Early 1800’s — Georgia
The year is 1814 and it’s a sweltering mid-summer morning. The sun was already burning and there was not a breeze to be had. As usual James is working his fields of cotton and tobacco. Like many of the Cherokee in the area, James Robert Smith acquired a fair amount of the Georgia farm ground and worked it very hard. His ground was surrounded by vast rolling hills covered by mature healthy timberland, a land owner’s dream come true. It also contained one of the nicest streams in the area with plenty of fresh water straight out of the hills.
James, like the majority of the other tribal members wanting to blend in, changed to white man names and ways to incorporate themselves into the established American society. Unlike many of his neighbors though, James was one of the Cherokee chiefs known by the tribe as “Chief Bold Eagle”…an honored chief among the Cherokee Nation. He acquired many acres of land to farm being a chief, as well as a small orange grove. His plantation was well known in the State of Georgia, the last of the original thirteen colonies. It was the envy of many of the Georgians no matter from what nationality they came from.
His farm would have been a handful to manage for James, his son Thomas Allen and daughter Susanne Cosby, had they not had the help of their slaves. Like their white counterparts, most of the Cherokee land owners had slaves to work their fields, and James was no exception…although he had strong feelings against owning another human being. He actually established a reward system for his slaves. This was his way of paying them for their labors and made him feel better about the relationship he had with them. Many of the other slave owners were not happy with his practices, afraid that it might encourage rebellion among their
His wife Martha Jane died shortly after giving birth to their daughter Susanne. She was ill throughout
much of her pregnancy and giving birth weakened her, being more than her then frail body could handle. Susanne struggled for years with her own health as the result of her mother’s illness but gradually was strengthened by forcing herself to complete her duties around the plantation. Even though James never pushed
Susanne for fear she would end up like her mother, he knew it was her strong Cherokee blood that drove her on…her natural will to survive.
James was very proud of his two children; he had a son and daughter that any man would cherish. They were both hard workers and even though their father owned the plantation, they worked right along with everyone…and treated everyone fairly and with respect. He had hope and expectations that someday they would have families of their own and give him grandkids. He knew he would love that very much and looked forward to it.
It was during a trip down to the creek that ran through their plantation that her brother found what was to eventually become their demise, as well as the downfall of the rest of the Cherokee Nation…gold! He brought it back to their home to show his father James, although at the time they neither one had any idea what they really had. It wasn’t until early in 1815 when others made similar discoveries that it was made
known that the yellow rock was in fact gold. By the time it was made public, James and his son Thomas had worked the stream and found a sizable amount of the gold nuggets.
Once it became known that gold was found on the Cherokee lands, many of the whites in the area would
sneak in to the private property hoping to find their own fortunes. Of course this continued trespassing soon established strained relations between the Cherokee and the offenders. James tried to seek legal help several times with the ongoing problem but it was soon apparent which side the law was going to favor.
For the next two years, the confrontations between the Cherokee land owners and the trespassers invading their lands only grew. James continued to pursue help through proper channels to deal with this white man invasion, but it was only to clear that this was to be the beginning of many struggles for his people. Late into the fall, just before the onset of winter, the trouble escaladed to near war proportions. Even though there were many confrontations, no one as of yet had been seriously injured…but that was about to change.
James was out hunting for deer when he discovered several whites on their property. He yelled at them to leave, when all of a sudden one pulled a rifle and fired. He missed James, to which he returned fire and fatally wounded the trespasser. The other two returned shots at James, one slug tearing flesh in his left shoulder and lodged in the bone. Another one grazed his forehead as it passed by. Pulling his pistol from its leather holster with his right hand, James took careful aim and again hit his target with practiced accuracy…and another white man dropped from his horse and into the creek. Finally, the third white man charged at the
waiting Cherokee chief and once again “Bold Eagle” showed what he was known for…his unfailing bravery. He stood up and took aim once more. Again his flesh was burning, this time in his right leg. Just as he pulled the trigger, his opponent did the same. James’ bullet hit its mark right between the eyes, and the third white man dropped. Unfortunately, the last slug caught James right in the chest, passing through one of his lungs and exiting through his back.
James managed to get on his horse and make his way back to his family before anyone else arrived. Thomas saw his father on the horse and realized something was wrong. He rushed to his father’s aid but he knew that the wounds his father had sustained would be fatal as he had already lost an enormous amount of blood. Helping him down from his horse, they headed to the house before anyone could see that James had been injured. This episode was not going to end well for his family and James knew that, so he asked Thomas to get him writing materials so he could take care of business before he was gone.
The chief had no doubt that he was not going to survive, for Thomas and Susanne there was only one chance to make it…and that would be to leave the area…and soon. He began to write his Last Will and Testament which he dated. This was not easy for him to do with his wounds, but necessary. He first wrote of his confrontation with the three whites by the creek and then about fatally wounding each of the three. James wrote of knowing that he himself would die from injuries he sustained in the battle. And finally that he was advising his children to leave the plantation, as he was convinced these ill relations between his people and the whites would only worsen. In his last paragraph, James turned over complete ownership of his plantation to Eli…the elder among his slaves and a man with a good head on his shoulders. James had complete trust in Eli’s abilities to manage the plantation.
He then asked Thomas for one more sheet of writing paper. After Thomas handed it to him, James proceeded to write once again. This time he struggled but managed to put down just a few necessary words releasing all of his slaves from their bondage…he gave them complete freedom. His last words were incomplete as he passed while wishing them safe journeys.
Thomas knew he had to move quickly as he sent for Eli to come to them. Eli quickly responded and was saddened by the loss of James. Even though he was in fact a slave, Master James treated him and all of the other slaves like no other slave owner had done. Eli felt proud that Master James trusted him to take over the land and he promised Thomas and Susanne that it would still be theirs should they ever return.
Thomas asked Eli to make preparations for the burial of his father beside the large Magnolia tree in front of the house. Eli did as he was asked, and soon had the rest of the former slaves present to pay their respects to Master James. After the service, Thomas and Susanne wasted no time getting their things together for their trip. To where they were not sure yet, they just knew that they must leave and quickly. They loaded their things into the wagon and said their goodbyes to Eli and the other slaves. Thomas told Eli that he had as much of the gold as he could safely load into the wagon, and that he was leaving the remainder for Eli to divide among them.
So their journey started; a new home was in their future but neither of them knew where that would be. They started working their way across Georgia heading north. They felt like they needed to separate themselves as far away from the other Cherokees as possible. If their father was correct in his assumption of the future troubles for their people, they didn’t want to put themselves in for the same destiny. Their only hope for survival now would be to keep moving and to talk to as few of the people they ran into as possible.
After two weeks of travel they managed to leave their own state and enter a new one called Tennessee. It was very different from what they were used to in Georgia but they managed to find their way, sometimes asking for directions but not wanting to do so anymore than they had to. Tennessee seemed to have many more hills, much taller than their own. Even though it was just a short distance across the state, south to north, it took several more weeks until they crossed into Kentucky. Starting to tire a bit they stopped for a few days to rest up. Finding a place to buy some provisions they replenished what they were low on, and then made camp in some nearby woods. They didn’t take any more time than necessary, and was soon on the go again.
Kentucky was better travelling, and even though there were hills to navigate most of it was flatter than the previous state and they seemed to be making better time. They were getting into the winter months and heading north was adding to the temperature changes. It was getting quite cold and they had to bring out their heavier clothing, being from Georgia they were not used to these colder temps. They did have some quilts which they brought out and wrapped around themselves as they travelled. After a few more weeks they found the greatest obstacle yet, the great Ohio River. They had never seen such a massive river, how in the world
would they ever be able to cross it? Again they asked their way; and found that they were not far from the only river crossing for miles. It was getting late so they spent their last night in the State of Kentucky, and in the morning would prepare to cross into what was known as the Illinois Territory. Illinois was preparing for statehood, but was not quite there yet.
Morning came and being by this large body of water it seemed just that much colder, the coldest they’ve been yet. The winter days were starting to get quite harsh, and yet they continued…still not sure where they were heading. Thomas felt that he would know inside when they had reached where they were meant to be. Suzanne was not as sure but trusted her brother to get them somewhere they would be safe. Neither one of them had been away from home so this was all new to them. They were already missing their father’s guidance and wisdom.
They reached the river crossing and boarded Lusk’s Ferry so they might get to Illinois as soon as possible. Upon reaching the Illinois side of the Ohio River, they were entering a town known as Golconda. Just recently renamed from Sarahville; originally named after the wife of Major James Lusk. They picked up some more supplies in Golconda before heading on into the Shawnee Hills; again continuing to head north from where they crossed the river. Thomas noticed that he was getting into some rougher terrain and it became increasingly harder to navigate his wagon. He tried the best he could to stay away from any well travelled roads as to avoid contact with anyone.
He soon found himself in trouble because he was running into bluffs, some of which were very steep. More than once he had to back tract to find a way around the bluffs. It was during one of these re-routings that they ran into trouble. They were passing by some of the sheer bluffs when several turkey buzzards leaped into
flight from a ledge just above their heads. The sudden movement startled the horses who responded by taking off at a dead run. Thomas was unable to stop them and it was not long before the wagon was over turned throwing them both off. Thomas hit his head on a rock as he was tossed onto the ground killing him
instantly. Susanne however was not badly injured from the accident, but was left unconscious and somewhat bruised.
It was several hours later before any help was to arrive. A local man was out looking to get himself a deer to replenish his supply; his cold cellar was looking very slim and since he lived almost entirely off of deer and squirrels, he was looking to get himself some fresh meat. He was about ready to make a shot on a nice buck when he noticed the accident. Quickly moving closer to the scene he noticed the two lying on the ground. He determined that the male was dead, but the female was still breathing so he managed to rig a litter to haul her back to his cabin. Once there he quickly got her in and on his bed and then built a roaring fire in his fieldstone fireplace. This would build up some warmth within the small structure, she was very cold from the exposure and he knew if she was to have a chance to survive he would have to build her body temperature back up. After he was sure she was showing signs of warming up he headed back out to get her belongings.
He hitched up the team to his wagon and off he went, back to the scene where he found her. He looked around and saw no signs of any horses so he picked up the stiff remains of the male that was with her. Then he started gathering their scattered belongings so she would at least have some of her things with her. It was then that he noticed them around broken parts of the wagon bed…gold nuggets. Wow! He got very excited at that moment and it took some time for him to regain his composure. Deciding to come back to gather up the gold, he finished loading the wagon and headed back to his cabin.
Once there he went in to check on her and found her still out, but breathing so he figured for now she was okay. He unloaded the wagon, taking the body of the male a little ways from the cabin…in a spot he thought would be a nice burial spot. Going back into the cabin he checked on her, ate a bit, and warmed up before heading out to gather the gold. He had no idea how much gold they had, but had no intention of stopping until he was completely sure he had recovered it all.
Once again he was off with his wagon and team heading to the isolated spot where he found them. He knew it was not likely that someone would find the wrecked wagon, for awhile anyway, but was not going to leave anything to chance. Really not worried about having left the gold because he rarely saw anyone in those hills, especially in the dead of winter…he was quite surprised to see these two strangers. After arriving once
again, he pulled the wagon as close as he could to their wagon so he wouldn’t have to carry the gold so far. It took him awhile to load it all, but when he was sure he had it he took one more good look around the wagon and on the ground and then headed home. He was not sure what was going to take place about the gold because he knew it actually belonged to the young lady he found.
Back at the cabin he found a good place to hide the gold, at least for now…until he knew what was going to take place between the two of them. Once he was done with the gold he went into the cabin, only to find the young lady was now awake. He went over to her to offer her a drink of water and to find out how she was doing. Handing her the glass he saw her apprehension, but assured her that it was good water from his well. After she took a few swallows from the glass she looked up at him and spoke.
“Thank you very much for the water, and for saving my life. My name is Susanne Cosby Smith. The man with me is my brother Thomas. Why is he not in here with me, where is he?” Susanne was quite bewildered about what was happening.
“It is a pleasure to meet you Susanne, my name is John Christopher Logsdon…and you are in my cabin. I’m sorry to have to tell you this but your brother died when your wagon turned over. He hit his head on a rock; it must have killed him immediately. I have him outside and will bury him when you are up to it.”
Susanne cried when she learned of her brother’s death, they had gotten very close as brothers and sisters can sometimes. Since they lost their father, Thomas was the only family she had left and now she was alone. John went over to her and held her as she cried, trying to give her some comfort in her time of loss. Susanne wrapped her arms around him also, needing to feel some sense of being loved…at least by someone. Even
though she didn’t know this white man she felt the warmth from his touch, a tenderness she had known from no other man. She broke from their embrace just long enough to look into his face, his eyes…so soft and blue like the sky above. The emptiness she was feeling inside went very deep. She began to feel her emotions burning from within, and then he leaned forward and kissed her hard and firm…and she knew that soon she would be his.
The following morning John went out and dug a grave the best he could in the hard ground frozen stiff by the winter freeze. He then gathered as many rocks as he could find in the area to finish covering the body after being place in the hole. Susanne joined him and said her goodbyes to her beloved brother and then she helped John cover him with the stones. They went back into the cabin and Susanne shared the whole story of where they came from, the plantation where they lived, finding the gold and the battle that took her father’s life, and
finally of her and Thomas’ travels in hopes of finding a new home. They neither one knew where they were headed and now she was alone, without a place to call her own.
Over the next couple of months the two of them were inseparable, and they got to know each other very
well. It didn’t take them long to realize that they were meant to be together, so they decided to get married. After that time she never really spoke of her past again, and of what happened. This land belonged to John so he decided to keep it, but together they chose to take some of the gold and buy a bigger place he knew of over by Equality. That would give them a place where they could farm and raise their family. And so it was to be…a new beginning for them both!
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