I’m going to be honest with you—I’m not sure how this story came to be on the printed page. Sure, I’m the one who typed the words. Sure, I’m the little girl who refused to leave the Cherokee exhibit at the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh. Every single year . . .
And sure, my first encounter involved coming face to face with fake Cherokee Indians on board the Tweetsie Railroad when I wandered too close to the staged Indian attack as a 3-year-old. Raised tomahawks leave an impression—fake or not. How in my preschool terror I vaulted over a fenced partition twice my height to get to my daddy is still the stuff of legends in my family.
But hence, my fascination—to the best of my recollection—with the Cherokee and with the larger Native American population began. That’s it in a nutshell. Thank you very much, Tweetsie.
I am not and have never been Native American. Nor am I a wannabe. Just fascinated and intrigued by their persistence and perseverance to survive despite overwhelming odds.
For those of you who know me well, sounds like a page out of my own personal history.
So I studied about them in school. Took college classes. Read everything I could get my hands on. And become sort of an unofficial expert. When my family traveled to Alaska, I insisted we visit the Native Cultural Center. When my in-laws settled in Colorado near Four Corners, guess where I wanted to go?
Out of that was born Beneath a Navajo Moon and Under a Turquoise Sky.
But my thoughts drifted back home eventually to North Carolina, which has the largest Native American population east of the Mississippi. I knew a lot of Lumbee as a teenager at summer camp so I wrote Vines of Entanglement next.
And I kind of knew my next one had to be about the Cherokee. I started with my preliminary research and I kid you not, I got cold shivers when I read about the Snowbird Cherokee and how they’d escaped the mass roundup during the Trail of Tears. I realized the 180th commemoration of the Trail was on the horizon, and I intended as always to write about what fascinates me most—the modern-day Indian and their juxtaposition into the larger American culture.
But somehow in the process of creating Linden and Walker, Sarah Jane and Pierce, Touch the Clouds and Leila were born. They just came to me. Whole and complete.
One of the best things about writing is that often I get to visit the actual places where I’ve set my stories. I hope this special place in the mountains of North Carolina and the Snowbird people will capture your imagination and grip your heart as they do mine. Though the characters in this story are fictional, the historic events recounted are not.
Another great thing about writing stories is the people I meet along the way. Like T.J. Holland, Cultural Resources Manager for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians in North Carolina and curator of the tribally-owned Junaluska Museum. A renown Snowbird Cherokee artist, he patiently answered my many questions and helped me to locate what remains of the Tatham Gap Road where the gouged wagon ruts made on the Trail can still be seen. Deep in the woods outside Robbinsville, it is a painfully beautiful yet slightly haunted place. As if the earth itself remembers the suffering of those who once trod this path.
One more great thing about writing is what I learn about Jesus and what He does in me through the writing of the story. This story became—for me—about how far God’s mercy reaches. And so at the cross, here I raise my Ebenezer. By Your help I’ve come. You are the beginning and the end of my journey. For truly, the farther we’ve traveled together, the sweeter will come the end.
All this to say, this story is not mine, but one of those things which you know beyond a shadow of a doubt is God’s story. An eternal story of His mercy and grace, not just to Linden, Sarah, Walker, Pierce, Touch the Clouds or Leila, but to all who’ve been broken and felt abandoned by the guilt of their transgressions or the pain of loss.
If you’ve ever felt unwanted or unloved or weary, God invites you to come. Because in Christ, there are no outcasts.
My prayer for you, today, if you’ve fallen or if you grieve, is that you would discover for yourself the God of all peace and all comfort. That you would lay hold of the God who offers grace in the hour of your greatest need.
For behind-the-scenes photos of Beyond the Cherokee Trail, visit https://www.pinterest.com/lisacoxcarter/beyond-the-cherokee-trail/.