New Novel Set in the Old Choctaw Nation

“Someone’s going to be king in this territory. No reason it can’t be me. It sure won’t be you.” 


Traitors, (Choctaw Tribune Series, Book 2) picks up a storyline started in the well-received novel, The Executions (Book 1). Set in 1890s Choctaw Nation, the Choctaw Tribune Series follows the journey of a fictional mixed-blood Choctaw family as they encounter the real events and real history in Indian Territory before Oklahoma became a state. A historical fiction series with a Western flare, these Native stories explore racial, political, spiritual, and social issues in the old Choctaw Nation—and beyond.

From the back cover of Traitors:

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Preserving Our History Through Fiction

In March 2013, I led a workshop for Choctaw writers. It equipped advanced and beginners alike with knowledge and resources to write a Choctaw Removal story in fiction form, based on family histories. Why is this important? Because each year, these stories are lost with the passing of our elders. 

This workshop had a twofold design. The first was to help the attendees in their writing journey. The second was focused on the honorable task of preserving Choctaw Removal stories. These stories are in danger of not only being lost forever with the forgotten memories of our elders, but obscurity in online and federal archives. Our mission is to preserve these in a way that not only insures our children and grandchildren can someday read them, but that they reach the mainstream audience in the United States and perhaps around the world.

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What is Historical Fiction?

Since I write (and read) a great deal of historical fiction, I’ve had several questions on exactly what historical fiction is and how I use this genre. Here are my answers.  What is Historical Fiction?

This genre presents historical events, but in an entertaining fashion. With my Choctaw fiction, I take true stories and present them in a way the mainstream public will be attracted to reading while remaining historically and culturally accurate. As a result, my fiction educates the public in our real history, not just what they learned in school or from Hollywood about Native people. I’m also striving to preserve these stories before they’re forgotten forever with the passing of our elders.

National Archives

An example of historical fiction based on a true story is A Woman Called Moses. This had tremendous impact on people who were unaware of the depths of evil and triumph during this time period. Brock and Bodie Thoene’s Jerusalem Chronicles comes to mind as well Gone with the Wind, and many others.

My family has spent years researching our Chahta (Choctaw) history, and cry over the stories we’ve found. I still cry when I read the first Removal story I wrote, a story that captures the moment in time when one of my great grandfathers was put out of the wagon, left to die.

Historical fiction can also feature completely fictional characters as in Gone with the Wind. In that story are real events in history but show the lives of made up characters. This is the majority of historical fiction you find today, and I enjoy both reading and writing it.

Why Does Historical Fiction Matter?

There’s truth in fiction. Sometimes more than we want to admit. But it’s a safe way to learn and experience truth about ourselves, our struggles, and our faith.

Nonfiction gives it to the reader straight, a great approach to subjects and themes relating to the human soul. Still, confronting a subject head-on is something we don’t like, especially if it’s unpleasant or downright horrible truths about ourselves.

Enter fiction. We step back and read someone who is more real than our next door neighbor and recognize bits and pieces of our own heart in action. We see ourselves from a safe distance.

Cancer, loss of job, car accidents. What good can come of the trials and troubles beating our already weary bodies back into the dirt from which we came? In the midst of crisis, a direct message or true to life story draws too real of a comparison with our own situation. The pain deepens with the continual burn of “why?”

Enter fiction. The more realistic, the better, yet it still lets us hold the pages away from our wounds while applying a salve we didn’t know it contained. We evaluate our agony from a safe distance.

What of faith—or lack of? Who is God? What is His place or power in my life? How can He restore a heart as broken and reeking of garbage as mine? Why so many questions? Do I really want to know the answers?

Enter fiction. Hiding behind the words of a make believe world, we peek out at the interactions between a Father and child. We watch and wonder. We may even pray, because our questions about God were asked and answered from a safe distance.

When we see things from a distance, it suddenly feels safe to take a closer look at ourselves, our troubles, our God, all through the safety of fiction woven into the fabric of truth. That’s the power of fiction, and why historical fiction matters.


You can find historical fiction based on my Chahta ancestry here: My Books.

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Choctaw Writers and an Ancient Tradition

How do you preserve history, culture, and values for generations when there is no written language? Through story. Storytelling is an old tradition for Choctaws as it is with many cultures throughout the world. Our ancestors knew the lives they lived and the lessons they learned were important enough to pass on. They did this by telling stories regularly to their children and grandchildren, who in turn matured and passed those stories, as well as their own, to the next generation. But a time came when these stories began to be forgotten. In boarding school, children were forbidden to tell them in their native language. They became the elders, and concealed the stories of their lives. It became a shameful thing to be Choctaw, and stories of life’s lessons were deemed foolish things for the civilized. 

However, in the midst of this loss, Choctaws still carried a little tradition, a little language, a little story into the next decade and the next. It flourished and grew to the third largest tribe in the United States. And our stories are still here.

As Choctaw tribal members, my mama, Lynda Kay Sawyer, and I researched and wrote a novella based on a manuscript written around the turn-of-the-century. The writer, a Choctaw named James Culberson, captured the story his father had told him of his experiences on the Trail of Tears. Their family’s removal story wafted between faith and tragedy, hope and despair. In the end, his father had chosen hope in the God his own father had trusted in. On January 28 2016, the day Tushpa died in 1884, we released Tushpa's Story (Touch My Tears: Tales from the Trail of Tears collection)

Tushpa's Story

How many stories have been lost, stories of everyday lives that we could learn from? Countless. But there are those Choctaw writers who are preserving the history. And our work goes far beyond preservation. It taps into the idea of sharing our stories with the world so they may learn the lessons God has taught us in life.

For my project with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, my mama produced a video to capture the project from beginning to end. During the interview process one of our culture experts, Olin Williams, said, “We need to get our stories down so we can tell others who we are.”

This brings to mind a Scripture verse, an admonition to always be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within us. Always be ready to tell our story of what Jesus Christ has done in our lives: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony...” (Revelation 12:11 NKJV, emphasis mine)

One issue with writing a traditional Choctaw story is that by the time it's translated into English and then onto paper, much is lost of its original flavor. But still, we tell the stories. In our native language, in English, in writing. We tell of the Trail of Tears, the prejudices, the injustices. But we also tell of the faith. Of those who walked the trail, believing God would honor their sacrifices and effort to be a loving, peaceful people so that their children’s children would love and live in peace and service to the Creator of all.

Today, some Choctaws are Christians. Some are not. But in retracing the history, and where it has brought our tribe today, it’s clear where the hearts of many leaders can be found. Our very language was preserved through the church, the only public place it could be spoken without ridicule or punishment. A place where they could tell their stories, and the new stories they were living in Christ.

Storytelling finds its way into all Choctaw events, from the powwows and ceremonies, to family gatherings and the annual Labor Day festival. But today, it’s not enough to tell the stories we are living. Write them down. Write what God is teaching you through whatever crisis you are experiencing. We need to read it. Generations two hundred years from now need to read it. Overcome through telling your story.


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