In his book, John Ehle describes the events that are connected with the Indian Removal Act that led to the notorious Trail of Tears. In time of Andrew Jackson’s presidency, the Cherokee tribe was removed to “Indian Territory”, today’s states of Oklahoma and Arkansas. There are different points of view on reasons for such removal. The most popular version is the American greed for Indian land and gold; however, Ehle argues that President Jackson had consistent and logical reasons to displace Native Americans. Ehle is convinced that the Cherokee removal was related to the question of national security. Despite common opinion that Native Americans have always been the peaceful and innocent victims of the White racism and unlimited desire for material wealth, Indians can be fairly accused of numerous cases of atrocity against settlers. Ehle claims that Whites are no more racist than Indians since the discourse of Indian experience evidences the pride for their copper-colored skin and frequent cases of desire to murder the “ugly whites” (Ehle 45). Tribal chiefs discouraged Indians from marriages with Whites because they were worried for the purity of their blood. Whites are often depicted as a nation of slaveholders: it is a primary accusation of all American settlers; however, Native Americans were not strange to slavery as well.
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Although history and experience show that Indians’ attitude to their slaves was better than that of white Americans, they provided much worse living conditions for the slaves due to the lack of food and resources. Ehle exemplifies the brutality of Native Americans in a wide range of ways, providing the detailed depiction of their rites and traditions such as hostage tortures, digestion of enemies’ body parts, etc. He argues that the decision to remove Indians to the “Indian Territory” was the only way to provide the national security. As Ehle states, at the beginning of the 19th century, the American government faced the problems of slavery and Indian rights; “the first was solved by the bloodiest war ever fought on the continent, and the second by a method of feints and dives and problems and evasions” (105). He argues that if the American administration chose to solve the problem of Indian rights by military actions, the war would be much more violent and atrocious. Therefore, the Trail of Tears was the best of a bad bunch, even if Indians considered White Americans as cowards because they did not want to shed the blood (in Native American tradition, people should fight for their land and die in battle if it is their fate). However, the Washington unwillingness to start a war risking the lives of thousands of people and the Indian Removal Act were the reasonable and justified political decisions.
Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation addresses the wide audience as it is written in a simple language. The obvious drawback of the book is the lack of thorough analysis of possible decisions of the situation. Ehle does not admit the version of a compromise between two folks completely neglecting the idea of a peace calumet. However, the primary advantage of the book is that it presents a different perspective and casts light on some facts of relationships between Native and White Americans that people, whether intentionally or not, tend to forget.
Ehle, John. Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation. Anchor Books, 1988.