Friday, April 10, 2015

"Cherokee Rose", Explores Life on a Cherokee Slave Holding Plantation


Cherokee Rose by Tiya Miles

Cherokee Rose is a book that caught my attention, because it is an area in which many African Americans feel is part of their history.  

The author is MacArthur fellow Tiya Miles  and in this book she looks at descendants of people with connections to Cherokee and Creek Indians. I made an oral review of this book on my weekly podcast on April 3. However, it is also imperative that I bring this book to the attention of readers here, as well.

The author bases the story of Cherokee Rose, loosely on the history of the Chief Vann House, in Georgia. But she brings it to light in the lives of three women of color who all have ties to the Georgia plantation. One of them, lives in modern day Oklahoma, is active in a Freedmen's descendant's group, and is in fact, a Creek descendant of African Creek leader, Cow Tom.

My personal interest in this book, is based on my own family history  with one group of my ancestors who were Choctaw Freedmen who were once slaves in the Choctaw Nation. I will say that reading this book is was a special treat, because on the pages one can get a rare and seldom told story of life on a Cherokee Indian slave-holding estate. The James Hold plantation in the book, is a fictionalized version of the real James Vann estate. 

The Cherokee slave holding family, upon whom the story is loosely based was the Vann family, connected to Chief James Vann, a wealthy Cherokee slave holder. The three main characters are all versions of people whom we may feel that we already have known or have met. They are prototypes of women living today, one of the characters, a woman of means and education, another who has ties from the Muscogee Creek Nation and who is an active member of her Muscogee Creek community, and another--a writer seeking a valid story to tell. All of the characters found a strong interest in the estate, and what unfolds is an interesting tie that each of them has to the historic household, and estate. One even sees characters who are somehow self appointed "keepers of the flame" with their plans for the future of the estate. All are somehow familiar, yet still strangers.

The book wanders between places in time, from the present day to the plantation era, through the words of the people of the past. And as the subtitle describes it, it a story of "Gardens and Ghosts" and the reader will find him/herself seeing the grounds, and the greenery from herbs to the lovely Cherokee roses also upon those grounds. And those of us with close ties to Oklahoma will appreciate so much from the seeing the carefully chosen names of the characters to the roles that each of them in the story have in relation to the past.

As a reader, I recognized versions of  people that I have met over the years. including those who perceive a tie that they cannot document. I appreciated seeing the researcher, the preservationist, and the genealogist who eagerly sought their history on AfriGeneas, and others who have only family lore to guide them. Tiya Miles carefully brings in those with historical family lore and brings those persons in direct confrontation with the reality of events of the past. It was carefully constructed. I can only say that I saw persons that I have seen from "Dartmouth to Durant" and places beyond. This book describes so many of the various  "types" of souls who wander the trails of the African-Native experience, and one will walk away from the book understanding how some stories are often misunderstood, but yet still so important to truthfully tell.

Though fiction, this story has a thoroughly documented basis upon which this narrative is told. Author Tiya Miles won a MacArthur fellowship because of her ground-breaking work on exploring the lives of the African experience as slaves in Indian communities. The story is so well written and I can only say those with ties to Oklahoma, or parts of the south and south east need to read Cherokee Rose. I personally have to thank Dr. Tiya Miles for writing this story. 

Now for those who are interested in the historical background of the Chief Vann historic house and estate, read her work The House on Diamond Hillwhich will provide this story. And those who study Indian Territory and its history, rarely see this story told, and even more rare is the story told about life of the enslaved even before removal.

In a general sense as a descendant from enslaved people both from Indian Territory, and also of the  American South, I note that few stories ever go beyond  those tales of horror and of cruelty.  Well now someone has effectively done that. The past is there, but so are the descendants, the survivors.

Thankfully, there are new scholars who are looking into this history and I personally await the fruits of their labor. I hope to read the stories from Tahlequah to Idabel--because there are the scholars among us, who have this area as specialty, as a home, and as an academic focus.

A wider audience not only wants to hear and to read more, we need to have these stories, and Cherokee Rose is the beginning.

I urge you to obtain a copy of the book, as I think it is a critical one to have in your library.


Terry LIGON said...

Thanx for the information

Unknown said...

Off to the library today. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention.

Unknown said...

I can't wait to read this work, thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

African American books about history are very good

Unknown said...

I am inclined in reading about African American people.. I was looking for a source which would give vast information on the same.. A good site to know about African American History