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Woman Riding Motorcycle Across Africa

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

AI generated art by D.K. Spencer

AI art seems cool and new at the moment. But this will soon change when it's ubiquitous throughout the blogosphere. Then it will not be new. AI art will become expected, and our perspective and feelings about it will change in ways we cannot predict.

Until then ... Here’s to the Wild West of Artificial Intelligence!

My Trip Across America

Summer travel began with a flight to Savannah, Georgia in October. A personal friend of mine was heading a political campaign for the House of Representatives in the First District of the State of Georgia. Wade Herring, a moderate democrat was running against conservative incumbent “Buddy” Carter in one of the reddest districts in the country.

Wade, a successful lawyer, had never considered politics until January 6, 2021, when “Buddy” stood on the floor of the Georgia State Capitol in support of Donny T’s claim of voter fraud.

Wade eventually lost to “Buddy”, but what I witnessed in the lead up to the election was inspiring.

I found myself in the upstairs room of a crowded Savannah community center listening to African American leaders speak to roughly thirty-five reverends and pastors on the importance of voting. Wade would be speaking soon; he needed their support.

At the time I wrote:

The thread of the survival of society is dependent upon Savannah. This may sound an overreach, but the focus, authenticity, and presence of mind necessary to create positive social change is alive here like no other place in the country.

It felt true at the time, and I meant it. Almost no one feels the systemic hurt and pain of their community more than African Americans of the south. A lifetime of pain and suffering clarifies the mind and spirit like no other. What matters most becomes crystal clear.

Like the ability to vote.

Continuing on my travel, I left Savannah headed to Tellico Plains, the largest site of indigenous native peoples and Cherokee ancestors in the country. Tens of thousands of indigenous Americans lived for thousands of years, now called Tellico Plains. Most of these ancestors are under thirty feet of water. The Tennessee Valley Authority flooded the land in 1979 for the production of hydroelectric power, increased recreation, boating, and fishing. According to the website, TVA "had" to alter the landscape to carry out its mission. More than 20,000 grave sites were relocated to places near the area of Tellico Plains.

The fall colors of Tennessee were in full display at the time, though it was unseasonably warm for October. It was in the low 80’s. Tennessee is derived from the Cherokee name Tanasi.

The reason for my travel was to find out a little about the Trail of Tears. While there are many beginning points for the Trail, Tellico Plains seemed like a logical place to begin.

I was searching for material for my novella featuring Bass Reeves and Isaac Cloud.

The more I got into my research the more I realized any story concerning Bass Reeves is intrinsically inter-meshed with indigenous Americans. What began as a historical fiction of Reeves, soon became a story placed against the backdrop of the Trail of Tears and the forced Native American Relocation that happened fifty years prior.

Sometimes the story tells the writer what to write and not the other way around.

Whether the story sees the light of day remains unclear for several reasons, not the least of which being Taylor Sheridan.

A force of nature, here is a man who’s garnered a two-hundred-million-dollar deal with Paramount Global for the series Yellowstone, the most widely watched program on American television since The Game of Thrones. He is commissioned with its prequel, 1883, and a possible spin-off series on Bass Reeves.

Given that, it might be hard to publish a story about Bass Reeves now, even though his story will not put the same spin on Bass’ world as mine does.

I say this not knowing of course, but suspect Sheridan will fail to point out that Bass Reeves moved in 1893, from the Western District of Arkansas to Paris, Texas, where the first public lynching of an African American man occurred, just weeks before.

Concerning Paris, two more public lynching took place in 1920, but none of this history is visible. You wouldn't know it unless you read about it somewhere else. You were not likely taught this.

And these signs of racism in Paris still exists today.

"I do not believe there is systematic racial discrimination in Lamar County. I do believe there is a misperception that that is going on", said Judge M. C. Superville, in 2015.


Likewise, I suspect Sheridan will not focus on native Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Muskogee Creek folklore in his Bass Reeves series. (But am anxious to find out!)

When I asked a Cherokee about possibly using a known legend in my story, I was told that using the legend would not be the problem. The conflict that might arise with its attribution. Apparently, there is split among tribal members on whether particular legends are part of a specific tribe or lineage.

The reason is, until Sequoyah, aka George Gist, there was no indigenous written language. Information was passed from generation to generation, in oral tradition.

Indigenous Americans have lost many of their stories and origins due to their historical trauma, and the passage of time. Now, there is debate. And conflict.

Possibly from assimilation and missionary Biblical teachings, some tribal members associate with the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Unable to prove or disprove, it becomes a matter of belief.

The Seven recognized Cherokee Clan are: Bird, Deer, Wolf, Wild Potato, Paint, Blue, and Long Hair. These clan names remain undisputed.

So, I may just be writing this story for myself, which would be a shame. My story is a tribute to the Five Civilized Tribes, honoring the horrendous trials and hardships of forced relocation, ancestral Cherokee and other tribes had to endure. They would have experienced emotional and physical torment, most Americans will never begin to understand. That my story is written with the best intentions may not be enough for raging critics.

I continued to Chattanooga (Tsatanugi) as another important beginning of the Trail of Tears. What I found surprised me.

I found nothing.

Downtown has been scraped flat, leaving no trace of history or character behind. In its place, twenty or so brand hotels, bars, and restaurants beckoning tourist dollars, stood where once thousands of Cherokee had lived.

Sleeping 40 feet in the air, above Ross Landing, I found it impossible to dream indigenous dreams of the history below me. Not even the railroad and ferry dock were kept, let alone any visible acknowledgement of the Cherokee forced relocation.

Visiting Paris, Texas was also a disappointment, in that I could not find hint nor history of Bass Reeves, even as Muskogee next door commemorated a bridge in his name.

I followed the Trail of Tears to Tahlequah, Ok.

Tellico ... Tahlequah

Do you see the resemblance? Both are derived from Cherokee language.

In Tahlequah, there are many Cherokee, whose descendants walked the Trail. The town feels different from either Muskogee or Paris. It is certainly smaller. Yet, Tahlequah somehow feels saner, if that’s the right description. Driving through Paris, I felt its gritty underbelly, while in Tahlequah, I felt its history of authenticity. Its strength of survival. The two towns could not be more different in character.

As I continued to drive across the country, I found the expanse of land beautiful beyond words. I headed through La Junta. Driving out into the barren desert to where the Santa Fe Trail had gone through, I see nothing but scrub for miles and miles, with only high chaparrals and plateaus in the faraway distance.

Driving from Colorado to Utah, multi-colored bluffs, gorges, mountains, and hills lumbered across my windshield. The large expanse of rural land, from roughly Mississippi to Oregon, is the heartland of the US. It’s easy to understand why people who live in these areas are more conservative. They live in some of the wildest, most beautiful areas of the country. But these areas are remote. They live on tradition and rely on each other through harsh changing seasons. Like their Native American counterparts, many turn to God.

I can see why. The land is beautiful, but it’s also lonely out on the plain. God keeps them company.

This contrast of lifestyle gets lost on us city dwellers. Traveling into the landscape, I can see how my focus has been limited by the comfort of our conveniences. Everyone needs to travel more.

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