The Cherokee Rose: A Novel of Gardens & Ghosts

The Cherokee Rose: A Novel of Gardens & Ghosts

by Tiya Miles


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The Cherokee Rose, written by Tiya Miles, award-winning historian and recipient of a recent MacArthur "Genius Grant," explores territory reminiscent of the works of Alice Walker, Octavia Butler, and Louise Erdrich. This luminous but highly accessible work examines a little-known aspect of America's past—slaveholding by Southern Creeks and Cherokees—and its legacy in the lives of three young women who are drawn to the Georgia plantation where scenes of extreme cruelty and equally extraordinary compassion once played out.

The novel is based on historical sources about the Chief Vann House Historic Site in Chatsworth, Georgia, and the Moravian mission sponsored there in the early 1800s. Miles uncovered this fascinating history while researching her book The House on Diamond Hill. In The Cherokee Rose, she has fictionalized the story and introduced contemporary aspects to make this history more accessible.

The characters in The Cherokee Rose include Jinx, the free-spirited historian exploring her tribe's complicated racial history; Ruth, whose mother sought refuge from a troubled marriage in her beloved garden and the cosmetic empire she built from its bounty; Cheyenne, the Southern black debutante seeking to connect with a meaningful personal history; and, hovering above them all, the spirit of long-gone Mary Ann Battis, a young woman suspected of burning a mission to the ground and then disappearing from tribal records.

The story of the women's discoveries about the secrets of a Cherokee plantation traces their attempts to connect with the strong spirits of the past and reconcile the conflicts in their own lives.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780895876355
Publisher: John F Blair, Publisher
Publication date: 04/07/2015
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

In addition to her recognition as a MacArthur recipient, Tiya Miles has been selected for Ebony Magazine's Power 100 and The Grio's 100 lists of African American leaders. Her nonfiction books, The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story (UNC Press, 2010) and Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom (University of California Press, 2005) received numerous awards. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she is a professor in American Culture, History, Afroamerican & African Studies, Native American Studies, and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan.

Read an Excerpt

The Cherokee Rose

A Novel of Gardens and Ghosts

By Tiya Miles

John F. Blair, Publisher

Copyright © 2015 Tiya Miles
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-89587-635-5


Jinx Micco walked the path to her Craftsman cottage, breathing a sigh of false relief. After work, when she could be alone with her thoughts, used to be her favorite time of day. But that had changed with the column. She fumbled in her messenger bag for her keys, ignoring the ugly garden beds beside the doorway. If her Great-Aunt Angie had still been tending them, the beds would have brimmed this time of year with long-lashed black-eyed Susans and heavy-headed sunflowers. Nothing grew in those old plots now except for the odd clump of scrub grass, which Jinx knew her great-aunt would have plucked the moment she saw it.

She stepped into the husk of a house, breathing in the musty smell of 1920s plaster. The place was hers now, its walls covered with a faded floral wallpaper, its furniture curve-backed and overstuffed, its rayon Kmart curtains edged in scratchy lace. Photographs of family members, framed and mounted, crowded the walls like scrapbook pages. Jinx was not a lace-and-flowers kind of girl, but she had kept it all anyway. She hadn't changed a thing in this house since the inheritance — not the throw pillows, not the dishes, not the harvest-gold appliances. The cottage looked exactly as Aunt Angie had left it.

Jinx changed out of her khaki pants and slipped into comfy cutoff sweats. She unwound her hair from its braid to let it fall loosely around her face, toasted now after countless walks in the Oklahoma summer sun. Jinx settled into her aunt's easy chair and dove into one of Deb's charbroiled burgers, watching a rerun of Charlie's Angels on the old rabbit-ear TV set. She wished she had some strawberry rhubarb pie for dessert; she was sure she had ordered a slice. Instead, she settled for a handful of Now & Laters, annoyed at having to unwrap each candy square. Jinx washed her dinner plate, switched off the television, and raised the windows. A moist breeze ruffled the curtains as she settled into her great-aunt's study to start her evening's work.

Angie Micco had been a pack rat, collecting any and every book on Muscogee history, saving each Sunday issue of the Muskogee Phoenix, and scouting out past editions of old Creek-area newspapers. She had century-old back issues of the Phoenix, the Eufaula Indian Journal, the Muskogee Comet, and the Muskogee Cimeter stacked to the roofline of the terra-cotta bungalow. Leaning over an open book at her great-aunt's desk, Jinx tried to focus on her research. But she couldn't shake the nagging sense that something was wrong. Ever since her last column, she had felt out of sorts. The source of her discomfort was not internal, like a stomachache or guilt pang; it was external, like a free-floating irritant in the air. And now she was up against a deadline for her next installment of the "Indian Country Yesterday" column she had created. Her editor, a third cousin through a second marriage, was getting antsy. Read, she told herself. Focus.

She was supposed to be researching the Green Peach War of 1882, a major event in late-nineteenth-century Creek history. "Traditional" Creeks led by Chief Isparhecher, the ousted judge who wanted to maintain a tribal government, had waged a flash battle with "progressive" Creeks led by Principal Chief Checote, who wanted to run the Creek government like the United States. The traditionalists were the heroes of the story, the progressives glorified sellouts. When it came to the black-and-white of Creek history, Jinx took a hard line. Gray was just not a color she believed in. She had never been one of those hesitant students who had trouble making up or speaking her mind back when she was taking graduate-school seminars. One professor who she knew didn't think she belonged there had even called her work "potentially polemical." She had shot back that he was "potentially racist" and asked why no Native American historians were on his syllabus. He gave her a C in the class, tantamount to an F in graduate school, and wrote in the margin of her final paper that her analysis "lacked sufficient nuance."

Jinx leaned sideways and plucked the folder on Chief Isparhecher from the "People" drawer of her great-aunt's filing cabinet. She loved that Aunt Angie had kept paper files on historical figures in the Creek Nation. She skimmed an old clipping on Isparhecher and his motley crew of anti-assimilationist activists, squinting at the tiny print and pushing back a loose skein of hair. She jotted down interesting points on her legal pad. Later, she would turn those points into an explanatory argument and send in her column for the Muscogee Nation News.

Jinx's hand itched. Her legs felt cramped. Something was wrong in her great-aunt's house. Something was out of balance, like a dish off a shelf, a door off its hinge, a weed in the garden.

* * *

"Morning, Deb," Jinx said from her perch on a stool at the L-shaped diner counter.

Deb Tom was a big-boned woman with bay-brown skin and silver hair that rolled down her back in waves. Some tribal members considered it a flaw that she had such prominent black ancestry, but they didn't dare show their feelings out in the open. Deb's words could be sharper than her homemade hot sauce, and the helpings just as generous. And Deb didn't hesitate to throw offending customers out of her café and on to the street corner. Everybody loved Deb's home-style cooking too much to cross her. That's why Jinx was there.

"Well, well, well, if it ain't Jinx Micco. Didn't think I'd see you around 'til dinnertime." Deb held a coffeepot in one hand, made the rounds refilling mugs, took her own sweet time circling back to Jinx. "Coffee?" Deb said. She knew Jinx didn't drink it.

"No thanks. I'm saving myself for Coke. I've been thinking about what you said the other day, about my column on Mary Ann Battis. What didn't you like about it? Why were you so pissed off?"

Deb was a regular reader of "Indian Country Yesterday" and usually had positive feedback. But she had given Jinx flack for that piece on black Creek Christians, the one that mentioned a mission-school student named Mary Ann Battis back in the East. As a descendant of Cow Tom, a famous black Creek interpreter from the nineteenth century, Deb had taken offense — unwarranted offense — at the nature of the subject matter.

"Maybe you should leave poor Mary Ann alone. She was just a girl."

"Maybe I should, and maybe I shouldn't. I can't tell yet. You were mad enough at me to forget the dessert in my carry-out last night. Don't you think I have a right to know why, Deb?"

"How come you had to be so hard on Mary? Telling the story like she betrayed her own mama? The way I read it, you made that girl responsible for the entire downfall of Creek traditional religion."

Sam Sells, a retired breakfast regular who always took Deb's side, turned his eyes away from his eggs to glare at Jinx.

"Come on, Deb." Jinx lowered her voice. "The story wasn't even mostly about that student. It was about the Methodist missionaries' failed attempts at converting Southern Creeks in the early 1800s. I had to write that Creek traditionalists rejected Christianity, and that the Creeks' black slaves were the first to accept the faith, because that's the way it happened. Those first slave converts were the ones who laid the groundwork for Creek conversion to Christianity down the line. Battis was just an example. Who would have thought that a part-Creek child of an Indian mother and black father would want to stay behind with white missionaries while her mother was removed to Indian Territory? It made an interesting ending for the column. Is it really that big a deal? Can't you forgive me? And could I have some Coke, please, and some pancakes with bacon?"

Deb was staring, apparently unimpressed with Jinx's argument and command of the facts. "That's exactly what I'm talking about. You see her life as no big deal, but she was big to somebody. Didn't your auntie, the great tribal historian, teach you that words can be swords, that words can be scalpels — and saving graces, too? What you wrote is the last impression anybody has, the last thing anybody might remember, about that girl. They'll say she was a sellout who rejected her own mama in a nation that reckoned kin along the mama's bloodlines, and they'll be citing you. Oh, yeah, and they'll say she was black — that's the essential ingredient of your traitor story." Deb threw her hand on her hip. "Benny," she called back to the kitchen, "go ahead and get Jinx's order up!"

Jinx dove into the glass of icy Coke that Deb set before her. After a long moment, she looked up again. "Deb, come on. I don't care that Battis was black. I mean, I do care, but I don't care. She was just as much Indian as you or me."

"Don't you dare try that colorblind crap on me. I know you too well, Jennifer Inez Micco, ever since you was a baby. And I can't say as I've noticed you calling any of your other Indian figures, no matter how mixed with white they were, 'part-Creek' in your column." Deb paused, then dropped the grenade she had been hiding in her apron pocket all along. "Like auntie, like niece, I guess."

"What?" Jinx exploded, causing Sam Sells to slosh his coffee over the top of his chipped ceramic mug. Deb's other morning diners were craning their necks to get a look at who was making the commotion. Her mother would hear about this before ten o'clock, Jinx was sure. "Are you calling my aunt a racist?" Jinx wasn't afraid to use the race card either. If Deb could deal it, she could play it.

But Deb was Deb; she stood her ground. "Angie Micco was a lot of things, some good and some bad. But one thing she wasn't was open-minded about people who were different." She looked intently at Jinx. "Any kind of different."

Jinx chipped her words off the ice of her thoughts, gripped the sweating glass, empty now of soda. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"I think you do, honey. I think you do. Here's your breakfast. Eat up and get on over to the library before you make yourself late."

* * *

Jinx hiked over to the slab cement public-library building and stowed her messenger bag. For a part-time job, it wasn't bad, even if only schoolchildren and members of the Saturday ladies' book club found their way into the local branch. The children bounced in like balloons for story time and then were gone in a swirl of color and motion. The ladies' club read historical romances, which Jinx could probably appreciate if they contained just a sliver of irony. She had taken the job more for the books than the people. Books were constant company and had personality to boot. Spending her days at easy book work kept her mind clear for the evenings too, when she did her writing and cataloged her great-aunt's files. Her library income paid the taxes on Angie's house, which didn't sit on tribal land in their checkerboard Oklahoma town where former Creek Nation lots had gone to white residents over the years. It also paid for her fruit-pie habit at Deb's, her Twizzlers habit at the 7-Eleven, and her daily Coca-Colas.

When Angie Micco left her house and everything in it to Jinx, no one in the family had minded. From the time she was a tiny girl, Jinx had gravitated to Aunt Angie, circling her ample form like a small moon to its planet. There were photos of Jinx as a sixth-month-old sitting on Aunt Angie's lap, sucking on the end of her aunt's thick eyeglasses. At family feeds and cookouts, she toddled behind Aunt Angie, clasping soggy fry bread chunks in her fists. Everyone said it was Angie, not the kindergarten teacher, who taught Jinx to read. At picnics in the arbor, the two of them would settle on a blanket all their own, reading old Indian Territory newspapers and reacting in tandem to the goings-on of historical figures Aunt Angie had taught Jinx to know. Except for Jinx's mother, who would pause beside them now and then to smooth back Jinx's hair and refill Angie's coffee mug, the relatives had left them to their studies.

For Jinx's twelfth birthday, Aunt Angie gave her a series of early-edition Creek history books that had been sold by the tribal college after it updated its library collection. When Jinx turned sixteen and finally asked Aunt Angie an Indian history question she couldn't answer with certainty, Aunt Angie had smiled and said it was time for Jinx to leave the nest. At seventeen, Jinx went off to college on scholarship at the University of Tulsa. "That one's a smart cookie, trained by Angie," everyone back home had said. Four years later, Jinx set off for graduate school to pursue her doctorate in history. Aunt Angie, then seventy-six with dyed purplish hair and the same oversized eyeglasses, had ridden shotgun next to Jinx on the cross-country trip to North Carolina, telling Jinx what turns to make and which lane to drive in, even though she herself hadn't driven a day in her life. Eight years later, Jinx had yet to earn her degree. When her mother called to say Aunt Angie was gone, Jinx packed up the notes and files for the dissertation she would never finish and returned straight home to Ocmulgee.

"There you are, Jennifer! I was about to send out the troops!" Emma called when she spotted Jinx in the empty reading room. Jinx's cheery coworker was dressed in a delicate yellow sundress and flat-soled sandals, her hair neatly clipped with a matching barrette. Emma's looks whispered librarian, while Jinx's shouted tomboy. Jinx sported her favorite oversized cargo khakis and the cherry-red Converse high tops that made some of the older patrons blink in surprise.

"Send in the troops?" Jinx said.

"Right! Do you have any plans for the morning? Mindy's day-care group will be here at ten. If you don't mind, I thought I'd take them."

"Knock yourself out," Jinx said. "I've got some returns to process, and the nature section is a mess after that Boy Scout troop rifled through it yesterday."

"Thanks, Jennifer! I just can't wait for the school year to start. Then we'll have classroom visits once a week. All of those kiddies with their new lunchboxes and stuffed pencil cases. They're just so cute."

"Too cute," Jinx said. "I'll be in the back, if you need me."

Jinx made her way to the cramped office area where Emma's cuddly-kittens calendar swung from a bulletin board and her pointelle knit sweater draped the back of a chair. Emma would be busy for a while setting out puzzles and selecting stories for the kids. Their branch director, Marjorie, hardly ever came in on Friday mornings and wouldn't be the wiser. Jinx plopped down in front of the computer and settled in to surf the Internet.

Mary Ann Battis got no hits when she typed it into the Google search bar, but the name of the mission where she had first gone to school returned a series of articles. Jinx opened a link concerning Alabama state historic sites that blurbed the Fort Mitchell Asbury Mission School, next to the photo of a historical marker. The Methodist mission school in the Creek Nation, located on the Georgia-Alabama border, had been destroyed by fire in the early 1800s. Most of the children were relocated to nearby white Christian homes, but advanced students had been transferred to a Moravian mission school in the Cherokee Nation, housed on the estate of a wealthy Cherokee chief named James Hold. When Jinx Googled James Hold, a score of tourist websites popped up profiling the "devil-may-care" Cherokee "entrepreneur" and describing his "showplace" plantation on the Georgia "frontier." Jinx clicked on a link about the Hold Plantation museum, this one to a recent newspaper article: "State Cuts Pull Rug from under Cherokees, Friends of the Hold House."

She skimmed the article. The historic Hold Plantation site was being pawned off by the state like a broken turntable. It wasn't as bad as when the United States government had put the Creek Council House up for sale in 1902, but it was bad enough. This plantation was the last place Mary Ann Battis was known to have lived. Traces of her might still exist among the auctioned household items. The home would be sold within a month and would probably fall into some rich white man's hands, just like most Indian land of any value. But maybe the door had not completely closed. Maybe the house was full of old museum documents she could request copies of.

"Story time, children!" Jinx heard Emma sing-songing out in the multipurpose room. "It's Mary Poppins today! And then we'll make tissue-paper umbrellas!"

Jinx printed out the pages from her search, then scooped up the pile of book returns. Someone had been on a supernatural-romance binge and was partial to Heather Graham. Someone else — a middle-schooler, she guessed — had finished a summer science project on undersea volcanoes. And someone fond of sticky notes — most likely a gardener — had tabbed several pages in a book called Dangerous Plants.


Excerpted from The Cherokee Rose by Tiya Miles. Copyright © 2015 Tiya Miles. Excerpted by permission of John F. Blair, Publisher.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Prologue: Dust to Dust,
Part I: Our Mothers' Gardens,
Part II: Talking Leaves,
Part III: The Three Sisters,
Epilogue: The Song of the House,
Author's Note,

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The Cherokee Rose: A Novel of Gardens & Ghosts 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Indywoman More than 1 year ago
AMAZING...AMAZING read!! I am not talented enough in my writing skills to express how I feel about The Cherokee Rose!! "You bought this house to chase a dream, Jinx said." But for some of the women who lived here that dream was a nightmare. If they could live through all that crap, don't you think the least we can do is ad about it? Isn't it honoring their memory to be witness for their lives? The Cherokee Rose is a set on a fictionalized Plantation in Georgia. However the story is actually based on James Van, one of the richest members of the Cherokee Indiana Tribe who held 115 slaves at the time of his death in 1809. Did you know that the biggest five Indian Tribes owned slaves? The story is wove around present day people who are searching for their past ancestors. I know I'm not doing this book justice...just please, please read it!! Thank you Tiya Miles for this outstanding piece of literature!!!