Creek Paths and Federal Roads: Indians, Settlers, and Slaves and the Making of the American South (review)
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Reviewed by
Creek Paths and Federal Roads: Indians, Settlers, and Slaves and the Making of the American South. By Angela Pulley Hudson. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010. Pp. xi, 252. $65.00 cloth; $24.95 paper)

The preremoval Creek Nation was long a magnet for white traders, travelers, federal and state officials, and settlers and squatters. Travel into and through the Creek Nation became almost as common as the Creeks traveling between towns within their own territory. In short, mobility helped define the way of life of the Creeks and those that lived around them during the early national period. How the Creeks (and their American neighbors) employed mobility and how the peoples of the Southeast conceptualized their own boundaries is the subject of Angela Pulley Hudson's work Creek Paths and Federal Roads.

Travel was a fact of life for the Creeks in their large, albeit shrinking, territory. Paths linked towns and clans, cemented diplomatic relationships, and maintained old friendships. The Creeks followed well-worn trails on hunting trips and revered the sacred path that brought them to the Southeast in their creation stories. Travel could be dangerous, but it was vital to the maintenance of the Creek Nation. Over time, mobility instilled in the Creeks a sense of nationalism that linked one end of their vast territory with the other. But the neighboring Americans also saw roads and internal improvements, conceived on paper and drawn through the Creek Nation, as vital to their own national and economic security.

Thus, land-hungry Georgia and a growing and increasingly mobile American public only increased the need for definitive boundaries between the Creek Nation and the United States. The Creeks had a distinct understanding of the scope and scale of their territory and they defended their boundaries against encroachment by Americans and other Indian nations. This oftentimes meant disrupting surveying teams, destroying wandering livestock, or impeding travelers on the road. But the Creeks were fighting a losing battle as waves of travelers, squatters, smugglers, and, increasingly, black slaves, to name only a few, passed into the Creek territory. To this end, Creek headmen were constantly frustrated with Americans who continually disobeyed the spirit of the treaties they signed and constantly [End Page 92] pressed the Creeks into redrawing the boundaries in favor of the United States. Hudson argues that the ultimate act of resistance—the Creek War of 1813-14—was caused primarily by the opening of routes like the Federal Road and the increased numbers of whites and blacks moving into the Creek Nation. The Red Sticks used the American roads and Creek paths to attack other Creeks and disrupt American travel through the Nation. But, the Red Sticks' goals of stifling white encroachment, among other things, never materialized: they were decisively defeated in 1814 and the road building and white immigration only increased after the war. The critical two decades that followed saw the federal and state governments, aided by complicit Creek Indians, ever more aggressively redraw the map of the Creek territory in favor of the states. By the end of the 1830s, the Creek path led to the Indian Territory in the west.

Hudson examines the conflicting attitudes of the Creeks toward the construction of American roads through their territory. New roads brought new settlers, which brought more pressure for land cessions. But Hudson also rightly points out that many Creeks benefitted enormously from the establishment of roads through the Nation. Whether it was William McIntosh and others of his ilk with their extensive ferries, stages, and taverns that catered to white travelers or Creek women selling melons along the Federal Road, many Creeks took advantage of American mobility. In this vein, Hudson proves that from the Creeks' perspective not all travelers were created equal: white families were particularly disliked because they were probable squatters while passersby were welcomed if for nothing else than that they were a temporary source of income. Her omission of any analysis on the Treaty of Washington (1832), which redrew the Creeks' territory in the Southeast for the final time, is lamentable but does nothing to detract from a thoughtful and revealing look at mobility...


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