Fallen Idols

By Janet Brayden 


            When Scott Lancer was a child he had thrived on stories of military heroes.  George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Admiral Nelson and others had come alive for him in the pages of the books he preferred to read.  Now, as an adult, he was finding that these men were all too human and had their failings.

            General Washington’s behavior had quite often been dictated by the rules of the social structure of the day.  Not only was there acceptable and non acceptable behavior toward family members there were rules for everything from how to eat, what clothes to wear and how to wear their hair to what a lady meant when she held her fan a certain way.  And, as Scott would learn, he was often in pain from ill-fitting false teeth – for General Washington had begun losing his when he was in his twenties.

            The biggest disappointment, outside of General Grant’s legendary drinking, was Andrew Jackson.  Scott had read of young Andy Jackson’s stand against the British – how as a boy he had refused to polish a British officer’s boots and been scarred for life by the man’s sword when he struck young Andrew.  But the hero of New Orleans lost much of his luster when Scott gained access to unbiased information.

            “What is it about Jackson, Scott,  that bothers you so much?” Johnny asked his brother.  Johnny, while not illiterate, had neither his brother’s education nor his love of books.  While Scott could be content to curl up by the fire with a good book Johnny was a man of action.  He preferred to be out socializing with friends, riding Barranca or playing chess with Jelly, his father or his brother.

            “It’s the way he treated his cabinet for one,” Scott explained as they sat in front of a roaring fire one cold winter night.  “When they didn’t agree with his policies, and wouldn’t pass the legislation through Congress that he wanted passed, he’d fire them all and start all over again.  He did that quite a few times during his tenure as President.”

            “So what’s so bad about that?”  Johnny’s blue eyes studied his brother’s somewhat agitated face.  “Murdoch does the same thing with the hands, don’t he?  Fires ‘em if they don’t do what he wants?”

            “That’s not the same thing, little brother,” Scott replied.  “When he broke the monopoly of the Second Bank of the United States he was breaking something that might have needed to be broken.  What that bank had was an unfair advantage over other banks.  But when he defeated the Creek Indians he not only took land away from the Northern Creek, who were his enemies, but also from his Southern Creek allies.  He literally stole twenty million acres of land from these people!”

            “Isn’t that what they call ‘the spoils of war’, brother?”

            “It may be, brother, but it wasn’t right.  We had no right to take their land once the war was over.  In no way is it right to just steal land from people.  That’s what Pardee tried to do only we defeated him the only way we could.”

            Johnny nodded thoughtfully.  They had, in essence, fought their own little war when they faced Day Pardee and his bunch of land pirates.  Pardee and his crew had wiped out several other ranchers and burned, killed and pillaged a wide swath through the San Joaquin Valley before he finally faced Lancer head on and lost.

            “What’s even worse are his actions during the Seminole War.  He not only burned villages and crops, that were left undefended when the men went off to war, he illegally tried, captured and executed two British citizens who had not been supplying and advising the Indians.  He had evidence that somebody – British and maybe Spanish – was but his actions were inexcusable.  He even deposed the Spanish governor of Pensacola, Florida.”

            Scott paused to take a sip of the brandy he had poured himself before settling in to read for a while until bedtime.

            “That’s not the half of it.  When he was President, rumors of gold in Cherokee owned land, started spreading.  Naturally their white neighbors couldn’t have those ‘dirty savages’ having such an abundance of wealth.  Yet the Cherokee were one of the Five Civilized nations.  Along with the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole they were mostly farmers.  They dressed like white men and conducted business that way.  They looked, and acted, no differently than any other man in the area but they had the proverbial red skins.  The white settlers were nervous about these red men living so close to them yet they had chosen to live there.  It wasn’t a case of the Cherokee, or any of the others, crowding in on them.  It was the same as it always has been – white men crowding the original residents out of their homelands.”

            “As a result of this attempt to remove them from their lands the Cherokee acted very differently from other tribes – or even their ancestors.  They didn’t go to war with bow and arrow as they might have in the past.  They actually went to court to fight for the right to stay on their lands.  The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.  In the decision of Worcester v Georgia, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that the state of Georgia had no right to impose their laws upon Cherokee tribal lands.  But that didn’t stop Jackson.  He’s been quoted as saying ‘John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.’  It’s doubtful he really said that but he got his old ally, Major Ridge, to create the Treaty of Echota.  This treaty was largely rejected by the Cherokee people but Jackson’s successor, Martin van Buren, enforced it.  Roughly forty-five thousand people, Johnny, were rounded up in the middle of winter and forced to leave their homes.  Transportation, blankets and food were inadequate.  Many of them died of illnesses or the cold.  It’s no wonder the Cherokee call it ‘The Trail of Tears’!”

            “You’re right, Scott,” Johnny agreed downing his shot of tequila.  “I can see why General Jackson is no longer your hero.  Down in Mexico we’ve fought battles against crooked authorities but we’ve never had people rounded up and forced from their homes in numbers like that, but didn’t Jackson also do some good?”

            “Yes,” Scott conceded.  “He loved his wife very much.  He even fought in duels over her honor.  You see, they got married before her divorce from her first husband was final.  Only they didn’t know that Colonel Lewis Robards, her husband, hadn’t finalized the divorce.  He simply walked away from her saying he was going to get a divorce.  The whispering started as soon as it was learned that they had, unknowingly, committed bigamy.  Rachel Jackson died of a heart attack shortly before she was to leave for Washington, D.C. General Jackson never forgave those whom he felt had slighted her.”

            “What about his military service – other than the Indian Wars?”

            “Well they call him the ‘Hero of New Orleans’ for winning the battle there in January of 1815.  But had either side gotten the news that the war was over – a treaty had been signed – that battle wouldn’t have been necessary.”

            Johnny got up and poured himself another drink.  Walking over to his brother, after replacing the bottle on the sideboard, he raised his glass.

            “Here’s to the Cherokee people – and all others who are forced to leave their homes.  May there never be another ‘Trail of Tears’.”

            “Amen to that, brother,” Scott said.  “Amen to that.”



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