Cherokee in Controversy: The Life of Jesse Bushyhead

By Campbell, Stephen W. | The Journal of Southern History, August 2018 | Go to article overview

Cherokee in Controversy: The Life of Jesse Bushyhead


Campbell, Stephen W., The Journal of Southern History


Cherokee in Controversy: The Life of Jesse Bushyhead. By Dan B. Wimberly. (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2017. Pp. xxii, 218. $29.00, ISBN 978-0-88146-607-2.)

Jesse Bushyhead was a Cherokee leader, Baptist preacher, and ally of John Ross. He is best known for overseeing a detachment of nine hundred Indians along the infamous Trail of Tears and for helping construct the postremoval Cherokee government in modern-day Oklahoma. Historian Dan B. Wimberly has written a book aimed at correcting previous accounts that relied too much on myths and legends while at the same time underscoring Bushyhead's historical significance as a figure who represented "an important bridge in the conversion of Cherokees to Christianity" (p. 198). To support his arguments, Wimberly has consulted Ross's papers, Baptist church records, government documents, military reports, periodicals, and newspapers. His book analyzes the major events of Bushyhead's life from 1804 to 1844, including efforts among Cherokees to adjust to white encroachment, Bushyhead's conversion to Baptism, legally dubious treaties that ceded Cherokee lands to the U.S. government, Bushyhead's experience as an interpreter and diplomat, the unforeseen and tragic consequences of Indian removal, and the formation of a new Cherokee government in which Bushyhead presided as chief justice.

The cultural diversity within the Cherokee Nation was something that Bushyhead carefully navigated throughout his life and was something, too, that white people exploited to their advantage. Wimberly correctly notes that Cherokees were fiercely divided over language, religion, social status, ethnicity, and the desirability of selling Indian lands. Many of the so-called mixed-bloods--Cherokees like Bushyhead with white and Native American ancestry--formed financial and interpersonal relationships with white people and owned African American slaves. Bushyhead's ownership of five slaves brought him unwelcome scrutiny from some of the Baptist Church's leading authorities, many of whom were northeastern abolitionists, thus illuminating larger regional animosities over slavery and the degree of autonomy afforded to local Baptist congregations. …

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