The title "Trail of Tears" brings to mind a simple, dramatic outline. Cherokees adapt to the coming of white men by borrowing "civilized arts," but in the end are cruelly and uncivilly displaced from their homes to reservations in the West. This book does tell that trajedy. But Ehle gives more of a social and sometimes anthropological history, not a melodrama or sermon. He describes Cherokee customs, tells the story of two leading Cherokee families, and also offers a series of snapshots of contemporary American culture (or cultures): frontiermen and missionary, statesmen and black slave. Both Indians and whites come across as more complex and varied than any derivative of either the John Wayne or the Noble Savage stereotype: Ehle is a historian, not a historicist, and allows facts, events, and letters to speak for themselves without undue manipulation. The details he selects are usually interesting, and my net impression is of meeting real human beings.
The contrast between missionaries and full-blooded Cherokees could easily descend to hagiography or satire, but Ehle manages instead to show something of the nobility, and the blindness, on both sides of that particular conflict. Georgia legislators and frontiersmen come across a bit more negatively, but appear to have no one to blame for that but themselves. Ehle does not press the point, but there is a lot of food for thought and fruitful national soul-searching here.
author, Jesus and the Religions of Man