Unto These Hills, By Kermit Hunter
You can feel a slight chill run up your spine; but not from the mountain winds shifting their direction in anticipation of the coming dusk. It is from your anticipation of the coming drama. Unto These Hills is the tragic and triumphant story of the Cherokee that traces back to the years before the heartbreak of the Trail of Tears to the present day. Millions of people have witnessed America’s most powerful drama, which rewrites the Cherokee’s place in the world. A place based on traditional Cherokee values and modern sensibilities.
The play opens with the arrival of the Spanish Conquistador, Hernando deSoto in 1540. The appearance of deSoto and his army establishes an ominous portent of what will befall the Cherokee Nation during the next three-hundred years. Early on the famous Cherokee leader, Yonaguska deliberates the fate of all Native peoples, and yet charts a peaceful course with his white neighbors and the American government. He even joins forces with Andrew Jackson at the famous Battle of Horseshoe Bend where another famous Cherokee leader, Junaluska saves Jackson’s life. Despite this, Jackson will later develop policies as President that usurp previous promises of Cherokee sovereignty and deliberately charts a course for the removal of the Cherokee from their traditional homelands.
The discovery of gold in Cherokee County in 1835 sets the stage for tribal lands to be overrun by the whites, who illegally occupy lands, build settlements and town, and generally disregard the cultural practices and freedoms of the Native population. Also during this time, unscrupulous land agents descend upon area, carrying out the Manifest Destiny ideology, as well as creating deep divisions among the Cherokee people. It is at this point where the heartbreaking story of Tsali and his family begins to unfold. His unrelenting mistrust of the United States Government, along with his intense love of his people and their traditional ways, gives rise to an inevitable – and ultimately deadly - clash between him and the over-powering forces of the United States Army. Tsali’s resistance to removal leads to the untimely death of his beloved wife, Wilani, as well as him and his sons near the end of the play. They sacrifice themselves so that a small group of Cherokee will be able to remain in their homeland. But sadly, shortly following the men’s execution, the infamous Trail of Tears begins.
Despite this dark and tragic episode in the lives of the Cherokee, the ending of the play is filled with beautifully sculpted imagery and effective emotional symmetry, symbolizing the re-emergence of a people whose spiritual fortitude, social complexities, and human courage will never be broken.