Duwega fidgeted so much he could hardly get his chores done. The greatest day of his life occurred tomorrow and he couldn’t wait. Their tradition called for his father to send him out hunting alone for the first time. Duwega spent the morning with his grandfather, as they fine honed his arrows. His grandfather carefully demonstrated how to chip away a flint stone until its sharp edges could slice a tomato. They checked each arrowhead closely. Now he rushed to help his mother and father in the field preparing the soil for planting.
“Tomorrow you will become a great hunter,” his father said as he hoed the ground. “You will have success because you have learned well the Cherokee ways.”
“Yes, son, you have proven your abilities and have obeyed your elders. This gives you the right to go into the mountains alone and bring back food for the family,” his mother said placing a seed into the new row. “Watch carefully as many white hunters are beginning to move into the area. Stay away from them and don’t confront them if you see them.”
“That’s right, son. Like your name “the lizard” move quietly through the woods disturbing no one.” His father wiped the sweat from his brow. “Don’t stay more than three days. If you are gone longer, we will come looking for you.”
After eating with the family, Duwega rested on his bed, but he couldn’t sleep. He rehearsed repeatedly the moment he jogged into the woods. His bow over his shoulder and his arrows ready in their quiver, he sliced through the trees like a still breeze. He glided over the leaves as a lizard, not even the turkeys or deer heard him.
Sleep escaped him while he listened for the rooster. When he heard the first crow, he slipped out of the house and into the cool air of the North Georgia Mountains. He looked around at the quiet village and ran toward the North Star.
As Duwega made his way toward the mountains, a Cherokee runner came into the village and went to the chief’s house. Soon the chief came out of the house and went to the village center. Several other elders soon joined him. He read a letter that the runner gave him. “This letter comes from Major-General Scott of the United States Army,” the chief began.
Cherokees:—The President of the United States has sent me, with a powerful army, to cause you, in obedience to the treaty of 1835, to join that part of your people who are already established in prosperity on the other side of the Mississippi. Unhappily, the two years which were allowed for the purpose, you have suffered to pass away without following, and without making any preparation to follow, and now, or by the time that this solemn address shall reach your distant settlements, the emigration must commence in haste, but, I hope, without disorder. I have no power, by granting a farther delay, to correct the error that you have committed. The full moon of May is already on the wane, and before another shall have passed away, every Cherokee man, woman, and child, in those States, must be in motion to join their brethren in the far West.
“The soldiers are near by and will enter our village by afternoon. We can fight or we can surrender peacefully.” The chief stood and walked in the circle. “It is futile to fight. Death only waits for our woman and children as well. I believe we should mildly corporate and do as they say. We will travel to a new land and set up our village there.”
Duwega stopped at a small stream and knelt down to drink. He did not bring any supplies. The land was his table. Duwega listened to the sounds of the woods. Insects buzzed around him. Birds squawked his presence. He pushed farther into the mountains. The white man forced the game farther away as they set up cabins and began mining and logging. Duwega rested a few more minutes, and then began hiking farther into the mountains.
Duwega’s father and mother along with his two sisters continued to work the field. “Two years ago the government asked us to go out West voluntarily. I heard a few went. After two years went by, I thought they forgot about it. Now we hear about it again. I trust it is just another hoax.” He took a sip of water from a gourd.
“But what if the others are right and they come today. What about Duwega?” She got misty eyes.
“Don’t worry about him. This will all pass over, and we will greet our new hunter when he gets back home.”
“I hope you’re right, my husband. It’s just that I have a heavy feeling over me today—almost a foreboding.”
Duwega kept climbing higher into mountains. The sun bore down on his head. To this point, he saw no other human and hoped only to see big game. He forgot to eat anything in his eagerness to leave this morning. The clouds began moving in from the West and he heard thunder in the distance. He needed to find shelter until the storm passed.
Chaos reigned at the village. A platoon of soldiers marched into their midst. They ordered everyone to go immediately. Some begged to get some clothes and supplies, but the soldiers refused. The soldiers rounded up Duwega’s family from the field.
“Can’t I go get some clothing?” Duwega’s mother pleaded.
“No,” the soldier said pushing her along the path. “If everyone just does what we say, no one will get hurt. We will provide food and clothing when we get to the fort.”
Duwega’s mother began to cry. “What’s Duwega going to do? Will we ever see him again? He won’t know where we went.”
His whole family wept as the looked back at their home.
“Come on move it,” the soldier shouted.
Duwega found an overhanging outcrop of rock. He sat underneath as the rain began to fall. He watched for deer coming up the hill. A nearby stream provided water. He dreamed of a big buck in his bows crosshairs. He hoped to surprise his family with such quick hunting success. Lightning flashed across the mountain peak. Thunder quickly followed. Rain fell in intense sheets. Duwega sat and observed Mother Nature. He sensed she roared in anger. The lightning grew intense. The thunder pounded the mountain.
The soldiers rounded up all the people in the village and forcefully marched them toward the nearest stockade. Some walked barefoot and the old and feeble marched slowly. They exempted no one. The deserted village lay quiet. A lone crow squawked out its displeasure—the only sound in the deserted village.
The storm continued into the evening darkness. Duwega decided it best to sleep here without any food today. He really didn’t need food. Now he needed rest.
When Duwega woke, he cleared his blurry eyes and not more than 20 feet away stood a large buck by the stream. Duwega reached slowly for his bow and grabbed a sharp arrow. The deer turned sideways to Duwega looking down the mountain. Duwega pulled back the arrow on the bow ever so quietly, aimed for the deer’s heart, and let the arrow go. The deer dropped.
“I did it,” Duwega said as he ran to the deer. There is enough food for several weeks. My family shall sing praise of him for being such a good hunter.
Duwega built a travois he could pull the deer on. It bent under the huge load. He struggled to get this home.
The closer he got to the village the more excited he became. He visualized his father bursting with pride over his kill. He could imagine excitement rippling through the whole village for killing such a deer on his first hunting trip. As he neared the village, Duwega sensed an eerie quiet. He saw no cooking fires—no smoke from the houses. He couldn’t see anyone out in the fields. He sat the travois down and crept from tree to tree. Where could everyone be? Maybe the chief called an emergency meeting in the community center.
Duwega looked into his house. Everything seemed normal. Nothing missing. He went to the village center and pulled open the buckskin door—empty. He didn’t understand what had happened.
He looked around the square. He saw many footprints. They looked like boots—as soldiers wear—all going toward the North West. Duwega heard a horse galloping and he quickly hid in a nearby house. A soldier rode through the village and on toward the North West.
Duwega ran toward the direction of the missionary’s cabin. Maybe they could tell him what happened. He hid behind a tree and looked around the cabin. He saw no one outside but smoke curled up from the chimney. He went to the window and peeked in. Mrs. Beecher bent over the fireplace cooking dinner. Duwega went to the front door and knocked.
Mrs. Beecher opened the door. “Duwega, for goodness sake, I didn’t expect to see you.”
“I went hunting, and when I came home nobody is around. Do you know what happened?
Mrs. Beecher came out and put her arm around Duwega. “Sit here and I’ll tell you what happened.” They both sat on the steps. “Federal soldiers came and removed all the people of your village. They showed orders from the President to remove all Cherokees from the area and send them to a new home out West.”
“You mean they are gone?” Duwega asked as tears welled up in his eyes.
“Yes, Duwega, they are gone.”
“I’ll never see my family again?”
“Duwega, you have a serious problem. I don’t know where your family is. They herded them to a fort, then on to Chattanooga, then out west. You could go and try to find them, but it’s dangerous as the soldiers may consider you as hostile. Possibly, you could find them. You’re so young. You can’t hide here. They will probably come through looking for strays. Some of the Cherokees escaped to hide out in the mountains—some going to North Carolina.”
“You mean I’m never going to see my family?”
“Probably not, Duwega.”
Duwega wept. Mrs. Beecher gave Duwega her handkerchief.
Duwega hung his head for several minutes. “I’m going to try to hide in the mountains.”
“All right, but let me give you some white man clothes and let me cut your hair so you won’t look so much like an Indian.”
Duwega put on the clothes and grabbed the bag of food Mrs. Beecher offered him. “If they catch you, don’t fight. God go with you Duwega,” she hugged him.
“Thank you.” Duwega sprinted toward the eastern mountains. He turned and waved to Mrs. Beecher. She watched him until he faded out of sight.