Rebel Chief : The Motley Life of Colonel William Holland Thomas C.S.A.

by Paul Thomsen

After the phenomenal success of his first novel, Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier described his next novel as one based on the life of a white man who was made an Indian chief, fighting on the Southern side in the Civil War, and eventually wound up dying in a mental institution. His name was William Holland Thomas.

Thomas, a Southerner, has a story that embodies much of the dark side of the American dream in the 19th century. At an early age, he was adopted by a local Cherokee tribe. As the “frontier” moved farther west, he acted on behalf of the tribe in their negotiations with the U.S. government. Part Indian agent, part politician, he negotiated their treaties and was named a chief. During the Civil War, he organized them into a fierce counterinsurgent guerrilla band responsible for protecting the mountain passes of North Carolina from Union infiltration. As the government continued to debilitate the Indian nations, leaving the tribe no choice but to hold Thomas legally responsible, his own business holdings “went south”. Pressed by debts and personal hardships, he was committed to an asylum until his death years later.

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