New book shines spotlight on Cherokee survival

The cover changes from spring to fall on the beautifully illustrated "Cherokee Nation: A History of Survival, Self-Determination and Identity" by Dr. Neil Morton, Dr. Bob Blackburn and the late Duane King. Renee Fite | Democrat Journal

As comprehensive as it is beautifully illustrated, "Cherokee Nation: A History of Survival, Self-Determination and Identity" was created as a teaching tool. It also is a well-composed and researched document all ages could find interesting and informative. 

The book – by Dr. Neil Morton, Dr. Bob Blackburn and the late Duane King – is available at the Cherokee Nation Gift Shops and Cherokee Heritage Center. It took three years to complete.

Adair County native Morton is known for his emphasis in education. He’s been superintendent of Stilwell Public Schools; in Tahlequah at Northeastern State University, he served as director of the Bilingual Program for Rural Schools in Adair, Cherokee and Delaware counties; taught English, and his final career on campus, he was dean of the Graduate College. At the Cherokee Nation, he served as director of education 15 years.

Writing this book was a wonderful experience, he said.

“We heard so many comments from public school teachers who wanted something they could plan a semester around,” said Morton.

He approached Chuck Hoskin Sr., who agreed to sponsor the book.

“A former school teacher, he was chief of staff under the [Principal Chief Bill John] Baker administration,” Morton said.

The weight and enthusiasm the three authors brought to the project was extraordinary.

Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society since 1999, has written or co-authored more than 20 books, numerous articles, journal entries and screen plays, according to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame website. King was executive director of Gilcrease Museum, as well as museums in Los Angeles, New York, Oregon and North Carolina, and a recognized America Indian history and culture authority, according to his obituary.

The men began meeting every three weeks, first outlining and dividing the book into sections. The association among the three men was good for keeping the information in balance and appropriate for public school or college, Morton said.

“We reviewed each others' work. I look Keeler, Swimmer and Mankiller because I worked in those administrations,” said Morton.

King was interested in early history, and Blackburn the Civil War and Dawes Commission, he said.

“They’re such scholars,” Morton said.

Morton was not as familiar with the very early history.

“We thought the format and illustrations would make it appealing to students. We had access to Gilcrease with Duane and the Oklahoma Historical Society, and the Cherokee Nation local people to talk with and the collections at the Heritage Center is fabulous,” he said.

It provides basic history and a foreman that is readable and has contributions from Roy Boney Jr., who illustrated it and is responsible for the graphic design work.

“I was really happy to have him on the project. I especially like the illustrations and pictures and the total design. It has so many sidebars,” Morton said.

As for history, there was no Cherokee government from the Curtis Act until J.B. Milam was appointed chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1938. He was an influential banker and oil man from Rogers County.

The first organized government meeting was in 1948 at Northeastern State College, and Milam organized it, Morton said.

“The beautiful thing about it was the three of us put in a chapter on self-determination from an education and economic standpoint,” he said.

Morton writes in an office on his property he calls “a small house in the backyard.”

“I like that I can work and leave it where it is,” he said.

Some of that work involves creative writing, as well as going though and emptying boxes filled with his personal history and career. He’s slowly converting everything into vertical files.

Another history book is percolating that could cover relationships and power struggles.