The tragedy of the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation from their homes in the Southeast to unknown lands west of the Mississippi in 1838, vividly interwoven into a classic love story with glimpses of modern Indian life. The saga of the faithful Oconeechee and her Whippoorwill unfolds slowly, as the tale told to an eager Cherokee child spending the summer with his beloved Grandpa. One of a community relatively untouched by the whites, Whippoorwill comes to consult with Oconeechee's father, a friend of President Andrew Jackson's who went to Washington to intercede on behalf of his people. The young man learns that all efforts to stop the impending removal, even rulings by the Supreme Court, have failed, and that Cherokee opinion is sharply divided—with a minority willing to sign a treaty and sell their lands, bowing to what they see as inevitable. Whippoorwill returns home with the news, but not before falling in love and promising to return to marry Oconeechee. The soldiers surround his village before that can happen, and as a rebel he is among the first to be forced along the Trail of Tears. Dispirited and alone, he turns to whiskey for solace, while his beloved escapes the roundup and hides in the hills with others, seeking news of him at every opportunity. She prevails on an old white friend of her people to find Whippoorwill and bring him back, and he succeeds in returning the man safe and sober to her even though he dies in the process. Using actual documents and song lyrics to add texture to his narrative, Conley (The Witch of Goingsnake, etc.—not reviewed) has shaped a touching, powerful vision of Indian life past and present, of abiding love, and of a national disgrace.
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