The Moravians came. The Methodists came. Rev. Blackburn came. The babies came. Nest had Joseph's baby Elizabeth, then John Walkers boys, Carter Thigh and John Walker III. One day Joseph came unannounced. Nest was working in the garden with her children around her. They liked to help her shoo away the blackbirds. The baby was hanging in the cradleboard swaying in the shade of the tree. Nest sang as she worked, but left the notes hanging in the air when she turned around and saw him there.
"She gathered her little ones around her. The girls were shy hiding behind her dress.
"Hey, Miss Mary, let your daddy see you," Joseph called.
Nest had the fire in her eyes this time. "John Walker is her father. He brings the meat home she eats and the hides I make her clothes out of. When we were abandoned, he adopted her as his own. Five years later, you are here, but you are not her father. She has a father." Nest's head was lifted as she stood straight and tall looking Joseph in the eye. "She is an Indian child which you chose not to have." The little ones hardly peeked out from her skirt. Nest realized the man did not know that he had fathered not one, but two daughters by her. She would not tell him.
Joseph stood up and rubbed the back of his neck rebuffed from seeing his daughter. "I just came to tell you of a school Rev. Blackburn will be starting for the Indian children. Even Doublehead's daughter Cornblossom is allowing her children to go. There will be a gathering up of the students at the stone house by the falls, and then they'll come south to the schoolhouse together in the Sequatchie Valley. I figured Mary Margaret would be old enough to be getting an education. There is the school in Maryville too. Ruthe thought you would want to know. She sends her greetings."
"Little Mary is too young to leave my skirt. I will think about it in a far season." Nest turned her back to him now as if her were an unimportant passerby, but not before she noticed how much older he looked. She practically was shaking with anger at his impudence for coming after all this time to tell her she should send her daughter away to school. How did she know that he would not come and steal Mary Margaret away once she was out of her reach at the school?
The rest of the morning Nest wrestled with that rock that had become lodged in her heart. She would not answer her children when they asked who their visitor had been. It was her idea to give her children an education, but would not send them far away to get it. The blackbirds came as a black cloud for their corn. Nest wore herself out running and waving a branch to chase the dark threat away, the one in the sky and in her heart.
That night when John came in from hunting, Nest told him. She saw the old hate creep into his eyes.
"I am glad I was not here. Maybe I would not have controlled my anger, governor's son or not. Beloved Woman said that Joseph has been appointed as a translator for the council talks, but he does not need to come to disturb my lodge. I have heard of this school in the Sequatchie Valley. I have heard of the school in Maryville too. They say that when Gov. Sevier visited that school that tears ran down his cheeks, and he said, "So these are the nits..."
Nest was shaken. "He has much to answer to God for."
"Yes, God will not let him forget what he has done," her husband said. "But as for these schools, they are too far away." He looked over at his adopted daughters and tenderness chased the hate away. "They are growing up to be like their mother, a beautiful Welsh Indian." He shook his head, "I cannot send them away to school."
"He does not know that Elizabeth is his. I did not tell him."
"Neither of the girls belong to him. They belong to the Cherokee tribe. They are ours."
Nest smiled at the good father and let go of the fear that had crept into her thoughts.
The silk was on the corn when the Cherokee death song was sung in the village. Nest ran to Nancy's asi and rushed inside. Nancy had shorn half her head in grief. Others were sitting around likewise wailing. The men's faces looked murderous.
"What has happened, Beloved Woman?"
She did not stop her singing. Another spoke instead, "They have massacred the children, all the children and those with them. Over one hundred of them were trapped in the stone house on the way to Rev. Blackburn's school and were brutally assaulted then butchered. Cornblossom's husband Big Jake Troxell, Little Jake, Peter Troxell, and Standing Fern were all killed when they came upon the brutality and tried to fight. They say it was Hiram Big Tooth Gregory. He has been killed. The blood ran so deep, they cannot even bury them. They just shut up the bodies in the stone house as a burial rock. Cornblossom they say has died of a broken heart. Those who lived through it say the attacker yelled, "Kill the nitts!"
Nest could not stop her trembling. Hate rose in her heart towards the Indian fighters, the Franklinites, toward the likes of John Sevier whose men carried out these atrocities toward innocents. It was if they were riding through her village again when her mother was killed protecting her. When Nest had crawled out from under her dead body, she saw the other women and children who were murdered, from babies to the elderly. She had blocked those images from her thoughts for all these years, but now she could see every face in her mind lying there in their blood with unseeing eyes.
Nest looked over at her John and the other men with wild eyes. They were dark in their councils, and it struck more fear to her heart. Even her brother was with them. Nest prayed, "O God, when will it end? Dear God, please let it stop."
Beloved Woman spoke as if reading her thoughts. "The northern clans have avenged the blood and none live who caused this carnage. Our villages will be burned and our children will be killed if you seek blood revenge. Our land will be taken if we take up arms. The governor and the good people of this land are horrified at this atrocity Let them stay in their shame and not take their thoughts to battle."
Raven snarled, "What are we to do, War Women? Wait for them to come after our little ones? They say they want to give them education, but they gathered them for murder."
Nancy stood as War Woman and spoke as the leader she was. "It was not Rev. Blackburn who caused this. There are evil ones among the whites as there are wicked ones among us who have butchered and carved up the children and women in their attacks on the whites. To survive we must show that we are better than that, better farmers, better neighbors, better citizens of our nation as well as this country. This act was done by a weak man who chose the helpless and innocent ones to attack. He was not a man. He is dead and those with him who did this."
Attalukaluka stood and said, "We have lost much, but not everything. If we are to keep our land, we must not call the soldiers down upon us. There will always be more of the white's guns. Yes, we could avenge with our brave warriors, but it would be at the cost of our lives in Tennessee. I have been to England. If these frontiersmen were able to throw off that king, they will throw us off as well. They have thrown off the French and the Spanish as well. Many look for an opportunity to completely be rid of us. I have been to Washington to speak up for our rights. Some say that even the President wants to find a plan to take our land. We must stay and not take up the hatchet. Doublehead has avenged his family and clan up in Kentucky where it happened beyond Tennessee.
"There was no Kentucky or Tennessee or the Carolinas when you were young, just the hunting ground and villages of the Cherokee. Now are we only to be caretakers of the land until they take it? They want our houses, our farms, our plantations. If we are not expected to avenge such a blood loss of our young and our women, when will we stop them? Have we all become women that they can attack us at will?"
"Our leaders have spoken truth. Let us grieve, sing our death song over our people, but protect our children. I am not afraid to kill a white man, but I do not want to invite them to come destroy our village and kill our children here. They are just waiting for an excuse. Chota has never recovered from its earlier burning. There aren't enough hills left to hide in and survive with the coming winter if our crops are destroyed. I do not wish to see my children go hungry or freeze without our lodge fires in our village. After the harvest, we will move to Ustanali as well. There is a school in Spring Place where our children will be taught and be safe. There is no good hunting here anymore anyway."
Nest was surprised to hear her husband speak. He had been with Dragging Canoe and Doublehead on raids when he was just a youth, the age of her brother. John Walker was respected and listened to. He had been a Chickamauga, but now lived the way of peace in Chota.
There was a sound of hoof beats as a few braves rode off on their horses to Doublehead's village, but most went back to their lodges. Nest breathed a sigh of relief. She knew what a massacre looked like and did not want to see that here. She could not live if her children were massacred.
At supper that night, John was as tense as a bow string. Fire was in his eyes. Nest only said, "Thank you for speaking your wisdom today."
"It was not what I wanted to speak. I wanted to jump on my horse and follow the others to Doublehead's village. Cornblossom was my friend. I ache for her and the others. Now I think of you and my children and what is best for them. If we cannot adapt to the white man's ways, we have no hope of surviving as a people. What looks like weakness is really strength, the strength of the mind to know how to survive."
"My people have done that by keeping their story alive. Even if we someday lose our land, we must tell our children who we are so that they can tell their children. They can never kill our story."
"You are the keeper of the story, Nest, just as your mother was. Tell our daughters. I will tell our sons. We will live on."