June 21, 2013 by Jerry Alatalo
Bear Heart belonged to the Muskogee tribe and he tells of the emotions felt by the Indians who were forcefully removed from the southeastern United States in 1832. The removal has been recorded in history but not the emotional pain.
History has a way of doing that, does it not? We read in our history books about all the wars through time. We do not read about the physical and emotional trauma experienced by real men, women and children.
The 1832 removal was a forced march. If there were Indian people unwilling to leave their homes, soldiers would grab a child from a mother’s arms and bash its head against a tree. “Go or we’ll do the same to all the children here.”
The old people who died on the sunup to sundown walk were not given decent burials. Their bodies were left in ravines and the people were pushed and forced to go on. Children and mothers would tire, could not keep up and were left behind. It was “The Trail of Tears.”
Bear Heart’s great-great grandmother was on the forced march and he tells of many dying while crossing the Mississippi River in the freezing cold. Her feet froze from walking without any shoes, gangrene set in and her feet literally fell from her legs. She was buried in an unmarked grave in Oklahoma.
After settling in Oklahoma children were forcibly taken from their parents and made to attend boarding school. The atmosphere in these boarding schools was like a military camp where children were made by force to behave like someone just entering the marines.
Bear Heart mentions that today many Native Americans still pray for all mankind in the ceremonies. He wonders how it is possible given the painful history to put out such love.
He grew up on a farm and was strong like all farm kids. He did all the chores a farm son does with feeding animals, tending gardens, milking cows and whatever else needed doing.
He tells about his relationship with his parents through events that were memorable.
His friend at school wanted to trade sandwiches. His mother made good meat sandwiches and the friend had bologna but he traded anyway. He saved the skin of the bologna, cut it, and made it wet to apply to his face to look like a long cut. His mother was stunned, he pulled the skin off, she tried to scold him but couldn’t because she was laughing too hard.
His father told him not to stay out late, but he was having such a good time with his friend that he came home after dark. He told his dad “I’m sorry, I forgot your warning about coming home before dark.” His dad had to use the strap on him once, not too hard, but he cried himself to sleep because he adored his dad.
He overheard his mother talking to his older sister and saying that his dad cried that night as well. “He came to me and apologized and I still whipped him. I should have accepted his apology.” Bear Heart thought that his father was hurt more than him.
His parents said the people learn things through fasting. He was ten and could not read Creek so he fasted and asked the Creator to help him. He took Creek songbooks into the woods and looked at the words while he sang. He said that was how he learned the Creek language and that it was easy.
His father gave him two acres of land to either plant or grow wild so maybe a rabbit would come along to feed and he could get some food that way. He grew cotton, hired his cousins to help and bought a suede jacket and some new work shoes with the money he earned at age ten.
His father got very ill and asked Bear Heart to stay out of school to help my mother around the house. He met some friends who were going to get presents for their fathers for father’s day. Bear Heart didn’t have a penny to buy presents and he cried that night.
The next morning as his mother was bringing his father breakfast he had an idea. He took a page out of his school tablet and wrote “Dear Dad, you are the most wonderful dad in the whole world. I love you very much. Happy Father’s Day.” Then he signed his name; it was all he could afford.
His father gave him a hug and Bear Heart describes “I felt what a wonderful, blissful place awaits all of us when we cross over from this world. But until then, even a small portion of that greatness awaiting us can be experienced in a little embrace where love is expressed and manifested between parent and child.”
Bear Heart goes on to say “We are here, but for what purpose were we sent here? We try to find our role in life, and because of it, we can get glimpses of what it means to walk what we call the Spirit Road. And when we walk on that Spirit Road there is no Catholic, no Jewish, no Buddhist, no Indian way, or any special way. Universal love is gathered together on that one road. The caring and love that can generate from our hearts into the lives of others can carry us forward.”
Continued in Part 3…