- Ned Christie: The Creation of an Outlaw and Cherokee Hero by Devon A. Mihesuah
by Devon A. Mihesuah
University of Oklahoma Press, 2018
this study seeks to counter fabricated narratives and outlandish myths by closely scrutinizing the racialized discourses that have depicted the nineteenth- century Cherokee politician Ned Christie as a murderer and an outlaw during his lifetime and after. Devon A. Mihesuah, Choctaw and a prolific scholar from the University of Kansas, examines the libelous stories pertaining to Christie, how his image as a bad man has frequently been taken at face value, and how these myths have been retold by authors. She shows how the Christie story fits the public fascination with the West as a canvas for masculine heroism.
Utilizing a wide range of court documents, newspapers, Cherokee records, and oral histories, Mihesuah aptly contextualizes Christie’s story. She digs deep into these sources to piece together what will eventually remain an imperfect puzzle. The first chapter examines Christie’s family history and life and his kin networks. The second chapter focuses on Christie the traditionalist politician who became a member of the Cherokee National Council in 1885. These were tumultuous times as Christie and his people tried to negotiate and contest the impacts of U.S. settler colonialism, including the land loss, factionalism, crime, and violence. They felt threatened by federal allotment policies and by the railroads and whites reaching the Indian Territory.
In chapter 3 the author zooms in on the May 4, 1887, murder of deputy U.S. marshal Daniel Maples on Cherokee lands, uncovering how Christie became implicated as the culprit. Mihesuah describes a crime surrounded by much confusion, wild rumors, little hard evidence, contradicting testimonies, and speculative news stories. There were more than a few suspects, some of them more likely candidates than Christie, who had no prior convictions. Several men were also interrogated. But Christie chose hiding and dodged the court, which made him seem guilty in the eyes of newspapers and the lawmen. Meanwhile, dubious news stories reporting violence in the Indian Territory habitually associated Christie with these violations, representing him as the leader of a gang of desperados engaged in the bootleg whiskey business, robberies, and murders. Mihesuah’s tireless detective work questions and often debunks these claims. By balancing the evidence [End Page 152] found in different versions and testimonies, she exposes numerous inconsistencies and fictions in the historical record.
In 1892 a marshal’s posse caught and killed Christie during a siege at his home, after which the corpse of this celebrity rogue was put on public display. Interestingly, as the author narrates in chapter 6, the fate of Arch Wolfe, Christie’s cousin and associate, was perhaps even more outrageous: the government kept him in mental asylums until his death in 1912. The Christie legend, the manifestations of which Mihesuah skillfully examines in chapters 5, 7, and 8, contain numerous versions. Writers have habitually demonized Christie as an infamous outlaw, a bad Indian, while those who killed him stood for frontier heroism and good white manliness. Curiously, some writers have opted to portray Christie as a manly outlaw folk hero, a man of the people struggling against oppression and trying to right wrongs. These Christie stories have further tapped into the common themes of “Wild West” tales by involving an epic last stand at Christie’s fort (as his home was depicted).
Mihesuah has written an intriguing and important book, in which she tracks Ned Christie’s life and legend. Like a master detective, she skillfully reexamines it all and exposes numerous fabrications, half-truths, and hearsays. Never losing sight of Christie and those associated with him—friends, kin, and enemies alike—her book exposes injustices, prejudices, and conflicts that have impacted Cherokee and Indigenous lives more broadly and that continue to resonate today. Still, as Mihesuah acknowledges, we will never learn the full story. Evidence is contradictory, and in the midst of it all Ned Christie remains an enigma. He left behind no written records, his voice cannot be found in newspaper interviews, and his family avoided the press, presumably...