NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 16.2: Fall 2016 - Page 17

“ But then you look in the opposite direction you see in the warm misty shininess of an early spring morning what appears to be a ghostly flotilla of rafts stretching all the way across the Mississippi , all of them , the rafts , loaded down with what in your feverish state of panic has got to be the souls of dead people , hundreds and thousands of dead souls being ferried across the River Styx but which instead are Cherokees , the Trail of Tears , those Cherokees , the ones Old Hickory has forced off their lands and rounded up like cattle into detention camps , and then force marched a thousand miles west to the banks of the Mississippi — and here they are now , right there in front of King Comus ’ eyes , loaded with all their belongings and animals onto hundreds and hundreds of rafts with their wagons and carts and dogs and horses and mules , and now suddenly here comes popping up out of the muddy swift-flowing current a bedraggled and terrified King Comus , more dead than alive , bobbing up and down into their midst —
“ Most likely they took him for some kind of evil spirit — a nappy-haired devil come to add even more torment and misery to their already miserable lives and probably started hitting him on his head with their oars , hoping he would sink out of sight and return to the world of evil spirits from which he came —
“ Except for a young Indian maiden ( and no use pretending she was beautiful because in all likelihood even then she was fat and ugly as sin but to King Comus in those moments of hallucination and dream she must have seemed as gorgeous and ethereal as the Virgin Mary , and on the part of that Indian maiden she must have taken an instant and hysterical liking to him and decided right then and there whatever he was she had to have him ), who while everyone else was doing their best to batter him out of sight with their oars , sticks and anything else they could get their hands on , reached down and grabbed him under his jaws and yanked him determinedly up onto her raft and , since she was a close relative of the chief , she got her way and claimed him as her own —
“ What happened next ,” Tillman said , spitting out the pit of one of the dried prunes he had begun snacking on as a remedy for shipboard constipation — from when the Cherokee woman fished King Comus out of the Mississippi and loaded him more dead than alive aboard her raft , until the time some seven or eight years later , when he showed up in the frontier Army town of what is now Lawton , Oklahoma , looking for work and a brand new start in life — has remained and always will remain one of those argument-starting mysteries nobody , at least nobody in my family , wants to talk about anymore , mainly because of the uneasiness we American Negroes feel about having so much unauthorized and unaccounted for Indian blood in our veins —
“ White blood , even low-life redneck blood or even the blood of one of those indigestible genetic concoctions we call ‘ Creole ’ blood , your average middle-class colored family is willing to admit , but Indian blood , forget it !
“ Not to mention the fact that , according to a story my grandmother told me as a child , a story she claims King Comus ’ son told her about and which all these years she ’ d kept to herself , to the effect that after King Comus ’ Indian wife died of tuberculosis and had been buried in the tribal burial ground , and King Comus was left all alone to raise their son , because the son was mostly black and not a full-blooded Indian , the other women in the tribe turned their backs on him and refused to sleep with him or work the vegetable garden all the tribal women had behind their cabin or wash his son ’ s clothes —
“ Now if it were me I ’ d be prouder of my Indian blood than my African blood , but things were different in those days , and for me the story always rang true , since the one thing everybody seems to be sure of is that sometime around the 1840s , King Comus , then a young man still in his twenties , showed up in Lawton looking for work and a new life for himself , after first dropping his son off at a mission convent school run by the Ursuline Sisters —”
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