Cruel Winds Blowing West

Her Heart’s Strength. More Jeanne Rorex Bridges work is in the art section of Caleb and Linda Pirtle.


It was a sad time, a tragic time. Indian nations were being uprooted and forced to move from their homelands, and the heartbreak that began the Trail of Tears shines through the paintings of Native American Artist, Jeanne Rorex Bridges. The following is an excerpt from my book: Trail of Broken Promises.

In Georgia and Alabama, the Creeks’ homes, their farms, were being stolen from them and no court of law would listen to their complaints.  Land grabbers descended like flies on a sore.  And a government report listed many of them as “gold diggers, horse thieves, and counterfeiters.”

Land speculators brought food to the Indians, relieved their misery for the moment, then handed them blank pieces of paper to sign – paper that became deeds, casting out the “bees whose hives were being destroyed.”

At a banquet in Cusseta, an enterprising merchant stood and toasted those real estate ventures, proclaiming:  “Here’s to the man that can steal the most land tomorrow.”

In December of 1834, the first bank of Creek emigrants turned into the biting cold of a trail that led them westward to the shelter of homes that had been built, then abandoned, by the McIntosh settlers six years earlier. They had been persuaded to leave by Colonel John J. Albert, the man who had sworn to get the Senecas and Shawnees out of Ohio whether they were “drunk, sick, or sober,” and he had.

But a great number of Creeks clung with desperation to their homeland. It would take a war to remove them.

Ironically, it was Opothle Yahola and a little more than eighteen hundred Creek warriors under the command of General Thomas Jesup who were responsible for putting an end to the last fighting chance the nation had.

Without their opposition, their bullets, their betrayal, the Creeks might not have been pushed out of Georgia and Alabama at all. The American soldiers were not that interested in dying for somebody else’s land.  Moses Chapen, an attorney, wrote to a friend:

The war has been most miserably managed. The secret is the men are cowards . . . They don’t consider how serious a matter is till they get into the woods and hear the yell of the savage – they think then of their “wives and dear babes” . . . so away they run and fill the country with reports as wild and false as their conduct is base and cowardly.

The Creeks, however, rose up as madmen.

At the battle of Turkey Creek, H. W. Jernigan recalled, “The Indians fought with more desperation and gave up the ground with more reluctance than any battle I had with them. Such was the determination to keep the ground, I saw them shot down not more than 30 steps [away].”

That year, 14,609 Creeks were rounded up as the gun smoke of war, the final cries of the dying slowly drifted across the countryside and faded like a morning fog that hid its face in the woodlands.

The Montgomery Advertiser reported:  “The spectacle was . . . truly melancholy.  To see the remnant of a once mighty people fettered and chained together – forced to depart from the land of their fathers into a country unknown is of itself sufficient to move the stoutest heart.”

The Creeks sighed.

It was all over.

And their feet were pointed west.

Artist Jeanne Rorex Bridges said of her painting, Her Heart’s Strength, “The memory of a forced removal from a home is never elusive. It is etched in the mind of the removed and in the hearts of their descendants …  but the etched heart is often stronger. This painting won the Jerome Tiger Trail of Tears Memorial Award. I wanted to focus on the individual strength of this woman on the Trail of Tears, suffering and victimized, since so many paintings depict the removed in groups.

“My message is that your home can be taken away, but the heart of the strong cannot …  through pain, discrimination, and persecution, the strong heart actually becomes stronger and the spirit of the persecuted can never be won by the force and cruelty of another.”

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