"The Education of Little Tree" By Forrest Carter
A Report written by C.A. White, Introduction to Literature, Oral Presentation/Final
(Note: This was hand-typed as much of the content of this website; thus apologies given here for any type-o's
the reader may find.)
Forrest Carter's autobiography is a heartwarming account of his life growing up in his beloved Smokey Mtns.
of Tenn. He lived with his grandparents until he was ten years old, when he was orphaned for a second time. The
only clue given to the reader concerning his mother and father had died, was revealed when Little Tree saw a lady on the bus
that he thought was sick, he thought that she looked like she could afford to call a doctor, this clue to his past made me
think his parents probably died because they couldn't afford a doctor. After his grandparents died, he traveled west,
working as a farm hand or cow poke, making his way to the Nations in Oklahoma. He said, when he got there, there were
no Nations and I understand what he meant by that, I went toOklahoma once and I also tried to find the Nations. The
Nations are there, but not like a nationm state or country, or anything like what you would expect. They are there,
but for the most part they are like the Native Americans, invisible...unseen...disappearing. In order to see the true
Nations, you would have to belong to them, and see them from that vantage point.
Like all Cherokee's, Forest Carter had three names.
His Christian or white name, Forest Carter.
his Indian name, Little Tree.
(Note that it was custom for these indigenous people, our ancestors, to bestow nicknames upon the children
and children's children as was the habit
of our greatgrandmother Polly!)
His Indian name pronounced in the Cherokee language,
This tradition of names and nicknames has been a barrier to not only the early government census takers
but to all those seeking their Cherokee Roots since before the great removal of 1832. In the book "Cherokee Roots,"
all the names are listed on the government rolls, the book stands as the official lists for all Cherokee's descendents.
it is very hard to prove lineage, because of the Cherokees early distrust of the government, they would give a made
up name, or a variation of one of their three names. Also, most of the census records for Tenn. and Kentucky were lost
or destroyed at the turn of the 1800's.
My Uncle Bill, wrote and also privately printed a booklet in the early 1980's a a guide for anyone seeking
their Cherokee Roots, or "feather" as he puts it in his book. Many of the values, virtues, lessons and traditions he
cites in his book are very similiar to the stories and information in Carter's book.
Forest Carter's first book was privately printed in 1972----It was called "The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales".
It's intersting o point out here that I believe "Wales" was the name used once in his book "The Education of Little Tree for
his grandfather. (I would like to learn more about his grandfather's name and his family history...
In 1973---"Gone to Texas," his 2nd western, was first published. He sent copies of these two westerns
to many movie producers including Clint Eastwood.
In 1976 he re-titled and published "The Vengeance trail of Josey Wales".
Also in 1976 "The Education of Little Tree was first published, this copy I have is the 15th paperbound
The copy I have containing his two westerns, was printed in 1991, it's 3rd printing. I have since
learned it is out of print, and feel fortunate to have picked this copy up in a used book store.
His fourth book, "Watch for Me on the Mtn." which is about Geronimo, was published in 1978, just prior to
his untimely death in 1979.
From the information i have gleaned in these books, I have found out Forest Carter was a voracious reader
and researcher, because he wished to write accurately on the subject of his two westerns, the Missouri outlaws at the end
of the Cival War. This research may be the reason some people believe he made up the story of Little Tree. i don;t,
I believe he wrote it the way he lived it, with honesty and love.
Forrest Carter also held the position of "Storyteller in Council" to the Cherokee Nations.
In 1976 Clint Eastwood directed and starred in t he movie version of his western, called "The Outlaw josey
Wales." Another movie was planned for Eastwood, but the deal fell through. A second western was filmed starring
Michael parks, but has never been released.
I hope no one ever makes a movie of "Little Tree." At first, I thought about how great a movie
it would make. But later, I decided the book is perfect just the way it is, to be shared, read and enjoyed, by
all those that take the minutes to read it. Perhaps my viewing of "Pocahontas" by Walt Disney had something to do with
my opinion. Everyone knows Disney takes great liberties with his interpretations of the classics, with that in mind,
I feel this book should be interpreted by only one person, the individual reading it.
In the film, "Pocohontas," I thought the part with the old willow tree talking to her was a little
far fetched. Yet, this is just how Little Tree made it through the difficulties at the boarding school. By talking
to and keeping his faith in the spirit of the Oak Tree at the orphanage, all the trees and the wind did not let him down,
they helped to save him. So now my opinion of Disney has softened with understanding from this book and also from an
interview I watched with Russell Means, who is an Indian actor/activist. Means acted as a consultant for the Disney
movie. He stated in the interview, that the protrayal of Pocohontas was an accurate one, from the standpoint of a young
Indian girl and how she had to rely on her own perserverance and beliefs in order to prevail.
For twenty years the story of "Little Tree'" has been passed from one person to another, and will almost
surely go on forever. The preface for the book was written by Rennard Strickland in 1985, part of what he said was "This
book is a human document of universal meaning. "The Education of Little Tree" speaks to the human spirit and reaches
the very depth of the human soul" (1). And as Little Tree said, "Gramma said when you come on something good, first
thing to do is share it with whoever you can find: that way, the good spreads out where no telling it will go.
Which is right."
After reading the first chapter---I called my mother and insisted she read the book. I told her
she would find everything in it she could relate to from her childhood, including her grandmother and the era of the great
depression. She did not grow up in the Smokey Mtns., but in a small Missouri town in the Ozarks. Like Little Tree,
her grandmother, was also considered an orphan at a very young age. She did not lose both parents as he did, but both
she and her sister, were considered orphans when their mother died. From her, my great grandmother, we have the story
on my family, passed to each generation, of how her grandparents had come from Overton County, Tenn., at the time of the great
removal, and that they crossed with the last group---John Ross's group, and never made it to the Nations, somehow they had
managed to settle in the Ozarks of Missouri, always passing for white farmers.
Of course, my mother didn't just read the book from cover to cover the way your suppose to do---she just
picked a place and started reading. But that's the beauty of the book, you can open it anywhere, anytime and start relating
and enjoying again and again.
A few years ago we went by car crossing the Smokey Mtns. from North Carolina into Overton County, Tenn.
We were on our way to visit our daughter in Oklahoma and thought we could stop off and look for our "roots". Somehow
we ended up on a narrow country road, I was trying to find a good route to the town of Livingston, well, to our amazement,
we were suddenly headed down a very steep mountain, with all these sharp curves, curve after curve, and when we got to our
destination, we were told we had been on Cub Mt., which has 13 hairpin curves! The locals told us the joke about the
farmer and the hitchhiker on Cub Mtn., how both of them had started at the top, but the farmer wouldn't give the hitchhiker
a ride, he would just wave at the hitchhiker on each curve, who in turn, would run straight down the mountain and wait on
the next curve, never getting a ride, but always staying ahead of the farmer.
Because of this experience, and others, like the one in Maggie Valley I won't mention here, I knew first
hand how steep the mountains were when Little Tree described his events in the hills of Tenn. I understood how he had
easily escaped the Governement men by running straight up the hill, not staying on the path. I also understood (and
did feel a little sympathy) for the plight of the city slickers, when they became lost and spent a tortured night on the mountain.
One of the images I am left with from this book, and there are many, is the image of the sunrise "coming alive" as Carter
and his grandfather described the birth of a new day. (I guess I will have to go back to Cub Mtn. someday to see a sunrise
My three year old grandson, who was born in Oklahoma, loves fishing, and would go hunting if he could, he
loves to listen to the stories I re-tell, of how Little Tree went fishing, just using his hands and how he and his granpa
caught turkeys using a tree stump trap. So you can easliy see the appeal of Little Tree spans many generations.
Why you ask, is such a simple, little, understated book such a gem of human love and wisdom?
I believe it's because Forrest Carter wrote it from the heart, using so much heart it touches everyone of us who reads it.
If you have heart, you will find someone or something you know, if not once, but every time you pick up the book. If
you don't have "heart", you will when you finish the book. It can't be helped.
i found three voices for the author in the auto-biography of Little Tree. In the first reading, I
heard the voice of a young, naive, five year old child, written with all the wonder and understanding a young child would
have, of how things were perceived by him in his youthful innocence.
If you take a second look and listen for it, you will hear the adult voice of Forrest Carter, with all his
anti-establishment beliefs coming through, skillfully woven into all the humor and trueisms of Little tree's memories.
Forrest Carter did not trust or believe in organized religion or politics and with his background, as with most Native Americans,
no one should blame him. This is where I would like to quote my favorite quote, it isn't from this book, but from one
written by Horace Kephart in 1936. He wrote that, in the early 1800's, a Cherokee translation of St. Matthew was published,
and a copy was brought to their Chief, Chief Yonaguska, who would not allow it to be circulated until it had first been read
to him. After a few chapters, he said, "Well, it seems to be a good book---strange that the white people are no better,
after having had it so long." (qt. in Kephart 39)
In this chapter, "To Know the Past" we hear the 3rd voice, this is a very serious adult voice, in which
Carter departed from the child/adult voice and took on a more mature serious voice. Of course the story is of a serious
nature and of course he related it just the way it was related to him---with a serious reverence and respect for those
who suffered in the great removal , of 1838. I heard this voice once before, when my Uncle told me of how the Cherokee
were taken from their homes, imprisoned until they were given a blanket, a bar of soap and two dollars credit to make the
trip. How they were stripped of all their worldly possessions and then charged to walk to Oklahoma, where all the Nations
When I got towards the end of the book, I put it down unfinished, for two reasons. First, I didn't
want it to end and second, I did not want to read the sad, terrible part my mother had referred to. The part
where the Rev. at the orphanage beats him. But even when I did, Carter came through for the reader by writing the story
of these events just the way he had loved them, with innocence and heart.
I made it through and so did Little Tree, that's just the way he makes you feel---like your right there
living it and when you put the book down and come back to the real world, part of Little Tree comes with you and colors your
life so brightly. You will find no hidden agenda in this book---just the perserverance and love of a family, who held
to the understanding of "THE WAY" in every aspect of their lives. "The Way" can be found in Chapter 2, page 6.
Thank you Forrest Carter for Little Tree and
Thank You, V. Hornbeck for sharing something good with all of us. Theripples continue to spread!