Interview by William P. Ross, editor of The Cherokee Advocate and nephew of Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross, about happenings during Cherokee Trail of Tears and the abducted daughter of well-known ship owner, Aaron Deveraux
Ross: Tell the readers who you are and where you are from.
Bryan: M’name’s Bryan Kelly. I grew up jus’ south of Fort Smith, over in western Arkansas.
Ross: You joined the American Army?
Bryan: He nods then shrugs. Joined when I was 18. A private assigned to Major Adrian Todd’s Company, Mounted Infantry. My unit helped with the Cherokee Indian Removal 1838to ‘39.
Ross: Did you volunteer for this assignment? Or were you ordered to guard the Cherokee on their forced removal?
Bryan: Well, sir, it t’was a bit o’both. Told my commandin’ officer I’d grown up jus’ south of Fort Smith an’ knew the area. Army thought I’d be of some help gettin’ the Cherokee to their new homes. I got placed in the mounted infantry an’ was told t’keep up.
Ross: You are Irish?
Bryan: Yessir. My father was Jean Kelly, a farmer from Ireland.
Ross: Why did you join the army? Why not farm like your father?
Bryan: I am part Indian. My mum is Cadodacho—Caddo to the white folks. M’father died when I was five so I was partly raised by my grandfather. I joined the American Army to help. Soldiersaren’t always friendly to Indians, as you know. I saved food, blankets—gave to those with need.
Ross: Did you succeed in helping?
Bryan: I tried. He shrugs, a deep sadness etches lines on his face. Haunted green eyes make him appear much older than his young age. So many died, Mister Ross. Too many froze to death. Starved. Soldiers kept most of the Indians’ food rations for themselves. He takes a ragged breath and swipes the back of hand across his mouth. I did what I could. Gave extra to the li’l ones an’ the elders when I could get away with it. Miss Sophia Deveraux, though, she helped a heap more’n most.
Ross: Who is this Ms. Deveraux? Why is she there?
Bryan: Major Todd, he captured her in Savannah. There in Georgia and the very start o’things. He was punishin’ her ’cause she refused him—didn’t want to be his wife. Not that I blame her. Had her thrown in the stockades at New Echota. I shouldn’t be talkin’ bad ’bout an officer, but that man was just plain evil. He wanted her to suffer in the worst way.
Ross: Did she?
Bryan: He shakes his head. Not Miss Sophia. She’s a strong ’un. A Cherokee elder is lookin’ after her, him an’ another Indian, a Choctaw named Clay. You might know Martin, Mr. Ross. He sure did his best on the trail. As for Clay, I suspect he went an’ captured Miss Sophia’s heart. An’ darn if he don’t look all moon-eyed around her, too. Darnedest thing, though. We kept runnin’ cross a doll made outta bone. That thing gave me the willies but Miss Sophia sure thought highly of it. Said it’d been a gift from her father. Odd things happened when that there doll was around.
Ross: A child’s toy, surely. Tell me, Private, are you planning to stay in the army?
Bryan: Notrightly sure, sir. Good pay, good people for the most part. Might stay. Considerin’ it.
Ross: What would you do if you left the army?
Bryan: Go home.Grandfather is too old now to take care of our farm by himself. Course, if Miss Sophia, Martin, or Clay asks… I’ll stay for them. They’re good people, y’know?
Ross: Well, Private Kelly, perhaps they will ask.
Bryan: Anythin’s possible, sir. Anythin’s possible.
Trail of Hope is scheduled for release on 4-10-2013 from The Wild Rose Press & Amazon.com.
For more information about Heidi Vanlandingham, please visit her website: heidivanlandingham.com.