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Friday, June 15, 2012

History Corner / Book Review: An American Betrayal: Cherokee Patriots and the Trail of Tears by Daniel Blake Smith

I have to credit both Dad and Mom for my love of history.

If your Dad loves American History, this is a MUST read!


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SynopsisThe fierce battle over identity and patriotism within Cherokee culture that took place in the years surrounding the Trail of Tears

An American Betrayal coverThough 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.



Review: Being of Native American descent (primarily Cherokee), I was very interested to read this book and see how Smith presented the tragic tale and history of the Cherokee People. I was not disappointed! The book is NOT a quick read, mainly because Smith present us with SO much information, on all sides, to give us the complete picture, that you find yourself reading slowly and savoring the tale.


My parents taught me, you must know your past to avoid the same errors in the future. So the primary focus of this book: Is a patriot's duty to demand the absolute rights of their people to the absolute end, or is it more heroic to negotiate the best possible terms when faced with an inevitable defeat?  Many would argue we are faced with such possibilities in modern America. But for the Cherokees, it was much more. It was loosing ancestral grounds that they had been on for generations and knowing if the removed, their culture would start eroding. So was it better to fight the inevitable greed of the white culture (Smith gives a very accurate, harrowing view of the Georgia and Tennessee citizens, circling the fertile Cherokee lands, which brings to mind the 'food, glorious food' scene from Ice Age 2), or to try and get most of the people out alive? A harder decision could not have been had.


This was the first book on the removal that I have read, that brings to light ALL the infighting among the Cherokee People. How they became a divided people, based on retaining the old culture or by assimilating for survival. Smith does an excellent job in showing how the missionary school system had an affect and produced the leaders on both sides of the feud. We all know what the inevitable outcome was for the Trail of Tears. But Smith shows us where errors, greed, disbeliefs, and prejudices all came together to form a result, that was not the original intention.


The old adage says that the victors get to write the history of their conquered. Kudos to Smith for shedding light on the political back stories, Cherokee, statewide, and Presidential, that led to the moving of a people, and producing a shameful period in American history. One that hopefully, will never be repeated. I urge anyone interested in history to read this book, as it not only sheds light on Native American history, but American history of the South and the nation itself.


About the Author: Daniel Blake Smith is a writer who loves to tell true, compelling American stories. Raised in the north Texas town of Wolfe City and educated at Oklahoma State University and the University of Virginia (where he received his doctorate in American history), Smith is the author of several books,and the co-author of a critical narrative story about early Virginia, The Shipwreck That Saved Jamestown. Formerly a professor of American History at the University of Kentucky, Smith now lives in St. Louis where he writes books and makes films. Read more on his website!






Disclosure / Disclaimer: I received thise book, free of charge, from Henry Holt Publishing, for review purposes on this blog. No other compensation, monetary or other, has been received or implied for this post. Nor was I told how to post about it


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