Book Excerpts

The Journal of Jesse Smoke Text Excerpt

The terrors of the Trail of Tears are revealed through the fictionalized journals of Jesse Smoke, a Cherokee boy whose intelligence and diligence reflect the qualities of his people.

  • Grades: 6–8, 9–12

The Journal of Jesse Smoke: A Cherokee Boy-The Trail of Tears, 1838
By Joseph Bruchac

August 16, 1838

I have been reunited with a dear old friend. He is stubborn as ever. Still, my mother and my sisters and I are delighted that we shall be sharing his company. I am speaking of Napoleyan, our red mule. We did not purchase him, as we have had to do with the other Animals we have been gathering for our exodus. Instead, he joined our company quite on his own.

Yesterday, as we rode past cabins that had once been Cherokee and now were inhabited by white families, a white man with a black beard came out to hail us. The newly arrived white farmers have begun to be much more friendly to us now that they see us with ready cash in our pockets for the purchase of horses and oxen.

This man, however, did not have a horse or an ox to sell. Instead he had a request. "If you is looking for animals," he said with considerable eagerness, "there's a mule that has been tromplin' our fields. It would gratify us if you was to take him, free of charge. Or even kill him for the meat."

He then spoke fervently about the great red devil that came at night to his fields. It kicked down their fences and flattened their corn with its great hooves, devouring whatever it felt like. They had tried to shoot it, but it was too elusive for them and would take to the piney woods before any of them could catch it.

Though my face showed no mirth during his disquisition, I must confess that I as smiling inwardly. The crops that the "red devil" had been trampling had been planted not by these white farmers but by Cherokees. I had a good idea just who that mule was. We were but a few miles from the farm that had been my family's.

Arrow Toter, the Light Horse Leader of our troop, looked over at me and nodded. It was Arrow Toter who had waved to me that day last November as his men galloped past our farm. He thanked the farmer and said that we would keep a lookout. As soon as we had rounded the bend, Arrow Toter turned to me. "The mule is yours?" he said to me in Cherokee.

"It sounds like him," I answered.

Arrow Toter laughed. "If only such creatures could have offspring," he said, "then we might leave them here to share their blessing with generations of whites to come."
"If only," I agreed.

"Call him," Arrow Toter said.

So, as we rode along, I called to Napoleyan. I did not shout his name. Instead, I brought his memory to my mind. I saw again those times when we were together. I saw myself as a boy crawling beneath him. I put the pictures into my thoughts of currying him with the brush, taking him to the creek for water, bringing him oats, scratching behind his ears with my right hand as I fed him a carrot.

My eyes were closed as I rode, picturing those good memories. I do not know for how long. Time goes away when you remember in such a fashion.

I heard the sound of hooves coming up beside me at the same time that a wet nose was pressed against my hand.  Though he much prefers the company of Indians, Napoleyan remains a cussed mule. He came to me as gentle as a lamb and suffered me to comb the tangles from his mane. He stood as I treated the cuts and other wounds upon his side, including one that will leave a scar and seemed to be the graze of a bullet. But it was quite another matter when they tried to burn the CN mark into his rump. He kicked the red-hot brand from John Iron's hand and then chased him twice around the corral before poor John was able to escape. Napoleyan will go west on his own terms, free of the brand of the Cherokee Nation.

  • Part of Collection:
  • Subjects:
    Westward Exploration and Expansion, Literature, Literature Appreciation, Animals, Native American
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