I heard an interesting program last week on This American Life about Forrest Carter. The only work of his I was at all familiar with was the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales, starring Clint Eastwood. Carter wrote the novel that it was based on. I haven’t read the book, but I remember that the movie featured a trite “Wise Old Native American” type of character, who was a companion to the aforementioned outlaw, a man whose house and family get destroyed by Federal troops, prompting him to join the Confederacy.
Carter also wrote a book called The Education of Little Tree, a purportedly autobiographical account of his upbringing by his Cherokee grandparents. It was a hoax, however; the guy’s real name was Asa Earl Carter, and he had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. He was also a speech writer for the pro-segregation Governor of Alabama, George Wallace, allegedly writing the famous line of Wallace’s: “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” He had not been raised by any Cherokee grandparents, and had no immediate Cherokee ancestry.
What’s weird is that for a long time, Little Tree was accepted and beloved by many people. Although his deception was noticed by some in the late 1970s, most people didn’t find out about it until 1991. (There’s something that could only happen before the internet.) And during this time, the book was apparently considered uplifting and inspirational by a lot of open-minded, New-Age types, who liked its environmentalist message. (So I’ve heard–I haven’t read the book myself yet.)
What I can’t quite tell–and maybe no one can–is what exactly Carter’s motivation was in all this. Did he just think it was funny to have people going around reading a book written by a white supremacist? Did he come to have a change of heart in his later years, and become more open-minded? Was he just crazy and came to delude himself into believing his own fabricated history of his life?
Or was it just that his Confederate nostalgia made him sympathetic to the Native Americans simply because they were also in opposition to the Federal troops, just as the Confederates were? No matter how you look at it, it is quite a bizarre story.