Most of the Indians were now gone from Georgia. But the way in which they were removed leaves a bad mark on our state’s history.
—Georgia, by Elmer D. Williams
A knowledge of our State history will result in State pride.
—First Lessons in Georgia History, 1913
We’re rumbling back the other way out Georgia Highway 20 this morning … this time westbound with the intention of ending up at the New Echota historic site north of Calhoun in northwest Georgia.
We blow by a Georgia historical marker while we’re blowing through the Buffington community. I scream … There was a historical marker! Fort Buffington! Anybody want to turn around and read it! I start to mash on the brakes.
Not one word. Not a sound.
Ten seconds later I see a billboard up ahead for a Chick-fil-A restaurant. I look at my watch. We’re okay on time. I’m thinking they might like some breakfast. I scream … Do y’all want to stop at Chick-fil-A!
I thought the noise was going to bust the windows out. Ten minutes later that bus was smelling pretty good.
New Echota is a now just a small patch of land that was once part of a larger territory where Cherokee Indians lived in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and North and South Carolina. New Echota was the capital of the Cherokee nation … but the boys in Washington wouldn’t let you form a nation within a nation … even if you learned English and started acting and working and speaking like them, the white man. Assimilation was happening anyway but was not welcome. Plus, the Cherokees were living on a lot of good cotton-growing land … and some of them were also living on land that contained gold. New Echota was made a state historic site in 1962. It was a farm until then.
I turn the ignition off and opened the barn bus doors and we went inside the park building. It was opened in 1969. We wrecked the gift shop. Spike bought a little toy blow gun with dull-tipped toy darts that actually worked. We watched the fifteen minute film. We walked through the museum. They fought for who was going to be the official person who would remember, before we left, to buy Lurlene a reproduction copy of the Phoenix. I gave the responsibility to Dexter. And then I had to make Spike the assistant to Dexter official remember person because I needed Spike to stop complaining that Dexter was awarded the incredible honor.
The historic site is on a long, flat field on the south side of Georgia Highway 225, just a mile or so east from a furious interstate highway that stretches from south Florida to the Canadian border at Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, in Chippewa County. New Echota was the territory capital for a group of people who were here first … where the Cherokee Phoenix was written, printed, and published … where the Cherokee Supreme Court heard cases … where Cherokees from the nation came and camped and congregated and managed a special society … and where the Treaty of New Echota was signed.
They blow out the doors for the farm buildings where the self-guided tour starts. I’m a little ways behind them and Gary the math teacher is still in the museum, enjoying the calm and quiet.
Spike is rooting around in some ground cover. Very intently.
I ask him what he’s rooting around in the ground cover for.
He says he shot one of his darts at somebody … and missed, however … and the dart landed in this stuff and he can’t find it.
I really try hard to not help him and think that this will teach him a valuable lesson about unrelenting goofiness … but I see the dart and he doesn’t. I really try hard not to lean down and pick it up and give it to him. I remember the kit came with two darts. But something mysterious comes over me and I lean down and pick up the dart and give it to Spike and I feel I can now move on with my life. I ask Spike to put the dart and the blow gun into his pocket and wait until later today when he gets home and shoot his brother’s eye out.
Spike said he would.
Gary catches up to me … the kids are way ahead of us, rampaging from the print shop building to the supreme court building … some are crawling under the buildings because once they discovered the buildings were sitting above the ground on columns of stone I believe they felt the need to crawl under them was irresistible. Obviously.
Gary and I are standing at the site of the Boudinot home, marked at its corners by four large stones. We’re looking at the information easel and the map of the site. I quietly say to Gary that I believe we’re standing exactly where the treaty was signed. I think we’d be standing where the room was.
Gary looked at the easel a little longer and said we are … he said this is the spot … and when you think about it this is where the Trail of Tears essentially began.
It was. It was the exact spot.
We looked around for the kids … and looked around the site around us. So much Georgia and American history. It was palpable. It was cold and overcast and oddly quiet. I felt sad and worn out.
We pull back onto Highway 225 and head west. Across the highway from New Echota is a golf course where Cherokee Indians lived, too. A round of golf, in my experience, is a sort of a trail of tears, too.
Next Entry ... January 8: Digging For Cold