The Little Drummer

Geary Smith 

© Copyright 2002 by Geary Smith 

Pyramid Image.
The Little Drummer is a tale about a young Choctaw Indian, and his trek from Mississippi to Oklahoma. I got the idea from visiting my grandmother, who informed me that her grandfather was a full-blooded Choctaw Indian, not an African American, as I had falsely presumed. Since I rarely find any children stories about Native Americans in my local library, I thought it would be good to write about my ancestors, as well as, bring a new culture to many children.

Daniel Baker sat in his room staring out of the window. Despite the fact that Daniel was wearing his lucky red baseball cap, he was having a very a bad day. He had a flat tire on his bicycle. His team didn't win the baseball. His favorite television program had been cancelled due to the evening news. The only bright spot of the entire day was the homemade vanilla ice cream that Daniel's Grandmother made after diner. Every summer, in mid July, Daniel would spend two weeks with his grandmother in the county. Daniel and his father lived in New York City. Daniel loved the city, however, he also loved spending time with his grandmother, or Nana, as he called her. Some people call their mother's mother grandmother, or grandma, but Daniel called his Nana. Daniel loved spending time with his Nana. It was so very quiet in the country and at Nana's house. At night, all Daniel could hear was the train whistle, and the metal wheels hitting the tracks. Daniel just loves spending time exploring the woods, and nature. He would add to his rock and bug collection for school. Daniel's father was a corporate lawyer for large company in Germany. And, the reason that Daniel was so sad, was that he had just received the news from his father on the phone that they would have to move to Germany.

"I'm sorry Nana," said Daniel. "It's not your fault. I'm just upset know...having to move to Germany. That's so far away, and I want have any friends. What will I do? I want be able to visit with you every summer."

"I understand, Daniel, said Daniel's grandmother. "But, you daddy's work is very important, not only to the both of you, but to a whole lot of other people. Here I have something that I want you to take with you to Germany. I've been saving it for a special moment, and I think that this is it."

Just then Nana reached into her old black trunk and pulled out a very old Indian drum. It was faded brown, and had red and black marking on the sides. Nana handled the old drum like it was made of gold. Daniel didn't think too much of the old drum. He wasn't a baby anymore, to play with drums.

"Where did you get that old drum, Nana?" asked Daniel. "Was it my father's when he was a little boy? And, why would I want to take it Germany?

"Well, lets get us some cold lemonade, and maybe another scoop of ice cream, and I will tell you why the drum is so important. This story was told to me when I was a little girl by my mother, Ms.Bessie Lee Baker", said Nana.

It was November 1,1831, when Bill Daniel, got the horrible news. He was only nine years old at the time, and really didn't know what was happening. Later, he was find out from his grandfather, that he would have to leave his home in Mississippi, and travel a great distance to another part of the country. Bill's family was only allowed to take what he could carry, a small ration of food and water, some additional clothes, small hand tools and of course, his little drum that he had has a baby. But, the homes, farms, livestock, crops, and all that they had worked hard to build would have to stay behind.

"Why do we have to leave our home?" Bill asked his father. "It's not fair. I like it here where we live."

"After the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, in 1830, it was decided that the Choctaw people would have to move from their land. And, we would be transported with the help of the War Department."

"Bill really didn't understand the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, or anything else, but he knew his father had a very serious and troubled look on his face. Bill quickly realized that whatever was going on it had to be something very important."

Bill was going to travel by steamboats and wagons; however, his uncle and some of his friends chose to walk. The soldiers offered a small group, about 300 people in all, the opportunity to walk provided with guns and food, and a guide. However, as it turned out, we later discovered that the guide didn't know the territory very well and the group got lost. However, during the last week in October, Bill's father waited to leave. That was when the floods and heavy rain began to pour down. The Mississippi, St.Francis, Big Fork, and White rivers were all flooded and made travel on foot and wagon almost impossible. Bill's family had very little food and shelter. And, many of the Choctaw people died before the steamboats finally arrived. The Brandywine, Reindeer, and Walter Scott were the names of the steamboats that did arrive.

"Which one do we get on?" Bill asked his father.

"I really don't know yet, Bill. I guess the soldiers will let us know."

"This group will be assigned to Reindeer!" shouted one of the soldiers.

The Reindeer was an old steamboat that had been used by the army to carry food and supplies. Steam was shooting up high into the sky, Bill didn't think they could all fit on such a small steamboat. Luckily for Bill that he had been assigned to the Reindeer, because the Brandywine, one of the other steamboats had caught on fire and could not sail. Bill traveled along the Arkansas River toward his new home. However, after several days, soldiers abruptly stopped the steamboats, and Bill had to unload. Bill overheard one of the soldiers saying that they needed to Reindeer for carrying supplies, and that was more important than carrying a bunch of Choctaw Indians. Bill unloaded off the Reindeer. Soon afterwards, several days later, the cold wind and rain began to blow and come down. And, eventually, snow covered the land as far as the eye could see. Bill and the others didn't have enough tents for shelter and most importantly, they didn't have enough food to eat. However, about two days later, some of the local residents of Monroe brought food that consisted of corn, dried beans, pumpkins and onions, as well as, some additional tents and blankets. Bill remembers playing his drum, and shaking from the cold air at the same time. However, it was too late for many of Bill's relatives and friends who had already died of exposure and pneumonia. The steamboat Cleopatra finally arrived and after a long hard trek, Bill and his family and hundreds of others reached their destination, in what is now Southern Oklahoma. However, out of the 20,000 Choctaws Indians that were transported, only 7,000 survived the ordeal. That's why the path that Bill traveled is called The Trail of Tears. As with many other tribes and people, the Choctaw Indians overcame diversities as well as hostile environments and inclement climates, in their quest for independence and freedom.

"However, my grandfather, "Papa Bill" as we called him", said Nana. "I never knew his real Choctaw Indian name. After settling in Oklahoma, the white soldiers changed his real name to Bill Daniel, when he was working as a scout in the new territories of Texas. Bill grew up into a strong tall man, who was not only a scout, but also a sharp shooter protecting the earlier settlers."

Daniel would think about the story that Nana told him that day. The pains and hardships that the Choctaw Indians had to endure never left Daniel's mind from that day on. He thought about his culture and history, and what it meant to the entire world. Whenever, he would become afraid, he would take out his drum and beat it. It was almost magic, of how the drum could make Daniel feel much better about his situation and gave him courage. That wasalmost thirty years ago, and Daniel would treasure the drum forever. And, he would think about the special day when he would tell the tale of "Papa Bill" to one of his sons, and pass the drum on down.

Acknowledgement: Although some names and accounts of this story were told to me by my grandmother, Ms.Gussie Daniel Baker, concerning her grandfather, Papa Bill, the actual historical information and data is based on Len Green's (former Editor of the BISHINIK newspaper) history of the Choctaw people.

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