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by Geary Smith, Choctaw descendent
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.
|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.|
"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,
"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
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
"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
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