Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

May 11, 2012

Historical ‘secrets’

WATTS —  

Students of Cherokee history are aware the tribe held slaves during the Civil War, but most of them believe Cherokee slaves were treated far better than those owned by white people.
Or were they?
According to “The Secret Life of the Cherokees,” a novel written by Murv Jacob, Debbie Duvall and James Murray, tribal slaveholders who educated their chattel were the exception, not the rule.
The trio presented Thursday’s Program Sandwiched In at the Tahlequah Public Library, reading excerpts from the recently published book and answering questions.
“It took us four or five years to complete the book,” said Jacob. “We researched over 200 books. People have little ideas about what history is, and they get into little niches. A lot of people don’t know the Cherokees of 300 years ago were a totally matrilineal society; it was completely run by women. It wasn’t until 1808 the power of the women fell to the European view.”
Duvall explained the novel – while containing a number of historical figures including Sequoyah, Stand Watie, John Ross, Sam Houston and Nancy Ward – has an underlying theme of life as experienced by a family of slaves and a family of Cherokees.
“We wanted to bring out things you don’t generally hear,” said Duvall. “For instance, it was common for sisters to marry one man. Multiple wives were common, while there weren’t multiple husbands.”
Duvall read several excerpts from the book, including the story of twin girls enamored with a particular Cherokee boy who was training to be a medicine man.
“You’ll find small scenes meant to demonstrate what you’ll never learn in history books,” said Duvall. “For instance, it’s unbelievable to me the Confederate flag used to fly over the Cherokee Courthouse, and slavery was huge within the tribe. I sat through [former Principal Chief] Chad [Smith’s] entire Cherokee history course and he never once mentioned a black person. Not once.”

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