- Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom, and The Conquest of Texas: Ethnic Cleansing in the Promised Land, 1820–1875
Over the years, American historians have sought to challenge dominant narratives of slavery, race and ethnicity, "progress," and national identity in expanding regions of the nineteenth-century U.S. West. In the process, numerous scholars have rightfully complicated westward expansion by highlighting both the expectations and realities that accompanied this formative, yet often divisive and dreadful, process. Focusing on the experiences of the diverse peoples of the Cherokee Nation and Texas, Tiya Miles and Gary Clayton Anderson have crafted impressive studies that revise and reorient the direction of existing literature. Deeply rooted in social history, both books introduce refreshing evidence and persuasive arguments that, while geared toward specialists, prove readable for the general public. Whereas Anderson interprets nineteenth-century Texas through the controversial lens of "ethnic cleansing," Miles explores Cherokee history with attention to the interrelated nature of slavery, race, kin, citizenship, and community.
In Ties that Bind, Tiya Miles focuses on one Cherokee-African family to probe the cultural meanings of race and slavery in the dual national contexts of the Cherokee Nation and the United States. In doing so, Miles reveals the paradoxes of identity, citizenship, adaptation, and removal as the Cherokee people fought to maintain sovereignty in spite of U.S. colonization. Challenging both traditional scholarship that focuses almost exclusively on Cherokees and Anglo-Americans, as well as recent work which suggests that Cherokees and other Indians in the (pre-removal) Southeast did not utilize concepts of racial difference and hierarchy, Miles joins scholars Circe Strum and Claudio Saint in arguing that Cherokee values, politics, and policies were indeed informed by understandings of race.1
The rather ubiquitous nature of African slavery amid American Indian groups troubles Miles, who, after conducting extensive research on the subject, notes that such bonds are "an aspect of history that both black and Native people had willed themselves to forget" (p. xiv).
To accentuate these points, Miles examines the experiences of the Shoe Boots family, in particular the African American slave-turned-wife "Doll" of the Cherokee warrior and leader Tarsekayahke (or "Shoe Boots") and their five [End Page 474] children, from the 1790s through the 1860s. Although the intimate relationship between Shoe Boots and Doll was the first officially recorded and regulated by the Cherokee national government, Miles suggests that similar Afro-Cherokee ties shaped both the experiences of individual Cherokee families and the political response of the Cherokee governing body. To overcome the dearth of primary source material and reveal the "voice" of Cherokees in this period, Miles connects evidence from the Shoeboots family to various written statements from Afro-Cherokee descendants, applications for Cherokee citizenship, captivity and ex-captive narratives from the antebellum era, secondary literature on slavery among Indian groups, and to novels that reconstruct the slave experience. Dividing the book into two parts, Miles incorporates thematic chapters that trace such issues as slavery, motherhood, property, removal, freedom, and citizenship in conjunction with the experiences of the Shoeboots family. Importantly, because Shoe Boots was a well-known figure in the Cherokee Nation and was therefore acquainted with both Anglo-American and Cherokee dignitaries, his writings—particularly his 1824 petition for the freedom and citizenship of three of his Afro-Cherokee children—take on added significance.
Miles's evidence suggests that the central paradox facing the Cherokee Nation was the fact that "self-determination and liberation for two oppressed peoples" were "often framed in opposition to one another" by the Cherokee government (pp. 4-5). Yet, as the title of Miles's book implies, Cherokees, their Afro-Cherokee kin, and even some of their black slaves, developed family and community ties while striving for and "envisioning a conjoined liberation...