A vigorous account of the forced removal of the Cherokee people from their southern homelands and the complex events leading to what the author does not hesitate to call a “death march.”
Charleston Post and Courier senior writer Hicks (When the Dancing Stopped: The Real Story of the Morro Castle Disaster and Its Deadly Wake, 2006, etc.) shapes his story around tribal leader John Ross, popularly known as “the Cherokee Moses,” who led his people to Oklahoma and thereafter tried to forge of their reservation a true independent state. “He was the architect of the tribe’s greatest period of advancement; he made the Cherokees the most civilized of American Indian tribes,” writes the author. It is no small curiosity that Ross was as white as were the settlers who infringed on Cherokee territory and eventually displaced his people, whose number he joined by choice out on the frontier. In fact, he “barely had any Indian blood coursing through his veins. Yet, as Hicks, himself of Cherokee ancestry, capably argues, Ross was perhaps the greatest of all Cherokee leaders, even though in many ways he failed at his efforts. For one thing, he often outflanked but could never completely outrun Andrew Jackson, who was bent on making the hunting grounds of the Cumberland Plateau a white domain. Even before he became president, Jackson wanted to force the Indians of the southeast onto distant reservations to the west. For another, Ross’s efforts were often undone by tribal factionalism, betrayed even by his own brother. In his attempts to forge a true confederacy of Cherokee bands, he failed to reckon with private jealousies and with the demands of Indians who had already moved west before Ross and his people arrived. Hicks writes with appropriate indignation of their removal, calling it “little more than a human cattle drive.” He also takes a measured view of Ross’s opponents and allies alike, shedding new light on the career of other eminent figures such as the newspaperman and Confederate general Stand Watie.
A welcome addition to Cherokee history.