“To the Cherokee, balance was everything”: a broad-ranging history of a political rivalry that upset the Cherokee world for more than a century across the face of North America.
Veteran journalist and author Sedgwick (War of Two: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel that Stunned the Nation, 2015, etc.) dispels any notion that the Native American world was either monolithic or pacific. In the absence of other powers, tribes and alliances of tribes fought for land and influence, and in their presence, they became blunt-force instruments. During the events that led to the War of 1812, for example, Andrew Jackson was successful in co-opting the Cherokee nation to fight the Red Sticks, Creek Indians who had aligned with Tecumseh’s pan-Indian rebellion. Of one leader, Sedgwick writes, “to The Ridge and other enlightened Cherokee, America was their future. Any identification with their fellow Indians was long past.” Given the rank of major, which he would use as part of his name thenceforth, The Ridge advanced the career of a Scottish-sired young man named John Ross, a non–Cherokee speaking member of the nation, who quickly positioned himself as a rival. Both became rich and politically powerful through trade with the Americans, but the Cherokee were poorly repaid for remaining loyal to the young United States: They were effectively given the choice of moving as a nation to Oklahoma or living as Americans in their southeastern homeland. On that question, Ross and Ridge divided again. “Stay or go left no room for compromise,” writes the author. “No words from John Ross or any of the Ridges could ever bridge the gap.” That division persisted: Followers of both parties would contend on issues thereafter, from joining the Confederacy during the Civil War (Gen. Stand Watie, the Confederate cavalry legend, was a follower of Ridge’s) to questions of national sovereignty after the war.
A vigorous, well-written book that distills a complex history to a clash between two men without oversimplifying.