“No!” The angry statement came from the mouth of a tiny five-year-old girl. Then, as if to illustrate her point, the dark-haired imp flopped down in the dirt. Her mother looked on with frustration.
“Ama, come,” she demanded, moving forward to grab the little girl’s arm. “They will punish you.”
Not to be moved, the tot crossed her arms and legs and settled deeper into the dirt. “No!” The word came even stronger the second time around.
“What is this?” A rider moved forward, bringing his horse within inches of the child. The move didn’t seem to impress her.
“Tired,” she said, looking down to avoid the soldier’s eyes.
The rider dismounted and picked the child up by her arms. Her mother looked on, crying. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled over and over again. “It won’t happen again. Please don’t hurt her.”
A male member of her people moved forward to assist. The soldier glared at him and reached for his knife. The man backed up quickly.
“You will walk,” the soldier told the child, shaking her. “If you do not, we will leave you behind.”
“Soldier, put that child down.” The order came from another man just a few feet behind the unfolding scene. “Now,” he demanded. It was clear from his voice that he was not going to take no for an answer.
“But, sir,” the soldier began. “She just sat down. She’s refusing to move.”
“I said put her down,” the grey-haired man returned. “Do it now or suffer the consequences.”
“Damn, *&^%#@” the soldier mumbled under his breath.
“What was that soldier?”
“It was nothing, sir. I’m sorry, sir.” With that the man placed the child on the ground.
“Would you like to ride with me?” The older man held his hand out. The child looked at him frightened.
“It’s okay,” her mother told her. “Go. I know you are tired. I’ll stay right in front of you.”
The little girl walked forward and took the older man’s hand. He easily lifted her up, putting her in front of him in the saddle. “Is that better?” He smiled at the child.
She turned to look at him. She could tell from the look in his eyes that he was kind. She offered a wan smile and nodded in the affirmative.
“Company forward,” the commander shouted. “We’ll ride for two hours and then camp for the night.”
The soldier stared at the line of people in front of him. He hated his current assignment. It went against everything in which he believed. Sadly, his orders were succinct. He was to move the people from Point A to Point B. Those who died along the way were to be left where they fell.
However, that was one thing, the commander could not do. He made his men stop to bury every individual lost along the way. Many of them hated him for it. They didn’t consider the people human. The commander did not agree and his orders prevailed despite the mutterings of his men.
“Feet hurt,” said the doe-eyed girl, holding up a tiny foot to illustrate her point.
“I’m sorry,” the soldier. He noticed the child’s mother watching him with doubt. He didn’t blame her.
“What is your name, child?”
“Ama,” the child answered. She puffed up her chest to let it be known that she was proud of the name.
“It is a beautiful name,” the soldier cooed. The little girl smiled again. Her saddle mate couldn’t help but think her smile lit up the paling sky. Nightfall was upon them.
Neither man nor child spoke again for a long time. It wasn’t until the child spotted the moon in the sky that she once again let a word slip from her lips.
“Yes,” the commander said truthfully. “You are as beautiful as that moon you are admiring,” he added truthfully.
The little girl looked down as if she was embarrassed. He doubted that, given that she was too young to understand his words.
Raising his hand, the commander alerted his men to halt. After he dismounted, he handed the child to her mother.
“You can ride with me anytime,” he grinned. “You are great company.”
“Ama, come.” The child’s mother demanded as she moved to the left, apart from the soldiers. Still, her heart felt lighter than it had in a long time. They had been traveling for so long and a lot of her people had died along the journey. She often wondered if any of them would survive the trip. However, she thought her daughter might stand a chance if the kind soldier took a liking to her.
Arriving at the camp of her people, the woman sat down and pulled a blanket around herself and Ama. Several of the male elders came forward to address her.
“Don’t trust them,” the eldest among them said with fury. They will kill us all before we reach the promised land.”
Ama’s mother pretended to agree. The rest of the night went on without incident. The next day, two more of the elders died along the trail. One of them was her Ama’s grandmother. Her mother shed many tears, making the child do the same.
“I’m sorry,” the commander said after burying the man and woman. “I’m sorry for all of this,” he waved an arm to encompass everything. “It’s not right but I promise to get as many of you to your new home as I can.” With that he withdrew to allow the people time to mourn.
Days and weeks passed. Then months followed. At last the little band of people was within hours of their new land. Ama and her mother were among those who made it.
“Stop here!” The commanded shouted to his men. “We are going to build a monument.”
“What?” One of his men rode forward to speak with him. “A monument to what may I ask?”
“To these people,” the commander said, his hand reaching for his weapon as he spoke. “Do you have a problem with that?”
The soldier stared at him with hatred. “You’ve become like one of these savages,” he muttered between clutched teeth.
The commander dismounted and signaled the man to do the same. Once both were on the ground, he punched the younger soldier, knocking him backward. “Is there anyone else who wants to challenge me?” He looked out over his men with questioning eyes. When no one spoke, he ordered, “Dismount.”
After the men did as they were told, the commander began picking up rocks and piling them together. The men followed his lead. When they were done, the commander bowed his head and began to pray.
“Great Spirit/God, please make certain no one forgets this treacherous journey. Help people remember it for all time. A lot of good people were lost along the way.” The commander stopped and looked up to see the Indians quietly watching him.
“Father, forgive me for my part in this atrocity. I was ignorant. These people belonged on the land we stole from them. It was their birthright and not ours. I humbly beg yours as well as their forgiveness.”
Turning, he sought out the face of little Ama and that of her mother. Then he continued his prayer. “May this ‘Trail of Tears’ be forever ingrained in history as an example of man’s most grievous sin against their fellow man.”