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Blog Tour and Book Excerpt for "Yellow Bird's Song" by Heather Miller


Blog Tour banner for Yellow Bird's Song

Book Title: Yellow Bird’s Song

Series: n/a

Author: Heather Miller

Publication Date: March 19th, 2024

Publisher: Historium Press

Pages: 370

Genre: Historical Fiction, Native American Studies, Western, Biography


Yellow Bird's Song by Heather Miller book cover

Yellow Bird’s Song

by Heather Miller

 

Blurb:

Rollin Ridge, a mercurial figure in this tribal tale, makes a fateful decision in 1850, leaving his family behind to escape the gallows after avenging his father and grandfather’s brutal assassinations. With sin and grief packed in his saddlebags, he and his brothers head west in pursuit of California gold, embarking on a journey marked by hardship and revelation. Through letters sent home, Rollin uncovers the unrelenting legacy of his father’s sins, an emotional odyssey that delves deep into his Cherokee history.The narrative’s frame transports readers to the years 1827-1835, where Rollin’s parents, Cherokee John Ridge and his white wife, Sarah, stumble upon a web of illicit slave running, horse theft, and whiskey dealings across Cherokee territory. Driven by a desire to end these inhumane crimes and defy the powerful pressures of Georgia and President Andrew Jackson, John Ridge takes a bold step by running for the position of Principal Chief, challenging the incumbent, Chief John Ross. The Ridges face a heart-wrenching decision: to stand against discrimination, resist the forces of land greed, and remain on their people’s ancestral land, or to sign a treaty that would uproot an entire nation, along with their family.


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Author Bio:


Heather Miller author photo

As a veteran English teacher and college professor, Heather has spent nearly thirty years teaching her students the author’s craft. Now, with empty nest time on her hands, she’s writing herself, transcribing lost voices in American’s history.


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Book Excerpt:


Heather Miller, Author

Yellow Bird’s Song, Excerpt 1


John Rollin Ridge, Cherokee Nation West, 1850

The evening’s red sky horizon stretched its wide arms behind Judge Kell’s dogtrot, extending into the dust. A dead tree stood as an ineffectual sentry between his corn crib and smokehouse, visible through the open-framed breezeway. I salivated, smelling pork fat lingering in the air. No longer able to afford to slaughter hogs, my family could only recall bacon’s salty taste.

Inside the paddock, my appy lay on his side. Castration’s fresh blood tainted his coat of bronze and cream. Blood gathered under his hind quarters. If Kell had cut his femoral, he’d die from blood loss. That horse was Dick’s grandson, the pony I begged Papa to bring west from Running Waters.

The porch door squeaked, then slammed behind him. Kell expected me. He rolled tobacco in paper, sealing it closed with his tongue. His eyes squinted from the western prairie’s sunlight sliding low behind me.

He struck a phosphorus match against the porch post, lit the end of the rolled tobacco, held it in his lips, tilted his head to the side, and inhaled. Through smoke, he said, “Look at you, Rollin, standing on my land like some Mexican bandit. I believe your post is south of here.” Kell’s sarcasm snarled like poisoned saliva foaming from the jaw of a rabid dog.

“I’m in the right place,” I said, more confidently than I felt, flying on vindication’s wind alone.

“That is where you and I agree. Not much else, but that singular point.” 

He sauntered, with spotless leather boots, to the edge of the steps extending into the western dirt, just dust over the granite under Indian land.

I nodded left toward his painted paddock fence. “Kell, you take my Appaloosa stallion? His markings are unmistakable.”  

Kell gestured with his smoking hand, pointing the two fingers toward my injured animal. “You mean that gelding?”

“Who made him so?”3

“I did and am willing to stand by my deeds with my life.4 Found him in pastureland. Horse bucked and rammed me. Without balls, he’ll settle right down.”

“As a judge, you should know Cherokee don’t own open tribal land. No reason he should be here.”

Judge Kell gripped his porch rail but remained atop its planks on the high ground. Then, his unoccupied, dominant hand recognized his bowie knife’s handle, sheathed, and slung low on his hip. He said, “Can testify to nothing.”

His lies didn’t dampen my resolve. I saw through him. We both knew the real reason I was there. I shouted, “My sister can.”

He leaned against his porch post with carefree nonchalance. “The deaf and dumb sister? I don’t know what that feeble-minded woman could mean.”

I touched the leather strap of Clarinda’s whistle around my neck. “She doesn’t need to speak to witness. She is a medicine woman.” Then I separated my boots, furthering my stance against the inevitable explosion of powder and ball from the iron under my palm.

Kell scoffed. “Then remind me to stay well. That woman’s a witch.”

Wouldn’t be illness that killed him. I couldn’t allow Kell’s wit to move me to fire first, no matter what insults he hurled at my sister. To make justice legal, Kell must first try to take my life, although that didn’t mean I couldn’t provoke the inevitable.

I matched his sarcasm. “Now isn’t the time to insult my family. Come down off that porch. Clarinda and Skili followed you, saw what you did. You’ve cost me far more than future foals. That blade in your grip took my father’s life.”

I spoke the Cherokee words fast, having memorized their phrases from a thousand daydreams. Still, this time, the words echoed in the abandoned cave of my chest with heavier resonance—measuring the phrase’s increased weight by speech.

He spoke his smug reply through smoke. “Your father’s signature on that treaty stole nearly four thousand Cherokee souls. So, I believe, son, both that horse and your father,” he smiled before finishing his thought, “got what they deserved.”

“According to whom? Your justice? Chief Ross’? It’s his bloody hands you’re hiding.”

Kell pulled a rogue piece of tobacco off his tongue with his thumb and pointer finger. “See now, truth rests in each man’s perception. Your father knew that, at least.”

“Papa understood Cherokee sovereignty could not exist in the East. My family stood in the way of Chief Ross’ greed; Ross sent you to kill him for it.”

Kell’s searing sarcasm furthered his attempt at intimidation. He shook his head, clicking his tongue. “By accusing Chief Ross of such crimes, you make a steep accusation for a raven so young.” But then, his snide tone became more cynical. “Your family received lawful Cherokee blood vengeance. So’s I heard.”

It wasn’t only his voice; every crack of bare earth mocked me. But what he didn’t know, what the ground couldn’t predict, was that this time, his blood would run. Cherokee Nation’s rocky soil would soak in it, dilute him in its groundwater, and spit his remnants through every winding river and well. 

Kell offered an aside, turning his face from me. “You’re still breathing.” He looked back, continuing his threat with closed-tooth menace. “When this knife reaches you, that’ll end. How ironic—” He stopped short, mid-thought, and exhaled a chuckle before inhaling again from his lit tobacco. His eyes looked at me from my worn boots to my mother’s pale eyes. 

I finished the sentiment on his behalf, “That the same knife would assassinate a father and murder his son? Admit your part. You were there in ‘39; the same knife hangs at your side.”

Kell unsheathed and admired the blade in his hand as if he hadn’t seen his distorted reflection in it for years. “She’s a beautiful weapon, don’t you think? Buckhorn handle. Metal inside the bone. Streamlined and strong. Son, this weapon ended many a man’s life with its peaceful vengeance.” 

I barked, “Vengeance is a fickle whore. She strains her rulings through a sieve she calls morality, leaving behind rocks and politics. Justice’s bullet is fair and fast. Even blindfolded, her shooter doesn’t have to stand close to hit where he’s aiming.”

Years ago, the image of Kell’s bowie knife forged in my mind. Its craftsman burned the bone handle with the image of an arrowhead—no shaft, no flight feathers—only a killing point. Kell’s knife required wind and aim, powered by his quick reach, and forged will. My twelve-year-old eyes remembered his blade. At twenty-two, my memory dripped in images of Papa’s blood.

Impatient and blinded by the reddening dusk, Kell spoke with vigorous staccato, hefting his significant weight down the stairs. “Take your thumb off that trigger, boy, before you start a war.” Then, with sight restored, he dirtied his spotless boots, kicking a wandering rat snake slithering between us, seaming a dividing line in prairie dust.

I shook my head in disgust. “War began ten years ago. Your whiskey breath is as rancid as your soul. I can smell it stronger now.” I studied his smirk, offering my own in exchange. “Stinks so bad, I thought someone died.”

Kell and I stood in paradox: I, in the shadow of a tree, him in the dying sunlight. His age to my youth, wealth to my poverty, appointment to my banishment, and vengeful intent opposing my righteous confidence.  

He cocked his head and smirked, glanced over to my horse, and crushed the remnants of his smoke into the dust. “You think this will end with you? Cousin Stand leading your teenage brothers and Boudinot’s boy against my grown sons and Chief Ross’ men in some unsanctioned feud? The few against the many?” 

“No, justice ends with me. If you approach, you will lose your life.”5 I wouldn’t retreat from his taunts, knowing them for what they were. If Cousin Stand and I took down Chief Ross, it wouldn’t be a feud; it would escalate an already brewing Cherokee civil war.


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1 Comment


Thank you so much for hosting Heather Miller on her blog tour today.


Take care,

Cathie xo

The Coffee Pot Book Club

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