Civil War History 50.2 (2004) 209-210
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Barbara Cloud begins this work with the promise to her readers that she edited James Anderson Slover's memoir with "a gentle hand." Cloud makes good on her pledge. Her editing includes minor grammatical corrections and a judicious use of footnotes. What emerges is an unmolested account of a nineteenth-century minister, farmer, public official, and pioneer.
The work begins with a brief explanation of Slover's paternal ancestry and moves quickly to 1824 and his birth in eastern Tennessee. The autobiography spans eighty-three years of Slover's life encompassing well-known political events, such as the Civil War and Reconstruction, and including personal remembrances such as childhood injuries and his first love. His descriptions of nineteenth-century material culture, some of which include schoolhouses and harvesting tools, are particularly interesting. Equally captivating is Slover's depiction of his religious conversion, which began with a deep and inexplicable guilt over teaching his younger siblings profanity.
Slover's chronicle continues with occurrences in his early adult years such as attending a seminary, teaching school, and marrying his former student, Harriet M. Ingram. In 1857 Slover moved with his young family to the Cherokee Nation, began his work as a minister to the Cherokees, and served as pro-Confederate Cherokee leader Stand Watie's chaplain. In the middle of the [End Page 209] Civil War, however, Slover found that his identity as a Southern man made living and preaching in the sharply divided Cherokee Nation too dangerous. As result Slover left the Cherokee Nation and relocated to Arkansas. Given postwar social, political, and economic problems, however, life in Arkansas proved little better than it was in Indian Territory. Thus, Slover took his family west to California by way of the Gila Trail. Once settled in Tulare County, Slover served as a postmaster and justice of the peace, briefly aligned himself with the Grange Movement, and continued to farm and to preach. A pioneer at heart, or perhaps a poor farmer and victim of circumstance, Slover relocated to Oregon where he hoped to find better agricultural opportunities only to encounter further difficulties over a mining claim on his homestead.
At age seventy-four, after the death of his second wife, Slover moved into the home of his daughter and her husband in Grants Pass, Oregon, and later relocated with them to San Francisco where he assisted victims of the 1906 earthquake. He died in 1913.
Although Cloud descends from James Anderson Slover, she never loses her integrity as an editor and treats her subject with an even hand. Furthermore, Cloud skillfully addresses problems that are inherent in memoirs in general and issues that are germane to Slover's story specifically. For example, while Slover claimed not to concern himself with slavery, Cloud uncovered other sources that indicate Slover perhaps did own a slave during his time in Arkansas and Indian Territory.
While the objectivity of the manuscript is not in question, the title and the presumed focus of the book warrant investigation. Minister to the Cherokees: A Civil War Autobiography, suggests that what follows is predominantly a history of a clergyman and the Cherokees during the Civil War. In reality, the work devotes fewer than twenty-five pages to Slover's time with the Cherokees, which encompasses roughly six years of Slover's eighty-three year autobiography. While the life story of the first Southern Baptist minister to the Cherokees is of great interest to historians, it is unlikely that Slover would have defined himself primarily as an evangelist to the Cherokee Nation. Furthermore, an individual expecting to find a book solely dedicated to a minister's interactions with the Cherokees throughout the Civil War will be disappointed.
Nevertheless, Cloud edited a very fine work. Anyone with an interest in the nineteenth century, academic or otherwise, will find merit in this memoir.