Though I lived in the Muscle Shoals area for a number of years, I did not visit Tom Hendrix’s Wichahpi Commemorative Wall until last year. For those of your unfamiliar with the wall, it started with Alabama-native Tom Hendrix hearing stories about his great-great-grandmother Te-lah-nay, a native American living in Alabama in the 1800s. Te-lah-nay was part of the Yuchi tribe and in one of the worse atrocities committed in the United States, she and other native people were abducted from their homes and marched to Oklahoma along a route now known as the Trail of Tears. Many Native Americans died, but Te-lah-nay not only survived but walked all the way back home to Alabama, by herself! The journey took 5 years, but Te-lah-nay said she heard the Tennessee River singing for her to come home so she just kept on going. Tom was in such awe of her strength and her journey that he wanted to do something to commemorate her. So he build a wall. But that is a complete understatement, because he spent thirty years building the largest mortarless wall in the United States. The wall has over 8.5 million pounds of stone and is the largest monument build for a Native American woman. The wall is amazing and draws visitors from all over the world. Numerous Native American tribes have visited, priests from China have hung red ribbons in the trees, a Benedictine priest left carved statues, and visitor have left little trinkets throughout the area. It is a holy, sacred place, that celebrates humanity, strength, courage and unity.
But more than the wall, was the man behind it, Tom. When you visit Tom would come out of his house, usher you to a folding chair, sit down in his green, plastic lawn chair and tell you the story of his great-great grandmother, the wall, himself, and anything else you wanted to know. He’s show you different parts of the wall, point out interesting memento’s left behind and answer every question. It was truly a spiritual experience and you left striving to be a better person. I visited the wall twice, once with my husband and once with my mother.The second time was last April and Tom spent so much time with my mother and me. He went into his house and brought out beautiful pine needle baskets and the stone that his great-great-grandmother had carried with her. He told us Native American stories from his childhood and discussed the herbs and teachers and language and so many more things. I had hoped to revisit Tom, but sadly he passed away last weekend. He is a great loss to the world, but I know that he touched many lives, including my own. Rest in Peace Mr. Hendrix and thank-you for creating something so beautiful.