Book Review of Pushing the Bear by Diane Glancy

Pushing the Bear by Diane Glancy was about the Cherokee Indians’ plight on the Trail of Tears. By using both fictional characters and actual historical figures intertwined with actual primary sources, Glancy weaved a convincing story that tells the human experience of the Trail of Tears. Through the eyes of the fictional characters, Maritole and Knowbowtie, the reader was able to sense the despair, uncertainty and upheaval that the Cherokee must have endured. The trauma of being forcibly uprooted stripped the Cherokee of their identity and dignity. This truth unfolds as Maritole and Knowbowtie struggle to survive. In addition, soldiers, who accompanied the Cherokee along the trail, were both antagonistic and friendly. Glancy uses the fictional character, Williams to demonstrate this.

The story began as the soldiers came to Maritole’s farm in North Carolina to take her and her family to the stockade. This scene was especially traumatic because Maritole identified herself through her land, cabin and personal possessions all of which was inherited from her grandmother. Maritole believed her grandmother’s spirit still roamed the premises. Therefore, removal to Maritole meant losing her grandmother, heritage and family values as well as her identity.

After being removed from her farm, Maritole was allowed to return to her cabin to get a few things her family would need on the trail. Her husband, Knowbowtie, told her to get his musket, coat and a few other things as well. When Maritole arrived at her cabin, she found a white family living there, using her possessions as their own. Maritole’s anger overshadowed her judgment and prevented her from getting all that she had come for. If it wasn’t for a soldier, she would not have even recovered her cooking pot and blankets. Even if she had not lost her temper, it would be doubtful that Maritole could have recovered any of her possessions without the presence of the soldiers. The white family living there would have felt that all that was in the cabin belonged to them. Although, Maritole did not intentionally forget his things, Knowbowtie felt betrayed. After this event, Knowbowtie abandoned Maritole and began walking with his mother and sister. To further Knowbowtie’s sense of betrayal, the soldier named Williams, who chose Maritole to return to her cabin, took a romantic interest in her. It would have been obvious to anyone because Williams would have had a gleam in his eyes when he looked at Maritole. If Knowbowtie noticed, he most certainly would have felt doubly betrayed as jealousy began to infest. Knowbowtie did not want Maritole anymore but he did not want anyone else to have her either. He could not completely let go of either Maritole or the past. (13-16)

As Knowbowtie distanced himself from Maritole, Williams seized the opportunity to court her. Maritole either played innocent or took advantage of the situation as she saw no wrong in talking to Williams. In the course of human events, people are drawn to one another because of circumstances. For example, Williams was alone. His wife and children had left him years ago. Furthermore, Williams was drawn to Maritole because she displayed qualities his daughter had also or so he said. These qualities made Williams feel comfortable around Maritole creating a sense of familiarity. Consequently, Williams felt compelled to help Maritole. He gave her additional food and clothing. More importantly, Williams gave Maritole the attention she craved which her husband had denied her. In return, Maritole gave Williams companionship. As the relationship between Maritole and Williams unfolded, her relationship with Knowbowtie deteriorated. Knowbowtie became jealous which motivated him to attack Williams. Afterwards, Williams was relieved from duty by the army. (171) Although Williams was friendly to Maritole and helped her, he was an antagonist as well.

By marrying Maritole, Knowbowtie could farm her land but it would never truly be his because Cherokee society was matrilineal. Knowbowtie brought only his musket into the marriage and if the marriage ended, he would leave with only his musket. The musket represented Knowbowtie’s manhood without it he could not provide for his family. Since he was not allowed his musket on the trail, Knowbowtie was stripped of his manhood and his dignity. In essence, he was shamed. Because of his shame, Knowbowtie felt uncomfortable around his wife and in-laws. Consequently, he distanced himself from them. (222)To complicate the situation, Knowbowtie was proud to farm Maritole’s land. As long as Knowbowtie was married to Maritole, the land was also his. Knowbowtie told this to Tanner, his brother-in-law after Tanner goaded Knowbowtie, “You got my grandmother’s cabin. My wife didn’t have any fields,” Knowbowtie responded with pride saying, “Well, mine did and I plowed them.”(61) When the land was lost, Knowbowtie no longer had this connection to his wife or so it appeared to his in-laws.

As a wife, Maritole was expected to cook. Along the trail, she was given white flour and salt pork to make the family meals. The Cherokee ate corn traditionally. Quaty Lewis, another fictional Cherokee woman on the trail said, “No, this white bread is nothing my granny would have touched.” (72) Maritole did not know how to cook with the flour nor did she have anything to improve its flavor. However, Knowbowtie blamed Maritole for the poor tasting food. Knowbowtie commented “Maritole did not have patience yet with her cooking. She’d make something just to get it done.” He compared Maritole’s cooking to his previous wife’s. Knowbowtie did not understand because he did not do the cooking. (151)

Maritole and Knowbowtie struggled with religion and faith throughout the story. They were struggling to keep their old ways and accept the new. They saw the trail as a lesson from the Great Spirit or a warning to get right with God. (149) Knowbowtie said, “Maybe that this was the Great Spirit’s lesson. Nothing was mine. I could receive and lose in the same breath. The burden the white man carried was that he didn’t know the lesson yet.” (207) Maritole, also, reflected on getting right with God, “The white man said that the Cherokee were left out of God’s world. That the Cherokee had to accept Christ to get right with God.” Both Maritole and Knowbowtie throughout the story reference spirituality, conjurers and Christianity. For example, “Maritole heard the trees mourning for us …. The Bear camped before me as usual. I tried to push him away but he did not move.”(161) In the end, both Maritole and Knowbowtie embraced both Native American Spirituality and Christianity.

When Maritole and Knowbowtie arrived in their new land, they were given a chance to start a new. Maritole’s baby, mother and father had died along the way. She was alone except for her brother who had his own family. Knowbowtie claimed that Maritole’s father had spoken to him in a dream asking Knowbowtie to take care of his daughter, Maritole. Knowbowtie was alone too. The two build a home together and raise two children who had lost their parents along the trail. (233) Despite all the trials and tribulations of the Trail of Tears, the two were able to rise out of the ashes and start anew like the legend of the Cherokee Phoenix and the new Cherokee nation in Oklahoma.

This book was assigned as part of a college course on Native American Indians. However, it was well worth reading and held my attention every page.


Glancy, Diane. Pushing the Bear. San Diego: Harvest Book Harcourt, INC. 1996.