Jennie Powell Sequichie: Surviving the Trail of Tears

October 20, 2017

“We walk across the frozen earth. Nothing seems right anymore. The cold seeps through my clothes. I wish I had my blanket. I remember last winter I had a blanket when I was warm. I don’t feel like I’ll ever be warm again. I remember my father’s smile. It seems like so long ago.”

– Samuel Cloud (9 years old on the Trail of Tears) as told by his great-great grandson, Michael Rutledge, in his paper “Forgiveness in the Age of Forgetfulness”


Ah-yau-sti tobacco juice – jennie powell sequichie

Ah-yau-sti paused from her work pounding corn in the Ka No Na (wood beater) and took in the surrounding beauty. Looking up at Enotah (Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s tallest mountain, located near the North Carolina-Georgia border), she reflected on the many generations of her people that had loved, played and survived on these lands. As she continued to beat the corn into meal, Ah-yau-sti wondered about the rumors of the relocation of her people and worried for the future of her family.

Author Note: For those confused by the names, so was I. Ah-yau-sti Tobacco Juice was her name listed before the Cherokee relocation and Jennie Powell Sequichie after relocation. These names were supplied in the Eastern Cherokee Application records submitted by her grandaughter. I discuss Cherokee naming later in this article, but as far as my research indicates these were her actual names.

“Brasstown Bald Sunset” by Stephen Rahn

The Cherokee people had been early allies of the United States after ceding their hunting land to the federal government, assisting with Seminole negotiations and fighting under General Andrew Jackson against the Creeks. Recently, her husband had alluded to an unsettling change after the government sent agents to note the wealth of Cherokee natural resources and began pressuring the Tribal Council into surrendering their land. When census takers arrived at Ah-yau-sti’s home in 1835 to take a count, known as the Henderson (Trail of Tears) Roll, Ah-yau-sti and her family were listed as living near the North Carolina/Georgia border with seven members in the household.

 treaty of new echota

One of the primary reasons for the US interest in Cherokee lands was the discovery of gold reserves near New Echota. In a haste to claim this rich land, President Jackson unbelievably turned his back on Ah-yau-sti’s husband, Whippoorwill, and 500 other Cherokee allies who risked their lives fighting for him at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, to authorize the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

Negotiations with the Cherokee delegation regarding removal dragged on without an agreement, resulting in the US signing the Treaty of New Echota with 100 non-Cherokee delegation members who Tribal Chief John Ross described as a “spurious delegation” who “by false and fraudulent representations supplanted in the favor of the Government the legal and accredited Delegation of the Cherokee people”.

Chief John Ross known as Koo-wi-s-gu-wi (mysterious little white bird), was described as the Moses of the Cherokee Nation. His mother was Cherokee and father was Scottish.

In a letter to the US Senate and House of Representatives, Chief John Ross protested the treaty saying:

“By the stipulations of this instrument, we are despoiled of our private possessions, the indefeasible property of individuals. We are stripped of every attribute of freedom and eligibility for legal self-defence [sic]. Our property may be plundered before our eyes; violence may be committed on our persons; even our lives may be taken away, and there is none to regard our complaints. We are denationalized; we are disfranchised [sic]. We are deprived of membership in the human family! We have neither land nor home, nor resting place that can be called our own. And this is effected by the provisions of a compact which assumes the venerated, the sacred appellation of treaty.

We are overwhelmed! Our hearts are sickened, our utterance is paralyzed, when we reflect on the condition in which we are placed, by the audacious practices of unprincipled men, who have managed their stratagems with so much dexterity as to impose on the Government of the United States, in the face of our earnest, solemn, and reiterated protestations.”

forced removal

Once the treaty was signed, the government made plans for the forced relocation of the Cherokee Nation, from Georgia and North Carolina to their new Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. This perilous journey took several months and required young and old to travel by foot or horse on what would come to be known as the Trail of Tears.

In his paper “Forgiveness in the Age of Forgetfulness”, Michael Rutledge retells the story of his grandfather, Samuel Cloud’s, removal from his Cherokee home at the tender age of nine:

“It is Spring. The leaves are on the trees. I am playing with my friends when white men in uniforms ride up to our home. My mother calls me. I can tell by her voice that something is wrong. Some of the men ride off. My mother tells me to gather my things, but the men don’t allow us time to get anything. They enter our home and begin knocking over pottery and looking into everything. My mother and I are taken by several men to where their horses are and are held there at gun point. The men who rode off return with my father, Elijah. They have taken his rifle and he is walking toward us.”

Map of the Trail of Tears route taken by each tribe.

After removal from their homes, the families were rounded up and set on a forced march. A native of Maine, who was traveling through Southern Kentucky, witnessed the Cherokee people as they struggled toward their new home and described the heartbreaking scene in an article for the New York Observer:

“The forward part of the train we found just pitching their tents for the night, and notwithstanding some thirty or forty waggons [sic] were already stationed, we found the road literally filled with the procession for about three miles in length. The sick and feeble were carried in waggons-about as comfortable for traveling as a New England ox cart with a cove ring over it-a great many ride on horseback and multitudes go on foot-even aged females, apparently nearly ready to drop into the grave, were traveling with heavy burdens attached to the back-on the sometimes frozen ground, and sometimes muddy streets, with no covering for the feet except what nature had given them.” 

“We learned from the inhabitants on the road where the Indians passed, that they buried fourteen or fifteen at every stopping place, and they make a journey of ten miles per day on an average.”

During the journey, an estimated 4,000 people died of hunger, disease, and exposure and were buried in shallow graves along the trail.

arrival

In 1851 a new census, the Drennan Roll, was taken to determine survivors who had settled in the new territory. This Roll lists 13,905 Cherokees who were paid an average of $93 for their previous Cherokee land. With this Roll, we learn that Ah-yau-sti’s home now contains three family members, Ah-yau-sti (Jennie) and two of her children Ol-sa (Martha, our ancestor), and brother Da-wee-si (Davis). Two other family members, son Stand and daughter Anna are found elsewhere in the Roll.

The bravery and resolve that Ah-yau-sti maintained in order to press on, without her husband Whippoorwill, is truly inspiring. I have not been able to determine the fate of her husband or seventh family member who was missing on this roll. Whippoorwill was also absent from the list of settlers claimed by his grandchildren to apply for compensation under the treaties of 1835-36. His inability to make the journey would not be surprising after being shot through the hip while fighting for Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.

Family census taken after the Trail of Tears migration.
cherokee names
Jenni’s Grandson Ah-tsi (Arch) Sequichie (our ancestor) was a Cherokee translator and church pastor.

In order to prevent endogamy Native Americans had a matriarchal system where tribal/clan identity was passed from mother to child. A child born into one clan was prohibited from marrying fellow clan members but could marry into other clans. Indian names were traditionally given when a child reached puberty and accomplished something noteworthy.

Once settled in the new territory the Cherokee were assigned English names in order to be more easily identifiable in government records. They also required tribe members to state their blood quanta. This was difficult since the tribe had never recorded the information or considered such a record important. If a tribe member had a Cherokee mother or was living like a Cherokee they were considered full-blood. If they had a white mother they were considered mixed-blood.

The name Sequichie, which our family line descended from, is an anglicized version of the original Cherokee name Aquicha. The family name changes would have been very difficult to track past the trail of tears had it not been for Maria (Sequichie) McIntosh’s efforts to file Eastern Cherokee applications for the entire family in 1906.

 

Quick Facts:

Ah-yau-sti Tobacco Juice was born about 1810 in the Old Cherokee Nation near the current George-North Carolina border. She is believed to have traveled as part of the 1838-39 Trail of Tears migration. Her date of death is unkown, but she most likely died somewhere in the Cooweescoowee District in Northern Oklahoma where the family settled. She was assigned the name Jennie Powell Sequichie when settling in Oklahoma.

Relationship of Ay-yau-sti to the Stierwalt family.
suggested reading and references

My grandfather, Leslie Wendell Stierwalt (known by the grandkids as Papa), was born and raised on the Cherokee reservation near Nowata, Oklahoma. His cousin Joyce Hifler Sequichie is a gifted Cherokee author. In her book “When the Night Bird Sings”, she shares brief essays about growing up Cherokee. It is a wonderful snapshot into life beyond the relocation. My favorite story, which features my Papa, is called “Leaves from a Coon Tree”. Click on the book title to learn more about this book.

Other further reading and reference links:

Featured artwork “The Trail of Tears” by Jereme Peabody. See more of his work here:
https://jjpeabody.deviantart.com/

Cherokee Nation Website  www.cherokee.org

Cherokee By Blood Blog  http://cherokeeblood.blogspot.com/2008/12/why-native-american-ancestors-had.html

Samuel Cloud on the Trail of Tears
http://www.wwnorton.com/college/history/america7/content/multimedia/ch11/research_02b.htm

The Papers of Chief John Ross https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h3083t.html

“Native of Maine, Traveling in the Western Country, A.” Originally printed in the New York Observer, 16 January 1839. Reprint, Voices from the Trail of Tears. John F. Blair, Publisher, 2003.  https://books.google.com/books/about/Voices_from_the_Trail_of_Tears.html?id=Aj3FNHcbm3sC

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