The Heartbreak of Yellow Blanket Moon

Portrait of a lonely past.

Yellow Blanket Moon is a touching portrait of the past by Jeanne Roroex Bridges. She has been able to reach back and capture those moments of loneliness and heartbreak when the Five Civilized Tribes were uprooted from their homelands and marched West by the government edicts of President Andrew Jackson.

In my book, Trail of Broken Promises, I wrote: The Choctaws were following a long, treacherous pathway that would lead them away from the land of their fathers and on toward the land of promise, though it looked so dark and so cloudy, and so many would die before they ever stepped upon its good earth.

This was the exodus.

It would forever be known as the “trail where they cried.”

The Choctaws were moving west by foot, on horseback, and atop wagons, whenever they could find one, which wasn’t often. The government had only appropriated two wagons for every hundred people.  One old Chief complained, “There are many among us who are young, and many who are old and infirm, none of whom can walk, and they have not horses. They all have implements of husbandry. How are they to be got along?  And how are these people to live without them in the west?”

It was a question no one bothered to answer.

The ice gripped them.

Cholera and influenza ravaged them.

The rains spread misery in their footpaths.

“Death,” reported Major Armstrong, “is hourly among us. Fortunately they are a people that will walk to the last, or I do not know how we could get on.”

They barely did. They should have known. The Great Spirit had told them at their tribal birth beside the stooping hill, “I give you these hunting grounds for your homes.  When you leave them, you die.”

One record of the march revealed that two hundred and fifty head of horses died during the bad weather. “Since we landed at this place,” it said, “about twenty . . . have died, and still they are continuing to die.”

In Georgia and Alabama, the Creeks laid down their arms in 1836 and were herded – hungry, thirsty, and shackled together – into the stockades of Fort Mitchell. Eneah Micco, a hardened warrior in his eighties, told his captors that the country still belonged to the red man, and that if he had the number of warriors at his command that the Creek Nation once had, he would not leave the white man on his lands.

“I would exterminate the whole,” Eneah Micco said.

But as Andrew Jackson had said, it was “too damned late.”

The Creeks had always believed that their people, in the beginning, had come from the west. Now to the west they were returning. The aging Chief Menawa awoke early and said, “Last night I saw the sun set for the last time, and its light shine upon the tree tops, and the land, and the water, that I am never to look upon again.”

Some boarded steamboats for the perilous journey beyond the Mississippi. At Memphis, the newspaper reported, “Most of the Chiefs opposed taking water, fearing sickness, but their greatest dread was being thrown overboard when dead.”

Other Creeks walked toward the west. Their shoes wore out, and they trudged on, barefoot in the snow, leaving blood in their tracks. Some went blind. Some went mad. They had only cotton shirts and thin trousers to protect them from the winds that mourned their passing.

A few U. S. agents had no sympathy at all. One grew tired of watching the Indians staggering along, slowing down, falling back.  “I threatened them with confinement in irons and this had a salutary effect,” he reported.

Captain Page, however, allowed the women and children to ride horses. He placed those unable to walk in covered wagons. He dispatched parties ahead every six or seven miles to build fires so there would be warmth against the cruel chill of winter when his struggling band of outcasts arrived.

One old grandmother remembered: “Many of us had not foreseen such a move in this fashion . . . Many fell by the wayside, too faint with hunger or too weak to keep up with the rest. A crude bed was quickly prepared . . . Only a bowl of water was left within reach, thus they were left to suffer and die alone.”

So many did.

In the snows of Fort Gibson, the Creeks, weary and bitter at the end of that trail of tears, huddled together and dictated a letter for their agent who had conducted the agonizing journey.  It said:

Who have been with us many moons . . . You have heard the cries of our women and children , , , our road has been a long one . . . on it we have left the bones of our men, women, and children. When we left our homes the great General Jesup told us that we could get to our country as we wanted to . . . we wanted to go in peace and friendship.  Did we?  No!  We were drove off like wolves . . . and our people’s feet are bleeding. Tell General Jackson if the white man will let us we will live in peace and friendship . . . We are men . . . We have women and children, and why should we come like wild horses?

Jeanne Rorex Bridges has described her painting this way: “Standing beside the still, cold water, the woman is looking into the face of the moon for something… Strength? Peace? Understanding? It is a private moment… not to be interrupted or questioned.” Yellow Blanket Moon was the book cover art for American Indian Thought by Blackwell Publishing. It has been awarded fine art awards in New York, New Jersey, and Indiana.

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