Thursday, March 16, 2017

Studying Native Americans in the Southeast

Native Americans and American History 
by Francis Flavin
US National Park Service


The American Southeast was home to the “Five Civilized Tribes”—the Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, and Seminoles—and there are many good books documenting their history. Angie Debo and Grant Foreman wrote in the first half of the twentieth century, and their work, though dated, is still solid. Debo’s The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic (1934) and Foreman’s The Five Civilized Tribes (1934)—both published by the University of Oklahoma Press—are thorough overviews of their subjects. Debo’s And Still the Waters Run (Princeton: Princeton University Press) was a controversial exposé of how Oklahoma’s politicians and leading citizens bilked the Indians and the Five Civilized Tribes of their land and resources.

Two prominent scholars of Cherokee history are William G. McLoughlin and Theda Perdue. Among MacLoughlin’s several works is Cherokee Renascence in the New Republic (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), which describes how the Cherokees underwent a profound cultural change after the American Revolution by adopting many Anglo-American social, economic, political, and religious practices. Theda Perdue’s Slavery and the Evolution of Cherokee Society, 1540-1866 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1979) looks at how Cherokee Indians participated in the slave trade, adopted the slave-labor plantation system, and attempted to negotiate the slavery issue during the Civil War years. The principal chief of the Cherokees from the 1820s through 1866 was John Ross, and Gary E. Moulton’s biography John Ross: Cherokee Chief (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978), describes how Ross managed the many crises of these turbulent years.

Other significant books in the field include Charles Hudson’s Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun: Hernando De Soto and the South’s Ancient Chiefdoms (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997), which is a lengthy but pleasantly readable and richly illustrated account of the Spanish expedition into the American Southeast in 1539-1543 and the Indians encountered there. In The Tree that Bends: Discourse, Power, and the Survival of the Maskókî People (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1999), Patricia Riles Wickman studies the experience of the Florida Indians and makes the claim that, rather than being swept away by Americans—as conventional wisdom suggests—descendants of early Florida Indians still inhabit the state today. Joel W. Martin’s Sacred Revolt: The Muskogees’ Struggle for a New World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1991) is an insightful ethnohistorical account of the religious dimensions to the Creek “Redstick Revolt” of 1813-1814. James H. Merrell’s The Indians’ New World: The Catawbas and Their Neighbors from European Contact through the Era of Removal (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989) is a study of the amazingly adaptable Catawbas, a small tribe in the Carolina Piedmont that managed, unlike many southeastern tribes, to retain their ancestral homelands.