“At mile marker 338, turn left, walk 100 meters and look for the stone wall” is all he said. I tried to get more information out of him but he did not budge. I was on the Natchez Trace Parkway and it was the middle of October. In less than a month I would be touching the waters of the Gulf in Galveston yet on this day it was very far away and as I ran off into the early morning fog I couldn’t help but wonder why I had been given such a message. Bill had been my host in Fall Hollow, TN and it was the night before I left that he told me I should make a stop to see someone. That someone was the “stone talker” and he was 67 miles away.
Just outside Florence, AL the Trace winds slowly through the countryside. A mind can sputter when staring at the cotton fields. Thoughts took me back in time to days when the fields were harvested by hand and broken backs. When dreams wilted in the heat but did not die. When sweat meant hope for another sunset. The red clay caked my bare feet as I walked, creeping up between my toes.I closed my eyes and listened, trying to get a feel for how it would have been to pick cotton all day under a scorching sun. Trying to understand a time when all men were not equal. The mind meanders and not always does it comprehend.
The road climbs and enters the welcome canopy of shade and up ahead on the left side of the road I see the green mile marker. Number 338. Normally I do not like to deviate from my route. The clock is always ticking and I knew there would be someone waiting for me at the end of my day, however I sensed that today time could wait.
Rising from the rust colored Alabama earth, the stone wall appeared up ahead. Upon closer examination this was no ordinary stone wall but something unique, solid and obviously built with tender care. From what I could make out, it wove its way through the woods in a straight line with ninety degree corners to go around trees. The stones were flat and of a shape and weight that most people could handle with relative ease. The height was four to five feet and the width at least twenty feet. Stones were laid in a tight pattern on both sides and in the center were loose rocks as if they were the water filling a moat. I made my way to the front of the property and walked in. There in a chair sat an old man with gray hair and a hint of Native American in his features. I spoke first. “I like your wall and I build walls too.” Producing my phone I showed him the wall of flags from Minnesota to that point. Each red dot, a name and those names had formed one long continuous line on my screen. “I heard of your coming and have been waiting to talk to you”, he replied. So the story begins…
“Have a seat my friend” he said. “I like what you are doing, and I can see in your eyes that you have a good heart”.
I knew that I was in the presence of someone special. The words rolled off his tongue in a way that grabbed your attention like thunder on a summer night and I felt myself leaning forward in anticipation of his next sentence…..
“At the age of 10 in 1936, my grandmother started to share stories with me. Why the rivers sang. Why brother rabbit lost his tail, why brother turtle smiles. She has held my imagination ever since. I remember her disappearing into the woods and returning hours later with a basket full of various types of plants and herbs She told me that the plants cured many things and she had learned the practice from her grandmother, my great-great grandmother. It was about this time that I was in the fourth or fifth grade that she began to share the story of her grandmother and now I share it with you.”
“The year was 1838 and Native Americans were being gathered up in northern Alabama and surrounding states. They would then be force marched to the west, to Oklahoma to reservations near Muskogee. Thousands would die along the way and it became known as the Trail of Tears. My great-great grandmother was Yuchy. She was only fifteen and lived not far from here in a cabin above the river near here, when her and her sister were taken. Before arriving in Oklahoma they were given something quite unique at the time. Something that would prove that what I am telling you is true. They were given brass tags, octagon shaped, to be worn around their necks. My great-great grandmother was Number 59 and her sister was Number 60. That first winter in Oklahoma was long and cold and one spring morning in the following year she slipped away and began the long walk back to Alabama. At the time she faced the risk of being hung if she was caught. It took her five years to make it back to this county. Five years of inhospitable conditions, hunger and thirst, and loneliness that shrouded her soul day and night. How do I know this to all be true? She is listed in the Oklahoma archives as Number 59, Alabama Female, Age 18, deceased. I have in my possession tag Number 59 which she brought back with her, she did not die. The tag and story have been passed down to me. This is not the only record I have of her return. She was a magician with her medicines When she arrived back here she met my great-great grandfather and he took her as his wife. With her magical medicines she began curing many people and in a short time many people started to come to her. Many people. In 1845 a Methodist minister by the name of Wiley Edwards showed up, not only a minister but the top educator in the county. He came to her with some medical problems and she cured him. Wiley Edwards was fascinated by her. Not only by her homeopathic knowledge and cures for ailments but of her story of hardship and travel. On February 13, 1845 he sat down and began to record her story. He would come back almost daily for 2 years, till the fall of 1847. Meticulously, he would record his questions and her answers and though lengthy in time and relatively short in volume, he ended up with a 168 page journal. I have in my possession, that journal, passed down to me. To give you an idea of what this man did I am going to read you the first page……………..