I have to find a way to stay engaged enough to, oh, you know, do my job for Pith and yet not sit at my real job paralyzed in front of the computer waiting for the next bit of bad news.
Speaking of Pith, this weekend we went out to look at a part of town where the Trail of Tears had gone through and there was an old Indian village. A thing I will never tire of is the moment when I realize “Oh, shit, that’s what this is.”
Like, for instance, when you’re driving up 18th Ave and you’re going up hill but it makes these stair-step jogs, as if you’re crossing a series of terraces, that’s because you’re driving through an old quarry–the old quarry the state capitol and the old state prison came out of.
And so there was a moment when I looked at that old map of the Whites Creek Road when I realized, holy shit, the Trail of Tears could not have gone up the Whites Creek Pike, because the Pike didn’t go in until the 1840s. Here, along the river, this road on this map, is it. Here’s the way it went.
Who had seen this map in recent years? Just whoever digitized it at the TSLA and whoever put it online and then who really looked at it? Let’s say a hundred people looked at the map when the TSLA announced it was online. How many people realized what they were looking at? That number’s hard to guess, but maybe ten, maybe fewer? Of that amount, who would have realized that other people didn’t know this? And of that amount, who would have a platform to say “Oh, hey!”
I can’t tell you how much it blows my mind, how much it delights me–always delights me–to feel like I might know something no one else knows yet.
But I also had another experience with this map, before I went out, where a friend was telling me about the Indian village that was there and he mentioned the mounds and I was like, “you mean these bumps?” and I pointed to them on the map. So, in that moment, I was in a small group of people who had seen the map but didn’t know what they were looking at.
And he was the one person, the first person, to look at that map and realize what he was seeing–the only known rendering of those mounds. Archaeologists have known they were there, but no one’s ever seen a picture of them or a drawing of them or an indication on a map of where they were. Until last Friday.
It was amazing.
But here is the sorrow to go with delight. Those mounds, most of which were burial mounds, were there when the Cherokee were forced through town. The scope of the shitty thing we were doing as a country is hard to realize, hard to focus on, it’s so large. And while I do think that the trauma of the Indian wars was partly the driving force behind walking them through settlements they had tried to stop–look, you didn’t destroy Nashville. You didn’t destroy Clarksville. We’re destroying you.–and I’m not sure we were trying to send any less blunt a message than that, it’s hard not to read into it a message of “look how we live on top of your dead, how we knock down your mounds, how we erase you from the landscape.”
Because that’s the other thing that struck me doing the research–when the Trail of Tears came through, we weren’t certain that those weren’t old villages of tribes we were familiar with. Some folks had begun theorizing that they were not, but that wasn’t widely accepted.
Hell at that point they were still not sure where saltpeter in the caves around here came from. (Hint: batshit).
So, you know, the “empty Eden” story we tell about Nashville when we got here has to be so much bullshit. We arrived at a place full of villages. Creepy, empty villages, but villages. And we didn’t know how old they were or who they belonged to. We just settled in those villages and fought off the people who came to drive us out.