The Cherokee Night

by Lynn Riggs

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 807

In the shadow of Claremore Mound, Oklahoma, a group of young people, all of whom are of mixed white and Cherokee ancestry, are having a frolicsome picnic one night in 1915. They quarrel among themselves, at first in a harmless fashion but later in a serious one. They verbally torment one another with insults and references to one another’s personality flaws. Viney Jones, who was a schoolteacher, tells of keeping Hutch Moree, an oil hand, after school for his stuttering. Bee Newcomb is rightly accused of being a prostitute. Other insults are exchanged. Noises made by another person are then heard in the night. Directly, Old Man Talbert appears and informs the youth that he is collecting arrowheads, relics from the past with which he hopes to reestablish his own identity as an Indian, as well as to reestablish that of the part-Indians around him such as the members of the group. Talbert goes mad, recalling the long-gone greatness of the Cherokee and Osage Indians who once lived and fought on this very scene.

Some twelve years later, in the Rogers County Jail, Bee is hired by the sheriff to trick Art Osburn into confessing that he murdered his wife, a white woman much older than he with children of her own. The sheriff places Bee in the cell with Art, where she lies by claiming that she was put in jail for being drunk. She produces whiskey to help loosen Art’s tongue. Shortly, thinking no one can hear what he says, Art confesses that he murdered his wife and that she did not drown as he claims. Art then discovers a tape recorder hidden in the cell by the sheriff, but it is too late. He attacks Bee, who is barely saved from his wrath. The sheriff then pays her for deceiving her fellow Indian.

In 1931, Viney decides to visit her sister Sarah Pickard, who lives on a run-down farm within sight of Claremore Mound. Sarah is the mother of Maisie, a young girl of seventeen years who recently married. The Pickard family is very poor and bordering on starvation. Viney, who hides and denies her Cherokee heritage, lives in town where she passes for white—evidently because of her husband’s money. Viney offers some money to her sister, but out of pride Sarah rejects it. The two sisters quarrel bitterly; each accuses the other of being selfish and living a lie. As she exits the home, Sarah throws several coins at her sister and instructs her to use them to buy medicine. Maisie finds them and holds them gratefully.

The three youths—Gar Breeden, Hutch, and Art—as boys in 1906 are playing games in the absence of adults. In the woods in the summer, they seek out the location where an African American man was murdered by white men. The man was chased there after murdering another African American in a card game. The three boys search for blood and other evidence, and soon they find it. In so doing, they go into something of a frenzy, engaging in a war dance and even harming themselves to the point of bringing out their own blood.

A group of people, all of whom have varying amounts of Cherokee blood, are meeting in a small, primitive church for services in 1919. They sing and dance and chant in a fashion reminiscent of Indian war ceremonies. Into their midst and up the mountainside comes Gar, who is running from the white people for some unspecified reason. He turns to his Indian brothers to help him in his attempt to escape. They refuse,...

(This entire section contains 807 words.)

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and rather than help him, they tie him to a tree so that he will be ready for the taking when the people who are chasing him arrive.

In 1919, George Moree comes to visit his brother Hutch after an absence of many years; Hutch is living with Kate Whiteturkey, a rich, eighteen-year-old, full-blooded Osage Indian. Evidently, the two are married. Kate somehow comes into money by denying her Indian heritage. Hutch, too, is living a white man’s lifestyle, replete with ten silk shirts, six pairs of shoes, and a Studebaker car of his very own. Because of the differences in values, the two brothers verbally fight, and George leaves.

Gray-Wolf, one of the last purebred Cherokees and one of the last to know and hold somewhat to the traditions of his fathers, informs Gar (a very young boy) and Marthy Breeden (his mother) that the whites are after Edgar “Spench” Breeden for sundry acts of misconduct. Spench is chased to the cabin, where the conversation among the family members deals with Florey Newcomb, recently impregnated by Spench. (Florey later gives birth to Bee Newcomb.) Tinsley, a white man, arrives at the cabin to shoot Spench, but he is too late. Spench is already dead.