The year 1990 was the official birth of the Over-Hill Cherokee Descendants Nation.
I had spent many years traveling the East Tennessee mountains asking questions, seeking answers, reading the history of our people shared by Grayson Newman and Walker Calhoun. I spent my childhood listening to my Grandmother tell me stories that her Mother had told her.
As a child, I never realized that these stories came when it was just her and I alone, sweeping the yard, carrying the water, etc.
Getting the old black kettle prepared on Sunday afternoon for the Monday morning washday, I would carry water in one gallon lard cans and fill that old black pot to the top and then fill a couple of old wash tubs plumb to the last ring. Then, we would gather firewood and place underneath that old black pot.
As we did these chores, she would point out plants that could be cooked and I can remember the hard times when the bowl of green leafy vegetables on the table looked a lot like some of those plants. I realized when I was grown, that even then we probably were considered poor, but we never went hungry. As was often said, this was a period of time when we did not have a "Big Brother" in Washington coming around and telling us we were poor. We did not know anything else, and accepted it as a way of life. I never went to bed hungry. Now, I know I ate a lot of what was provided by Mother Earth's generosity.
It was also my job to break dogwood twigs into four to six inch sticks for toothbrushes, used to clean our teeth. My Grandmother and Mother usually did this at night when we sat around in our little living room of our three room brown brick sided house. I usually sat behind the stove on the wood box with my own dogwood Indian toothbrush. You didn't need any toothpaste with that toothbrush.
My Grandmother spent many hours telling me stories about our family back through the years. Sometimes she would say, "Now this story, you just remember for yourself". Then after I was grown, I realized it was Over-Hill history and traditions that she was telling me. At the time I thought they were just stories to keep me occupied during the winter evenings as we sat by that little old wood stove.
She used to send me down next to Watson's sawmill to sit with a Mr. Vineyard, who was always in bed sick. I would listen to his stories for hours and he would give me some apples. Sometimes, he would let me climb a tree and get a chicken to carry home with me, and Grandma would cook up a chicken and dumplings supper.
Another woman who told me so much about history and the old ways was Miss Bessie Long, who lived on Mill Street. Every kid in the area was afraid of her, we thought she was a witch. She was old, thin, wore black dresses, and would stand and stare at us.
Once, I was playing near her house and she hollered and waved her arms at me. Well, I took off like a rocket. I was maybe 9 or 10 years old. That stick-horse I was riding never made it home with me, I ran off and left it way behind. Anyway, my Mother told me I would never get to play in that area as long as I was afraid of that lady. That area was my favorite place to play and where I spent most of my time.
So, with the strength provided by my Mother's wisdom, a few days later when Miss Long waved, I slowly went to her. In her hand was a green onion and a cold biscuit.
After that, I would help her make her little garden in the spring, eat from it during the summer, and get wood up for her in the fall for winter. I believe I was the only one who ever went in her house or visited her in my lifetime. She was as pure Indian as I have ever met. She taught me and told me the ways that now I share with you. I miss Bessie Long with all my heart.
With the knowledge from my Grandmother, my Mother, Bessie Long, Mr. Vineyard, Grayson Newman, Walker Calhoun, Carl McNabb, Ross Walker, the old Jenkins woman from Ballplay, my Aunt Berthy Gibson, an old woman from Shoal Creek that I only knew as "Granny", I am proud that I am an Indian and can share some of this knowledge with you.
Bull Belcher's Mother, who lived at Big Creek, told me much about how to use herbs for medicine and healing. She could take the fire from burns instantly.
With these, and countless others who shared with me stories, I grew in knowledge, and I came to realize a need to rekindle a way of life that is lost to our children and us.
Although I was baptized in the First Baptist Church in Madisonville, TN, spending my teenage years attending South Madisonville Baptist Church, and being impressed by Preacher Malone and Preacher Smiley, listening to Chester Milsaps preach fire and brimstone, there was still something missing in my life.
I found the answer on top of a mountain. I learned how to communicate with the Great Spirit, GOD as an individual, one-on-one.
Now, I have listened to his words and I feel it is the right to bring the Descendants together as a Nation, to learn the traditions of our people of the old days, to learn to live in harmony with the Great spirit and our neighbors as brothers and sisters, to live in harmony with what is around us, and respect Mother Earth. If we destroy Mother earth, we destroy that which supplies us with our very existence, and we are going against the will of the Great Spirit, GOD.
I want to thank all of you who have joined with me in ensuring that our people did not live and die in vain.
Written by: Lee Roy Gibson, "Chief Man Many Trees" Copywrite 1995
Printed and published in the "The Over-Hill Eagle"
Prepared by: Hummingbird Warrior