Monday, January 13, 2014

What is Truth?

Recently one of my daughters shared a 'saying' on Facebook that has been in my thoughts since I commented that day. It wasn't the first time I had reflected on the idea, just the most recent.


I can't quote it exactly, but it was something like "Just because it's popular doesn't make it true". And that, my friends is very true. It started me thinking, not for the first time, about all the ideas over the centuries society has declared true—ideas that turned out to be very wrong.


I could write a whole blog just on that—and sometime I might—but today I want to talk about just one such happening.


I've been reading a lot recently, some books for just fun, some books on interests of mine, and some as research for a possible sequel to BETRAYAL ON THE BRAZOS, my romance/western/mystery to be published by Soul Mate Publishing this summer. Which character shall I base a sequel on? What direction will it take? What time period should I use? Some of my reading is exploring these questions, and one of those books related a situation in which society treated a whole segment of people in a manner most people at the time thought was wise and true. I think differently. See what you think.


This winter has been especially hard on people in America. The weather has been severe, with snow deep and temperatures colder than usual. Now, imagine yourself and your family—your whole family—walking 900 miles in this snow and ice. This winter is the 175th anniversary of the Trail of Tears: the forced removal of 18,000 Cherokee Indians from eastern Tennessee, northwest North Carolina, northeast Alabama, and northwest Georgia. Seven thousand soldiers rounded them up, put them in stockades, burned their homes to the ground, dug up graves looking for gold and silver, then marched them 900 miles through Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas until they reached "Indian Territory", the place that is now called Oklahoma.


Society thought they were doing the 'right thing'. They were sure the 'truth' was that Native Americans were immoral heathens, hell-bent on murdering virtuous white people. Society thought it was noble that the army didn't just kill all the Cherokees, and 'gave' them new land that they could possess and live on "as long as rivers run and grass grows". Some promise, huh?


It may be a surprise to some people today to learn that the Cherokee were a civilized group. They had towns and lived in houses, not teepees. They farmed and raised cattle and various crops. They had a written language and published their own newspaper, which was printed in both Cherokee and English. In many instances they came to the aid of whites when needed. In my own husband's genealogy, the Cherokee chief Nancy Ward gave orders that  corn be given to his ancestor when a party of white men in a canoe came asking for help to survive the winter.


Many of the Eastern Band of Cherokees hid out, and therefore avoided the Trail of Tears, but in the decades that followed, some of these families decided to join their relatives in Indian Territory. That included ancestors from my side of the family and my husband's (separately).


On my side, the Jacob Knight family came to northwest Arkansas just after the Civil War and visited back and forth with family members who had settled previously in northeast Oklahoma. Although they didn't march on the Trail of Tears, they seemed to have followed the same route, since at least one of the older children stayed in Kentucky when they came through there.


On my husband's side, Naomi Cherokee married a white man, Charles Brumbelow and they started west. When they paused in McNairy County, Tennessee, an older daughter, Louvenia, stayed there and married John Gillentine Gooch. They were my husband's ancestors. The rest of the family proceeded west, where they stayed in north Arkansas during the Civil War, then proceeded to Texas. Naomi didn't make it that far. She died on the trip.


During the Trail of Tears, 4,000 people died along the way and were buried in shallow graves along the way. Most of them were children and the elderly. Could you walk 900 miles? In the winter? Not me. And I would have had to have gone. No excuses.


All this is recounted in WALKING THE TRAIL, by Jerry Ellis, who walked the trail on the 150th anniversary. He walked it in reverse; that is, he started in Tahlequah, Oklahoma—the Cherokee capitol—and traced the trail back to his home in Alabama. The scenes in Tahlequah brought back a lot of memories for me. That's where my grandparents lived after my grandfather retired from the oil fields. We used to visit Tahlequah every summer, where I would stretch out and enjoy the cool wood floor as I listened to my step-grandmother's stories of the ghost who scared her and her friends who spent the night in the old Murrell house when she was young.


So what does all this have to do with coincidences?


You'll have to read WALKING THE TRAIL to find out. When you do, I think you'll agree with Albert Einstein. And I hope you'll think more about whether most people believing a certain way makes it true.