Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans
In the winter of 1838, U.S. forces removed the Cherokee Nation from their homeland in the southeastern region of the United States and forced them to migrate west.
The infamous trek to Oklahoma killed roughly 4,000 Native Americans and became known in the Cherokee language as “Nunna daul Isunyi” (The Trail Where They Cried). Many Cherokees died from the hunger and cold, while some were murdered outright.
The sojourners had little time to pack, and chose to carry articles of great importance to them. Some of them carried and preserved the seeds of a small bean that the tribe grew in their homeland. They are known today as “Trail of Tears Beans.”
The beans survived and, thanks to seed saving, still grow to this day, despite that fateful and inhumane march and in honor of the men and women who made the journey.
Trail of Tears beans dry well on the vine and are usually harvested in the fall. Nevertheless, we already have a few from our garden.
These black beans have a rich taste and are perfect cooked with rice, burritos, chili and salsa. They have also been used as beads for jewelry.
Much more importantly, they are a tangible connection between us and our history. At a time when current events stare us in the face every day – from serious issues like war to perhaps more stupid issues like which team is getting LeBron James – it’s hard to take the time to remember the past.
But we simply must. God forbid events so heinous as the Trail of Tears happen on our soil again. And God forbid we forget that it was people like us – normal, everyday men and women – who allowed it to happen.
Growing, drying, soaking, cooking, serving and eating Trail of Tears beans is a process that has the power to take us on our own journey of remembering the tragedy, honoring the victims, celebrating the survivors, and (for non-Natives) repenting of our communal sins against entire nations.
That all of our meals could be so bittersweet.
Have you grown or eaten Trail of Tears beans? Tell us about it here!
Is there a particular food that connects you to your history in a special way?
How do you recommend serving black beans?
And read a lovely essay about the beans from Milkweed Diaries.