Book Review: Cherokee Editor

Most who knew Boudinot described him as a sensitive (in a good way) and caring man. Many later described him as a traitor to his nation. After reading this collection of writings, along with Perdu’s notes, I see that he had simply lost touch, if he even had it, with the average citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

Cherokee Editor: The Writings of Elias Boudinot, edited by Theda Perdu

Early Years

He was born as “Buck” Watie in Oothcaloga (present-day Calhoun) Georgia. Those first years went by very different from his father’s growing up years. The Watie family departed from matrilineal traditions by using his father’s name, and lived and worked very individualistic lives instead of collective lives traditionalists cherished. He and his cousins John and Nancy Ridge attended a mission school, and further distanced themselves from traditions.

Not long after the first mission school, he met a man who impressed him very much, Continental Congressman Elias Boudinot. The elder Boudinot was also the American Bible Society president and pushed the theory that American Indians were one of the lost tribes of Isreal. Buck Watie took Boudinot’s name, not an uncommon practice of the day.

Boudinot joined people of many tribes and nations from all around the world and attended the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, CT. He met his first wife and caused a great stir about marrying out of his race, to point of death threats and his fiance being burned in effigy by her own brother. He concluded that no amount of assimilation would make his nation equal in the eyes of the whites he thought he could trust.

Political Years

Boudinot went on to propose a departure from traditions in order to keep their place in the US but also remain completely separate from the US. He continually stood up for his rights, notably when presented with the editing job for the first Cherokee newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix. The council wanted to pay him less than the white printer, and he refused to edit until they ceded.

Phoenix paper
The Cherokee Phoenix had English and Cherokee columns.

Boudinot’s writings, both in and out of the Cherokee Phoenix, often dripped with sarcasm, earnest advocacy, and to-the-point language. I found myself surprised by how modern it sounded, and how the human rights issues he brought up reminded me of today’s problems. If I took only his word for everything, I would have followed him right into the Treaty Party.

But he didn’t always tell the whole truth toward the end and stretched it in a few places considerably. He also was so far removed from the rest of the Nation that he had difficulty understanding his countrymen’s wishes on important topics. I wouldn’t have picked up on that if Perdu didn’t do such a great job of adding endnotes to this book.

When Georgia imposed terrible laws on the Nation, and President Jackson refused to act on the Supreme Court ruling for them to stop, Boudinot got going. Away. He and only a few other members of a delegation of twenty (might be seventeen; he used two numbers) signed away the entire Nation’s holdings for five million dollars—an amount the people had already said “no” to. The principal chief and others from the delegation were negotiating in Washington as he did this. The treaty barely made it through ratification due to the alarm of influential people in the US government, but it did all the same.

In the resulting uproar, Boudinot tried to defend himself through various publications and letters. No longer the editor (he quit because the council would not allow him to discuss removal), and after his wife’s death, he descended into a defensive state. He accused Principal Chief John Ross of many political miss-dealings, inside jobs, ignoring the state of the people, and putting money above all else. I wish I had Ross’s accusations on hand as well.

In Summary

I think the saddest thing about this book is knowing just how sensitive he was, and what happened later. Having read his letters to family in other books, knowing the hardships he went through at the same time as this political turmoil, made this a difficult read. Boudinot and his fellow signers, including cousin John Ridge, started a decades-long civil war among their nation. Most of the signers were the first to die. I’m still certain he was an alright guy inside, but he made an inexcusable mistake that tore his nation apart before and after the Trail of Tears.

Boudinot's grave

Why I recommend this book

Theda Perdu gives considerable insight into the politics, context, inside speak, and truth vs. misinformation. The writings alone are not enough. I am so glad to have found this book!

Want to see more long-winded reviews? I hope so!

Burnout. It’s a real thing. I suggest everyone take better care of themselves! Anyway, since I’m looking for ways to pull myself back into the land of the living, I thought I would start posting book reviews. I have to review them anyway, once I finish them, so why not blog about it?

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