The Glimpse (Monograph 16)

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

By Dr. William “Bill” Ambrose

Instant Assessment

Computers are tremendously fast at solving problems that can be “fitted” to a mathematical algorithm – much faster than the human brain.  Beyond that limited superiority, the human brain is far better.  In language use, creative thinking, and pattern recognition, the homosapien’s brain still speeds ahead of the best computers.  In combination with the human eye, even the shortest glimpse of a scene allows the viewer to instantly assess for safety or danger—a remnant of the homosapien’s interaction with lethal, wild nature across the millenniums.  Not yielding an omniscient assessment of reality, yet a glimpse can still portray an image sufficient to motivate the mind to yield a nuanced decision.  Perhaps humans have persisted over their many competitors because of the efficacy of the human glimpse.

Louis Houck’s 1908 “A History of Missouri” has the following quote:

“….before touched, and too often defaced, by the work of man, Missouri was a terrestrial paradise. Indeed, nature had done everything to make a landscape one of ravishing beauty. Nowhere else on the continent did she lavish more prodigally her charms, exceeding all that the highest art of man could create, on a scale magnificent and stupendous—soaring knobs, grassy plateaus, through which, in deep ravines, ran crystal rivers mirroring the varied sky, lined with odorous flowers and trees, forming a natural arch, and often an enchanting coup d’oeil, characterized the Ozark country.”

Houck uses the French expression, “coup d’oeil,” although he was of Dutch origin, to romanticize to enchantment the esthetic rendition.  “Coup d’oeil” means “stroke of the eye” or “a glimpse.”  The glimpse incited his mind to the early Missouri native, fire-tolerant, perennial, early-successional growth plant communities – wild flowers and prairie grasses.  It only required a glimpse to decide that the scene was dramatically beautiful.

Few Trail Remnants Remain

Today, extant remnants of the Trail of Tears walked by the Cherokees across Missouri are often only captured in a glimpse.  Many of these trail remnants are in very difficult terrain.  They might exist on field edges or in old fence rows, untouched by mechanized agriculture – just short or cloaked ruts.  Occasionally on pastures, where the land use has been restricted to grazing, the swales and ruts have been attenuated into the earth by cattle – the trail persisting as a not very dramatic disturbance of the ground’s normal contour but a subtle linear depression nonetheless.  In deep forests braided extant trail remnants exist—running helter-skelter, nonpatterned, through the trees.  The old trail was braided because of the trees, and because treefalls would force many repeated minor relocations of the trail.  Today, trees are growing in the footprint of those old braided trails, the glimpse causing confusion in the brain.

A Land Flowing with Milk and Honey

The Cherokees’ homeland at first interaction with European whites was in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.  The Cherokees called their most beautiful mountain Elseetoss, and its ridge base Warwasseeta.  The ridge divided the watersheds of the Pigeon and French Broad Rivers, both rivers making up a portion of the Tennessee River, known as the “Cherokee River” by early explorers and settlers.  The earliest white expedition against the Cherokees travelled up the French Broad River valley and was able to get glimpses of the rich and abundant watershed toward the mountain.  From the Book of Deuteronomy 3:27 and 34:1, Moses was ordered by God to the top of Mount Pisgah to view the Promised Land, known from Exodus 3:8 to be “a land flowing with milk and honey” promised to the Tribe of Israel.  For the invaders while crossing the North Carolina mountains, the coincidence was too great to not name the mountain “Pisgah.”  To the white man, Pisgah became the name of the Cherokees’ homeland—a land that from the time it was first seen in mere glimpses by white invaders was coveted for their own.  Today, “Pisgah” is an attributive designating a faint view or glimpse of something desired and distant, a point affording an overview or glimpse of a future situation.

The Origins

Mere glimpses can evoke powerful emotions like fear, appreciation of beauty, deep historical awareness, or envy and greed.  Unlike the eventual positive result for the Tribe of Israel, a mere glimpse of the Cherokee Tribe’s homeland, a “Pisgah” view of Pisgah, led years later to a Trail of Tears.

Today, citizens of the Cherokee Nation pilgrimage to a portion of their ancestral homeland in Pisgah National Forest to reconnect with nature and the essential balance nature provides in the lifeways and cosmology of the Cherokee people. They can only get a glimpse.

As Grant Foreman wrote in his book titled Indian Removal: “More than white people they cherished a passionate attachment for the earth that held the bones of their ancestors and relatives. Few white people either understood or respected this sentiment. The trees that shaded their homes, the cooling spring that ministered to every family, friendly watercourses, familiar trails and prospects, busk grounds, and council houses were their property and their friends; these simple possessions filled their lives; their loss was cataclysmic. It is doubtful if white people with their readier adaptability can understand the sense of grief and desolation that overwhelmed the Indians when they were compelled to leave all these behind forever and begin the long sad journey toward the setting sun which they called the Trail of Tears.”

3D Diorama Along the Trail of Tears

By William Ambrose

On the western side of the state of Missouri, the Trail of Tears is generally the Springfield to St. Louis Road.  The General Land Office (GLO) surveyors, those earliest government surveyors who surveyed the unsettled frontier lands ahead of any land sales, were required to draw the existing roads on the township plats beginning at about the time they surveyed the western half of Missouri.  The Springfield to St. Louis Road was pre-historic – it was a trace on the ground from Springfield to St. Louis used by Native Americans for travel for trade and hunting long before Americans arrived in the state.  The GLOs were the building blocks of President Jefferson’s rectilinear survey system, known as the Public Land Survey System, created by the Land Ordinance of 1785, a federal law. The system was laid out in 6-mile-by-6-mile squares, each square being known by its north-south “Township” number and its east-west “Range” number. 


By William Ambrose

From 1837 to 1839, the Federal Government forcibly removed 17,000 Cherokees from their centuries-old homelands in Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, and Alabama.  The Cherokee families were rounded up at gunpoint by Federal troops, held prisoner in detention camps, divided up into detachments of about 1000 people, and then forced to walk the 1000 miles to “Indian Territory,” now Oklahoma. Approximately 4000 died during that process. 

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