Cherokee Nation – “So Proud to Live”
Was recently watching (re-watching) Ken Burn’s documentary “The West”. I decided I should become better familiar with so many of the historical events that often took place right here in my Colorado Neighborhood.
Toward the end of the second episode there was a segment on the displacement of the native American tribes in the 1830’s, moving many eastern bands further west in a territory set aside just above the Texas territory of the time. This tale was all-too-common for the indigenous peoples of our continent – and this displacement was just as heartless.
In time, nearly 90,000 people from more than a dozen tribes were herded into this territory. One of the last to be moved was the great Cherokee Nation. I didn’t realize how amalgamated the Cherokee people had become into the new North America. The Cherokee’s went way beyond half way in meeting the new culture surrounding them.
(The Community of Cherokee Nation)
The Cherokees established new ways of living via inventiveness, agriculture, adopting Christianity, establishing newspapers, creating a constitution, and for the most part, demonstrating just how industrious they could be – By historians accounts, the Cherokee people presented mainstream America with a rock-solid road map for cultural amalgamation, partnership and success moving forward into the future.
But then it happened. Valuable minerals were discovered on Cherokee land. And that was that. In short order the Cherokee people were rounded up and moved to the land to the west. Over 2,000 of their numbers succumbed during the journey – the “trail of tears” was very real.
I have included some photo captures here from the Burns’ program. These were taken in a prosperous Cherokee society prior to their displacement.
Enter Loudermilk, Fardon, and the Raiders
The extraordinary song composer John D. Loudermilk Jr., (real name) was known for many big hit songs during his career which I have documented on this site (link here). John composed a song in 1959 which was first recorded by Marvin Rainwater, titled “The Pale Faced Indian”, a release which met with little success.
Then, in 1968, a British singer, Don Fardon (Donald Arthur Maughn), a former member of the Brit group “The Sorrows”, released the song again this time titled “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)”. The song was a success reaching number 20 on Billboard. The lyrics were not as reflective of the actual Cherokee people and their ways during the time of their forced move, alluding more to stereotypical lines such as:
“They took the whole Cherokee nation Put us on this reservation Took away our way of life Tomahawk and the bow and knife”
A few years pass and the group formerly known as “Paul Revere and the Raiders” now shortened to “The Raiders”, re-releases the song on Columbia, and this time it soars to the top of the Billboard Charts landing at number 1 in the Spring of 1971. It would be the Raiders only number one song – though they charted on the Top 100 24 times.
I didn’t know that future country singer Freddy Weller took the lead vocals. I guess I just assumed it was Mark Lindsay. Weller was not an original Raider, having first worked with Joe South and also Billy Joe Royal, two recording artists who worked closely together both recording for Columbia.
Post Raiders Weller would enjoy a nice string of 32 hit country songs.
Ironically John Loudermilk, after composing the song, a deciding to read further about “The Trail of Tears”, was shocked to learn that his own great grandparents were of native American blood and had been marched over 1,600 miles from their homeland to the shameful reservation.
Post Script: The Cherokee Nation recognized and thanked John Loudermilk for the composition of “Indian Reservation”.
Cherokee Nation Today
They are truly a resilient people. Today the Cherokees number more than 250,000 people – far beyond their numbers during the time of the displacement. They are efficient, organized, have a vibrant web site, are actively involved in a productive way of life, are contributors to mankind.
Though they were forced to travel the “Trail of Tears”, the Cherokee have taken the path less traveled since that time – the “high road”.