Samual Cloud's Trail of Tears
Samuel Cloud turned 9 years old on the Trail of Tears. Samuel's
Memory is told by his great-great grandson, Michael Rutledge,
in his paper Forgiveness in the Age of Forgetfulness. Michael, a
citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a law student
at Arizona State University.
It is Spring. The leaves are on the trees. I am playing with my
friends when white men in uniforms ride up to our home. My
mother calls me. I can tell by her voice that something is wrong.
Some of the men ride off. My mother tells me to gather my
things, but the men don't allow us time to get anything. They enter
our home and begin knocking over pottery and looking into
everything. My mother and I are taken by several men to where their
horses are and are held there at gun point. The men who
rode off return with my father, Elijah. They have taken his rifle
and he is walking toward us.
I can feel his anger and frustration. There is nothing he can do.
From my mother I feel fear. I am filled with fear, too.
What is going on? I was just playing, but now my family and my
friends' families are gathered together and told to walk at
the point of a bayonet.
We walk a long ways. My mother does not let me get far from her. My
father is walking by the other men, talking in low, angry
tones. The soldiers look weary, as though they'd rather be anywhere
else but here.
They lead us to a stockade. They herd us into this pen like we are
cattle. No one was given time to gather any possessions.
The nights are still cold in the mountains and we do not have enough
blankets to go around. My mother holds me at night to
keep me warm. That is the only time I feel safe. I feel her pull me
to her tightly. I feel her warm breath in my hair. I feel
her softness as I fall asleep at night.
As the days pass, more and more of our people are herded into the
stockade. I see other members of my clan. We children try
to play, but the elders around us are anxious and we do not know
what to think. I often sit and watch the others around me. I
observe the guards. I try not to think about my hunger. I am cold.
Several months have passed and still we are in the stockades. My
father looks tired. He talks with the other men, but no one
seems to know what to do or what is going to happen. We hear that
white men have moved into our homes and are farming our
What will happen to us? We are to march west to join the
Western Cherokees. I don't want to leave these mountains.
My mother, my aunts and uncles take me aside one day. "Your father
died last night," they tell me. My mother and my father's
clan members are crying, but I do not understand what this means. I
saw him yesterday. He was sick, but still alive. It
doesn't seem real. Nothing seems real. I don't know what any of this
means. It seems like yesterday, I was playing with my
It is now Fall. It seems like forever since I was clean. The
stockade is nothing but mud. In the morning it is stiff with
frost. By mid-afternoon, it is soft and we are all covered in it.
The soldiers suddenly tell us we are to follow them. We are
led out of the stockade. The guards all have guns and are watching
us closely. We walk. My mother keeps me close to her. I am
allowed to walk with my uncle or an aunt, occasionally.
We walk across the frozen earth. Nothing seems right anymore. The
cold seeps through my clothes. I wish I had my blanket. I
remember last winter I had a blanket, when I was warm. I don't feel
like I'll ever be warm again. I remember my father's
smile. It seems like so long ago.
We walked for many days. I don't know how long it has been since we
left our home, but the mountains are behind us. Each day,
we start walking a little later. They bury the dead in shallow
graves, because the ground is frozen. As we walk past white
towns, the whites come out to watch us pass. No words are spoken to
them. No words are said to us. Still, I wish they would
stop staring. I wish it were them walking in this misery and I were
watching them. It is because of them that we are walking.
I don't understand why, but I know that much. They made us leave our
homes. They made us walk to this new place we are
heading in the middle of winter. I do not like these people. Still,
they stare at me as I walk past.
We come to a big river, bigger than I have ever seen before. It is
flowing with ice. The soldiers are not happy. We set up
camp and wait. We are all cold and the snow and ice seem to hound
us, claiming our people one by one. North is the color of
blue, defeat and trouble. From there a chill wind blows for us as we
wait by a frozen river. We wait to die.
My mother is coughing now. She looks worn. Her hands and face are
burning hot. My aunts and uncles try to take care of me, so
she can get better. I don't want to leave her alone. I just want to
sit with her. I want her to stroke my hair, like she used
to do. My aunts try to get me to sleep by them, but at night, I
creep to her side. She coughs and it wracks her whole body.
When she feels me by her side, she opens her blanket and lets me in.
I nestle against her feverish body. I can make it
another day, I know, because she is here.
When I went to sleep last night, my mother was hot and coughing
worse than usual. When I woke up, she was cold. I tried to
wake her up, but she lay there. The soft warmth she once was, she is
no more. I kept touching her, as hot tears stream down
my face. She couldn't leave me. She wouldn't leave me.
I hear myself call her name, softly, then louder. She does not
answer. My aunt and uncle come over to me to see what is
wrong. My aunt looks at my mother. My uncle pulls me from her. My
aunt begins to wail. I will never forget that wail. I did
not understand when my father died. My mother's death I do not
understand, but I suddenly know that I am alone. My clan will
take care of me, but I will be forever denied her warmth, the soft
fingers in my hair, her gentle breath as we slept. I am
alone. I want to cry. I want to scream in rage. I can do nothing.
We bury her in a shallow grave by the road. I will never forget that
lonesome hill of stone that is her final bed, as it
fades from my sight. I tread softly by my uncle, my hand in his. I
walk with my head turned, watching that small hill as it
fades from my sight. The soldiers make us continue walking. My uncle
talks to me, trying to comfort me. I walk in loneliness.
I know what it is to hate. I hate those white soldiers who took us
from our home. I hate the soldiers who make us keep
walking through the snow and ice toward this new home that none of
us ever wanted. I hate the people who killed my father and
I hate the white people who lined the roads in their woolen clothes
that kept them warm, watching us pass. None of those
white people are here to say they are sorry that I am alone. None of
them care about me or my people. All they ever saw was
the color of our skin. All I see is the color of theirs and I hate