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Prophecy of Sequoyah

Sequoyah was probably the greatest of all the Cherokees. He is the only man in the history of mankind to invent a complete writing system of the Cherokee languages (a phonetic syllabary) without being able to read or write ny other language. No only was Sequoyah a great man of letters, he was also instrumental in always advising the Cherokee on a path of wisdom and tolerance. Born in the late 1700s, he died in the summer of 1842 in Mexico, his life spanning the most volatile years of the Cherokee - American experience. His prophecies for another and better Cherokee Nation is being fulfilled in the Mexican State of Coahuila near the little town of Zaragosa.

Walking with Sequoyah

Imagine if you will what it was like on that warm spring morning in 1842. It had rained the night before and the air was heavy and moist. The sky was clearing and showed the promise of a good day but the heaviness in the air weighed on Sequoyah in several ways. One, he hadn’t been able to get rid of the persistent cough and two, he was tired of the seemingly constant arguing among the people. Ever since John Ross and the Treaty Party had arrived there had been bickering over who would be the principal power of the Cherokee, the Old Settlers or the Treaty Party. It had been only through the efforts of Rev. Busheyhead and Sequoyah that the Act of Union was ever adopted. The one agreement was on the name of the new government “The Cherokee Nation.” It would have been nice if that had settled it, but it hadn’t. There were still arguments on every level whenever two or more Cherokees got together. Sequoyah was tired of it and wanted a rest.

He decided to travel to Mexico, something he had intended to do for some time. He and his wife Sally had found some Mexican pottery shards with what looked like Cherokee designs on them. They were most curious. Where they had come from and how long had they been there? Maybe in Mexico he could find the source of the Cherokee knowledge - the Mexican Indians who perhaps had taught the Cherokee secrets - secrets still kept hidden from the white men. If he could find that tribe, whose name he didn’t know, he might find the Indian language that was the root of all Indian languages. Maybe there had been an ancient written Cherokee language that had been lost when the Anikutani were overthrown. Maybe there, in Mexico, with all the other lost and forgotten pieces of Indian knowledge were the answers. Maybe even, he could possibly find the end of his life’s work.

And then there were the stories of the lost Cherokees. After the assault on their village in east Texas in July of 1839, many Cherokees had fled south to Mexico and were now living there. Yes, now would be as good a time as any, but he had to be careful. It could be very dangerous in Texas. It wasn’t that long ago that there had been many accusations about the relationship between the Texas Cherokees and the Mexicans, and there were still many people in Texas who thought the Cherokees were not to be trusted. However, the only way to Mexico was through Texas and it was quite possible right now his trip would be misunderstood. So if he did go, it would have to be for a valid reason --- perhaps just to visit with the Cherokees who lived there. Besides, trouble and fighting was what he was anxious to get away from, So that became the story. He was going to Mexico to visit with the Cherokees who lived there.

Sally was reluctant at first, but had learned that when Sequoyah had made up his mind, there was little she could do to dissuade him. So she finally agreed. Perhaps the trip would do him good. Teesey, his son, protested the idea at first but agreed with his mother not to let his father undertake the long journey alone, especially now. Besides it looked as though this could really be an adventure, and he had three friends who would readily agree to come along.

Sequoyah wanted at least four men in the party and was pleased when the number increased to six. He visited with his good friend, the Worm (A-u-ji-ya) and shared with him his planned trip, swearing him and the other members of the party to secrecy. The fewer who knew of his mission the better. They spent a few days at the home of Archibald Campbell and purchased supplies and equipment from Lewis Ross.

Finally, on a bright sunny day in late April Sequoyah on his white mule, his son Teesey, Aujiya (The Worm), Uwosoti, Cahtata, Nuwotana, Tallatu (Cricket) and the youngest, a boy named Coteska, all on horseback, left Park Hill for Texas and Mexico.

They crossed the Arkansas River near Fort Gibson, passed near Edwards Settlement on Little River and followed the road laid out by Lt. Levensworth to near Council Springs, the future site of Oklahoma City. The weather continued warm and pleasant for this time of year, but they knew it would soon become hot and dusty as they made their way across Nvdagi (Texas) the “Place of the Sun.” For now though, the wind continued soft and warm as they turned and headed south toward the Red River. They arrived fifteen days later.

Sequoyah noted they were in good hunting country and camped just north of the Red River, where there was good water. The journey was taking its toll on Sequoyah was bothered with a cough and pains in his chest. This would be a good place to rest. In the meantime, Sequoyah sent Aujiya and two others to visit among the Indian villages to the west to see if there were any Cherokees there.

For the next week Aujiya and his two companions traveled among the Wichitas (the principal inhabitants). There were also Waco, Caddo, Echasi, and others who were living in neighboring villages but speaking different languages. They found no Cherokee but did learn there were some living along the Washita River.

When they returned, they found Sequoyah very sick. Tessey had offered him honey and venison, but Sequoyah was unable to eat any of it and asked if they could find him some bread instead. Sequoyah liked honey, and it would have given him energy, but for some reason, its taste was gone. Aujiya did manage to find some wild plums, which Sequoyah enjoyed and said made him feel much better. Although sick, Sequoyah continued writing in his journal. Aujiya decided to travel back to the Wichita village, some four days distant, to see if he could purchase some corn. Then they would be able to make some bread for Sequoyah. In the meantime, the rest of the group would slowly continue on.

After arriving at the Wichita village a second time, Aujiya purchased three bushels of corn, packed it on their horses and immediately started back. On the evening of the third day, Aujiya’s horse grew lame, but they were able to catch up with Sequoyah and the others near a clear babbling brook. There was good water and hunting here and Sequoyah was anxious for some hot bread. They quickly prepared a fire and the food was made ready. After eating Sequoyah said he felt much better, asked for a pipe and some tobacco, then laid down. They rested there another day and then hurried on to the next village where they hoped to be able to buy some horses. Sequoyah didn’t want to remain among the Wichitas, but rather wanted to return to the timbered country along their proposed route where they could hunt.

After nearly a three day ride they arrived at the village of the Echasi people where they were accepted as friends. Clouds had rolled in and it smelled of rain. Their senses weren’t wrong and that evening the summer rain rolled in just before dark. They spent the next day in the village talking with the elders, who made them presents of tobacco and other small articles. It was here that Sequoyah decided it would be best for the young men to return home so they wouldn’t also become sick, and that he, Aujiya and Teesey would continue on alone. Sequoyah’s chest was sore and tender from the coughing and fighting the pain had weakened him. He knew he would need frequent stops to recuperate which would make the journey longer for them, so six men returned to Park Hill. The next morning Sequoyah, Aujiya, and Teesey resumed their journey to Mexico.

A week later, they came upon a clear flowing river where they again rested for several days while they searched for honey and hunted. It also gave them a chance to bathe and clean up. The way had been easy so far, relaxing almost, with only an occasional rain shower which did little more than just get them wet. Often of an evening, they would go to sleep under their degahljodv (tents) listening to Ayvdaqualosgi (Thunder) and watching the fire streaks of Anagalisgi (Lightening) stab across the night sky. This was the rainy season and to be expected. It was on such a night five days later that they heard gunshots.

The next day they overtook a band of Shawnees who had been hunting in the area. Later that night they camped together. The Shawnees were curious about where they were headed. Sequoyah told them he felt a great desire to visit the country of the Mexicans, but that he would soon return. He then asked the direction to the nearest Mexican town or village and they indicated the same direction Aujiya had been leading them.

Five days later he asked Aujiya again to be sure and help him get to Mexico where he felt certain he had to be. Sequoyah’s chest pains had become more constant and he began to wonder if he would ever see Sally or his salt works again. Their journey south took them across a large river, and after crossing a mountain they came to a very beautiful babbling spring where the company halted. They again went hunting for honey, which the presence of wadulisi (honey bees) indicated was nearby.

When they awoke on their third morning there, they found that some Tawokonee Indians had stolen their horses. Teesey and the Worm quickly gave chase and could probably have over taken them but were reluctant to leave Sequoyah alone in his condition so they returned to camp. The next morning Sequoyah asked them to take him to a safe hiding place and then to proceed quickly and directly to the Mexican settlements, hopefully to obtain some horses.

After traveling several days on foot Teesey and Aujiya came to a large river called Mauluke. They couldn’t find a crossing so they camped that night planning to build a raft the next day, cross the river, and hurry to San Antonio. They soon arrived and hearing only Spanish being spoken, entered the town and attempted to find some horses but were met by two Mexican soldiers. The soldiers were friendly enough but asked them to follow them to their commanding officer. The commander asked them what tribe they belonged to and when Aujiya told him Cherokee, the commander told them he didn’t like Cherokee and asked for their passports. Aujiya told him they had none and weren’t aware they needed any. He also told the commander that Tawokonee Indians had stolen their horses and all they wanted to do was borrow some horses so they could continue their journey. After awhile the commander became a little more friendly, telling them that it was true - wild Indians had been prowling around stealing horses and they needed to be careful. He then added they had no extra horses for them. Finally, the commander gave them their papers, some tobacco and a very good axe and again the warning to be on guard as there were “many hostile persons among the wild tribes - especially Apaches.”

A day later, they arrived back at Sequoyah’s camp and was pleased to find him feeling better after his rest. Aujiya decided to find an even better hiding place for Sequoyah to rest while he and Teesey continued on to the Mexican villages. They located a cave in a bluff high above the stream below and made Sequoyah as comfortable as they could leaving him with a good supply of honey and venison sufficient to last him twenty days.

On their third day since leaving Sequoyah, Aujiya and Teesey were surprised to see several Comanches running quickly toward them. Taking cover behind some bushes, Aujiya hailed them and asked them in Comanche if they were friends. They said they were and immediately relaxed their lances and bows. The Comanches told them they had at first thought them to be Texans because of the caps they were wearing, and would have fired on them if they hadn’t seen their feathers. They told Aujiya and Teesey of the shortest and safest route to the Mexican villages and agreed to go part of the distance with them. Aujiya, Teesey and the Comanches traveled together for three days, then parted - each going their own way. Fourteen days later, they reached the Rio Grande, although at the time, they didn’t know its name. They hailed a mounted Mexican on the opposite bank and were informed that there was a ferry lower down, and they could cross there. After crossing they were met by a company of Mexican soldiers who escorted them to the leader of a town some six miles distant.

The village was small - the houses made of large bricks and mortar. The houses were low with flat roofs and looked quite old. After locating an interpreter, they learned that these Mexicans had been part of a group of soldiers that had defeated the Texans in battle and taken some three hundred prisoners, a fact they were quite proud of. Once satisfied that Aujiya and Teesey were not in his town on any public business, the officer expressed the pleasure it gave him to see them and invited Aujiya and Teesey to spend the night in town. The next day was spent enjoying the hospitality of the village. That evening they visited the house of the interpreter and to their surprise met a Cherokee man by the name of Anvya Tsidoga - Standing Rock. The following morning they were shown directions to the small town of San Fernando, some thirty miles further south. Three miles further on, they arrived at the Cherokee village, situated within a grove a timber half a mile wide and some three miles long, watered by means of a ditch filled with flowing water from a large spring some two miles distant.

Aujiya and Teesey told them that Sequoyah was in their company and waiting for them just north of San Antonio. The Mexican Cherokees were excited to meet the great Sequoyah and gave Aujiya a horse from a man in San Fernando and food for their journey. Aujiya and Teesey quickly returned to where they had left Sequoyah and guided him to Mexico and the welcoming Cherokees.

Our journey in 2001 to San Fernando, now known as Zaragosa, was much different, but our desire to go there was just as real. For two years previous Dr. Charles Rogers had been searching the Mexican countryside asking people, “What do you know of the Cherokee?” A Cherokee descendant, Dr. Rogers had taken it upon himself to find the lost village of the Cherokee and the elusive grave of Sequoyah. From the Mexican elders came the stories, of how the Cherokees had come to their village, where they built their village, and the photographs and stories of their Cherokee ancestors. The names of their grandfathers and grandmothers - Cherokee names - names that had been held secret for almost 160 years. These were the descendants of the Cherokee who fled Texas in July of 1839. The lost Cherokee village site and Sequoyah’s grave had been found.

The story unfolded when the Rogers family met with the Rodriquez family on whose land it turned out, a cave is located. The Rodriques family was skeptical. Since the early 1900s, many Cherokees had come to this spot, searching for the grave, but the family had always turned them away, unsure of their motives, keeping the site secret. None had come with their families; none had come in traditional clothing as the Mexican families knew good Cherokees would have done out of respect; and none came with what they felt was a “good heart.”

The secret of the gravesite was one that Gloria and her family and Epigmenio and his family had separately kept for many years. Several generations before the families had disputed over some land that ended in a feud that resulted in years of silence between the two families. Then one day young Gloria and Epigmenio went away to college where they met; began to date and fell in love. When they discovered that their families had been silently warring with each other for years, they eloped. Both family’s were initially outraged, but soon learned to accept and love the couple.

Early in their marriage, Gloria and Epigmenio, while sharing family secrets, discovered that both families shared many of the same family stories - stories about the Cherokee and Sequoyah. And so, when they met the Rogers family, they were naturally suspicious, but curious. And when they saw them emerge from their car, Gloria gasped and whispered to Epigmenio - reminding him of the dream she had told him about just a few days earlier - a dream about a man who looked just like Dr. Rogers. Then the two families sat down for breakfast together and began talking. Gloria and Epig were taken with young Charles and grandmother Mary, Dr. Rogers’ mother and they were heartened to see that the Rogers family were wearing traditional Cherokee clothing. Gloria was also pleased to see a deep sense of family among them. Encouraged, Gloria and Epig decided it was time to see if the story was true and without letting on, invited the Rogers family to come and visit a special place - a cave not far distant.

They led Charles and his family; Sharon his wife, young Charles, their son, and his mother Mary to a cave located in a depression in the high Sonoran desert. The air was charged with anticipation about where they were going. One by one, they entered the inconspicuous opening that led to the first of several small underground rooms, it’s first visitors in generations. The local people had been told there were spirits here and they might not like any intrusion. So the site was protected by the stories.

Young Charles, Saloli - which means squirrel in Cherokee - was very eager to enter as was 86 year old matriarch Mary - also known as Walela which means hummingbird. And because of her stiff leg, had to be dragged into the cave while seated on her jacket. Inside, everyone spoke in hushed tones about the past as young Charles explored the cave. After nearly 30 minutes, young Charles pointed to a mark obviously carved into the wall - a mark so obvious that it should have been seen at once but it wasn’t. Young Charles asked, “Dad, what’s that?” As the turned to look at the mark, Gloria said, “Of course he would find it... just like the prophecy told.”

Dr. Rogers asked, “What prophecy?”

Gloria then related the story of what Sequoyah had told her ancestors. Not to reveal the burial site to anyone, and that one day a child would come and find it and carry forth his spirit message of brotherhood and unity to all Cherokee. Shortly after this, young Charles was given the new Cherokee name of Adelohosgi - “Prophet.”

The sense that destiny had had a hand in this search was underscored several years later when the Rogers family was out sightseeing in Brackettvile, Texas. While driving past a small frame house, they glimpsed the word Tsisqua- Cherokee for “bird,” written above the door. The sign in the yard said “Native American Museum.” They backed up, stopped, and found no one home. They asked around the neighborhood until they located the owner - a diminutive but dynamic lady named Nakai Breen. Nakai invited them into her home, the museum and shared with them the fascinating story of her life. Orphaned by her Cherokee parents, Nakai was raised by a Kiowa family. At the age of twelve, she in turn, “adopted” an elderly Kickapoo man and woman who were homeless at the time and begged her mother to shelter them. The couple had been living hand to mouth under the bridge between Mexico and Texas.

Nakai grew to love the Kickapoo. As a young woman, she single-handly took the tribe to Washington and eloquently pleaded their case. In a moving speech, she declared that “every human being had a right to a spot on the face of the earth” touching the hearts of what had been hardened politicians. The Kickapoos were granted their own land.

After hearing Nakai’s story, Dr. Rogers told their story in turn. At it’s end, Nakai said that she had many things to think about and gave here blessings to young Charles - Adelohosgi. When next they met, Nakai said that she had prayed and decided to tell them of events in her distant past. As a young girl, an elder had told her that the Cherokee would one day be sent four white buffalo - one would be in the form aof a child. This child would have as his purpose to unite the Cherokee in brotherhood and it would be Nakai’s task to teach the child things he would need to know. She then began to tell young Charles many stories of her childhood and to recount many stories that had been passed down among Cherokees for generations. Young Charles - Adelohosgi - feels very blessed to have been guided to this special Cherokee elder.

Shortly after Dr. Rogers called and told me of this discovery, Lari, my wife, and I went to Eagle Pass, Texas where we met Dr. Rogers and other Cherokees who had come to make the pilgrimage. We drove down on a Friday, covering in 45 minutes what would have taken Sequoyah a full day or longer in 1842. Al and Frankie Herrin of Tahlequah had flown to San Antonio, and we agreed to pick them up and take them the rest of the way to Eagle Pass. It was the middle of March and the fields south of San Antonio were filled with bluebonnets.

After breakfast at the hotel, we climbed aboard two buses and crossed the international bridge into Mexico, traveled southwest to Morelos, then turned northwest to Zaragosa. The high desert air of Coahuila was hazy and chilly. The sun didn’t show itself that day and the clouds that gathered added to the expectant yet somber feeling that everyone was feeling. There was of course excitement - everyone was excited but there was also a quietness as though words weren’t necessary to express their feelings. The normal chatter of people travelling somewhere together was subdued and almost whispered.

When the buses rolled through the towns, they seemed out of place on the narrow streets among the small concrete brick and mortar houses that are similar to the ones Sequoyah saw when he walked the same streets. Once through Zaragosa, the paved streets became dirt paths lined with mesquite trees that scraped along the sides of the buses as we passed. Before long the buses stopped and we had to walk the rest of the way. The road had disappeared.

We crossed a sulphur scented creek and soon came to the rubble of what had once been a haciendo - the Haciendo Patino near the Cherokee village. The creek was formed by a large artesian well that roared from the earth in an enormous 18 inch wide stream. The temperature was 98.6 which meant “going to water” much more enjoyable for the Cherokees. We also discovered that the sulfur odor wasn’t in the water but actually rode above it and quickly dissipated. This was where the Cherokee sought safety from the Texans. This is where the Mexican people welcomed them with open arms. They understood.

We all gathered and stood in the gray, chilly afternoon under a threatening, misty sky and listened to Gloria Rodriques and her grandfather relate to us the stories about the Cherokee and, most importantly, where Sequoyah was buried. For almost 160 years the secret had been kept by the people, protecting the gravesite until the parameters of the legend had been met and the site could be properly honored. We were led to an area about a mile away, in what direction I don’t know since the desert looks the same in all directions.

The valley was flat and what appeared to be an area covered with rock not thirty yards away, turned out to be a depression with two small caves opposite each other. The larger of the two was where the stories said Sequoyah was buried. No one spoke as the people encircled the entrance to the cave. Dr. Rogers carefully waved a stick inside the entrance with a small piece of red cloth attached. This was to arouse any snakes that might happen to be in the cave. Dr. Rogers asked me to call out to Ujonati (Rattlesnake) saying in Cherokee “We are Cherokee and have come to honor Sequoyah.”

No snake emerged or made any sound, so two at a time people crawled through the small entrance to the cave. When it was my turn, I crawled in and sat in the first chamber. In the dim light I could see a mounded hump on the cave floor in the adjoining chamber, a hump composed of dirt not of the cave floor. The cave floor was covered with rock shards and chips that had fallen from the ceiling. This mound was composed of soil, leaves and twigs.

Imagine, if you will, sitting inside this cave - this tomb of Sequoyah, the man who had given the Cherokee a way to remember - a way to write and preserve their language. As I sat there dressed in a ribbon shirt, leggings and feathered turban, I thought of the stories I had read and what I had heard about Sequoyah. True, I had been to Tennessee and visited the memorial for him near the place of his birth which is now under the waters of the TVA dam project, but this was different. He was here, less than 15 feet from where I sat. My thoughts were disturbed when a large rattlesnake was noticed stretched out on a ledge not three feet from my head. I felt little fear, and fortunately, the snake never moved. Was it because the air outside was slightly chilly? The air inside the cave was not. In fact, it was almost warm. Was it a spirit snake? Some said it was a guardian of the gravesite. I don’t know why the snake never moved or threatened us in any way, but it didn’t. I just know what happened, or in this case, didn’t happen. I can still see the snake lying there and the mounded earth in the second chamber today even though the cave has since been sealed to protect it.

The area surrounding the gravesite and encompassing a few acres has since been purchased and designated by the Mexican government as the Nacion Cherokee de Mexico. This is where we hope to re-constitute the Cherokee Nation as it used to be - according to the stories and to fulfill Sequoyah’s wish. According to what has been told to us by the stories, he wanted to stay in Mexico, where the Cherokee were welcomed and befriended. If anyone would understand, Sally would. And Teesey would have explained that Sequoyah wouldn’t have survived the trip back anyway. Besides Indian Territory wasn’t his home. His home was where he had been born - in Tasgigi - in what is now northern Alabama. Indian Territory, where the Cherokee Nation is now located in Oklahoma, was where the American government had forced them to go and where the government wanted to keep them.

In 1836, the U.S. Secretary of War refused to allow Chief John Ross permission to sell the Cherokee lands and move the entire tribe to Mexico. And before that, in 1720 a group of Cherokees had immigrated to the mountains of Coahuila and in 1822, the newly independent Republic of Mexico granted the Cherokees freedom and immigration rights to the eastern part of the Mexican province of Texas.

Much later, in 1895, the Western Cherokees would again consider a vote to move to Mexico and again it was denied.

When the anti-Indian Texas government heard of Sequoyah’s arrival in Mexico, they immediately sent the army to covertly and illegally enter the country and arrested Sequoyah and the other Cherokees who had fled Texas. Without due process of law and under threat of force, they arrested Sequoyah who, even at 73 years of age and suffering from a severe lung infection, managed to “suddenly disappear,” escaping his captors while crossing the Rio Grande River at night. Sequoyah, fighting collapse, persevered and returned to Zaragosa where the kind-hearted Mexican people and the Patinos-Rodriguez-Salinas families of a nearby hacienda, bravely and without consideration for their own personal safety hid him in a secret cave. Sequoyah, who had been very ill for some time, became exhausted from this struggle and flight from captivity. It was here, in this now crumbled hacienda, that the Great Sequoyah died peacefully, a free person, among some of his Cherokee family and his many Mexican friends. It was here, in this cave, that he was buried. In the hacienda on his deathbed, he told of a Cherokee child that would come someday, find his grave, and bring his spirit of brotherhood back to the Cherokee and all other people of good heart. That is what we are doing. That is why we are here. That is the invitation we offer you. It is not a question of who we are trying to become, it is a question of becoming who we are.

On the first weekend of each February, the little town of Zaragosa celebrates their founding. The Cherokees are now part of that celebration honoring the return of the Cherokee to Zaragosa. Actually, the descendants of the Cherokee who escaped the Texas army are still there and upon our visit over the past three years, they have made themselves known to us. In one sense of the word, they are otsadatihnai (our family).

copyright 2012 Cherokee Nation of Sequoyah
     Must have permission to use or reprint by Chales Jahtlohi Rogers MD.

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