In the early decades of the nineteenth century, the United States of America was in its adolescence, comprised primarily of its Eastern Seaboard and easternmost Midwest regions. Other than bustling New Orleans, the Louisiana Purchase was “unorganized” land; the Oregon Country threatened to become another colony of the British Empire; and the Southwest, including California, was under Mexican rule, as was present-day Texas. The Caucasian population of the United States at the time, driven by its fierce sense of nationalism, rationalized its greed for expansion. Its burning desire was a nation of uninterrupted land from the east-to-west coasts, and north-to-south from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Author Bob W. Dunbar, in his fine book TO FAME’S PROUD CLIFF, addresses a portion of America’s expansion story as it unfolded through the lives of two giants among men then, namely Andrew Jackson and Samuel Houston. Although deeply flawed in their separate personal aspects, as well as controversial, then as now, in their respective world-views, the two men were steadfast cohorts responsible in fundamental ways for much of the territorial growth of the United States.
As a writer of historical fiction, I am well-aware of an author’s challenge in taking the two-dimensional historical figures as written in school books and expanding them into three-dimensional characters for a novel. In TO FAME’S PROUD CLIFF, Dunbar has created flesh-and-blood characters that are so real they practically jump off the page. As portrayed in this book, Houston’s yearning for a “big” life captures the imagination of the reader and recruits him/her to that epic endeavor. Houston’s uncompromising commitment to his mentor and surrogate father-figure Andrew Jackson also bends the reader’s will to the same cause. And the reader gets drunk, depressed, discouraged, wounded, sober, energized, renewed, and healed in tandem with Houston by way of Dunbar’s capable hand.
In addition, a writer’s job is to create sympathetic protagonists, and despite my ingrained prejudice against Andrew Jackson, wrought by the Cherokee blood coursing my veins, after reading TO FAME’S PROUD CLIFF, although not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt exactly, I am willing to entertain the notion that alongside his quest for glory and immortality in enlarging his country, a smidgen of altruism existed in Jackson’s Indian Removal policies, if for no other reason than to save the indigenous people from total extinction at the hands of individual whites. That too, is the rationale Dunbar gave me in response to my Facebook Private Message to him on the issue of Jackson vs Native Americans. Maybe Dunbar’s speculation on this matter fills the gap in what reasonably should have been irreconcilable differences between Jackson and Houston, that of Jackson’s seeming inhumane attitude toward Native Americans and Houston’s love of, and devotion to, them. For a time in his youth, and again in later years, Houston actually lived among the Cherokee—was an adopted son of the Cherokee Chief Oolooteka (Ahuludegi), also called “John Jolly” by European Americans. And among Jackson’s three children, all of whom were adopted, two of them were Native Americans. Of course, altruism does not necessarily explain his choice of progeny. I guess, one of my points here is that this book has caused me to ponder, and to consider searching for more information on its topic.
That Dunbar engaged in meticulous research of the historical period depicted in this book is apparent. His rendition of that history is couched in a well-written story that is informative and engaging. It held my interest from its opening page to its last. TO FAME’S PROUD CLIFF is a valuable addition to the bookshelves and eReaders of lovers of historical fiction and/or biographies.
Linda Lee Greene’s novel “Guardians and Other Angels” is at http://goo.gl/imUwKO
Linda Lee Greene’s novel “Jesus Gandhi Oma Mae Adams,” co-authored with Debra Shiveley Welch, is at http://amzn.to/VazHFG
Linda Lee Greene’s artwork is on view online at www.gallery-llgreene.com
Linda Lee Greene’s Twitter handle is @LLGreeneAuthor.