Wilma Pearl Mankiller’s great-grandfather survived the deadly forced westward march of Native Americans known as the Trail of Tears. She rose to lead the Cherokee Nation more than 150 years later as principal chief, the first elected female chief of a Native nation in modern times. Throughout her reign from 1985-1995, cut short only by her own severe health challenges, she advocated for extensive community development, self-help, and education and healthcare programs that revitalized the Nation of 300,000 citizens. Wilma Mankiller will continue to shine as an inspirational example of the faith in her belief that ethnicity should never be forgotten—nor come before family unity, society, and country.
Born and raised in Chicago, D. J. Herda worked for years at The Chicago Tribune, as well as at numerous other Chicago-area newspapers and magazines, before becoming an internationally syndicated columnist. Herda’s interest in Western Americana goes back to his childhood. He is the author of Calamity Jane: The Life and Legend of Martha Jane Cannary, The Never-Ending Lives of Liver-Eating Johnson, and Etta Place: Riding into History with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and articles for American West, Arizona Highways, and other magazines. D. J. Herda has lived in the Rocky Mountains of the southwestern United States for nearly three decades.
This book is essential to the study of civil rights movements of the second half of the twentieth century. Herda brilliantly fuses together key historical events, Native American culture, and the personal triumphs and tragedies of the Cherokee Nation’s first woman chief as he captures the essence of her journey from childhood to becoming the indefatigable leader of her people and, in the process, garnering America’s highest civilian distinction, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
This latest biography by D. J. Herda is both an enlightening and inspiring read. It excellently illustrates how the USA really operates and their frankly abysmal treatment of Native Americans. Beautifully written and comprehensively researched, this book presents a factual, yet emotional account of one of the most ‘driven’ women in history. I finished the read feeling a sense of deep admiration for Wilma Pearl, tinged with real sadness regarding the challenges she was continually faced with throughout her life.
I give a standing ovation to D. J. Herda's most impressive work to date, the biography of Wilma Mankiller! I sailed through over two hundred pages, both laughing and crying, as Herda intertwined his story with excerpts from Wilma's memoir, in her own words. Who could have guessed that the birth of a baby girl in a remote setting in Oklahoma during the 1940s would one day alter the course of all Native American people? Yet, against all odds, Mankiller did just that. Unbeknownst to her, she alone was destined to free the burdens of suffrage not only from the Native American people of our nation but also for all indigenous people of tribes throughout the entire world! I guess Wilma said it best when she said, ‘If you want to make the Creator laugh, make plans.’ Our Creator indeed had great plans for this young Native American girl, born of Cherokee heritage, who finally found her rightful place in life. Through her spirituality, gumption, and tenacity, she became the first Native American woman to become Principal Chief of her people. God certainly was not laughing when he mapped out Wilma's destiny. Even after her death in 2010, her legacy carries on.
D. J. Herda's latest book is another triumph for the prolific western-themed author. Thoroughly researched, this page-turner chronicles a complex and driven Native American woman from her humble beginnings in Oklahoma to California and back, again, where she becomes the first woman chief of the Cherokee Nation. Combining aspects of modern-day feminism and the continuing plight of NA peoples, Herda checks all the boxes, seamlessly weaving together all of the triumphs and tragedies of this most amazing woman.