The Cherry Stone

A Family's Struggle to Homestead in Cherokee Territory

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
385 Pages
Reviewed on 05/24/2024
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    Book Review

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite

The Cherry Stone: A Family's Struggle to Homestead in Cherokee Territory is a work of fiction in the historical drama, Western, and slice-of-life genres. Penned by author Sandy Salisbury, the plot follows Paulina and Gerhard, a couple who navigate the challenges of homesteading in Oklahoma amidst the backdrop of the Cherokee nation's stolen land. The couple, seeking independence and a place to call home, faces cultural clashes and environmental hardships as they attempt to build a future for their family in the wake of the Land Rush of 1893. Salisbury has crafted a truly captivating journey into the heart of the American frontier, where personal dreams collide with historical injustices in a beautifully balanced fashion.

I was especially fascinated with the interwoven plot focused on Tsali, a Cherokee man grappling with the encroachment of settlers on his ancestral land, and I found the characterization of all involved to be emotionally well-rounded and vividly depicted. Sandy Salisbury does a great job of subtly exploring themes of identity, resilience, and the complexities of intercultural relationships against the backdrop of a rapidly changing landscape. All this bubbles in the background and adds to the resonance whilst the characters take center stage on their personal, emotive journeys. As the characters' intertwined fates converge in a wonderfully well-balanced plot, readers will no doubt come to a new level of admiration for those who dare to carve out their own destinies in the face of adversity. Overall, The Cherry Stone is indeed a moving tale of bravery and hope, resonating with readers across cultures and generations, and I would not hesitate to recommend it to historical fiction enthusiasts everywhere.

Lorraine Cobcroft

In The Cherry Stone, Sandy Salisbury relates the story of a pioneering family of Mennonites. Paulina is living with her in-laws, Gerhard’s parents, and while they treat her and her two small sons well, she longs for a home of her own. In Kansas, in the late 1800s, there was no land left for the sons of the couples who migrated, decades earlier, from Russia, Prussia, and Germany to establish a farming community. The U.S. government announced its purchase of land in Oklahoma from the Cherokee Indians. Gerhard and a number of his friends, together with their wives, and his younger brother, Peter, set out on an ambitious mission to stake a claim and establish farms of their own. Drought bites, cultures clash, and families fight poverty and illness and grieve the tragic death of babies as they struggle to tame sparse lands, building rough mud huts in which to dwell. Meanwhile, Cherokee families establish farms on the opposite side of the river, where they struggle to master a new way of life and battle against the prejudice of the white settlers. For the Mennonites, the harsh reality proves very different from their dream, and they battle a multitude of unimagined challenges, enduring hardships with stoic determination, deep Christian faith, and the aid of the Cherokee neighbors they at first feared. When preparing for their journey, Paulina had pocketed the stone from a cherry to plant at their new home, and the eventual appearance of leaves on the cherry tree, together with her recognition of what truly makes a home, symbolizes success.

Sandy Salisbury’s forebears inspired The Cherry Stone. Though she knew little of their story, research enabled her to place fictional characters against a background of history and bring to life the struggles of the farming families that pioneered the Fairview area of Oklahoma. Reading it, I envied the personal strength, simple desires, and community love that bound friends and carried families through the harshest battles against nature and the evils of mankind. The author takes us into the hearts and homes of her Mennonite family and the world of the Cherokee torn between two cultures. Salisbury exposes the dilemma of folk torn between loyalty to their ancestral beliefs and values and the temptations of other cultures. Readers will cheer Paulina’s strong will and perseverance, and her deep love for her family, as well as the goodness of the Cherokee Indian whom Gerhard eventually credits with saving his loved ones. The Cherry Stone is a sweet and inspiring tale of love, faith, courage, hope, and resilience. It’s an easy, leisurely read that reflects thorough research, strong writing talent, and careful editing. I loved it. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction, romance, or just a genuinely well-written story.

Jamie Michele

The Cherry Stone by Sandy Salisbury follows homesteaders Paulina and Gerhard, who embark on a journey to Oklahoma Territory. They meet many people along the way, both good and not so much, and this continues even when they've started to settle. They face hardships, including violence from land jumpers and harsh winter conditions, but find strength in their community. Still, natural disasters like tornadoes and droughts test everyone's resilience. Gerhard has to leave Paulina and their kids to tend the land for months so he can find work, and shortly after there is an unexpected arrival with Jack. Tsali, a Cherokee homesteader, is kind and helpful and shows that coexistence is possible. Gerhard returns to the spreading of rumors and violence, and a hostile kidnapping, intrinsically linked to escalating confrontations against the Cherokee, reflecting deeper issues of justice and land ownership.

In Sandy Salisbury's The Cherry Stone, Paulina is the stalwart female protagonist who walks us through the social construct of a Mennonite community. Her rebellious spirit pushes her journey forward and, with cultural realism, the stage is set for what's to come. The journey shows a meticulous attention to detail, painting a picture of the late 19th-century landscape. Salisbury's authentic setting descriptions, from the rugged beauty of the Glass Mountains to the humble sod “soddie” houses, with their cast iron stoves and rope beds, transport readers effortlessly into the era. I enjoyed the portrayal of Tsali, the Cherokee homesteader. Salisbury sidesteps stereotypes and gives us a textured character with an interesting backstory. The revelation of his mother's cross is a nice touch, particularly in a Christian historical fiction novel. Overall, this is a well-written story that I'm sure Paulina herself would find worthy of sharing, and have no doubts contemporary readers will feel the same.