- Pushing the Bear: After the Trail of Tears
Diane Glancy's newest historical novel is a sequel to her 1996 Pushing the Bear: A Novel of the Trail of Tears. Pushing the Bear: After the Trail of Tears follows Maritole and Knobowtee's family as they struggle to create a new life in Indian Territory once their removal march ends. Glancy explores the personal and communal ramifications of Cherokee political division through Knobowtee's brother, O-ga-na-ya, who participates in the killing of Major Ridge, John Ridge, and Elias Boudinot. O-ga-na-ya becomes consumed by his desire for revenge against those who signed the Treaty of New Echota, begins drinking, and, ultimately, burns down his own cabin in a drunken stupor. Knobowtee poses an alternative to O-ga-na-ya not by forgiving the Ridge faction, but by moving on; as he tells O-ga-na-ya, "You don't have strength for both revenge and plowing" (33).
In addition to political division, Glancy explores the spiritual struggles of a nation undergoing Christian conversion in the 1830s. While Knobowtee remains skeptical, his wife Maritole turns from traditional beliefs and regularly attends the sermons of Reverend Jesse Bushyhead. Interspersed with the story of Knobowtee's family and the fictionalized musings of Rev. Bushyhead (a historical figure) are excerpts from the letters of missionary Evan Jones, originally published in The Baptist Magazine. Jones's optimistic letters, in which the "introduction of the gospel among [the Cherokee] greatly augmented the sum of human happiness," contrast [End Page 313] starkly with the characters' internal struggle to reconcile a Christian God with the violent injustice of their removal and the inhospitable land they are now forced to farm (71).
Glancy explains in the afterword that the original Pushing the Bear was meant to fill a historical gap—an absence she felt in the US historical narrative about what happened between the Cherokees' lives in the Southeast and in Indian Territory/Oklahoma. In contrast, the new novel works not so much to fill a gap, but to supplement a faulty archive. The fictional characters present a historical truth about Indian removal that is absent in the record of Evan Jones's letters. Along with the letters, the novel contains lists of Cherokee reclamation and spoliation claims and fragments of Cherokee language with accompanying "literal" English translations such as "someone / which died, they / if someone is thinking about you" (139). Glancy's juxtaposition of these "real" historical texts with her fictional narrative highlights the absence of Native personal experience within the archival record of Cherokee lives in Indian Territory. Rev. Bushyhead, through his work translating the Bible into Cherokee, recording reclamation lists for members of the tribe, and listing the supplies they need, becomes obsessed with words and with list making. His thoughts devolve into lists of names, items, and phrases. Bushyhead and the historical items that Glancy includes in the novel demonstrate the impossibility of translation, the inadequacy of historical archives, and the necessity of stories—even fragmented stories—for helping us understand the past.