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American Betrayal: Cherokee Patriots and the Trail of Tears.

American Betrayal: Cherokee Patriots and the Trail of Tears by Daniel Blake Smith. Published by Henry Holt/John Mccray, 270 pages (2012)

This trade hardback title is another installment in the parade of books about a significant North American Indian tribe, the Cherokees. American Betrayal: Cherokee Patriots and the Trail ofTears is primarily well-researched and filled with fascinating period details, but is sadly lacking in what it doesn't tell.

There was a missionary presence for the Cherokee primarily from the Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians and Mormons. Smith also revealed that approximately ten percent of the Cherokee converted to Christianity. While often mixed blood and nominally Christian, many Cherokees remained practitioners of traditional rather than the Christian faith. Often full-blooded Cherokees had no spirituality at all. Traditional Cherokee beliefs persist even to the current day, perhaps to Smith's chagrin.

I must note another dubious claim: that Principle Chief John Ross (1/8th Cherokee) and his brother Lewis contracted bids to pay for the Cherokee removal so as to pocket $150,000 at the expense of the destitute and other rank and file Cherokees. Admittedly the idea of defending Ross is questionable, his family acquired hundreds of African slaves for resale in Oklahoma. I applaud Smith for taking a moral stand. Despite so-called "differences" between then and now, wrong is wrong.

If one-fourth (more likely one-fifth) of Cherokees died as a result of a forced march to Oklahoma, wouldn't a rigorous march of African slaves along much the same grueling distance have a similar outcome? To answer this question some noted historians question this estimate of fatalities. Also, the population of Cherokees never dropped to Smith's absurdly low number of seven thousand. While their slaughter was immoral and represented crimes against humanity, we should avoid political correctness and ascertain the accurate estimate, which is 50,000. Further, 7,000 Cherokees likely slipped away from military assignments and moved to Oklahoma, where they began new lives away from the tribe. They should be counted in anyone's estimate of surviving Cherokees.

Smith could have shown how egregious this slaughter was with period details. Another dubious claim is that the Creeks in 1820 had to hire a Cherokee Chief to negotiate a treaty with the federal government because Creeks had no leaders with as much education as the Cherokees. In reality Creek chiefs probably had comparable levels of literacy.

Although I would recommend this text of an American betrayal for students of Cherokee or Native American history, the book is not perfect. Please note that a student would fare better if he or she first read Toward the Setting Sun, John Ross and the Cherokee Trail of Tears by Brian Hicks (2011). Both authors have done commendable research and make for the reader, an exciting period of history.

Review by Ken Dunn

Spring Valley, California
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Author:Dunn, Ken
Publication:Whispering Wind
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2012
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