The Singing Bird: A Cherokee Novel
A newly discovered novel set in the turbulent mid-19th century period of the removals and intertribal conflict, The Singing Bird details the lives of a group of missionaries serving the Cherokee people.
The mission’s founding quartet has one squeaky wheel, their pastor’s racist wife Ellen, the eloquently described “Singing Bird” of the title. She has none of her husband’s zeal, nor his right-hand man Paul’s loyalty, nor teacher Miss Eula’s devotion, but she has energy to burn. She uses it to wreak havoc that has the power to bring down the mission.
Along the way, two missions are founded and thrive where planted, and the characters interact with historical figures ranging from John Ross and Sequoyah to Sam Houston. The malcontented Ellen tries to seduce gentle Paul, then leaves her husband, only to return with vengeance in her heart. Once she succeeds in causing a scandal that costs her husband his position, she has a change of heart and seeks forgiveness and atonement. But violence remains close at hand for the plain-speaking Singing Bird.
Although written by a Mixed Blood activist and friend of Will Rogers, the story is told in the first person by one of the missionaries, all white Christians, none of whom grow fluent in the language, customs or stories of the people they dedicate their lives to. Those looking for a native point of view or characterization may be disappointed. But the story of Ellen as the “Singing Bird” of Cherokee understanding is both powerful and poignant.