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Little Moon
by Geary Smith, Choctaw descendent

Author's Note: This is a story written for 8-13 year olds. It is based on a real story told to me by my grandmother, Ms. Gussie Daniels, concerning her father, "Papa Bill" Daniels. I thought it would be a good idea to write about my ancestors, not only for my own daughters, but to help bring a new cultural experience to many other children.

Every summer, around the middle of July, Jessica Beth would spend two weeks with her grandmother. One day she came across an old faded picture of her grandmother when she was 10 years old.

"Who is this funny looking man holding you "Big Momma?" asked Jessica.

"Thatís my father," replied her "Big Momma". "I called him "Papa Bill", but, I never knew his real Choctaw Indian name."

That was when I first learned about "Papa Bill", and the tale of the "Trail of Tears."

Little Moon's Story

I was born in November around midnight, in a little teepee that my mother had made with her own hands, out of buffalo hides. It was snowing outside and a half moon was shining in the blue still midnight sky. "You will be called "Little Moon," said my grandfather. My grandfather was the medicine man for our tribe. And, the moon was very important to the Choctaw Indians. Besides the light of the moon, that we used to hunt by at night, we would also use it to keep track of the time and seasons. As a little boy, I would help my mother gather crops. I would spend time talking with my mother, while cutting up the buffalo meat into small chucks, then adding vegetables into a big pot. As a young boy, I would spend hours and sometimes days alone, with nothing but my knife, and bow and arrow, hunting.

"Always leave the land as you found it," said my grandfather before I went hunting.

I loved the outdoors and the smell of "Mother" Earth. "We are all part of "Mother" Earth," said my grandfather. "We are all living in harmony and connected to each other, and the land."

It wasnít very long that I had developed into an excellent hunter and scout, something that I would come to depend on heavily later in life. It was after a big Pow-Wow, or celebration, that my grandfather told the tribe of his vision.

"We as a people will be taken on a horrible journey," said my grandfather. "However, it will make us stronger as a people."

Well, several days later, on November 1, 1831, when I was 10 years old, the white soldiers came and removed us from our homes. I had hatred and violence in my heart being forced to move away from the land that I loved so dearly. I had to help my grandmother pack her things, that she had loved and cherished as a small girl. Some of my familyís most precious relics were left behind, and were lost forever and forever. I was sadden to witness such brutality and treatment by the army soldiers. It was raining when I helped my mother load on the first steamboat. I will never forget all of the tears as the people looked back at their homes for the very last time.

"Why donít we fight?" I asked my father.

"There has been enough fighting and bloodshed."

Many of the Choctaw Indians didnít even have warm blankets, or enough food for the long trip. And, I witness many of the young children were barefoot, as the soldiers ordered them onto the steamboats.

"Why do we have to leave our homes?" I heard a young boy asked his father.

"The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek," replied his father.

I was on the steamboat called the Reindeer, along with about two hundred other Choctaw Indians. I remember the strong smell of coal oil that was coming from one of the cargo bin. The Reindeer was an old steamboat that had been used by the army to carry food and supplies. I didnít think we could all fit onto such a tiny space, but we were force to huddle together. After about two days of travel along the Arkansas River, the Reindeer came to an abrupt stopped. I unloaded off and to a small camp area near the river.

"We need this boat!" shouted one of the soldiers. "We need to transport supplies to our soldiers, instead of transporting dirty Indians."

I still remember the feeling from hearing those hateful words. My hatred for the soldiers grew every day. But, I still had to help my family and the others as much as possible to survive.

I remember the snow coming down that night, and the freezing temperature. I tried to comfort and alleviate the suffering of the others as best that I could, but it was so many. I witness hundreds of men and women, some were my relatives and friends, die of Pneumonia, Dysentery, Whooping Cough, Pellagra, Tuberculosis and just plain exposure to the cold weather. After about three weeks, the burial was like nothing I have ever seen. I helped dig the graves until all of those that had died were given a proper burial. I will remember forever, standing there in the cold, looking at rows of make shift headstones. I thought about the meaning of a human life, and the brutality of one person towards another.

Two days later, help finally arrived, and I helped some of the local people of Monroe carry some food consisting of corn, dried beans, pumpkins and onions, as well as, some additional tents and blankets. After a long hard trek, I finally reached my destination, in what is now Southern Oklahoma. However, out of the 20,000 Choctaw Indians that were transported, only 7,000 survived the ordeal. Thatís why the path that I traveled is now called the "Trails of Tears". I think back, about all of the death and hardships, I had to overcome in my quest for independence and freedom. I grew into a tall man, with broad shoulders, and was a scout and sharp shooter for the army. The soldiers changed my Choctaw name of "Little Moon" to Bill Daniels. I helped guide the early settlers of Texas and Oklahoma territories. And, I went on to be a leader of my tribe, and teacher of our history to generations to come.

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