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In "Jacksonland," A Long Battle For Land, People And History

University of Alabama Cartographic Research Library

On June 1, 1796, the federal government of the United States took a narrow strip of territory from the Appalachians to the Mississippi River and called it the State of Tennessee. But most of that land still belonged to American Indians. As late as 1825, maps still labeled the southeastern parts of Tennessee, around what is now Chattanooga and as far north as Athens, as “Cherokee Lands.”

The story of how that map evolved into the one we know today is a main narrative thread in Steve Inskeep’s new book, Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross and a Great American Land Grab.

Inskeep is in his eleventh year as a co-anchor of NPR’s Morning Edition, and he says the story of that ever-shrinking slice of land called Cherokee territory is emblematic of the larger push to remove American Indians from the Southeast entirely.

"You had this wave of white settlement that was going across the United States. You had Native Americans in the way. You could argue that conflict was inevitable," Inskeep says. "Without totally discrediting that, there are these two men, Andrew Jackson and John Ross, who influenced the course of that river to some degree because they were so distinctive, and because they made choices that were different than the choices of other leaders of their time."

In this extended version of a conversation with WUOT All Things Considered host Brandon Hollingsworth, Inskeep talks about how maps can both reflect and shape reality, how conflict between President Jackson and Chief Ross was inevitable, and how the traces of their history can still be seen today.

"The history [of the region] feels so in your face. It feels so present," Inskeep says, "To paraphrase William Faulkner, it feels like it's not even past."

Steve Inskeep will talk about Jacksonland at the Bijou Theater in Knoxville on Tuesday, June 2.