Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Booknotes: Unconquerable

New Arrival:
Unconquerable: The Story of John Ross, Chief of the Cherokees, 1828–1866 by John M. Oskison, ed. by Lionel Larré (Univ of Neb Press, 2022).

From the description: Unconquerable "is John Milton Oskison’s biography of John Ross, written in the 1930s but unpublished until now. John Ross was principal chief of the Cherokees from 1828 to his death in 1866. Through the story of John Ross, Oskison also tells the story of the Cherokee Nation through some of its most dramatic events in the nineteenth century: the nation’s difficult struggle against Georgia, its forced removal on the Trail of Tears, its internal factionalism, the Civil War, and the reconstruction of the nation in Indian Territory west of the Mississippi."

Mixed-race (one-eighth Cherokee, like Ross) John M. Oskison (1874–1947) was a Stanford and Harvard-educated novelist, editor, and journalist whose works remain little known today (at least among non-academic readers). He was also a veteran of the Great War. His biographical projects include works on Sam Houston, Tecumseh, and Ross. According to Oskison scholar Lionel Larré, the editor of this volume, it's most likely that Oskison wrote the Ross biography in the latter half of the 1930s, sometime between the publication of his third novel and his Tecumseh biography.

From the University of Oklahoma Press archived correspondence between editor and reviewers, it seems that the three expert readers assigned to the project did not feel that the manuscript, which is undocumented, full of unsourced quotations, and includes some fictional passages, met scholarly standards. However, there were also many positive remarks regarding the historical soundness of the biography.

Mitigating those original flaws in Oskison's work, Larré adds explanatory endnotes, corrects quotations, and updates the author's meager reference list (which, according to Larré, did at least include the best secondary sources available at the time along with "significant" primary sources and government documents). Larré's lengthy introduction offers insights into the story of the manuscript (and its rejection), discussion of its quality, speculation as to Oskison's motivation(s) in writing it, and a larger contextual conversation about political and cultural issues surrounding US-Cherokee citizenship, sovereignty, and integration.

Of course, this being CWBA, we are chiefly concerned with the Civil War period of Ross's life. In contrast to its very extensive Removal coverage, Unconquerable does not contain a great deal of content addressing the 1861-65 period (the war years are compressed within the 12 pages of Chapters 24-25).

More than a dated but still valuable biography, Unconquerable "sheds light on the critical work of an author who deserves more attention from both the public and scholars of Native American studies."

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