Sunday, August 27, 2017

Blood Moon

The tragedy of the Cherokee experience of the American Civil War cannot be understood without a thorough grounding in the factional violence that emerged over 1830s removal, when the Cherokee were forced by the 1835 Treaty of New Echota to exchange their vast ancestral lands east of the Mississippi for new ones in the northeastern part of Indian Territory. Those who resisted removal most strongly, a majority group led by Chief John Ross, came to be pitted against the Ridge faction, whose members acquiesced to the treaty with the view that further recalcitrance would only make things worse for the Cherokee people.

With the tribe then deeply split between the Ross and Ridge factions, a murderous blood feud ensued. The divisions remained unresolved in 1861, when the Cherokee, who had just become prosperous again in their new surroundings, were confronted with yet another life-changing decision—the requirement of choosing sides during the Civil War. Though this topic has certainly been explored before in numerous books and articles, a fresh reappraisal is always welcomed.

Recently, I came across advanced notice of John Sedgwick's Blood Moon: An American Epic of War and Splendor in the Cherokee Nation (Simon & Schuster, Spring 2018), hoping it might be of interest and also have significant Civil War content. Indeed, the book is advertised as "the story of the century-long blood feud between two rival Cherokee chiefs from the early years of the United States through the infamous Trail of Tears and into the Civil War." Skimming over the rest of the description, I was taken aback by its assertion that John Ross "spoke not a word of Cherokee." I am not sure where this view comes from and from my own reading don't recall this being a common belief. Just this past week I finished revisiting The Confederate Cherokees, and in it the author referenced at least two major speeches that Ross delivered in Cherokee. Really, it strains credulity that a principal chief like Ross could lead at all, let alone navigate the course of an entire people for decades and through such perilous travails, without any command of the language.

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