I’ve spent a good deal of time in recent years contemplating the bloodguilt of America’s treatment of her native people, from wars to removal and beyond. In Chattanooga, this ought to be impossible to ignore. So many of our place names (Chattanooga itself, Chickamauga, Ooltewah, Sequatchie, Catoosa, even Tennessee) were given before a white foot ever came to this area.
And yet, we do a good job of ignoring it.
I live five minutes from the home of the last Cherokee chief before removal. A scant hundred yards from the library branch where I’m typing right now is an historic cemetery, all that remains from a huge mission (named in honor of the great David Brainerd) to the Cherokee that was shuttered in 1838 at the start of the Trail of Tears. Both of these sites are in limited repair, at best, and neither is visited by more than a handful of people any given week. The numerous Civil War sites around here are incredible to behold, with impressive monuments and reenactments to keep the past ever alive before us. We’d rather not remember the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and others we so unceremoniously evicted, though.
This is just a musing, but I have to believe examining our past in this regard will come up in my work in a big way. And its something I want to be sure my children understand and wrestle with (growing up, as they are, on land obtained by high legal crimes).
For now, here are a few pictures of the Brainerd Mission Cemetery I took just a couple of hours ago. What are we losing when we forget. Certainly less than the Cherokee lost, and therein is the problem.
N. B. – Many thanks go to those in the community who have worked to ensure that these sites still exist at all (through securing National Register of Historic Places designation, volunteer work, etc.).
UPDATE: I did find this story of the faithfulness of those who served at the Brainerd Mission to the Cherokee brothers and sisters they so loved.