Isaac woke feeling gloom but not really knowing why. “Breakfast,” he heard his mother call as he tried to shut out the feeling he had within himself. Isaac’s father was absent as usual. He had gone east on some, “white man business,” as Isaac called it. Sarah, his Cherokee mother married a white man and Isaac never understood why she would want to marry a white man. Perhaps she thought life would be better as the wife of a white man.
Isaac is almost a genius, able to focus all energy on a single problem until it's solved. He is perceptive, intelligent, knowledgeable and very fluent in both Cherokee and English. He is confident anything is possible if he can focus all energy and concentrated thought on it. He can sometimes be internal, looking inward for answers, always deep in thought and not concerned with appearance - crumpled clothes, well worn old shoes. The interesting aspect of Isaac is that, although he is most comfortable in his own mind working on a problem, he is actually imaginative and charming to others. He has a quiet kind of charm that draws others to him The Albert Einstein type.
Isaac was raised in a tense household with a lot of arguing and learned early not to trust the world. Situations can quickly turn to mayhem and concentrating on one small problem or element of the world is the way he can keep his mind off the craziness. Isaac literally loses himself in his mind. As a child, he always felt like an outsider, spending most of his time learning the Cherokee way from his Grandmother. Both parents were consumed by one thing or another and never had time or energy to focus on this child. He had to learn to fit into the family structure by finding a comforting skill to focus on. Throughout his life, he has been misinterpreted as eccentric and a little loopy, but, in fact, he perceives the world in more accurate detail than most people. He's gone through long periods of suffering in silence.
Very early in life Isaac began to spend much time in his head, thinking about concepts and philosophies. He was not extroverted by a long shot, but quietly loves to share what he has discovered with others. Isaac has insight into the world that astounds others, knowing a lot about a few things. He was charming, quick-witted and clever. He also keeps secrets very well - no one could break into his vault of secrets - not even those closest to him.
Isaac’s parents wanted him to be educated and sent him to a Baptist missionary school. He never understood the teachings of the missionaries and he discarded those teachings that conflicted with his Cherokee values. He learned early in his education not to question the teachings of the Missionaries. He had been punished more than once when he questioned the meaning of the Bible verses that were taught. He listened to the teachings of the missionary teachers as though he was a believer, but filed most of the information away in his brain as nonsense. He could even quote most of the verses of the Bible as well as any of the other school children.
Again Sarah called her son, “Isaac, I said breakfast is ready,” as she began to lose patience with him. “Get up this very minute.”
Sarah Ridge, 35, could speak as well as read and write both English and Cherokee. Her mother had taught her how to read and write the Cherokee language. She had learned to write English from her husband and Isaac. She wanted Isaac to learn the white man’s ways and thus her motive for sending Isaac to the missionary school. However, she didn’t trust her own decisions. As a result, she has connected with an authority figure or belief system to do the thinking for her. However, Sarah hates being dependent on anything. Therefore she tends to be passive-aggressive and sarcastic. Also, because she's not always sure what she should be thinking, she can change moods from moment to moment. She is very hard to understand completely, because she doesn't understand either herself or the world. She does associate easily with others, so she makes the perfect friend, loyal, trustworthy, however, at times, uneven and unhelpful.
Sarah associated closely as a child with her father whom she saw as the protective figure. She was protected and guided closely by this figure and never developed the skills necessary to be self-reliant especially in the area of decision-making. This relationship was not the traditional way since the Cherokees were a matriarchy society. The mothers were responsible for the training of the children. The males were trained by the mother’s brothers. Sarah can be sarcastic but associative. She sees the success of any system she is associated with as a personal success. She has internalized the relationship she had with her father, the protective figure, as a child, she added elements to this relationship that simply weren’t there. When under pressure, she would often blurt out feelings and predictions of disaster with reckless abandon.
Sarah saw acquaintances as either a friend or an enemy. She often questioned others' intentions, pushing to know what's behind their behavior.
Just as Isaac sat down to his breakfast the door burst open and in came federal troops. They were ordered out of their home at gun point. They were allowed little time to gather a few possessions.
They were herded into a makeshift stockade called Fort Butler. Fort Butler was built along the Hiwassee River, was known to the Cherokees as Tlanusi-yi (the Leech Place), due to a story of a giant leech named Tlanusi living in the river.
Although it was late May, it was already very hot and dry. The heat only increased the misery at Fort Butler. The stockade was over crowded and the people weren’t allowed to go to the river to bathe. Traditionally the Cherokees went to the water daily to bathe, even in the cold winter days. In fact the Cherokees were much cleaner than the whites that often called them “dirty Indians.”
Tsi-s-qua-ya (sparrow) was the only name Martha knew for herself until the white soldier asked her name. He had no clue what she was saying when she answered, “Tsi-s-qua-ya,” he wrote down, Martha. Isaac saw the ga-na-qua-ti-s-di (hate) his grandmother had developed for the white man. But, he also saw the tsi (love) she had for her people.
Martha was a-nuh-wah-tee a-ge-hya (medicine woman) and attempted to take care of the many Cherokees who became u-tlv-gi (sick) while confined to the stockade. She wanted to take them to the water and gather Cherokee medicine from the tsa-lu-yi (forest). However, this wasn’t permitted by the soldiers. As more and more of her people became ill and died she was determined to take the ill to the river for bathing. However, her way was blocked by a soldier on a horse. When she saw the soldier was Thomas Crowe, a mixed breed Cherokee, she spat on his shoe and said, “You should be ashamed.” Isaac was sure her words hit home when he saw Thomas pretended not to hear and turned his head.
The many hours of caring for the sick eventually took its toll on Martha and she became ill herself. As she weakened her care fell to Isaac since Sarah had become further despondent. As Martha’s death became near, in a weaken voice she said to Isaac, “A-wo-hi-li (Eagle, Isaac’s Cherokee name), I will not live to see us leave this ooh-ay-wah-chew nah-nah-ee (death place). My ah-doe-nuh-doe (spirit) will always guide you.” Her spirit then left her tired body.
Days dragged into weeks and weeks into months of confinement at Fort Butler and rumors spread that the people would be starting their journey to the west to what is now Oklahoma. The drought finally broke in September. Isaac and his mother began the long march that was later to be called nuh-nah-dah-ooh-la-chuh-yee (the trail where they cried or the Trail of Tears.)
Isaac had given up hope that hi father would return from the east and was happy to be out of the confines of the stockade. He never saw any of his mother’s family in the stockade. Either they had escaped to the mountains of or were in a different stockade. He held out hope that they had escaped when he heard the soldiers talking about the escape of some of the Cherokees.
The people were becoming almost hopeful of the future as they began the long trip west. Perhaps they could escape and return home, or the place to the west would be a better place to live away from the whites. They did not know of the hardships ahead of them.
Isaac was at glad that his grandmother never left her homeland. Or, did she?