The long walk to Washington

Cherokee man c. 1838 wearing a turban and decorative sash.Smithsonian American Art Museum

During the writing of this book I’ve thought a lot about heroes – who gets to be one and who doesn’t, whose story gets told and whose doesn’t. We’ve come across so many amazing stories that will only be told in passing or in footnotes in our book. Like this one.

In 1815, Big Bear, the Headman of the mountain Cherokees, wrote a letter to President James Madison asking for someone who knew their regional issues and needs to be assigned as their federal agent. Reasonable request, right? Madison never answered it. So in January of 1816, he and the other chiefs wrote another letter. To ensure Madison received it, they got two men, Roman Nose and Junaluska, to volunteer to hand deliver it. Roman Nose was a local headman and Junaluska was a seriously badass warrior who had saved Andrew Jackson’s bacon (and maybe his life) during the battle of Horseshoe Bend!

Think about what those two men did and how they did it. This trip – in JANUARY, from the mountains of North Carolina to Washington DC – was 500 miles each way. On horseback it would have taken a *minimum* of 20 days to get to Washington. I say on horseback, rather than by coach, because it’s likely they weren’t welcomed on stage coaches, as well as at many taverns along the way. Most white people were terrified of Indians at that time (which meant the two men were also in danger of being attacked). Where did they sleep? In fields? By the side of the road? Where and what did they eat? And did I mention that this was in January?

And when they got to Washington, how would they have been received? People did pop in and out of the White House back then. But what happened when two Cherokee men marched up to the front door of the White House and said, “We have a letter for President Madison.” Imagine the butler or maid’s face when they said, “No, we won’t just leave it with you. We have to give it to HIM ourselves.” I like to think of them marching into the White House, into the Oval Office maybe, and handing him that letter they’d come 500 miles to deliver.

Now those are some heroes!
By the way, Madison didn’t answer that letter either.

FollowFollow on Facebook

One thought on “The long walk to Washington”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *