It was a time of great sorrow. The Trail of Tears got its name for good reason. It represented the end of life for many Native Americans; the end of family for others and the end of happiness for almost anyone who walked the trail. For Chanda, it was all of the above.
Just 16, Chanda but looked much younger than her age. That was a good thing, however, given the soldiers’ penchant for rape and violence against women.
Chanda’s beauty was just beginning to blossom. Her tanned skin was soft and supple. Her waist length black hair, streaked red by the sun, was silky and shiny. Her unusual hazel eyes caught everyone’s attention. Then, her developing woman’s body held it even longer.
The Cherokee maiden loved her family life in the state that is now known as Virginia. The land was beautiful and plentiful. They lived in peace near caves of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Sadly, one day the soldiers came and told them they were to be moved to an arid, flat land, which would eventually become the state of Oklahoma. Chanda cried to leave the only home she’d ever known. Still, as long as they were together as a family, she believed everything would work out. She was wrong!
Chanda lost her father when he stood up to the soldiers for failing to provide food and water to their people. She lost her mother when a few of the men decided to teach the “squaw” a lesson. She lost her brother to starvation.
With her whole family gone, the teenage girl held little hope for survival. She suspected it was just a matter of time before the soldiers came for her too.
All of that changed one day when the soldiers brought new Native Americans to Chanda’s group. Among the group was a tall, lean young brave known as Inesh. He was brave and strong.
Like Chanda’s father, he stood up for his people. Although he took many beatings at the hands of the soldiers, he did not break. He bounced back and stood up again and again.
His unwillingness to bend caught the attention of the soldiers’ newest leader. Because he appreciated the brave’s courage, he told his men to leave the boy alone. He also promised to look into Inesh’s complaints.
Chanda had a knack for healing. It was in that capacity she met Inesh. She took care of his wounds and nursed him back to health after his many beatings.
Inesh became captivated by the lovely young maiden and, before long, they formed a great friendship. The friendship eventually turned into something more.
Unfortunately, Chanda also caught the eye of several soldiers who plotted to have their way with her. They attacked one night as the two lovers slept entwined in each others’ arms.
Several men held Inesh at bay as the others attacked Chanda. She infuriated them when she refused to cry out so they beat her and hacked off her hair with dull knives. When they were finished, the woman left behind bore little resemblance to the maiden Inesh had fallen in love with.
While dared not lay a hand on Inesh, they knew they had hurt the boy in the worst way possible. They laughed as they kicked Chanda, breaking many bones. Eventually, the young beauty took her last breath.
When morning dawned, Inesh went to the soldier leader, carrying the body of his beloved in his arms. “Is this how you repay us for abandoning our lands for you,” he asked.
The older soldier, ashamed of his men, hunted down those responsible for Chanda’s death and had them taken away to face charges for murder. Then he turned to the rest of his men and warned them.
“Any more actions like these and I won’t worry about the courts,” he declared. “I’ll kill you myself.”
“You take up for savages,” one of his men shouted out.
“I take up for human life,” the leader answered. “Anyone who can’t deal with that can leave with the perpetrators of this crime. Abandon your duties and see what punishment you will face,” he threatened.
“These people are under our protection. They are not puppets or toys for your amusement. They are not target practice for your games or pawns for your pleasure. Is that understood?”
While the men did not like their leader’s words, they did abide by them. Consequently, Inesh developed a grudging respect for his savior. The men became friends. Inesh reported to him anything he saw that was not right and the soldier took care of it. Consequently, many less lives died along the Trail of Tears.
Once in their new territory, the men parted expecting never to see one another again. They didn’t for many years.
Then one day, a band of soldiers traveled through Cherokee land. Several of the soldiers were wounded and many were starving.
Inesh, who’d become a tribal leader, considered turning them away. Then he noticed that one of the wounded men was his old friend; the soldier who’d saved his life. He knew he must return the favor.
Inesh remained cautious of the soldiers but found he was impressed with their change of heart. Most treated his people with a new found respect. When he asked what fueled the change, he found out his old friend had been working on behalf of all Native Americans.
“He’s made people see what we were doing was wrong,” one young soldier proclaimed. “We now see that just because your ways are different than ours, it does not make you savages. “Although,” he added, “you have every right to be. We took you from your homes to steal your land. We moved you half way across the country without caring how many of your people were lost along the way.”
The boy looked down in shame. When he finally met Inesh’s eyes again he offered two simple words, “I’m sorry.”
The brave was touched by the boy’s tears. He reached out a hand to him in friendship.
Eventually, the older soldier’s wounds healed and he regained consciousness. He was over joyed to see Inesh again. He filled him in on his life since their last parting, explaining that he’d gotten married and had children; one a daughter. He named her Chanda.
“I never want to forget the pain and suffering your people suffered at our hands,” he explained. “She is a constant reminder that all life is sacred.”
Years later, Inesh heard about the passing of his friend. His heart was saddened. He’d learned a valuable lesson during their meeting. You can’t judge all men by the actions of a few.