Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
The Killough Massacre, which occurred nearly two centuries ago in northern Cherokee County, is given a new – albeit fictional – perspective by retired educator Ann Chandler, who will sign copies of her new book Saturday.
“Hannah's Story” is the tale of a young girl who is the sole survivor of the massacre, and traces her steps from Alabama – from where her family hails – to East Texas and Oklahoma, then back to Alabama, then ultimately, East Texas. While Hannah faces loss on many different levels, she finds a sense of peace in knowing that “she likes who she is.”
“The little girl mentions several times that she had lost so much – she lost her first family, then she was with the Cherokees, who were expelled from Texas, so she lost Texas. She lost (several people close to her) and at the end of the book, she said she lost (all that), but she likes how she turned out, she likes the person she has become,” Chandler said. “The story is not sad.”
While Hannah is a fictional character, the story is based in history of the massacre, which occur-red Oct. 5, 1838, near Larissa. Eighteen adults and children were slain by what is believed to be a group of renegade Cherokee Indians, while a dozen others escaped on horseback and by foot.
“Everything that can be checked is historically correct,” said Chandler, a former member of the Cherokee County Histor-ical Commission, of which she has served as chairwoman. Chandler also sits on the Jack-sonville Vanishing Texana Museum board and is in her second year as a city councilwoman.
“This little girl is made up, though – I don't know where she came from, but she's wonderful and I love her,” she said, adding that “'Hannah's Story' just wrote itself.”
Chandler taught English and creative writing courses at Jack-sonville High School for 29 years, and retired in 1998. It was then that “I started writing the book in my head,” she said.
The Jacksonville native said she was familiar with the story of the massacre, and that her work with the county historical commission added to that knowledge.
About six years ago, “Hannah's Story” began formulating in her mind, but work on it would be delayed when her husband Jack was diagnosed with cancer as a result of his exposure to Agent Orange during his military stint in Vietnam in 1968-69.
“He was sick for three years, and we were between here and Little Rock – that's where you go for that kind of cancer – so the book was on hold. Then he passed away in 2010, and I thought, 'I need to get this book through,' and it wrote itself … I had already had most of it in my head. She (Hannah) was there,” the author said, tapping the side of her head.
“I've told (people) all along, I'm not writing (this story) to make money; when you can write, you do … a writer has to write,” she said.
The story flowed easily from her imagination on to paper, but the biggest challenge was to keep the narrator's perspective as a youth – Hannah was eight when she begins her tale.
“She didn't understand a lot of stuff,” Chandler said. “And every once in awhile I had to stop and make myself think about it: Would an eight-year-old girl understand it? No. What would her take on it be? It was a challenge staying eight years old in my mind.”
The other great challenge came when the story was completed, and she had to remind herself to follow the advice she'd given her students whenever they wrote papers for her class.
“Have you tried to proof-read your own work?” she asked. “It's hard! I used to tell my students, 'write what you want to, then put it away. Come back later and you'll see it with new eyes.'
“At some point you have to say, 'Let it go.' And since then I've thought of two different, better titles,” she laughed, adding that she was surprised by “how easy it was to write.
“The first part is quite long; the second part's shorter; the third part's really short,” she said. “I was in kind of in a hurry, because I wanted to know what happened to Hannah.”
But, she added, the book “did exactly what it wanted to do, and I was happy to do it.”
While there are no other plans to pen more tales, Chandler said she's open to the possibility of it.
“If something came to me, I would, but (at this time) I don't have any desire to be an author,” she said.
Chandler has contacted members of the Killough family, who hold a yearly reunion in East Texas, about the book, and said she “can't wait to see how people will react to it, if they will like it.”
Whatever the response, she said what she discovered along the way has been a priceless.
“The thing that pleased me most about this book, was that when (her husband) died, it took me three years to really get over it,” she said. “But once that book got published, I was back in the world. Until then, I would rather have died than lived.
“It was just that, finally, I had something to really look forward to: The book getting published and someone reading it beside me. And that has helped me tremendously,” she said.