“Indian Territory”

The former director of Reinhardt’s Funk Heritage Center, Joe Kitchens, has penned an interesting post on Longleaf Journal:

Most of us have a tendency to “conflate” what we learn about specific periods of history so that we often fix in our own minds that Native Peoples of the eighteenth or nineteenth century lived as they had lived in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Native Peoples experienced dramatic changes in their ways of living and even in their locations. European arrival and colonization had a transformative effect on Native Americans as it did on the Europeans’ lives and practices. Communicable diseases brought by Europeans devastated Native American populations. Some researchers have concluded that losses amounted to more than 90% of native populations.

There are many common misconceptions about the Southeastern Indians, especially the Cherokees and Creeks whose history has become conflated into a minor subtext in school books -especially in Georgia. One is the assumption that their areas of occupation were static, that Native Peoples had lived in these locales where Europeans first encountered them for eons of time. Areas occupied by Native Americans typically had few clear boundaries and once the European invasions began, many village sites relocated out of fear or a desire to relocate to places that offered easier avenues of trade with the newcomers, or at safe distances from negative influences.

Boundaries became much more important after European settlers began to arrive in greater numbers and the pressure for new settlement areas for whites arose. For example, when South Carolina was settled in the late seventeenth century, several southern and a few non-southern Native American entities established a trading presence on the Savannah River by movinging villages there. This was to establish proximity to the trade paths used by the Carolina traders and to be certain they could serve as the middle men in any exchanges over the horizon. This included Creeks, Cherokees, Shawnees, and Chickasaws among others. In general, Native Peoples desired trade with the Europeans whose steel weapons, woven clothes and muskets were eagerly sought. The medium of exchange was-in the deep south-essentially deerskins. An epidemic among cattle herds in the British Isles in the early eighteenth century meant the demand for American hides was intense for several decades.

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