Ned Christie's War: Ned Christie's War

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9780671759698: Ned Christie's War: Ned Christie's War
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The Cherokee nation faces a threat from the United States government as Ned Christie, who is trying to preserve their heritage, becomes a suspect in the shooting of a deputy

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About the Author:

ROBERT J. CONLEY, a member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees, is the author of over forty books and the recipient of three Spur Awards. He lives in Oklahoma with his wife, Evelyn, also a Cherokee.

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Ned Christie's War
Chapter 1Maletha Maples was worried, but she kept her thoughts to herself. She almost always did. It was not an easy life, being the wife of a deputy United States marshal and a mother of six children. Every time Dan rode out on an assignment, she wondered if she would see him again. It was widely known that more than sixty of Judge Parker's deputies had been killed in the Indian Territory in the line of duty. But it didn't pay for a woman to complain. And Dan did make a good living. She liked their little house in Bentonville, Arkansas, with its neat yard and white picket fence. She liked being known and respected in the community, and she knew, of course, that it was all due to Dan and his job.But when Sam had asked if he could ride along this time, and Dan had said okay, Maletha had protested. It would be too dangerous, she had said, and Sam was just a boy."I'm sixteen," Sam had said, a stubborn pout on his face."He's just about grown," said Dan. "Besides, it's just a routine assignment, Maletha. I'm going to look for Bill Pigeon. He's not a dangerous fugitive.""He's wanted for murder," said Maletha."That's true," said Dan, "but he's never used violence to resist arrest. He's not considered dangerous. And George Jefferson and Mack Peel will be along. And a cook. That's five of us altogether.""That's five counting Sam," Maletha had said, and Dan had given her a stern look, a look that meant that he had made up his mind."That's five," he had said, "counting Sam. He's going to be grown soon. I need to spend more time with him."So Maletha had said no more. She went about her business with a lined, long face that morning. She fed her husband and all six children. She laid out the clothes for Dan and Sam to pack. And she kept her lips clamped tight. The smaller children raced around the house as usual, shouted and cried and picked at each other as usual. And all too soon, for Maletha, it was over and done."We'll be on our way," said Dan. Sam was right behind him. They stood on the porch while Maletha and the five younger children came out behind them. Dan hugged and kissed each child in its turn, and Sam, feeling very big, did the same. Maletha stifled an impulse to stand stern and haughty. Instead she put her arms around her husband and held him tight."Be careful," she said, "and take care of Sam.""Aw, Mom," said Sam. "I can take care of myself. Don't worry."Dan Maples smiled and looked down into the lined face of his wife."That's right," he said. "Don't worry."He broke loose from her embrace and walked down the stairs and out to the gate. Just as his hand touched the latch on the gate, there was a sudden loud fluttering, and a large crow dropped from the sky and perched on his shoulder. Dan shouted in spite of himself, and Maletha shrieked. Dan slapped at the black, feathered intruder. It cawed and flew away. Maletha had turned ghostly pale."It's a sign," she said.Dan stared at her in silence for a moment."Maletha," he said."It's a bad sign. Dan, don't go. Don't go this time.""Maletha," he said. "It was just a bird.""Just this one time. For me. Don't go." 
But he did go, and so did Sam. They met Jefferson and Peel and the young cook, whom they all refused to call by any name but Cookie. They took a pack horse and a tent and camp supplies and food, and they left Bentonville heading west for Tahlequah. And Sam thought that he could see something in his father's face, something dark. In spite of what Dan had said to Maletha, riding along the trail west, he seemed to be deeply troubled, distraught, preoccupied with thoughts of something sinister. And Samthought about the crow, and he thought about his mother's words. 
Ned Christie was up early. Gatey was up, too. She went over to the front of the cabin to build up her fire. The weather was still warm, and they had slept outside that night. Arch was sleeping, one old hound sprawled out beside his head. Ned walked down to the creek and knelt. He leaned over and bathed his face and hands in the cold, clean water. He stood up and walked back toward the house. On his way he slowed enough to give Arch a kick in the rump with the side of his foot."Hey," he said. "Wake up. You'll miss the day."Arch sat up, his eyes bleary, and looked around.When Ned reached the cabin, Gatey handed him a cup of coffee. It was steaming, and Ned took a tentative slurp."Ah," he said. "It's good.""Your clothes are laid out for you inside on the bed," said Gatey."Wado," Ned thanked her. "I'll pack them up after I eat."His mind was already in Tahlequah. Talikwa. The national capital. The capital city of the Cherokee Nation. There would be excitement in Tahlequah. There always was when the council was in session. People would come from all over the Cherokee Nation to find out firsthand what new laws their council might enact, to present their petitions, to air their complaints and grievances. They would go to Tahlequah simply because others were going. They went to seefriends they only saw in Tahlequah when the council was in session. But they also went to Tahlequah because they knew that the council would be dealing with important issues, issues that would directly affect their daily lives. Though the United States of America was much larger than the Cherokee Nation, a meeting of the bicameral Cherokee National Council was exactly analagous to a session of the United States Congress.Ned Christie was acutely aware of that. He was keenly, at times almost painfully, conscious of the burden he carried as an elected representative of the people of his district. No living Cherokee could recall when times had not been hard, but in Ned Christie's mind, the Cherokees were on the brink of what might easily become the worst crisis in their long and troubled history. They had survived wars with the United States in the early days, they had lost land treaty by treaty until they had finally been subjected to the terms of the fraudulent Treaty of New Echota in 1835. That one had resulted in the loss of all their ancestral lands in the East. They had been forced west to new lands. To get to them, they had endured the Trail of Tears along which thousands had died. They had built a new nation in the West and established their capital at Tahlequah. But there had been a bitter division among the Cherokees over the signing of that treaty, and much bloodshed had resulted. A brief period of peace and prosperity had followed. Then came the white man's Civil War, and once again the Cherokees had split apart. The Civil War left many dead, and it left the Cherokee Nation adesolate heap of ashes. And it had given the United States an excuse to take away more Cherokee land. The Cherokee Nation had been made to suffer more at the hands of the United States after the Civil War than had any of the seceding southern states.And now, just fifty-two years later--less than one man's lifetime--since the Treaty of New Echota, which promised to leave Cherokee lands alone forever, the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation was once again being threatened by the powerful United States. They said the Cherokee Nation had no jurisdiction over whites, and whites were everywhere in the Cherokee Nation. Many of them were lawbreakers. Then they said the Cherokees could not maintain law and order. How could they, when the United States would not let them? But they used that as an excuse to establish the federal court at Fort Smith and to give it jurisdiction over what they called the Indian Territory. That included the Cherokee Nation, the Creek Nation, the Chickasaw Nation, the Choctaw Nation, and the Seminole Nation. They lumped them together and called them Indian Territory. Ned despised the term.So now the threat had become the total dissolution of the Cherokee Nation, and the creation of a new state that would be made of Indian Territory and the territory further west called Oklahoma. There would be no more tribal land. Each Cherokee would be made a private landowner just like the whites. Private ownership of land was a concept foreign to Cherokees and repugnant to the Cherokee world-view.It was a hard time to be a councilor, a time of great danger and a time of tremendous responsibility for public servants. Ned knew all these things, and he felt that responsibility. All of this was in his mind as he prepared himself for the trip to Tahlequah. Bitterness over the past, desperation about the present, and cautious, anxious hope for the future drove him in his perceived duty, a duty he owed to all Cherokees, living, dead, and yet to come.He rolled his clean clothes in a blanket and tied the blanket roll with leather thongs. Outside, Arch had saddled his gray mare and had it waiting. Ned tied the roll behind the saddle. 
Tahlequah was just as he had anticipated, as he had seen it before when the council had been in session. Riding into town he saw several people he knew. They waved and shouted greetings. He stopped in front of the National Hotel and hitched his mare to the rail. Taking the blanket roll, he went inside and registered for a room. He took the key, walked to the room, and unlocked the door. He tossed the blanket roll onto the bed, glanced around the room, and left. He wouldn't need the room until later, but soon there would be no more rooms available. That was the main reason for his early arrival in town. He was established for the duration of his stay in Tahlequah, and it was only a little after noon. The meeting was scheduled for the next morning. He decided to stroll around the town to see whom he could see, but first he would take the mare to the stable at the other end of town.The main street was crowded with wagons, buggies, riders on horseback, and pedestrians. Making his way through the tangle, Ned saw other acquaintances. They waved or spoke greetings. Some spoke in Cherokee, others in English. At home with his family and neighbors, Ned spoke almost exclusively Cherokee, but when he came to Tahlequah, he had to be prepared to speak in either language and to switch back and forth when the circumstances called for it. He spoke both languages well, and that fact gave him a certain amount of pride. It made him a much more effective councilor, too. He was sure of that.The man at the livery stable spoke only English, though he was a Cherokee citizen, a mixed-blood. Ned knew him from other times when he had come to town. He talked with the man briefly, left his horse, and started walking back toward the hotel, walking over the same area he had just ridden. He walked on the board sidewalk, and he had to step aside when two small boys, perhaps ten or eleven years old, came running hard from the other direction."Hey," he said, as they swept past him, "where's the fire?"He spoke in English because one of the boys was blond. As he turned back to continue his walk, a man stood in front of him."'Siyo, Nede," said the man."'Siyo, Doi," said Ned, and he continued to speak in Cherokee. "I haven't seen you for a long time.""Not since the last council meeting," said Doi."That's right. You live a long ways from here.""Pretty far. Yes," said Doi. "But I get here for the meetings. I don't want you councilors to do something I don't know about."Doi laughed at his own joke, and Ned laughed with him."Where are you going?" said Doi."Just walking," said Ned. "I don't have anything to do until morning. I come early so I can get a room.""Tahlequah fills up fast," said Doi. "I'll walk along with you."They continued walking north, back toward the hotel Ned had checked into, and they talked as they strolled along. Now and then someone spoke to one or the other or both of them. There was a holiday atmosphere in Tahlequah, and in spite of himself, Ned began to feel it. He knew that the meeting in the morning would put him back in the mood he needed to be in, so he didn't let it worry him much. But he didn't have to wait. Doi suddenly became serious."I've heard some bad talk," he said."What kind of bad talk?""They say the white people want to take over all of our land here. They want another state. Like Arkansas and Texas. Is that true?""I've heard that talk," said Ned."What do they want with another state? They already have lots of states.""They always want more," said Ned. "For a white man there is never enough.""But can they do it?"Ned looked grim."If they decide to do it," he said, "they can do it. But I think that they'll try to do it legally, and that means that we have to vote on it. If we vote no, they won't do it. If we vote yes, they will."Doi laughed. "Why would we vote yes to give up our own country?""We wouldn't," said Ned. "You and me. But we have lots of mixed-blood citizens. Some of them are almost white. They think like the whites. They might want to have a state and be like the white people. We get more of them on the council each election. It could happen if we don't work hard against it."They walked on in silence until they came to the center of town. Ned stopped. Directly across the street from them was the national capitol building. An imposing, two-story brick structure, its presence dominated the small town. Ned looked at the building with mixed feelings. It was not yet fifteen years old. It was a source of pride, and yet just looking at it caused the bitterness to well up from deep inside him. Had the Cherokee Nation erected this fine capitol just for the white man to steal?"I'm going over there," he said."Well," said Doi, "I'll see you later. I'm going back to my camp. My wife will be wondering about me."Ned dodged traffic to get across the street. The capitol stood in the middle of a large square, and inthe square were a number of stately old trees. Benches were placed here and there beneath the trees. He walked slowly toward the front door of the building, looking up, feeling pride, feeling resentment at the forces that would take all this away from the Cherokees."Ned Christie," someone said.Ned turned and looked toward the sound. A man was sitting on a bench under a shade tree. When Ned saw him, the man smiled and raised a hand."Ha," said Ned. "John Parris. It's good to see you again."Ned was speaking English this time. Parris was a mixed-blood who did not speak Cherokee. Ned walked over and sat on the bench beside him."You're here for the meeting?" said Parris."Of course," said Ned. "I have to be here."Parris snorted."It's all wasted energy, Ned," he said. "This Cherokee Nation is doomed. The United States has gone from the east coast to the west coast. It's north of us and it's south of us. They're not going to let us stay here. This is going to be the next state. Right here. You wait and see.""Maybe you're right," said Ned. "But I'm going to fight it.""John Ross fought to keep us in the east," said Parris. "Look where we are now. Hey. You want a drink? I'll buy it."Ned thought about John Ross and the Trail of Tears, and he thought about the beautiful capitol building and about statehood."Where do you get it?" h...

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