Jolly and his people on their island in the Tennessee River. When he’d first arrived, Tiana had been ten years old and more or less oblivious to the sixteen-year-old white boy who’d dropped into their midst. By the time he’d left, however, she’d been thirteen and he’d been nineteen—and Cherokee girls married young. On the day he left, she’d publicly announced that she’d have him for a husband, when the time came.

    Sam would have laughed it off, except ...Tiana was ferociously strong-willed. John Rogers had laughed, at the time, and Tiana had promptly knocked him off his feet. Even at thirteen, she was a big girl.

    In the weeks that had passed while Sam waited at Oothcaloga—even with such an informal party, the Cherokee notables insisted on lengthy discussions and extensive debates—James Rogers had made it back to John Jolly’s island on the Tennessee. As planned, he’d picked up his brother John, who hadn’t been at the Horseshoe because of a broken foot. Nothing spectacular, in the way of injuries—a horse had stepped on it.

    What Sam hadn’t expected was that he’d bring back his sister, too. But Tiana was here now, sure enough. Packed for travel, and grinning ear to ear.

    Her father was off somewhere, on one of his mysterious—and probably illegal—expeditions. So he hadn’t come. Neither had her uncle John Jolly. Sam’s foster father usually didn’t leave the island in the river where he’d created something of a refuge for his band of Cherokees. But it seemed that Jolly was in support of the notion also, even if—for the same reasons as Major Ridge—he didn’t feel it would be wise for him to go to Washington himself. Jolly was a small chief, but he was still a chief.

    And, besides, his ties to his brother Tahlonteskee were well known, and Tahlonteskee was a major chief—a status he had not lost simply because he’d led his thousand Cherokees to settle in the land across the Mississippi River. The “Western Cherokees,” as they were coming to be known, were still considered by everyone—including themselves—to be part of the Cherokee Nation.

    To Sam’s absolute astonishment, however, Tiana had been accompanied by yet another woman. A woman who was so old that Sam was amazed she’d made the trip at all.

    Nancy Ward. Or Nan’yehi, to use her Cherokee name. The last—and some said, the greatest—of the Cherokee Ghighua. The title was sometimes translated into English as “Beloved Woman,” and sometimes as “War Woman.” However it was translated, the Ghighua occupied an extremely prestigious place among the matrilineal Cherokee, perhaps none more so than Nancy Ward.


    “Leave aside the girl’s claims to be your future wife, Colonneh,” Nancy told him quietly in private, that evening. “That’s as may be—and you could do worse anyway. She’s even good-looking. What’s important is that she’s willing to do it.”

    “She has as much interest in further formal education as a she-bear,” Sam complained. “John Jolly and Captain John practically had to hogtie her to keep her in the Moravian school.”

    The old woman grinned. “Stop exaggerating. She’s not as big as a bear. Not quite. I admit she has something of a she-bear’s temperament. You should have seen her in the fight on the river! Even better than me in my first battle, and I was two years older.

    “And so what? She’ll be placed with Major Ridge’s daughter Nancy, in whatever American school you find for them—and Nancy’s just as strong-willed as Tiana, even if she’s a lot quieter about it. She’ll see to it that Tiana settles down, and even studies.”


    The arguments of Nancy Ward—even the threats and entreaties of Tiana Rogers herself—Sam might have resisted. In truth, the problem wasn’t that he found the prospect of Tiana’s company unpleasant. Rather the opposite, in fact. The girl was good-looking, now that she was sixteen years old—downright beautiful, in fact—and Sam had always appreciated her intelligence and good humor.


    That was the problem. If Sam had intended to make his life among the Cherokee, Tiana would make him a splendid wife. But, he didn’t plan to settle with the tribe. Even before the Horseshoe Bend, Sam’s ambitions had been turned elsewhere.

    Now, with Andrew Jackson’s friendship and patronage, he had the prospect of a career in the political arena, at the national level. Such a career, however, required a suitable wife—which no Cherokee girl, no matter how accomplished, would be considered by proper American society.

    Sam might regret that fact, but a fact it remained nonetheless. And he wasn’t about to dishonor himself by playing with Tiana’s emotions, as tempting as that might be. He’d never be able to look at himself in a mirror again.

    “I don’t know . . .” he muttered feebly.

    “Do it,” Nancy insisted.

    Despite her age, Nancy Ward’s voice was still firm—and her tone, unwavering. That wasn’t surprising, really, given the way she’d first earned her position as Ghighua in the battle of Taliwa.

    Since then, however, she had carved out a reputation as a shrewd diplomat and strategist for the entire Cherokee Nation. Ward was the leader of the women’s council and she had a voice in the general council of the chiefs. For decades now, she’d advocated a policy of trying to find some sort of suitable accommodation with the American settlers, and had proven to be flexible in her methods. No Cherokee doubted her devotion to the nation, but she sometimes left them confused by her subtlety.

    “Do it,” she repeated. Then, giving Sam a considering look through very shrewd eyes, she added: “The girl’s marital ambitions are irrelevant. So are yours, Colonneh. What matters here isn’t Tiana anyway, but Major Ridge’s children. It’s Major Ridge who’s the key. That’s the reason I came down here at all. To talk to him.”

    Sam had wondered about that. The woman normally didn’t leave her home at Chota any longer.

    “You’re not coming with us to Washington, then?” he asked cautiously, doing his best not to let his relief show. As hale and healthy as Nancy was, she was still close to eighty years old, and the trip to the capital would be a long and arduous one.

    “At my age? Don’t be silly.” Nancy chuckled drily. “You’re worrying too much, for a youngster. It’ll work out, well enough. For one thing, I think Ridge’s daughter Nancy is formidable in her own manner. She may even be able to keep Tiana from braining some stupid white girl.”

    The old woman shook her head. “Of which there are a multitude. How did those fools ever let their men shackle them so?”

    Sam rubbed his jaw.

    And that was another problem! White men and Cherokees had radically different notions of the proper place of women. One of the biggest complaints among the crusty and conservative Cherokee shamans, in fact, was that Cherokee women who married white men became unnaturally submissive.

    There was some truth to the charge, too, although few if any Cherokee women would ever be as submissive as most white women were. Sam knew of one Methodist preacher who regularly beat his wife with a horsewhip. The wife was white herself, of course. A wife among the Cherokee would never tolerate such treatment—and, even if she were inclined to, her brothers and uncles and cousins would soon wreak their vengeance on the husband.

    Their actions would be supported by Cherokee law and custom, too. In white society, a woman became essentially her husband’s chattel after marriage. If he divorced her, she would be left penniless and destitute. In Cherokee society, in the event of divorce, the wife kept all the property and the husband went on his way, taking only his personal belongings.

    White Americans were often astonished to learn that a fair number of white women who’d been captured by Indians refused to return to white society after they were “rescued.” But Sam wasn’t, not with his knowledge of the frontier. To be sure, women of America’s eastern gentility would be appalled at the living conditions of the Cherokee, much less the prospect of having a red-skinned husband. But most captured white women were frontier people themselves, and their conditions, living in primitive log cabins, were essentially no better than those of Cherokees.

    The main difference was that while a Cherokee husband was just as likely to get drunk as a white one—probably even more likely, in truth—he wouldn’t beat her.

    Something of his gloomy thoughts must have been evident in his expression. Nancy Ward’s old eyes seem to get a little twinkle in them.

    “Our people are not so different as all that, young Colonneh. Do not forget that I married a white man after Kingfisher died. Bryant Ward, from whom I took my new last name in the American way, and had children by him. It can be done. Even if—” She laughed. “That Scots-Irish man sometimes drove me crazy, the way they will.”

    Scots-Irish. Sam’s own ancestry, as well as Jackson’s and that of most white frontiersmen. A hard people, often a harsh one, shaped by centuries of conflict. As he’d said to the general, not very far removed from barbarism themselves.

    But, like the Indians, always a brave folk. Perhaps, out of that mutual courage, something might be done. Granted, every other characteristic of the two nations worked against what he was trying to accomplish. Pigheadedness, first and foremost. The Scots-Irish even worse than the Cherokee.

    “All right,” he’d sighed. He didn’t really have a choice, anyway. “I’ll give it a try.”


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