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Three Little White Crosses

By Joe McMaster - Click for Bio

Forward - The first major wave of Irish immigrants to America started around 1717 and was to last throughout the 18th century and consisted mainly of protestants from the province of Ulster. They had left Ireland to escape religious persecution and the economic deprivation resulting from it.
   Those same immigrants had a strong Scottish Presbyterian heritage and were known as the Scots-Irish. Their descendants how-ever, were to get new names in the new land. Names like The Frontiersman, The Backwoods Man and The Long Knife were all names that were to be well and truly earned.
If the American frontier was to become their new homeland, then places like The Alleghenies and The Great Smokey Mountains, The Shenandoah Valley, Virginia and the Carolinas was to be where the Scots-Irish settled and built their churches and log cabins.
   A number of those original immigrants came from around the same area in Ireland where I was born and so I read with considerable interest how they had at first explored and then settled the eastern states of America.
Place names that I was familiar with from my own travels in and around the eastern United States appeared on the pages of the history book I was reading.
   Somewhere in my reading of that history of the Scots-Irish in America, an image slowly formed in my mind, an image of what it might have been like for a young man that the native American Indian was to call ‘The Long Knife’ as he often struggled and sometimes fought for survival in a hostile land. My little story is just my way of trying to put that image down on paper.
   Eight Irishmen including six Scots-Irishmen would eventually sign the Declaration of Independence. The Scots-Irish would go on to fight in the revolutionary war of the 1770’s and beyond. And so it was that the Irish helped in the bloody and painful birth of a new nation.
   Seventeen Presidents of the United States of America claim to have family roots stretching back to the ancient Irish province of Ulster. Three of those same Presidents also served terms as Vice-Presidents.
James Buchanan, Democratic President from 1857 to 1861 is reported to have said, “my Ulster blood is my most priceless heritage.”

There in the middle of the smoke and the grime of the fires burning all around stood a young man in a state of somewhat confused hesitation. A young man at times barely visible, his outline blurred by the smoke and the flames of the burning stockade walls. Yet still standing tall and defiant in the high rawhide boots he had pulled up and tied off at the knee around his buckskin leggings.

The sweat glistening on his near naked chest had provided a canvas on which the dancing slashes of red and orange reflected a mirror like glow from the fires burning around him. This same burning, dancing canvas framed only by the remnants of a tattered dirty old buckskin shirt.

He had fought and he had fought well, the young man had. But now he was asking himself why? And what was this all for anyway? this new life, Aye! this new life in this new land and what was it all about, and why in the name of God was he still here after he had given up so much for this new land.

Far off across the newly ploughed field, almost hidden now by the smoke from the burning stockade walls, the young man could almost make out three small white crosses. Three small white crosses that still stood between the burning stockade wall and the wild woods even farther beyond them. A small stretch of land that had been promised to him, for hadn't someone once said to him ... “This land is yours.”

Aye! and tell me now, what did some snotty nosed, bespectacled little clerk sitting in some small dimly lit office in some pompous old courthouse far and away removed from the flames and the smoke and the death of this moment, what did he know about who owned this land and who was willing to fight for this land. It was then that the young man in the buckskin leggings, the young man the Indians called ‘Long Knife’ knew exactly why he had to go on and fight.

There never really was the choice of going back, there was only the hope of going forward, and if going forward meant going forward one bloody ploughed field at a time then so be it. He would fight this night and continue on until he had fought all the way back across that ploughed field to those three small white crosses. And then he would fight to go beyond them.

As the next wave of Indians came screaming through the burnt out hole in the stockade wall, the young man took a deep breath and rushed forward to claim his land. The young man known to them as ‘long knife’ would stamp a claim on this land this night with his own blood if need be. So that his wife and sons could rest beneath the three small white crosses in peace.

Aye!    and fight he did!

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