Trail of Tears

by John Ehle

Somebody once took issue with a review I wrote because I had rejected the book after reading only 3 chapters. He contended that it was not a proper review because it did not cover the entire book. The fellow didn’t seem too bright, so I never bothered responding. However, since I am once again reviewing a book that I did not complete, I suppose that I should explain myself. Suppose that you are digging into a meal at a restaurant, and your first bite startles you with a distinctly fecal taste. “Good lord”, you think to yourself, “This tastes like dog shit!” But you tell yourself that perhaps you were mistaken, so you try another bite. Yep, it definitely tastes like dog shit. But before you actually complain about it, you decide to try one last bite -- which confirms your impression that the chef has been taking liberties with his preparations. Would it be improper for you to write a negative review of the restaurant without completing your meal?

Such is the case with this book, subtitled “The rise and fall of the Cherokee nation”. It presents the history of the Cherokees from about 1760 until the mid-to-late 1800s. They initially controlled large areas of Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama. The encroaching whites generated endless conflicts, all of which were disastrous for the Cherokees. Eventually they were forced by the Federal government to emigrate to Oklahoma in the hope that, far from whites, they’d be able to live in peace. Many Cherokees died along the way, and their new reservation in Oklahoma was a miserable place.

Mr. Ehle has done an astounding job of research: he has ferreted out a huge array of sources presenting all manner of tiny details of this huge story. Unfortunately, his research talents much exceed his writing skills: the book reads like a compilation of all that research, not an organized historical narrative. He jumps forwards and backwards in time, following an approximately forward course, but with numerous leaps both forward and backward. His list of historical actors is monumental and hopelessly chaotic; people come, go, reappear, and are left hanging. I simply didn’t have the powers of recollection necessary to keep it all straight.

This book reads like a collection of incidents, not a historical narrative. I gave up after only 80 pages. I hope that somebody uses it as source material for an actual history of the Cherokee people; a well-written narrative based on all this information would surely be compelling.