In her third novel, Tademy (Red River, 2007, etc.) draws a tale of courage and family loyalty from a dark corner of American history.
The young slave Tom is yatika—interpreter—for Alabama Creek chief Yargee, but he’s called Cow Tom for his gift of understanding, hilis haya, of cattle. As the Remove begins—Southern tribes being exiled to Indian Territory—Yargee rents Cow Tom to Gen. Thomas Jesup as a "linguister" to fight the Second Seminole War. War over, Cow Tom, his wife, Amy, and daughters Malinda and Maggie are caught up in a desperate river journey to Fort Gibson in eastern Oklahoma. Cow Tom's hard bargaining earns the family's freedom, but it's a long, hard struggle with prejudice before those with African-American blood are allowed into tribal roles. Tademy’s research lends veracity to the tale, which later shifts to the perspective of Rose, Cow Tom’s granddaughter. Prospering until the Civil War, the family is driven from their land by Confederate Lower Creeks. There’s only spare protection at Fort Gibson—"Surrounded by sickness and starvation and suffering." Recognizing "[t]he world was a harsh place, guaranteed of quicksilver change and backhand slaps," Cow Tom builds a new homestead and prospers, taking a role as chief among African Creeks. Rose marries a half-Indian cowboy and begins to ranch, struggling against her husband’s fickle regard for his vows and raising two of his children with other women as her own. Rose and Cow Tom drive the intense narrative, with Tademy’s knowledge of Creek life, from turban headgear to corn sofki to fermented cha-cha, offering authenticity. Tademy’s tale remains intense throughout, from the genocidal war in Florida—Tom, "not yet thirty, his life an endless trail of death patrols"—to the desperate struggle to hold onto property against prejudice—"We are Negro, and we are Creek, not one or the other but both."
Tamedy explores a forgotten trail of American history to find an intriguing tale of love, family and perseverance in the struggles of proud African Creeks.