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Lions Roar : July 2013
and create such colorful worlds in his art- works would disappear. Nothing he had done seemed to war- rant the suffering he experienced from depression and alcohol. I needed to know: why had Patrick suffered so? My father and grandfather had also been plagued by depression and died from alcoholism- related diseases. I started to look into our Georgia family’s history, going back as far as I could. What I found was a legacy of horrific actions and deep shame. The Watters family settled in northwest Georgia before the American Revolution, pioneering into Cherokee-owned land. My great-great-great-grandfather, Col. Joseph Watters—“the Colonel,” as he is still known—fought against Creek Indians alongside the Cherokee. Later, he participated in the Cherokee genocide and helped enforce the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which led to the Trail of Tears, in which the expelled Cherokee were forced on a horrific march across the U.S. to Oklahoma, during which many people suffered greatly and died. During this period, the Colonel also began accu- mulating human “property”—African slaves. It was on a recent visit to the old home- stead in northwest Georgia called the Hermitage that I discovered these and other pieces of Watters family history. They had been hidden for generations. My father had taken me once to the Hermitage when I was a child and advised me to remember it. It was “where we came from.” But he didn’t seem to notice the slave houses in the back. He didn’t talk about the Colonel, his great-great-grand- father, who’d owned over forty slaves and committed atrocities against native peo- ple. Nor did he mention the Colonel’s ten sons, who fought in the Civil War on the Confederate side. Piecing together the family past, I learned that when Sherman began his march into Georgia, he targeted my ancestors as prominent and outspoken secessionists. Here, as I see it, is where the longstanding cycle of pain in my family began, when the Colonel was said to have “died a broken man” after Sherman broke SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2013 18