New book on the Cherokees, “Trail of Tears”, and their leader John Ross

The name John Ross is not familiar to many modern day history buffs, although in the early 19th century he was one of the most colorful and influential men in the southeastern United States and then in what is now Oklahoma. Born in Alabama in 1790 with mixed Cherokee and Scottish ancestry, Ross emerged as a sort of “Moses” to the Cherokee nation. He served on the side of the United States in the War of 1812 as an adjutant in a Cherokee regiment that fought against the British-aligned Creek Nation. In 1818, he assumed leadership of the Cherokee Nation and led it through its most tumultuous time, the displacement from the Southeast across the country to the designated Indian Country, now largely Oklahoma. The “Trail of Tears” was harsh and unforgiving, and many Cherokees perished along the way from exposure and hunger. Among the fatalities was Chief John Ross’s wife, who died shortly before they reached the Arkansas River.

Bryan Hicks’ mastery of language and his ability to paint vivid word pictures stand out in his new book, Toward the Setting Sun: John Ross, the Cherokees, and the Trail of Tears, now on sale on amazon.com and other leading Internet retailers, as well as at many bookstores across the country. Rarely covered in full-length book format, the Trail of Tears is one of the U.S. government’s most glaring examples of mismanagement of what some officials of the day termed “the Indian problem.” Nearly 15,000 were relocated; perhaps 4,000 to 5,000 died along the way or shortly after arriving in the Indian Territory.

Hicks thoroughly dives into the “fierce politics, clashing personalities, and some of the frontier’s bloodiest battles” to present a sweeping, yet magnificent overview of the plight of a people group, a nation of proud Native Americans whose culture and very fabric of society was forever disrupted and changed by Washington, D.C. politicians and the clamor for land from white expansionists. The author uses a diverse mix of primary sources, both government and private, upon which to base his fast-flowing narrative, one that grips the reader and draws him/her into the troubling world of the 1830s. Hicks grew up in Cleveland, Tennessee, one of John Ross’s hometowns, and developed the story line through careful reading of available documents, relying heavily on Ross’s own papers.

Bryan Hicks has succeeded in bringing Chief John Ross back to prominence for modern day readers. The old chief, so long a passionate voice for the Cherokee Nation, deserves such a fabulous rendition of the most significant section of his exciting and often controversial life. Easy to read and well annotated (yet without superscripts to disrupt the flow), Toward the Setting Sun is a perfect winter winter read.  Hicks includes a useful time line / chronology to help with summarizing the key events and dates. More illustrations and maps would perhaps add to the usefulness of this volume, but the ones that are included are of interest to the reader.

From the publisher:

Brian Hicks’s Toward the Setting Sun chronicles one of the most significant but least explored periods in American history, recounting the unknown story of the first white man to champion the voiceless Native American cause. Only one-eighth Cherokee, Chief John Ross led the tribe through its most turbulent period, at once civilizing it for a new era and defending it from the southern states encroaching on its ancestral lands. Clashes between Ross and President Andrew Jackson raged over decades in the mid-1800s until a group of renegade Cherokees, betraying their chief, joined forces with Jackson ’s men on a removal treaty. Fierce politics, clashing personalities and some of the frontier’s bloodiest battles form a thrilling backdrop to the rise and fall of Ross and the Cherokee Nation—a story of loyalty, greed, violence, and betrayal.

Toward the Setting Sun has already received rave reviews from some of today’s preeminent historians: Nathaniel Philbrick calls it “an important book that is also a pleasure to read,” while Jon Meacham writes that “Hicks brings narrative energy and original insight to a grim and important chapter of American life.”

Bryan Hicks

Toward the Setting Sun: John Ross, the Cherokees, and the Trail of Tears

New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2010

421 pages, indexed, annotated, hard cover/dust jacket

ISBN 978-0-8021-1963-6

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