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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 17, 2004 - Issue 111


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The Eagle and the Snake – Redman Speaks – Part 7

Jennifer Ashby's family lived in the mountains of Eastern Tennessee, near a small area called Sevierville. She was born in Blount Memorial hospital, in nearby Maryville, Tennessee at 2:15 am on August 16, 1952. Her mother was a pure blooded Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian. Her father was a stout, dedicated, hard working man, who worked for the FBI. He was a special agent, who was assigned to duty in Washington, DC. She and her father were not able to spend a lot of time together.

Her father, Tommy Ashby was in charge of a special branch of the FBI, whose responsibility included working with the Secret Service in protecting the president of the United States. He was away much of the time, and Jennifer, her two sisters and two brothers were left home with their mother, Hattie Mae Ashby. Jennifer's two living grandparents, Hattie Mae's parents were both proud, pure blooded Cherokee Indians as well. Her Grandfather, Edgar Feathers, was her favorite person in the world. Her grandparents lived in a tiny community called Watauga, Tennessee. Her grandmother, Winnie was another of her favorite people. She called her grandfather, "grandad", or "grandaddy", and she called her grandmother, "mammaw".

Jennifer always looked forward to trips to grandad and mammaw's house. The house was a beautiful looking home set up on the top of a hill, overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains. Since she was a little baby, she maintained vivid recollections of the wonderful times that she and her grandad had spent together. He was always so loving and kind to her.

As she grew older, he began to tell her stories about her Cherokee heritage. Some of the stories were interesting legends, and some were sad, but truthful recollections of what the Cherokee people had been forced to endure throughout their proud history.

Her grandad would take her on walks in the woods and through areas of the mountains to teach her all about nature. Often times, he would take her fishing, which Jennifer loved. Other times, he would take her foraging for berries, which her grandmother made into delicious jelly and jam. It was a wonderful experience.

One night, when Jennifer was seven years old, her grandfather began to tell her a story that would stand out clearly in her mind for the rest of her life, it was so interesting. This particular story was about a time in Native American history, long after the Cherokee's terrible "trail of tears" episode, when the Native American people began to realize that the world as they knew it was rapidly drawing to an end. The white man was defeating their proud people militarily, and there seemed to be very little hope left for most Native Americans. The year, he had told her was 1875. He told her about how a secret tribe, called the "Tribe of the Eagle" had been assembled, and sent to live secretly in the mountains out west. Their mission was to await the promised return of Redman from the spirit world. Upon his return, the tribe was to come out of seclusion and tell the Native American people that this was the time for either war, or peace with the white man, and that at that time, all tribe's would all unite as one. The leader of the Tribe of the Eagle would, according to what Jennifer perceived as a legend, have a sacred turtle shell rattle, with a beautiful eagle feather emblazoned on it that would serve as the sign that the tribe had returned, and their words were to be followed.

Jennifer loved the story, and asked her grandfather to tell it to her over and over again. She thought about how wonderful it would be if something like that could really happen to help the Cherokee people, and all Native Americans for that fact. She imagined it as having some type of "knight in shining armor" come to their assistance.

When Jennifer was 12 years old, her grandmother was diagnosed as having breast cancer. It scared Jennifer indescribably. She couldn't sleep at night. When she did go to sleep, she would have nightmares about her grandmother suffering, and dying. Her grandmother seemed very unconcerned about the disease to Jennifer. She seemed to be going along just as though nothing had changed.

One day, in the winter of 1968, Jennifer came upon her grandfather in the woods at a special spot that he had introduced Jennifer a long time ago. As Jennifer quietly moved through the woods, approaching the special spot, near a small waterfall, she heard a man sobbing and praying in Cherokee. As she listened for a moment, she knew it was her grandad. Her eyes filled up with tears, and she had to leave immediately. It was very upsetting. At first, she began to walk back through the woods, sobbing softly, but as her grief increased in intensity, she began to sort of walk faster and faster and then she broke into emotionally driven full speed running.

About a mile back down the trail, Jennifer lost her composure completely. Her eyes had been streaming tears as she was running, and now waves of uncontrollable, grief driven emotion swept over her. She fell to the ground and began crying, even screaming in both grief and fear. Fear because she sensed that something was terribly wrong. As she cried and writhed on the ground, she wound up next to an oak tree beside the stream. The oak tree was very large, and had an opening at its base that was large enough for Jennifer to actually crawl inside. She did so, and her grief continued to wrack her as she cried and screamed out loud. The hole in tree seemed to offer her some mental feeling of safety and comfort.

After about an hour, her emotional state of being completely drained, her crying stopped, and she simply laid there, drained of all energy, and simply staring blankly at the inside of the tree. As evening began to approach, she grew very cold and actually lapsed into unconsciousness. When Jennifer did not return that night, her family was panic stricken. They, along with friends began to look for her. One neighbor had some redbone and blue tick coon hounds, so he had the hounds smell Jennifer's scent off of one of her shirts, and the dogs began barking and howling as they began sniffing for her trail.

This day had been especially bad for their family, for unbeknownst to poor little Jennifer, her grandmother had died late in the afternoon on that day. The passing of mammaw, and Jennifer's disappearance were a heavy burden for everyone. Finally, about ten o'clock that evening, the dogs located Jennifer. She was still unconscious, and the chilly evening air in the mountains had caused her body temperature to lower. The oak tree had served her well, for if she had been in the open all of that time, with the chilly night air, she would have been in a much worse condition. As it was, she was rushed to the hospital in nearby Johnson City. She was treated for exposure, but she seemed to be extremely unresponsive. No one knew what had happened to her that day, and she just wasn't coming back to consciousness. They all knew that her grandfather was her best hope, but he was terribly grief stricken about the death of his beloved wife.

Jennifer's mom spoke to granddad, and asked him if he felt as though he could help. He agreed immediately. He asked everyone else to leave them alone. He began a soft chanting, that Jennifer and he had done together many times in the past. As he chanted, he took Jennifer's hand and held it close to his heart. He noticed that Jennifer was beginning to move her head slowly from side to side, and her lips were slowly moving with the chant, but no sound was coming out. Then her eyes began to move back and forth slowly behind her eyelids. As he continued his soft chanting, tears swelled up in his sad eyes. He was leaning over Jennifer, and suddenly, one of his tears fell and landed on Jennifer's left cheek. Her eyes opened wide, with a look of terror. She looked up and saw her grandfather. She burst into tears, and put her weakened arms around his strong neck and pulled him down onto her in a hug. As she held tightly onto his neck, she cried out, asking him where mammaw was.

He was a powerful, noble man, but he could not control his own flood of emotions with that question. He too began to cry out loud, as he held Jennifer tightly in his arms. His response confirmed Jennifer's worst fears. She seemed to have known that mammaw had died. Jennifer spent three days in the hospital. Her father had been on a special assignment, and had not been able to come home for Jennifer.

Jennifer had trouble with the death of mammaw, and it affected her performance in school. She had always been a happy, brilliant girl. She was a cheerleader and always on the honor roll. Her grades dropped significantly after the death of mammaw. She became insistent upon seeing her grandfather every chance she could. Mammaw's death had taken a heavy toll on him also. He was never the same again, and died early that next summer. While on his deathbed, he had asked everyone else to leave the room, except for Jennifer. He asked her to chant softly with him. She did so, holding his hand close to her heart, much as he had done for her after mammaw's death. His chanting was becoming broken, with difficulty in breathing.

Tears streamed down her face, as she looked deeply into his eyes. He began to speak to her. His voice was straining, and interrupted with gasps for breath. He told her that he was very proud of her. He asked her to always remember all of the wonderful times that they had shared together, and in a way that Jennifer perceived as a plea, he asked to always remember her proud Cherokee heritage. He asked her to please do anything that she could to help their people. She nodded yes, as he looked deeply into her eyes. Then, her grandfather took in a very deep breath, and he let it out very slowly. His head slowly turned toward the window, and his eyes began to look intently through the window, which had a beautiful view of the mountains. He slowly looked back to her. He gently pulled Jennifer's hands to his mouth and gave them a soft kiss. He said "I love you" in Cherokee, and then his hands went limp. Jennifer fell to her knees and began sobbing repeatedly, "I love you too" in Cherokee. This she repeated over and over again, with her head falling onto his limp hands.

Jennifer was able to get back into her studies, since she had now committed to her grandfather, that she would do well in life. Her grandad had always taught her the importance of keeping her word. She made his memory the focal point of her life, and was determined to make him proud of her. Jennifer graduated from high school in the top five percent of her graduating class. She applied to and was accepted to the University of Tennessee where she would major in Sociology, with a concentration in Criminal Justice. She was fortunate enough to be able to continue her cheerleading as a varsity cheerleader for the University, in spite of formidable challenges from cheerleaders from all over the country.

During Jennifer's freshman year at the University of Tennessee, she and her father began to grow much closer. He had been impressed that she had elected to pursue Criminal Justice and his desire to assist her grew stronger and stronger. He thought that it would be wonderful if she decided to go to work for the FBI also. Jennifer's life began to drift away from her past, as happens with most people. She still maintained a memory of her grandad, and all of his teachings, but as time passed, more and more things filled her life and distanced her from those memories. She had a few brief romantic interludes, but she had some bad experiences with men, and absorbed herself in her studies and athletics. Her father flew her to Washington, DC many times, so that she could get a feel for the great city, the US Government and of course the FBI. During one of her visits, she was actually able to meet the President of the United States. She was thrilled by all of this and the FBI began to seem like something that she would like to do!

End – Part 7 – To Be Continued

© 2003 Geoff Hampton

Geoff Hampton is an internationally known author, speaker, motivator and business consultant. Hampton is the Executive Director for St. Mary's Health & Fitness Center in Powell, TN and is also a regular columnist for the wellness/fitness Website as well as Canku Ota. He can be reached by E-mail at His national anti-obesity/diabetes campaign, The Wellness Wakeup Challenge can be reviewed at

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