The farther they got from their home, the more color drained out of the world. First the sky went gray, then the woods, and now, as he glanced around the riverboat, he saw that his people were starting to lose their color as well.
He looked over them, past the churning of the paddle wheel and the icy expanse of the river to the shrinking pillars of smoke that marked the Memphis harbor. Closing his eyes, he looked even farther, to the hills of Mississippi where he was raised. Then to the great mound Nanih Waiya, the birthplace of his people, and the smaller mounds around it, that entomb their history. The sacred place fixed in his mind, he said his good-byes to the land, and to his ancestors.
Opening his eyes he thought of the thin white man with the bizarre accent that had stopped him while boarding the riverboat. The man asked why the Choctaw people were leaving. He had looked at the man for a moment, thinking of the million hateful and angry things he wanted to scream in his face.
“To be free,” was all he could ultimately say.
He hoped he had not lied.
Memphis was the final point east of the Mississippi for the Choctaw Indians on the Trail of Tears. From here, they were loaded into riverboats and taken across to Arkansas. Alexis de Tocqueville was here to witness their departure, and those were the words on Choctaw told him. They were leaving “To be free”.