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The book An American Betrayal: Cherokee Patriots and the Trail of Tears finds its basis in the historical context of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The dispute between the two groups took place with President Jackson Andrew leading the Americans and Ross John leading the Cherokee Indians. Smith attempts to give an account of the events following the aforementioned Indian Removal Act of 1830through the eyes of the Cherokees. The Red Indians felt betrayed by the white man and as a result, tension mounted between the two opposing sides and eventually led to a series of massacres and murders before the forced evacuation. However, the story is told differently by both sides, with each seeking to protect its interests and people. Based on his approach to the historical event, it is credible that Smith’s main aim was to provide insight to the betrayal concept with regard to the American’s promise to the Cherokees.
While the Cherokees believed that embracing civilization will pardon them from the expulsion plans of the whites, their land was still sold to white settlers while threatening their homeland. Under the leadership of President Washington George, the American government had decided to live in peace with the Red Indians. According to Smith, Washington’s government had decided that, “The Indians being the prior occupants, possess the right to soil. It cannot be taken from them unless by their free consent. To dispossess them would be a gross violation of the fundamental laws of nature, and of that justice which is the glory of a nation” (2011:12). In accompaniment to this statement, the 1791 Treaty of Holston was drawn between the two nations. The Red Indians fulfilled their obligations as stipulated by the treaty by giving up their livelihoods in favor of the “civilization” demanded by the white men. This included crop farming by the 1820s and livestock rearing which were major changes to the hunting Indian tribes.
As the book commences, readers are taken through the 1839 assassinations of three Cherokees who, according to their tribesmen, had betrayed the clan by selling their ancestral land to the white men. The immediate outcome of this is what Smith depicts as, “a violent coda in the haunting and powerful story of heartbreak and loss, conflict and controversy that is the Trail of Tears” (2011:7). In turn, book looks at the collapse of society that was otherwise prospering in comparison with their white counterparts. The sole reason for the forced removal of the Indian tribes lay in the fact that the Red Indians were deemed stronger in relation to their large numbers. The white men’s fears were well founded as the Red Indians managed to adapt to the proposed changes while maintaining cohesiveness with the former. Consequently, Smith provides a detailed account of the three year long journey (1836-1839) made by Indian natives to present day Oklahoma. Smith goes further to cover the estimated distance of approximately eight hundred miles while narrating the employed means of travel and suffering endured by the Indian tribes. The average number of Cherokees that died during the journey lies at one thousand six hundred thoroughly depleting the previously four thousand natives.
In An American Betrayal: Cherokee Patriots and the Trail of Tears, Smith’s depiction of the relationship between the Red Indians and the whites in a systematic manner allows readers to adapt to the gradual changes witnessed by the two sides. While both Americans and Red Indians sought to conquer the lands, contradictions emerged on the acceptable economic activities and societal norms. For instance, while the Cherokees were used to hunting and trading their game meat, the white settlers were for the aforementioned mixed farming that entailed the growing of crops and livestock keeping. This was a disadvantage to the Cherokees especially so with regard to their traditions and cultures.
On the other hand, the white man’s fears of a revolution by the Red Indians were reasonable as aside from their forced lifestyle changes, they were expected to follow the white man’s rules and adhere to their laws. Understanding the white man’s views regarding the Indian tribes is also important as it helps an outsider see the need for relocation in the eyes of the whites while at the same times seeing the betrayal in the eyes of the Cherokees. While other books narrates the story in the eyes of the whites, Smith covers the situation before the Indian Removal Act of 1830 giving readers an opportunity to judge both sides effectively. From the ideas of self-preservation by the whites and those of treachery in the eyes of the Red Indians, An American Betrayal: Cherokee Patriots and the Trail of Tears acts as a timeline for both sides.
Smith, Daniel Blake. An American Betrayal: Cherokee Patriots and the Trail of Tears. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2011.