THE HEART: STONE TALKER

I used to go sit at Tom Hendrix’ wall to think, particularly on days when I thought I couldn’t take running my business anymore. I would ask Mr. Hendrix over and over again, “Where do you find the passion and will to continue creating 25, 26, 27 years into your work?” He would patiently listen to me, laugh, and tell me to go sit in the prayer circle.  It always worked.  Eventually the wall came to change my entire life – but that is a story for later. Come back in a few weeks to read the rest. This is the story of “The Wall,” as I know it.

About 14 miles as the crow flies from The Factory, adjacent to the Natchez Trace Parkway, you can find the home of Shoals native Tom Hendrix and the site of the Wichahpi Commemorative Stone Wall, a larger-than-life memorial that he has been building for over 30 years. Even more amazing than the wall itself is the fact that, at 80 years old, he is still adding to it. Before 9:30 yesterday morning, Hendrix had already hauled two truckloads of stones from the local quarry. He passionately stacks stone after stone to honor his great-great grandmother, Te-lah-nay, a Yuchi Indian and a courageous woman.

Growing up, Tom heard the stories of her life from his own grandmother. He was told how 17 year-old Te-lah-nay and her sister were forced westward with the rest of the native people along the Trail of Tears and taken to Indian Territory, in what is present day Muskogee, Oklahoma. The Yuchi people of Alabama believed that the Tennessee River was home to a young woman who sang beautiful songs. They called it “The Singing River.” Te-lah-nay heard no songs from the waters in Oklahoma. She felt strongly that she must return home. So in 1839, she  began a difficult, five-year journey home to Alabama, to her “Singing River.”

Mr. Hendrix was captivated by her perilous journey and wanted to honor her. A conversation with a Yuchi woman helped him determine how best to pay tribute to his great-great grandmother: by building a stone wall to commemorate her life. He was told, “One step at a time, one stone at a time. Lay a stone for every step she made… We shall pass this earth. Only the stones will remain. We honor our ancestors with stones.”  For over three decades, Tom has –added millions of pounds of stones to the wall – and he has no intention of ever stopping.

Hendrix, also known as the Stone Talker, believes his most important role is that of storyteller. He uses the wall in literal and figurative ways to tell the story of his great-great grandmother. One portion of the wall represents her journey from Lauderdale County westward to Oklahoma and another represents her five-year passage home to the Alabama. Visiting with Mr. Hendrix, you see the pride and honor he has for his great-great grandmother and his respect for the Yuchi and Indian Nations.

The stone wall holds a place in the heart of the Shoals community, but it has also reached much further: there are stones from 127 countries, territories, and islands. Many are brought by visitors themselves who come from all over the world. Some are mailed to him. He jokes that he has the heaviest mail in all of Lauderdale County. Upon visiting the wall, Charlie Two Moons, a spiritual person, told Mr. Hendrix, “The wall does not belong to you, Brother Tom. It belongs to all people. You are just the keeper.”

The massive structure is not only a monument, but a masterful work of art. To build the wall, Tom says, ” I’ve wore out three trucks, 22 wheelbarrows, 3,300 pair of gloves, three dogs, and one old man.” It is the largest monument to a woman in the United States, specifically an American Indian woman. It is also classified as one of the Top 10 Environmental Arts in the United States, is the longest un-mortared wall in the United States, and is catalogued in the Library of Congress. The wall is the only non-church structure listed as one of Alabama’s Top Spiritual Places. But honors and accolades cannot begin to describe the emotional power of the wall – that can only be experienced firsthand.

Pocketed in the twists and turns of the stone wall are a prayer circle and a music circle. It is home to fertility objects and to miracle stones. It is a healing wall- a sacred and spiritual space for those who visit. It is a place of sanctuary, of reflection and meditation. Made of more than just hard work and stones, it is made of dreams and journeys. Because he believes that the wall belongs to all people, Tom welcomes visitors to come and experience Te-lah-nay’s journey and to honor our ancestors.

Mr. Hendrix, a dear friend, has written a beautiful book, If the Legends Fade, that shares the journey of his great-great grandmother. It is available to purchase on his website – all of the proceeds benefit the Yuchi Nation in hopes of preserving their heritage and language.

Alabama Chanin would not be the same company that it is today without our friend the Stone Talker – who has always given me a place to sit and think.

An invaluable asset to Alabama Chanin, this community, our nation, and to all that know him or have passed through his masterpiece: Tom Hendrix – a part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.

Photos of the wall and reporting by our newest team member Erin Stephenson  – welcome aboard Erin! Portrait of Tom Hendrix above by Robert Rausch at GAS Design Center.

Come back in two weeks to find out how a Platypus, a crystal, Mr. Hendrix’s wall, and a little girl named Kashateee changed my life.  xoNatalie

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9 thoughts on “THE HEART: STONE TALKER

  1. Lynore

    Thank you for sharing this story. It’s a joy to hear stories of truly loving beings that honor Life. A brilliant reminder, and wonderful start to the day, with grace.

    Reply
    1. Emily Twaddell

      Reading this story brought me the most peace I’ve felt all weekend. I’ve been so frustrated by the demands of parenting and working, leaving me so little energy for my creative work. Somehow the quiet photos and the depth of the story let me let go. Thank you. xo

      Reply
  2. Maria

    I love this journal entry. I am truly grateful to Mr. Hendrix for reminding us about the gifts of an harmonious life. You reminded me of an interview Stud’s Terkel did with a stonemason for his book “Working” that has always stayed with me, because I see in it a truth that all craftsmen and women share, a kind of never-ending dialogue with their work. Here is what the Stonemason said:

    “Stone’s my life. I daydream all the time, most times it’s on stone. Oh, I’m gonna build me a stone cabin down on the Green River. I’m gonna build stone cabinets in the kitchen. That stone door’s gonna be awful heavy and I don’t know how to attach the hinges. I’ve got to figure out how to make a stone roof. That’s the kind of thing. All my dreams, it seems like it’s got to have a piece of rock mixed in it.”

    Thank you!

    Reply
  3. Janet Pipes Baxter

    My great great great grandmother was married in Athens AL.
    she was from Hardin Co. TN. I know she was native because of the way my sisters and I look. I think this is a great way to honor your ancestors. I will visit and bring some stones from the ocean in North Carolina and from the Diamond mine in Arkansas where I live. Tell then.

    Reply
  4. Wanda tully

    My mothers name was Mable Hendrix her baby brother was named Tom Hendrix.
    What was your fathers name?
    I hope to come to see your wall next Summer. Do We need a reservation?
    Our family lived in cities in Etowah county. Fyffe, DeKalb county, My grand father” David Forrest Hendrix” married in Cherokee counties , Center Alabama. The family also lived in ball play on look out mountain ,keener, Horton Ben, Gadsden, Huntsville. We had lots of Hendrix family in that part of Alabama.
    My family was given a rifle for their land and told they would have to go on the trail of tears, but they hided in the maintains and caves of Alabama. When I was growing up my grandmother told me never to say I was an Indian. She was worried the government would send us some place again. I am 77 years old. I hope to meet you and your wife next Summer. We can talk about your grandmother , our Hendrix families and cities in Alabama. May God bless you and yours!

    Reply

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