Studies in American Indian Literatures 16.3 (2004) 100-102
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Although the book, Cherokee Voices, by author and photographer Vicki Rozema, purports to "use the participants' own words to tell the story of early Cherokee life," the title is somewhat misleading. Moreover, the book's preface contends, "Of the many books about the Cherokees, the vast majority have been written in the third person by authors who lived years after the events occurred [. . .] No one can speak more eloquently of their lives, trials, and customs than the people who actually lived the experiences." Yet, less than one-fourth of the book—including three as-told-to stories recorded by the [End Page 100] famed ethnologist James Mooney—is devoted to the actual words of Cherokee people.
In fairness to the author, however, it should be noted that many of the passages she selected, though written by men of European descent, were included because "they include speeches by Cherokees or provide unusual insight into the daily lives and customs of the Cherokees" (x). Also, unlike many writers, Rozema includes the words of Cherokee women in her work.
Her arrangement of these accounts provides a succinct and informative overview of some two centuries of Cherokee history, and the work contains several rarely-published documents that should prove of interest to her readers. For example, rather than moralize on the unfair practices of many eighteenth-century British and American traders, Rozema provides a "List of the Prices of Goods" sent to Governor James Glen on November 1, 1751, by a group of "poor Distressed Traders," who were attempting to counter the Cherokees' protest against what Indian traders viewed as inflated prices (17-19). A sampling of items the Cherokees needed to purchase, along with the number of deer hides exacted of them as payment, is listed below:
|A Blanket||3 Bucks or 6 Does|
|Paint, 1 Ounce||1 Doe Skin|
|1 Riding Sadel||8 Bucks or 16 Does|
|2 yards stript Flannen [flannel]||2 Bucks or 4 Does|
|1 Gun||7 Bucks or 14 Does|
Another intriguing document is an "Excerpt from Governor Glen's talks with Little Carpenter, Skiagunsta, and others on July 5, 1753, in Charleston" (19-22). When the governor launches a lengthy defense of white traders, Cherokee leader Little Carpenter responds: "Do what we can, the white people will cheat us in our weights and measures, and make them less. What is it a trader cannot do?" (22).
Rozema's use of letters and military reports to describe a 1793 attack on Cherokee leader Hanging Maw is especially powerful (86-100). When William Blount, governor of the Southwest Territory, arranged for a meeting of white men and Cherokee leaders at the home of Hanging Maw, he promised military protection for the Indians; [End Page 101] Blount, however, had to travel to Philadelphia on business, leaving Daniel Smith, secretary of the Southwest Territory, in charge. Meanwhile, a man Blount trusted, Captain John Beard, defied the governor's orders and waged an attack on the Cherokees, killing several of them (including Hanging Maw's wife) and wounding Hanging Maw. When Beard was not punished as promised, Hanging Maw responded with a series of angry letters, including one to President George fiashington, and one to Secretary Smith, in which he repeatedly accuses the secretary of cowardice and ridicules him for his inability to maintain order in the absence of Governor Blount. Although I have read numerous accounts of this attack on Hanging Maw and his people, none has been quite as intriguing as the one presented here—much of it in Hanging Maw's own words.
Although not a history book per se, Cherokee Voices is a concise collection of letters, speeches, newspaper articles, and military reports that should prove useful to anyone interested in studying and/or teaching Cherokee history.