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Robert Strange, 1796-1854
Eoneguski, or, The Cherokee Chief: A Tale of Past Wars. In Two Volumes. Vol. I
Washington [D.C.]: Franck Taylor, 1839.

Summary

Eoneguski, or, The Cherokee Chief: A Tale of Past Wars is one of the first novels to be written by a North Carolinian and set in North Carolina. The novel begins with a history of the era between the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 and ends with the removal of the Cherokee in 1838. Robert Strange (1796-1854) gathered material for the book during his tenure as a United States superior court judge, during which time he rode a circuit in the North Carolina mountains. In North Carolina, Strange took down the stories that would shape the novel and met many individuals, white and Native American, who would become loosely fictionalized characters in the work. These characters include Yonaguska, or Drowning Bear, the principal chief of the Cherokee who remained in North Carolina after removal. Yonaguska became the basis for the novel's title character. In addition, the central white family, the Aymors, is drawn from the colonial family of Robert Love, a Revolutionary War hero who led American expeditions against the Cherokee. Strange did not attempt, however, to disguise the name of Yonaguska's sometime nemesis John Welch; his name, if not the majority of his actions, appear unchanged in the novel.

Strange came to appreciate Cherokee history and culture at the same time he grew disgusted with what he considered the rough, uncivilized nature of white mountain settlers and their treatment of the Cherokee. Strange uses biting satire in his depictions of white groups gathering in Waynesville to drink and gamble. Strange reserves his harshest criticism, however, for Andrew Jackson and other federal and state officials who, in Strange's view, repay Eoneguski's and the Cherokee's loyalty to the Americans during the War of 1812 with treachery, that is, forcing them to leave their homeland.

The novel is written in the genre of frontier Native American romances, made famous by James Fenimore Cooper's five Leatherstocking Tales (1823-1841) and William Gilmore Simms' The Yemassee: A Romance of Carolina (1835). Like Cooper and Simms, Strange crafts a complex plot of interconnected characters, epic journeys across the wilderness, recollections of great battles, and fateful romances between Indians and whites. Even more than Cooper and Simms, Strange presents a sympathetic portrait of the Native Americans and deals with contemporary Native American issues. Strange, however, lacked Cooper and Simms' popularity, and his novel enjoyed none of the success of their works. In fact, given what he feared would be a hostile reaction to his novel, Strange ceased publication after only the first printing.

Works Consulted: Biographical Sketches of Distinguished American Lawyers (New York: John Livingston, 1852); Walser, Richard, "Senator Strange's Indian Novel," North Carolina Historical Review, 26 (January 1949): 1-27.

Michael Sistrom

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