Minister to the Cherokees: A Civil War Autobiography. By James Anderson Slover; edited by Barbara Cloud. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001. Pp. vii, 256. Acknowledgments, introduction, notes, selected bibliography, index. $47.50.)
Beginning in the 1960s, Protestant missionaries became controversial figures in the realm of Native American scholarship. Often the agents of a righteous cultural imperialism, many missionaries plainly sought to eradicate indigenous spirituality and replace it with Euro-American traditions. At the same time, however, it is certainly clear that native communities like the Cherokees often embraced the new forms, melding the missionaries' teachings with their own pre-colonial traditions to form entirely new religions. Recent scholarship has shown that modern Indian groups, both recognized and unacknowledged, often maintained their community cohesion by centering it on these very Protestant churches that at first glance appear alien and non-Indian. In 1857, James Slover, the first Southern Baptist missionary invited to the Cherokee Nation, sought to spread the gospel among that people in Indian Territory. Minister to the Cherokees is essentially a memoir of Slover's life, travels, and adventures among the Cherokees from his early years in Tennessee through his later life in Oregon and California.
Edited with loving care by Barbara Cloud, a descendant of the minister, the memoir should be of interest to students of Arkansas history and particularly those studying the role Southern Baptist ministers played in community building in the state. Like many future Arkansans, James Slower was born in eastern Tennessee and migrated to Arkansas among successive waves of pioneer families seeking new and better ways of life than were possible in their hardscrabble hill country. Slover's work provides vivid accounts of his travels by flatboat down the Tennessee River and his journey up the Arkansas to his eventual home in Washington County, Arkansas. A lover of education, Slower parlayed a very limited formal education into a career as a teacher. Caught up in the revivalism of the 1840s, however, Slower converted to the Baptist faith and found his calling in preaching the gospel-a calling that would lead him to preach and open churches in Indian Territory, Arkansas, California, and Oregon.
Although entitled Minister to the Cherokees, Slover's account provides surprisingly little detail about his missionary activities among that displaced people. …