restricted access Voices of Cherokee Women ed. by Carolyn Ross Johnston (review)
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Voices of Cherokee Women. By Carolyn Ross Johnston (ed.). Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2013. 256 pages. Softbound, $12.95.

In this edited book, Carolyn Ross Johnston tells Cherokee history using the voices of Cherokee women, as well as accounts from others, such as travelers, [End Page 405] traders, and missionaries; the primary source documents on which she relies include travel journals, Works Project Administration interviews, personal correspondence, diaries, newspaper articles, and interviews with non-Cherokee women taken over the years. According to Johnston, "This book addresses a central question: What does Cherokee history look like when expressed by women's voices and viewed through their eyes?" (xiv).

Johnston divides her book into seven parts covering different eras in Cherokee history. She begins each part with an introduction that provides additional background information about that period, though the introductions are somewhat brief and prior knowledge of the subject is helpful. In the first part, Johnston presents the reader with the stories that Swimmer, a Cherokee medicine man, told to anthropologist James Mooney about the Cherokee world view and the roles men and women played in Cherokee culture. She then addresses initial encounters between Cherokees and Europeans, relying largely on European travelers' accounts. In the third part of Voices of Cherokee Women, Johnston demonstrates how women reacted to missionaries and European influences, and in the fourth she documents the Trail of Tears, incorporating lived experiences of Cherokee women as they endured removal from their homeland to Indian Territory in the west. Johnston follows this with a look at the Cherokees' Civil War experiences, using personal correspondence between two couples and a diary to provide insight; the subsequent section follows this up with a discussion of postwar experiences including assimilation, allotment, and the struggle to gain sovereignty. Johnston concludes her edited volume with a focus on contemporary Cherokee women and their fight to reclaim their pre-European-contact role in Cherokee society, and with acknowledgments to all Cherokee women and to all of the people who aided in the creation of her book.

Johnston's book can be seen as a companion text to Theda Perdue's Nations Remembered: An Oral History of the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles in Oklahoma, 1865-1907 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993), which follows the same organizational structure, including the brief introductions to each chapter and the chapter's theme, and Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change, 1700-1835 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998). Johnston's work, however, goes beyond Perdue's by familiarizing the reader with the interviewees and the people responsible for the primary source documents—learning more about the origins of the source material, about the people who documented history, provides greater context to and an understanding of that history. It is interesting to note, though, that, like Perdue, Johnston fails to explain why she chose the documents she used in this edited volume, and does not provide an analysis of the individual documents themselves. Placing these [End Page 406] materials into the larger framework of Cherokee history would have strengthened this work and would have allowed the reader a better understanding of the primary source material.

Johnston's work partly accomplishes the goal she set out to achieve, allowing Cherokee women to speak for themselves and filling in some of the missing gaps in Cherokee history. The heavily edited primary source documents enable readers to examine passages quickly and also allow them to come to their own conclusions about life as a Cherokee woman—these documents provide an astute look at the daily lives of those women. And some of Johnston's analytical approaches prove quite insightful. For example, in the fifth part, Johnston looks at the factions in Cherokee society during the Civil War. Providing primary source materials both from those on the Confederate side and those on the Union side, Johnston clearly highlights the opposing views within the Cherokee nation. This section of Voices of Cherokee Women is especially interesting because it depicts the truly disruptive nature of the war and what it did to the lands Cherokee people occupied—the personal correspondence provides an understanding of how Cherokee families experienced the...