Remembering The Forgotten

When I first considered writing a book about the Cherokees and the Trail of Tears, I recall my publisher at Henry Holt telling me, ‘Dan, books about Indians don’t sell too well.’  Forcibly moved (or killed off) by settlers since the beginning of contact, they ultimately became an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ people.  Except, of course, when it comes to their casinos.

But I persevered, believing then and now that native American history offers revealing and instructive insights into who we are as Americans.  And a lot of gripping—if often tragic—stories to tell.  Besides, ever since “Dances with Wolves,” it’s become fashionable to be connected somehow to native peoples.  Think of all the white bread Americans who love to lay claim to their Cherokee or Navajo or any other Indian ancestry.

A descendant of both Cherokees and white Indian agents, I come to the Trail of Tears with divided loyalties.  Which, as it turns out, puts me in a similar position to many of the people whose story I tell in AN AMERICAN BETRAYAL.  As someone who’s written for the stage and screen, I’m especially drawn to dramatic conflict—moments of high tension and critical decisions, it seems to me, often reveal the true essence of who we are.  And you can’t get more dramatic than what went on in Cherokee country during the 1830s when, thanks to President Andrew Jackson and his many southern supporters, the Cherokees and all the other native peoples in the American Southeast were sent packing at gunpoint to their new ‘homes’ 800 miles west into what is now mostly Oklahoma.

As they say about the Holocaust, we can never let ourselves forget a story like the Trail of Tears.

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