Trail of Tears
Cherokee Grandmother Passes Culture to
My first memories of my grandmother are of her jet black hair,
her huge smile, and her dark eyes. Her name was a- qua- tse
Tsa- la- gi lie- lid- is. She was full of contradictions: She laughed
a lot, worked hard, played hard, and had definite ideas of what a
family should be. She had an opinion that was always right. She
was protective of me, the first grandchild and first
granddaughter, and started me down the road of the traditional
learning and healing ways of the Cherokee people.
I remember the first time that my grandmother took me hunting for herbs and medicines in the woods. She was
short (4'2"), but when asked, she would always say, "Four feet, two and a half inches — and 100 pounds of pure
love." She was Cherokee and a healer of our tribe. Everyone called her Maggie. I was a thin little girl of six
following behind her — dragging a basket, spade, and woven bag.
As we walked in the woods she always told me stories while teaching me the healing ways. One day
she would say, "We are from the Wolf Clan, a strong clan, one that is to be proud of — do not
disrespect our family name." Then she would say, "Dig here. That root is good for stopping bleeding
in childbirth," and I would start digging in the hard, red clay of Pawhuska, OK, for that root.
I learned much of our language from my grandmother and her mother; I am now relearning the
language that I have forgotten since she died. I also learned how to mix herbs and barks and plants
to bring down fevers (ka na sit a — dogwood); help upset stomachs (sa li, gu gu ga nu lv, da (ga) si a la
s de na — peppermint, tickweed, terrapin's foot); arthritis (u did le hv s gi I lv s gi — feverfew);
liver ailments (go s du I (tlv) gv — ash tree); and a variety of other ailments.
Her kitchen was always littered with hanging plants and bags of various dried barks and plants. It
smelled spicy, woodsy, and wonderful. Often, as she boiled a remedy, she would ask me to bring this
plant or that plant to her, and she would indicate how the remedy should be applied and how it
She also taught me many traditional stories of the Cherokee. I remember sitting at her feet raptly
listening to her strong voice flow over me with the images of the characters of coyote, rabbit,
turtle, and grandmother spider dancing in my head. The stories still stir in my mind as the words
turn to real images, and I can feel again the soft summer's wind in my hair and smell the barks and
plants on her hands as she gestured.