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An American Betrayal: Cherokee Patriots and the Trail of Tearsby Daniel Blake Smith
Synopses & Reviews
A gravestone, a mention in local archives, stories still handed down around Oyster Bay: the outline of a woman begins to emerge and with her the world she inhabited, so rich in tradition, so shaken by violent change. Katie Kettle Gale was born into a Salish community in Puget Sound in the 1850s, just as settlers were migrating into what would become Washington State. With her people forced out of their accustomed hunting and fishing grounds into ill-provisioned island camps and reservations, Katie Gale sought her fortune in Oyster Bay. In that early outpost of multiculturalismand#8212;where Native Americans and immigrants from the eastern United States, Europe, and Asia vied for economic, social, political, and legal powerand#8212;a woman like Gale could make her way.
As LLyn De Danaan mines the historical record, we begin to see Gale, a strong-willed Native woman whoand#160;cofounded a successful oyster business, then wrested it away from her Euro-American husband, a man with whom she raised children and who ultimately made her life unbearable. Steeped in sadnessand#8212;with a lost home and a broken marriage, children dying in their teens, and tuberculosis claiming her at forty-threeand#8212;Katie Galeand#8217;s story is also one of remarkable pluck, a tale of hard work and ingenuity, gritty initiative and bad luck that is, ultimately, essentially American.
"The story of the Cherokee Nation is a study in suffering, displacement, and the determination of a people to carry on despite brutal government policies that culminated in the 'Trail of Tears,' President Andrew Jackson's 1834 policy of 'removal' that saw nearly 4,000 of the 16,000 Cherokees die on their forced migration from North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama to the Oklahoma Territory. Smith opens his thoughtful, concise and detailed study of this brutal chapter in the age of Jackson with a stirring account of the assassination of three Cherokee leaders — Elias Boudinot, Major Ridge, and his son, John Ridge — by Cherokee political rivals. The question, as the author ably traces backward from the bloody day in 1839, remains: 'What should a good patriot do for his people?' Boudinot and the two Ridges advocated removal to save the tribal culture if not the land. They oversaw the rise of a prosperous society with its own written language and influential newspaper, but the encroachments of white settlement in the Appalachian southeast were relentless, and as Major Ridge resignedly noted in the 1835 treaty that acceded to removal, 'they are strong and we are weak. We are few, they are many. We cannot remain here in comfort.' The personalities, political realities, and murderous resentments that stemmed from that treaty make for engrossing reading and a vivid evocation of how the Cherokees' options dwindled until no promising choices for this strong and cohesive people remained." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Though the tragedy of the Trail of Tears is widely recognized today, the pervasive effects of the tribe's uprooting have never been examined in detail. Despite the Cherokees' efforts to assimilate with the dominant white culture—running their own newspaper, ratifying a constitution based on that of the United States—they were never able to integrate fully with white men in the New World.
In An American Betrayal, Daniel Blake Smith's vivid prose brings to life a host of memorable characters: the veteran Indian-fighter Andrew Jackson, who adopted a young Indian boy into his home; Chief John Ross, only one-eighth Cherokee, who commanded the loyalty of most Cherokees because of his relentless effort to remain on their native soil; most dramatically, the dissenters in Cherokee country—especially Elias Boudinot and John Ridge, gifted young men who were educated in a New England academy but whose marriages to local white girls erupted in racial epithets, effigy burnings, and the closing of the school.
Smith, an award-winning historian, offers an eye-opening view of why neither assimilation nor Cherokee independence could succeed in Jacksonian America.
About the Author
Daniel Blake Smith is the author of The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown, Inside the Great House: Planter Family Life in Eighteenth Century Chesapeake Society, and many articles on early American history. Formerly a professor of colonial American history at the University of Kentucky, Smith now lives in St. Louis where he works as a screenwriter and filmmaker.
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