My family always talked about the fact that my Great Grandmother Martha was full-blooded Cherokee. But no one seemed to know much about her. Most of my questions about her went unanswered.
A cousin spent a lot of time researching her history and was able to locate her name on the Cherokee Rolls. My own ancestry searching yielded a small amount of information – she was born in 1828, somehow migrated to the Appalachian Mountains and eventually married my great-grandfather William, a farmer, son of an Irish immigrant. William and Martha raised five children together on the farm.
I study her tintype photograph…the high cheekbones, the dark, straight hair, the inscrutable staring eyes. As a child, I was told I looked like her. There is still so much I don’t know. How and when did her family find their way from North Carolina to West Virginia? Did they escape from the infamous Trail of Tears? Between four and eight thousand Cherokee died on that march, mostly women, children and the elderly.
Martha would have been ten years old at the beginning of that relocation of sixteen thousand Indians from North Carolina to Oklahoma. How terrified a ten-year-old would have been, to be ripped from her home, stripped of her possessions, then watch it all go up in flames.
How strong she would have had to be, to survive.
I wish, oh, how I wish, I knew the rest of her story.
SHARON CANFIELD DORSEY is an award-winning author and poet. She has published four children’s books…Herman the Hermit Crab and the Mystery of the Big, Black, Shiny Thing; Revolt of the Teacups; Buddy and Ballerina Save the Library; Buddy the Bookworm Rescues the Doomed Books; a book of poetry, Tapestry; and a memoir, Daughter of the Mountains. Her poems are also included in an anthology, Captured Moments.