An adducing look at the rhetoric of the Indians Removal Act of 1830 and today’s comparatives

The spring session of the U.S. Senate and House was dominated by the debates over the Indian
Removal Act of 1830. The motivations that spawned the Trail of Tears reappears as familiar yet mutated
form in today’s political theatre. Jay provides a citizen’s perspective of the then and now.

Thank you, Jack, and thank you for putting a small device on here that will shock me when I get to the 1 and a half hour mark. Oh my goodness, I’m going to rank a few things while I’m up here just for the fun of it, and I think I’m going to hold this microphone. Can everyone hear me okay? Can you hear me all right?

My grandfather would be upset with me if I did not say “O-si-yo.” But David Hampton would be upset if I didn’t say “Hey cousins!” Let’s see the hands of those of you who have descended from The Stills, the Binges, the Adairs, and the Stars. Let’s just see those hands. Okay, keep those up. I’m going to want to know where you are because I’ll need to borrow gas money before I get out of here today, and that’s what we cousins do.

Indeed, my name is Jay Hannah. Now, Hannah is a good Scottish name, much like Adair, much like Ward, much like Ross, much like many of the intermarried Scots among the Cherokees. But I was told by Lella Lusee from East Payne, she said, “You know Jay, down in our part of the country we say Hannah by honey.” And they sort of do their hand this way. I don’t know why she meant “We want to chop off while you’re talking” or what. She said, “D Adair County, D Adair County.” I am from D Adair County and it is my honor to be here today. There is a comfort in coming home. And while the curvature of time changes both the landscape as well as the faces of neighbors and maybe a few cousins, the poet reminds us that though much is taken, much abides.

From this very geographic point where you have assembled here today, where we’ve assembled, one can explore the physical memory of place. This cusp of the Ozark Plateau was more than just an entry point for the Old Settlers tossed into Lovely’s Purchase back in 1828. Ten years later, it would be the portal for the newly minted Cherokee Nation as outlined in the Treaty of New Echota on that December 9th in 1835. I love the fact that the gravity of place has meaning for us, past, present, and indeed in the future as well. But a clear understanding of the past does not guarantee a clear view of the future. However, there are clues. As is written in the scripture, we see beyond the glass darkly.

The mortal coil of chronology is limited to living within our prescribed time allocation. And while we are too often diluted in our ideas of what is to come as being clear and crisp in our thinking, the actuality is that we are granted a less illuminated understanding of what will be. Maybe that’s why this organization exists. Maybe that’s the very reason that so many of you have traveled from so far away to be a part of this Trail of Tears Association conference. Perhaps we are all in search of closure. Perhaps we’re all in search of a deeper meaning of who we were before and after the Trail of Tears. Maybe, just maybe, we strain to hear distant echoes to prevent future incursions, societal and political. It’s in these trespasses that, if left unattended, might corrode away the Creator’s designed purpose for us as a nation, as clans, as communities, as families, and more so as individuals.

Many have come home just as surely as the saugh, the geese, have made their southerly flight to evade the cold northern winter. You know, I read once that ornithologists believe that geese have an internal clock in their brain that measures how much sunlight there is each day of the season. And as the days grow shorter during late summer or in early fall, that clock has an alarm that says it is time for geogin. It’s time for us to go. Families join to make larger flocks. Our families, whether they were Cherokees, whether they were Muscogee, whether they were Creek, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Seminoles, those and tribes unnamed, you see, they gathered together to make larger flocks and they made their journey as well. Families joined to make flocks. I believe that culturally we too have an internal clock.

A great Cherokee culturalist, Benny Smith, a descendant of Redbird Smith who led the Keetoowah movement at the time of the allotment, taught me that in ancient times, Cherokees would come together in the fall. It was a season after the harvest of crops and a time to take into account the past seasons in preparation for a new one. I believe it was a time of gratitude to Unetlanvhi, the Creator, for His blessings and a time, most importantly, of accountability. A time to prepare for changes caused perhaps by happenstance or maybe by design. It was a time to prepare and make ready for the seasons ahead. And he taught me, Benny taught me, that these times we would be reminded of our purpose. The phrase was “kalon kalon.” It means “As a whole they live.” “As a whole they live.” I believe still this is the Creator’s designed purpose for us, to live as a whole.

I was born two miles from here. Yeah, yeah, just two miles now. It was over to the east. It was a hot July day in 1955, and my granny looked at my mom and she said, “Bobby, we can’t birth that baby here at the house. We’re thrashing oats and I’ve had to cook all day. You’re going to have to go into town.” My sister and I were the first of our family to be born in a hospital, and I came into the world in a delivery room at Siloam Springs Memorial Hospital just two miles from here, which was built on the old Shotoka grounds. Jack Baker, the Shotoka grounds. My sister will tell you that’s why I like telling stories. While my mother’s people were decidedly Aronian, my father’s parents were both born citizens of the Cherokee Nation prior to statehood in the nation’s old Flint District. I was raised on the Ward Indian allotment farm four miles from where we are seated right now, just to the west of here, in an area known as Mosley’s Prairie. Now that’s with a possessive s, not a plural, named for John Mosley who was an intermarried white among the Old Settlers, and we are told he had a penchant for stealing horses, and therefore he was dammed from the Prairie. And all I can say is, isn’t it odd how names stick?

From where you are seated, we could drive six miles to the south to what is now the town of Watts, and we would find the original site of Fort Wayne, established in 1838 by Colonel R.B. Mason of the First Dragoons. He had a fellow traveling with him by the name of Boone, Nathan Boone, son of Daniel. Yes, that Boone. And they established that fort because these Aronian, just a few hundred yards from here. So with all these Indians coming, we’re going to need protection there at the confluence of Ballard Creek and Illinois River. The conditions were so untenable that the fort had to be relocated 20 miles north of here to Beattie’s Prairie. Cherokee troops under my uncle, Stand Watie—I will spare you of the greats today, the great-great-great part—but my uncle Stand Watie, they would occupy that abandoned military post. I think it was abandoned about 1842, but those that were Cherokees who took up the sword against the north assembled there at that abandoned fort. And yes, Beattie’s Prairie, a place that you know because it too was one of the terminus sites and depot at the trails end.

You know, if you drove just a few miles north of that site, and depending upon your Cherokee lineage, you could either pay homage to or dispense scorn at the grave of Stand Watie, Major Ridge, and his son John Ridge who sleep

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