Rebel Chief: The Motley Life of Colonel William Holland Thomas, C.S.A.
Adopted by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian tribe in North Carolina in the early 1820s, William Holland Thomas used his entrepreneurial ability to negotiate with Washington lawmakers to help the tribe obtain federal recognition as a separate entity from the Cherokee Nation, which was ordered west in the 1830s by the Jackson administration. While the Cherokee were forced to leave – their exodus has become infamously known as the “Trail of Tears” – Thomas was able to keep the Eastern Band in the Carolinas.
As a merchant, Thomas owned his own general store, also becoming a land speculator and slave trader. Upon the death of the eighty-year-old chief who had adopted him, Thomas was named Chief of the Eastern Band, selected over the Chief’s own son. During the American Civil War, Holland became a colonel and led a unit of Cherokee to fight for the Confederate cause. The book follows his leadership of the small unit of Cherokee soldiers until his death years later.
The book is well researched with many endnotes, a bibliography and a list of his primary sources. William Holland was a different and fascinating kind of hero, brought up with antebellum Southern values yet managing to help people of a race different than his own. Holland is said to have been the model for the protagonist in Charles Frazier’s most recent novel, Thirteen Moons.