The old ones say that long, long ago in the year of the Big Harvest, the land of the Cherokees was becoming too densely populated and they realized they must spread out into neighboring lands in order to grow and prosper. The Peace chief sent out a party of the leading men of the Nation to talk with the neighboring Creeks, who claimed vast areas of land which would be suitable. The Creeks were not as strong as the Cherokees; they had been at war for a long time.
The Cherokees sat in Council with the Creeks to arrange the terms of the exchange of territory. This Council lasted for many days, for there were many amenities to be observed. It is polite to sit in complete silence at the beginning. First the Medicine Woman must enact the lengthy Invocation; then the Peace Pipe Ceremony must be performed. The Pipe is passed leisurely around to each member in turn. Some elaborate speeches of greeting and the presentation of gifts must express the good will of the visitors. These must be answered by the hosts. All this must not be hurried, lest it appear that they were eager to get the business over with and go on home. At the end of each day, the Creeks prepared an elaborate feast which was served by the young maidens. The most beautiful maiden of them all was the daughter of the Chief.
In the ranks of the Cherokee group was Little Hawk, nephew and heir of one of the powerful Red Chiefs. The first night he sat long around the camp' fire composing a love song. The next afternoon he did not appear at the council meeting. He was playing the new song on his flute near the lodge of the Chief of the Creeks.
They met in secret and enjoyed the thrill of a forbidden adventure. They gathered wildflowers; they waded barefoot across the stream, following after the shrill cry of the blue jay. He told her of the land of his people, where the sun is always shining and the cold winds never blow. He knew that he was expected to choose a wife from the proper Clan of an important Cherokee Village, thus increasing the power and solidarity of the Nation. But the Redbird Spirit of Love pays no heed to the notions of nations, and fluttered at the breast of the young Muskogee maiden, the Daughter of the Chief.
The young lovers finally agreed that when the Council was ended, and his people went on their way, he would come for her. They planned that if he should be detained, she would hide in the thicket at the bend of the river, and he would come for her there.
The Creeks agreed to move back past the banks of the Chattahoochee to allow for the expansion of the Cherokee Nation. Some of the Creek Warriors objected to the trading away of their lands and wanted to fight for it, but the Chief could see that there was no chance of saving the land. He argued that it was better to trade it away than to lose it, along with many lives.
So when the Cherokees had left, and the Daughter of the Chief was missing, the Creek Warriors joined in the search for her. Unfortunately, they were the first to find her hiding place. When Little Hawk arrived, he found her - dead. He buried her there, and rejoining his own group, started the long journey homeward.
He returned the next Spring and found among the bright green leaves that grew over her mound the tender white petals of the wild rose. He knelt beside it and called it The Rose of the Cherokee, for he had claimed her for his own. He carried it back to his home and planted it. But long before the winter was over, he grew eager to see the blossoms again; so he went back to her grave and waited there until death came.
The flowers spread throughout the land of the Cherokees and to this day, the Cherokee Rose is the first flower to bloom - her eager face opening early in Spring to welcome the return of her loved one.
Reprinted from Country Road Chronicles, January 2002.