Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Have any of you ever incorporated your family history into your writing? Do you like to read books that are based, however loosely, on factual happenings?

My mom was the oldest of eleven children. She knew everyone in our family and how they were related. Because she and my dad grew up together in a tiny little town in southeast Oklahoma (their high school had a graduating class of twelve), she also knew quite a lot about his side of the family as well.

But when I was younger, I was not interested in the stories she told me. It was only later, when I was grown and had children of my own, that I began to wonder and ask questions, and by that time, her memory had already begun to decline.

If you have ever read the book, The Education of Little Tree, (by Forrest Carter) or seen the HBO movie, this story might sound familiar. When Andrew Jackson decided that the Indians were to be assimilated into the white man’s world, he put lots of plans into action that would take years to snowball and evolve into what they eventually became—a truly shameful period in the US governmental policies and procedures. One of Jackson’s plans, besides Removal, that was carried through into subsequent presidencies, was the idea of assimilating Native American children in white homes to integrate them more completely. The Native American children were taken from their villages and given to willing white families (along with a tidy little government stipend for their troubles) to raise.

My great-great-great grandfather was one of these children. We don’t know his real name. It was changed when he was delivered to his new “family”, a Presbyterian minister and his wife. Their last name was Walls. So his name was changed to Walls, and he was given the first name, David. Forbidden to speak his language, he was forced to forget all the ways of his People, and dress in white man’s clothing, go to white school. But he was never going to be white, and his place in the world was divided so drastically that he could not fit in anywhere. Eventually, the Rev. Walls sent David to medical school in Missouri. When he returned to the small town where he’d been raised, he was a doctor who rode to his patients on horseback. Later, he married and had children, but it was not a happy union and his son, my great-great grandfather, became an alcoholic whose own children, in turn, left home as soon as they possibly could. My great grandmother, his daughter, married at 13. Her older sister left home one day and never returned. No one ever knew what became of her.

I’ve often thought of these children that were abducted by our cavalrymen, and taken away to their white “families”, forbidden everything familiar and forced to adopt everything new and different, even their speech and childhood games. Can you imagine it? To never be allowed to see your mother and father again. Siblings separated and “given” to different families, their heritage and connection with one another lost forever. How many tears must they have shed? And how lonely and separate they must have felt, how isolated, even into adulthood…so that most of them, I imagine, never were able to fit in anywhere in the world.

My story in the 2011 SUMMER COLLECTION, available through Victory Tales Press, is based loosely on what happened to my long-ago ancestor.

Dr. Shay Logan has just returned to Talihina, Indian Territory, from medical school in Missouri. Shay hopes to settle down and make a life for himself, but how? He doesn’t belong to either world, Anglo or Indian He's made the acquaintance of Katrina Whitworth at the July 4th town social, and the attraction is mutual from the very beginning. Shay begins to have hopes and dreams that may be out of the question…but Katrina seems to have stars in her eyes for him as well. Will she risk everything to be with him? Katrina makes a social blunder, and Shay follows her into the woods to apologize to her, but when they return, Katrina's drunken father humiliates her. To make matters worse, her former beau shows a side of himself she had not seen before. Can Katrina and Shay have a life together that they so badly want? Here’s an excerpt for you.

As his hand started its descent, Katrina turned away. But Shay’s arm shot out, grasping Whitworth’s hand and holding it immobile.

“You will not.”

Three words, quietly spoken, but with a heat that could have melted iron, a force that could have toppled mountains.

Katrina’s father’s face contorted, his teeth bared, finally, as he tried to jerk away. He didn’t utter a word. He stared up into Shay Logan’s eyes that promised retribution, as the seconds ticked by. Finally, he lunged once more, trying to pull free, but Shay still held him locked in a grip of steel. Only when he released that grip was Whitworth freed.

“You presume too much, Doctor Logan, unless you are assuming the care and responsibility of my daughter.”

“Papa! Oh, please!” Katrina felt herself dissolving into a puddle of less than nothing beneath stares of the townspeople of Talihina. What had started as an exciting, beautiful evening had become an embarrassing nightmare. It was torture to think that she was the cause of it all. How she wished she had stayed home with Jeremy as she’d first planned, before Mrs. Howard had volunteered to keep him company.

Now, Papa was saying these things that she knew he would regret later. It was always this way when he drank too much. These accusations had gone beyond the pale of anything he’d ever said before. But Shay Logan wouldn’t realize that. He wouldn’t know that Papa would be sorry tomorrow.

Evidently, there was one thing Shay did recognize, though. She saw the very slight flare of his nostrils as he drew in the scent of alcohol on her father’s breath, and in that instant, there was a flash of understanding in his eyes.

“You’ve had too much to drink, Mr. Whitworth,” he said in an even tone. “I will overlook your behavior toward me because of that, but not toward your daughter. She has done nothing, yet you would strike her, and cause her shame.”

“She’s my daughter,” Whitworth replied sullenly.

“But not your property, Whitworth. Never that. You owe her an apology.”

“No, Shay, really—” Katrina began, then as her father whirled to look at her, she broke off, realizing her mistake. ‘Shay,’ she had called him. As if she had known him forever. As if she was entitled to use his given name freely. As if she were his betrothed.

“‘Shay’ is it, daughter? Not, ‘Dr. Logan’? Shay.” He spit the words out bitterly. He drew himself up, looking Shay in the face. “I’ll not be apologizing to her—or to you. And I’ll expect nothing less than a wedding before this week’s end. Do you understand me, Doctor?”

Shay had lost any patience he might have harbored. “You understand me, Whitworth. You will not dictate to me, or to your daughter on such matters of the heart. As I say, the alcohol has got you saying things you’re going to regret, and—”
“Threatening me, are you? Threatening me?”

“Truman.” Jack Thompson stepped out of the crowd and smoothly came to stand beside Katrina. “Let’s put this…unfortunate incident…behind us, shall we?” He confidently tucked Katrina’s hand around his arm. “I can see that the church auxiliary ladies have almost got everything set up for this wonderful Independence Day meal—” he frowned at Mrs. Beal, nodding at the picnic tables behind her. She jumped, motioning the other ladies to resume the preparation.

He gave a sweeping glance around the group of onlookers. “I, for one, am ready to eat! How about you all?”

Katrina was swept along at his side as he walked toward the tables, speaking to acquaintances and friends, laughing and…and seething with tense anger the entire time. She could feel it in his body, with every step he took and the tightness of his grip as he covered her hand with his. Katrina glanced back over her shoulder, hoping to catch a glimpse of Shay, but the crowd blocked her view.

“Smile, my dear,” Jack gritted into her ear. “I’m hoping we can still salvage your virtue, no matter what happened, really, between you and the good doctor. If I see him near you again, I’ll kill him.”



Here's the link at Amazon:



Tina Donahue said...

What a tragic family history. So sad for your great-great-great grandfather and the other children who were forced to give up their heritage. A moving blog, Cheryl. Thanks for sharing.

Virginia C said...

Hi, Cheryl! Thank you for sharing so much in this wonderful post. All of my immediate family, and so many of my dear friends, have passed away. I talk and write about them a great deal. When I share my memories with others, especially when they find them enjoyable or touching, then my loved ones live once more. I speak and write from the heart, and I am always intrigued by others who do the same. I know that they will have a story worth telling that I will want to hear or read.

gcwhiskas at aol dot com

Delaney Diamond said...

Cheryl, like you, I wish to capture my family's history. My parents have interesting stories to tell about growing up in the Caribbean. They both come from large families, and my relatives are scattered all over the globe.

The history of forcing the Native Americans to assimilate into white culture is so shameful. What were they thinking?! They clearly weren't.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

I read the sad story, The Education of Little Tree. I am astounded that your ancestor went through such a shameful and tragic episode in our American history. How wonderful though that, as a writer, you can tell the story and give it the happy ending it deserves.
Each time a writer pens a story, part of their history goes into it but sometimes it is the history that becomes paramount to the story. I wrote about the tragic death of my Uncle John in The Violin and I am glad to see that you have written about you ancestrial grandfather in One Magic Night. I can barely keep up with your stories but I know I have to have this one, Cheryl.

Kathy Otten said...

Wow, what fascinating family history. Definite fodder for a writer's imagination. Loved the excerpt. Looks like a great read.

Fiona McGier said...

I was once at a Pow-wow held locally, and when the speaker invited all Moms (it was Mother's Day) to come up to join the dancing circle in a "rainbow dance", I was next to a woman who had a beatific smile on her face. She said that her husband was from the Miami tribe, and as recently as the 1950s, his mother had been jailed in Florida for teaching her own children the language and customs of her people. So this woman was celebrating the fact that many white people were in the dancing circle, helping to celebrate Native culture, not trying to destroy it.

Why is it hindsight is always so much more clear? And why do people always want to discriminate against those who are not "like them"? Tolerance must be taught at home, as well as in the schools and the public marketplace. We are all equal in God's eyes.

Cheryl Pierson said...

Thanks, Tina. I know, it is very sad. Hard to believe that something like that could happen in our country.


Cheryl Pierson said...

Y'all, I'm having internet troubles. I can't get it to accept my comment without trying several times--we are at a hotel with flaky internet. Thank you all for coming by and commenting and I appreciate it soooo much. Sorry I can't reply individually--but I appreciate the support and the comments. I will go ahead and draw winners...drum roll please...VIRGINIA AND FIONA!!!! Now, y'all, I can't send your prize until I get home next week but YOU ARE MY WINNERS!!! Thanks to all of you for coming by and commenting, and next time I promise to be at HOME when it is my turn to BLOG!

Virginia C said...

Thank you, Cheryl! Congrats, Fiona : )