from The Taking of Diamond Crowe

by Connie Gunter

“Daddy, how do you know Diamond Crowe?”

“Well, that’s a long story,” he said, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand.

“I don’t mind. I’d love to hear it.”

Ruthie scooted across the seat of the buggy to get a little closer so she could hear every word. The frame of the buggy jostled and rattled from one bump to another along the way.

“It’s not a pretty story,” he said as his thoughts began to drift back in time. “I must’ve been about ten or so the first time I saw Diamond. It was summer because I’d just finished chopping out the weeds and hoeing the middles of the corn rows, when my Grandpa Doc stopped to see if I could go with him to the Cherokee Band Land on Little Snowbird. He had some medical supplies for Yute Wachacha. In a little bit we’re gonna pass the old shell of the cabin where Diamond lived way back then.”

Daddy stopped talking and she could tell he didn’t want to continue until they got there. Ruthie watched Kit’s hips shift from side to side as the buggy moved forward. Once in a while, the mule would flick his tail to chase away any biting flies lurking about.

She was about to give up on hearing the rest of the story when he stopped the wagon. They were beside a big grassy field that ran along the right side of the road and stretched back to the edge of the woods. Sitting on the far side of the field was an old log cabin overgrown with vines. The chimney had fallen down and the roof was caved in. Nobody had lived there for many years.

“Right about where I’ve parked,” he began, “there were two wagons sittin’ here. My grandpa slowed down, and we looked out across the field and saw a commotion going on. Four or five men had surrounded a group of Indian boys about my age. Grandpa came off the seat of the wagon and was halfway across the field before I could even jump down. As it turned out, those boys had been out in the field near the house playing stickball when a group of white men and the sheriff pulled up. When the boys saw the men coming towards them, they took off for the woods. The men chased them across the field and there was a struggle going on.

“Diamond’s mom was right in the middle of ’em with a stick of stove wood hittin’ one of the white men. The sheriff fired his shotgun up in the air just as Grandpa reached the crowd. Everything was a standstill by the time I got there. I remember Grandpa spoke up and asked ’em what was going on and what the boys had done. The sheriff told him they had the rights to take the boys. Grandpa wanted to know what kind of rights that would be.

“The sheriff motioned towards a man in a tall black hat. ‘Show him your papers.’ The man with the hat walked over to Grandpa and handed him an official-looking document. I’ll never forget what the man said. ‘We’re taking these boys to civilize ’em.’

“Grandpa stood there and read every word. Sure enough, they had the right to haul the boys off. Grandpa said he knew of the Quakers who had moved to Cherokee and opened the Cherokee Boarding School during the late 1800s. Come to find out, the Bureau of Indian Affairs had taken over the school by then and were stepping up to bring in more Indian children, even the ones far out here in Graham County.”

“That is awful.” Ruthie grabbed onto his arm and held tight. “How can people be so mean?”

“Are you sure you want to hear this? It happened a long time ago, and there is no use to upset you.”

“Yes, I’ve got to know what happened. Please don’t stop.” She let go of his arm and sat up straight as if to prove she was strong enough to hear the rest of the story.

“Well, my grandpa didn’t give up and began to bargain to let the boys stay home until the crops were put up, or at least till school started in the fall. But nothing he said made any difference. Then the sheriff nudged Diamond in the back with the end of his shotgun and nodded, pointing for him to start walking towards the wagon. Diamond lowered his head and began walking and the others fell in behind him.”

“Oh, goodness, surely not!” Ruthie began squeezing her left hand with her right, as she did when she was nervous.

“Diamond’s momma fell to the ground, wailing and crying after her son. Grandpa helped her back up and tried to calm her, and then we all watched as the boys were separated between the two wagons and made to sit down along the sideboards. The man in the tall hat said to cuff them to the sideboard if they gave any trouble. I watched as one of the men pulled a set of handcuffs out of his pocket to show the boys he would do it if he had to. Grandpa supposed this wasn’t the first time they had taken Indian children because they’d come prepared. With everyone loaded and the men stationed in the center of the wagon, they turned the horses and wagons around and began the three-day trip to Cherokee.”

Ruthie looked up at her daddy as his voice began to crack.

“I will never forget Diamond looking at us as they were pulling away—those sad eyes. He knew he had lost everything—his family, his home, and his whole way of life as a Cherokee. I felt so bad, and still do,” Daddy said as he looked away with tears in his eyes.

Connie Gunter is native to the small town of Robbinsville, North Carolina, home to many Cherokee families who escaped the Trail of Tears in 1838. Growing up, she spent Sunday afternoons listening to relatives tell stories about years past and the trials and tribulations of mountain life. Capturing these stories and putting them on paper has been a lifelong dream. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina with her husband, Keith, and wirehaired dachshund, Raymond.

About The Taking of Diamond Crowe—This story is part of a larger work in progress based on the childhood of my mother, Ruth. Set in the rural Appalachian Mountains of the 1930-40s, the story follows the life of a struggling family whose survival often depended on faith, grit, and the compassion of their neighbors. Recently, my daughter, Nikki Reid, has joined me in this writing project. We are working together to make this a three-generation endeavor, potentially for a young adult audience.