top of page

EXCERPT: Yellow Bird's Song

It's been more or less a month since West of Santillane's launch. How thrilling it's been to be out in libraries and book stores, chatting with some of you about my book, the process of writing it, and some of the characters. From young, adventurous Julia to Lewis & Clark, Frederick Bates, and even Mandan chief, Sheheke Shote, the early American West has held me enthralled.

In fact, Native America itself has always fascinated me. Too many injustices and brutalities were done against the Indians, and it's truly shameful how these original Americans were brought so low. My current research for my next project is on the Lakota Sioux people. If I could travel back through time, one of the things I'd love to see without being seen, would be the Great Plains culture of the horse and bison, along with the Native peoples who hunted those vast prairies. Sure it's always enjoyable to visit museums with Native American leathers, war-clubs, and bonnets, but to see it the way it was--untouched--would be truly incredible.

Joining me on this week's blog is Heather Miller, who has just written Yellow Bird's Song--a story telling the plight. of the Cherokee. Indeed, to truly understand history, it must be read, it must be preserved--not destroyed. Below, Heather has shared an excerpt of this book, and judging by its remarkable prose and the emotional power of the scene, you'll want to add it to your reading list. Welcome to Brook's Journal, Heather! I hope you'll consider visiting again!

Read ON, everybody!

Excerpt from Yellow Bird's Song by Heather Miller

John Rollin Ridge, Mount Shasta Gold Mines, California, 1851

In the many dawns that followed, I took great pains for numbness. Lit the candle mount on my hat with clay-stained hands. Followed my lantern underground, tracing lingering sulfur air singed from blasts of dynamite. I followed the stench willingly, hand braced against embedded veins of iron ore. Work too brutal for shale so brittle.

With pickaxe supine, I heaved the miner’s tool in relentless rhythm against ribs of bedrock. Amidst such brainless work, my memory sparked in flashes against the limestone and gneiss.

Tragedy struck.

I woke again that dawn, heard the banging of the door, the clank of the broken lock, the scuffle of men’s feet across the wooden floor. Overlapping cries, some in anger, some with fear. Papa’s “Wait.” Mama’s “No.” And in drops like the sweat down my back, the warriors steadily spit their threats. “Treaty,” they said. “Traitor,” they said. “Trail,” they said. “Tears.”

Man against nature, in tedious monotony, I rose, hands sliding to grip, overlapping, and thwack. Axe teetering at the fulcrum point then, the collapse. First, a chink, then, the fall of sharp severs that buried my boots. Rocks rang as I bellowed, “Let him go. Leave him be.” No one heard me then; no one heard me now.

I threw my axe underfoot and grabbed the drill rod and hammer. Shadows and sunlight. Men against man, the war party carried him outside. Mama’s hands held me behind her. Mask and kerchief kept her from him.

Beat and turn. Arms pound and burn. They stabbed. Twenty-seven. Twenty-eight. The arrowhead on the bowie knife. Twenty-nine. They stole his breath, walked single file across his body. Mama in blood-soaked white. Papa raised himself to speak. Air escaped. No words.

This man warred against his thoughts. My mind couldn’t separate Papa’s visage in life after seeing him pale with death. His blood oozed through a winding sheet and fell, drop by drop on the floor. By his side sat my mother, with hands clasped in speechless agony. Bending over him was his own afflicted mother, with her long, white hair flung loose over her shoulders and bosom, crying to the Great Spirit to sustain her. I lost time to such futility. With buckets in tow, I surfaced, tracing limestone serpentine toward the sun, sonless.

At the time, we scarcely knew our loss. The same day Papa died, Grandfather was ambushed, shot in the back. Uncle Elias’ head was beaten in by lying men.

After so many voiced condolences and unvoiced threats, Mother sent me away. And my life sped behind never-ending coach windows, taking me to my grandparents’ house, the Northrups in Massachusetts, to study Latin and Greek in Great Barrington’s classrooms. Years later, another coach returned me, much slower, to Arkansas, to Washbourne’s lawbooks, to Lizzie and her mountain lion. Canoe rides. Our wedding. Holding Alice. Erecting cabin walls. Planting corn, wheat. Killing Kell. Papa’s letter. Mama. I hacked through it all. But more rock lay ahead, despite all my efforts to touch the golden reprieve on the other side.

Inside my mind, their faces remained, not the books I’d read or the places I’d lived. Papa’s letter said he wished to live for his own sake, his wife and children’s sake, and for the sake of his race. He’d said the sacrifice of his life was the consequence of his choices; he had already put his life in danger and contingently given it up. Must I learn the same lesson, realize the same, and die searching for repose and refuge? My pan was still light, even after sifting endless piles of rock for specks shining under the muted earth. 

All About the Book

Rollin Ridge, a mercurial figure in this tribal tale, makes a fateful decision in 1850, leaving his family behind to escape the gallows after avenging his father and grandfather’s brutal assassinations. With sin and grief packed in his saddlebags, he and his brothers head west in pursuit of California gold, embarking on a journey marked by hardship and revelation. Through letters sent home, Rollin uncovers the unrelenting legacy of his father’s sins, an emotional odyssey that delves deep into his Cherokee history.

The narrative’s frame transports readers to the years 1827-1835, where Rollin’s parents, Cherokee John Ridge and his white wife, Sarah, stumble upon a web of illicit slave running, horse theft, and whiskey dealings across Cherokee territory. Driven by a desire to end these inhumane crimes and defy the powerful pressures of Georgia and President Andrew Jackson, John Ridge takes a bold step by running for the position of Principal Chief, challenging the incumbent, Chief John Ross. The Ridges face a heart-wrenching decision: to stand against discrimination, resist the forces of land greed, and remain on their people’s ancestral land, or to sign a treaty that would uproot an entire nation, along with their family.

All About Heather

As a veteran English teacher and college professor, Heather has spent nearly thirty years teaching her students the author’s craft. Now, with empty nest time on her hands, she’s writing herself, transcribing lost voices in American’s history.

Connect with Heather


Click on the book cover to buy!


24 views1 comment

1 Comment

Cathie Dunn
Cathie Dunn
Apr 18

Thank you so much for hosting Heather Miller today, Brook!

Take care,

Cathie xo

The Coffee Pot Book Club

bottom of page