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McLean Writer Retells Cherokee Story

Local author pens historical novel detailing the Trail of Tears.

Ann Emmons Petri’s affinity for American Indians began when she was a child growing up on Narragansett hunting grounds in Rhode Island. The culmination of her lifelong fascination is her self-published book, “Cherokee Tears.”

The book took Petri seven years to complete, mostly from her study at her McLean home, because she wanted to accurately portray events and the plight of the Cherokee people during that difficult time frame. “People just don’t know the good parts of Native Americans. We think we’re so superior, but we’re not. I hope that we will realize what valuable people the Cherokees are,” said Petri.

“Cherokee Tears” is an illustrated historical novel about the Trail of Tears, a forced march of native peoples out of their homeland to territories in the West. The novel details the conditions endured by Cherokee Indians in 1838, when their lands were seized by the U.S. government and soldiers forced them to walk 800 miles into what is now Oklahoma.

The book’s title stems from a Cherokee legend that says everywhere a Cherokee mother shed tears on the trail, a white rose sprang from the earth. The rose, not documented before the march, has seven petals for the seven clans that make up the Cherokee Nation, and a gold-colored center that symbolizes the gold discovered on Cherokee lands. This rose is now the state flower of Georgia.

“Cherokee Tears” tells the story of twins Hettie and Sky and how in 1838, at the age of 16, they escape to a cave in the Georgia mountains and avoid the roundup for the forced march. Along the way, a white Army lieutenant named Benjamin Stone falls in love with Hettie but participates in the roundup anyway. The soldier has a change of heart and seeks out the young woman but is caught up in the march before he can express his true feelings.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the information was unavailable. I looked at every single source and then went to the Library of Congress to look at [Stone’s] original letters from that time. I couldn’t find exactly where he was, though,” said Petri.

George Ellison, himself a noted author and writer of Cherokee culture, said that Petri’s book differentiates itself because of its accuracy. He met Petri several years ago while she was doing research, at which time he told her how many Cherokees who fled into the mountains survived by eating pot scrubbers, a lichen also known as “rock tripe.”

“She was looking for details that many people don’t look for. She made an effort to get the details right. Many people just get carried away with the Trail of Tears and focus on that,” said Ellison.

Petri enlisted the help of her brother, G.B. Emmons, to illustrate the novel. “We share a lifelong interest in Native Americans. This book is so adventuresome, yet steeped in history. It’s multidimensional,” said Emmons.

“The tribulations they were put through being separated from their land was especially hard for the Native American, since the land is their Mother. It was a 19th century holocaust,” said Emmons,

The book became a true family affair, with Petri’s children serving as editors and artistic directors throughout the seven years it took to finish the book. Her husband, Bill, aided the process by creating many of the maps used in “Cherokee Tears” to illustrate the land holdings of the Cherokees and how widely they traveled through the years.

“This recreates the history and the documents, as well as illustrates the circumstances. Not only in my illustrations but in the maps and Cherokee prayer as well,” said Emmons.

“I just hope people will learn something about the Cherokee people reading this,” said Petri.

The book can be ordered online from www.Amazon.com or www.barnesandnoble.com.