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Rave review just in from the Dallas Morning News (Nov. 27)!

 The opening pages of this powerful, haunting book tell of the assassinations of three Cherokee statesmen in Tahlequah, Indian Territory, on June 22, 1839. The victims had been denounced as traitors for defending the treaty by which the Cherokee Nation gave up its ancestral lands and submitted to “removal” to a place later called Oklahoma.

The title and subtitle of the book are laden with bitter irony as is the entire saga of the Trail of Tears. The murdered Cherokee leaders considered themselves patriots, as did the Cherokee assassins. But in truth the real treachery did not occur among the Cherokees. The Trail of Tears was a true American betrayal, the exclusive property of the federal government and its politicians.

The forced emigration of the Cherokees and other tribes of the southeastern states had its source in the simple land greed propelled by George Washington’s declaration in 1789 that Indian lands were fundamentally up for grabs. The president wanted his “red citizens” to be “civilized,” to raise crops and livestock and to abandon their hunting grounds. Beneath this lofty-sounding ambition lay an ugly truth: that Indian lands were coveted by monied white men, both in government and out.

Paradoxically, of all the Indian people affected by the uprooting scheme, the Cherokees were the very model of acculturation. By the 1820s, they had become economically self-sufficient, trading in produce, cotton and livestock throughout the South; they had a written language, their own national newspaper and a constitution based on the U.S. model. (The Cherokees, together with the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole people, having adapted in varying degrees to white American life, were known as the “five civilized tribes.”)

The author writes with clarity of the tangled political climate of the Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren presidencies that implemented the removal treaty, and of the Cherokee leaders and their clashing ideas on the future of their people. These leaders included certain “Treaty Party” members who believed the emigration represented a fresh start in a new place, necessary to save the Cherokees from extinction, and among them were a past member of the National Tribal Council, a former adviser to the primary chief John Ross and the founding editor of the  Cherokee Phoenix  national newspaper.

These were the three men assassinated at Tahlequah in 1839 by their Cherokee compatriots, the killings creating what the author describes as “a violent coda in the haunting and powerful story of heartbreak and loss, conflict and controversy that is the Trail of Tears.”

Daniel Blake Smith’s depiction of that perfectly named 1836-39 journey from homelands in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, to what is now northeastern Oklahoma, is a narrative masterpiece: movingly written, infinitely sad, memorable throughout. The journey, an average of about 800 miles, was made by river barge, horseback, wagon and afoot, mostly the latter, attended by every species of human misery: suffocating heat, choking dust, fatigue, exposure, filth, disease — cholera, smallpox, dysentery, measles, whooping cough, malaria — and the evils of lurking whiskey peddlers and brutally crooked traders. Of the estimated 4,000 Cherokees who died as a result of the relocation, about 1,600 died on the trail, the others in internment camps and depots en route.

The Trail of Tears was “a devastating commentary not only on white greed and power but also on the increasing racialized world of Jacksonian America,” the author concludes in this splendid re-creation of it and the awful circumstances that made it inevitable.

Dale L. Walker of El Paso is author of many historical books.

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Had a terrific interview with NPR’s ‘Talk of the Nation’.  Check it out:

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More advance praise for AN AMERICAN BETRAYAL:

From Library Journal:

By examining the history of the Cherokee removal from the Southeast (the Trail of Tears) through the prism of Cherokee patriotism, Smith provides a distinct and refreshing perspective that sets this title apart from the many other books on the topic. Smith sympathizes with Chief John Ross and his faction, showing that their patriotism was evident because they refused to cede their ancestral homelands to the United States. The Treaty Party members, most notably Elias Boudinot, Major Ridge, and John Ridge, are also shown here to be patriots in having determined that the only way to retain Cherokee culture and sovereignty was to move away from white settlers and establish a new homeland in the West. Boudinot and the Ridges ultimately signed away the Cherokee homeland in the Treaty of New Echota. That act cost them their lives at the hands of John Ross’s supporters. VERDICT Lay readers will find this an enlightening take on an oft-told story. Readers should also obtain Black Indians: An American Story and The Trail of Tears Cherokee Legacy, two documentaries written by Smith (available through

From Publisher’s Weekly:

The story of the Cherokee Nation is a study in suffering, displacement, and the determination of a people to carry on despite brutal government policies that culminated in the “Trail of Tears,” President Andrew Jackson’s 1834 policy of “removal” that saw nearly 4,000 of the 16,000 Cherokees die on their forced migration from North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama to the Oklahoma Territory. Smith opens his thoughtful, concise and detailed study of this brutal chapter in the age of Jackson with a stirring account of the assassination of three Cherokee leaders—Elias Boudinot, Major Ridge, and his son, John Ridge—by Cherokee political rivals. The question, as the author ably traces backward from the bloody day in 1839, remains: “What should a good patriot do for his people?” Boudinot and the two Ridges advocated removal to save the tribal culture if not the land. They oversaw the rise of a prosperous society with its own written language and influential newspaper, but the encroachments of white settlement in the Appalachian southeast were relentless, and as Major Ridge resignedly noted in the 1835 treaty that acceded to removal, “they are strong and we are weak. We are few, they are many. We cannot remain here in comfort.” The personalities, political realities, and murderous resentments that stemmed from that treaty make for engrossing reading and a vivid evocation of how the Cherokees’ options dwindled until no promising choices for this strong and cohesive people remained.

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Advance Praise for AN AMERICAN BETRAYAL:

“A vivid new history of the 19th-century Cherokee removal and the Trail of Tears. . . . The difference between Smith’s account and other similar histories is the emphasis on infighting within the Cherokee leadership, who faced a difficult choice: Should they fight the forced removal by facing massive armies assembled by the American government, or negotiate the best possible terms while relocating peaceably? Neither answer was obviously correct, giving the narrative a tension that Smith develops skillfully. Cherokee leaders such as John Ross, Elias Boudinot, John Ridge and Major Ridge come alive on the page. Numerous little-known Caucasians also emerge as brave defenders of Cherokee humanitarian and land rights. . . . Well-written, well-researched.”—Kirkus Reviews

Book trailer

Have a really strong trailer for my new book, shot by a terrific director, Jason Epperson.  Should be up on my site, YouTube,, etc. in the next week.  Look for it!

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