A vivid new history of the 19th-century Cherokee removal and the Trail of Tears.
Former history professor turned documentary filmmaker Smith (co-author: The Shipwreck that Saved Jamestown: The Sea Venture Castaways and the Fate of America, 2008, etc.) covers mostly well-trod ground with his searing account of how the Cherokee tribe had to give up its homeland in portions of Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee; they were relocated by forced march to what would become northeastern Oklahoma. Thousands of Cherokees died on what was later dubbed the Trail of Tears. The difference between Smith's account and other similar histories is the emphasis on infighting within the Cherokee leadership, who faced a difficult choice: Should they fight the forced removal by facing massive armies assembled by the American government, or negotiate the best possible terms while relocating peaceably? Neither answer was obviously correct, giving the narrative a tension that Smith develops skillfully. Cherokee leaders such as John Ross, Elias Boudinot, John Ridge and Major Ridge come alive on the page. Numerous little-known Caucasians also emerge as brave defenders of Cherokee humanitarian and land rights, although admittedly many of those defenders expected something in return, such as conversion of the Indians to Christian religions. President Jackson, a man of the common people in many ways, cannot be termed heroic by any definition in his resolve to segregate Cherokees (and other Indian tribes), and Smith ably portrays his sometimes-bloodthirsty nature.
A well-written, well-researched version of an oft-told saga.