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With the bicentennial of the War of 1812 now upon us, and commemorations of the Creek Indian War of 1813-14 likely to follow, this volume makes a timely and valuable contribution to scholarship on these seminal events in our national history. Twelve authors, guided by Kathryn Braund's expert editorial hand, have produced a wide-ranging, accessible work suitable for both academics and laypersons. Tohopeka not only offers many new insights into these conflicts but also points the way for future research.
The volume features twelve chapters that are topically focused, resulting in a multiplicity of angles by which to analyze the Creek War and related conflicts. Some of the chapters dispel commonly held myths or misunderstandings. Gregory Evans Dowd's excellent chapter, for example, offers a compelling revisionist interpretation of the Shawnee warrior Tecumseh's 1811 mission to the Creeks. As Dowd demonstrates, rather than being a native "genius" who single-handedly devised his plan for pan-Indian militancy, Tecumseh likely drew upon ideas that had long been circulating among the Shawnees and other eastern Indians. Moreover, Dowd casts significant doubt upon the supposed influence of earthquakes and the appearance of a comet in 1811-12, which have long been cited as providential occurrences that compelled the Red Sticks to accept Tecumseh's war [End Page 100] message. In a similar vein, Robert Collins shows that the so-called "packet from Canada" containing British letters offering the Creeks military support was probably no more than a rumor hyperbolically turned into a conspiracy theory by fearful white Alabamans. Gregory Waselkov, meanwhile, examines the violence that occurred in the region after the battle of Horseshoe Bend, indicating that "decisive impact of that bloody day was not at all certain" (p. 158), a thesis seemingly supported by David and Jeanne Heidler in their chapter on Fort Bowyer, a U.S. military instillation on Mobile Point where Americans, the British, and a few of their Creek allies fought in 1814 and 1815.
Other chapters investigate the Creek War from a material-culture perspective. Fittingly, Braund contributes a chapter of her own investigating the manufacture, symbolic meaning, and ritual use of the Creeks' war implement, the Red Stick. Archaeologists Craig Sheldon Jr. and James Parker each recount their painstaking search for the material remains of the Creek War in the archaeological and documentary record. Although some finds dating to the period have surfaced, both authors point to the fact that much work remains to be done in locating war-related sites. Appendixes to the volume listing known and potential archaeological sites in Alabama virtually invite future generations of archaeologists to take up the trowel. In addition, Tohopheka's authors invite readers to consider the war from different viewpoints. Tom Kanon, for one, chronicles the battles preceding Horseshoe Bend. Susan Abram, meanwhile, illuminates the experiences of Andrew Jackson's Cherokee allies, who suffered from violence and theft perpetrated by American soldiers and militiamen. Importantly, contributions by two Creek Indian educators—Robert Thrower of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Alabama, and Ted Isham of the Muscokee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma—bookend the volume and offer Creek perspectives on their own history. Thrower laments, among other things, the divisive impact the war had upon his people, whereas Isham emphasizes that this painful chapter in Creek history is not something commonly discussed. As Isham reminds [End Page 101] us, though, the Creeks are "survivors" who persist in honoring the memory of their ancestors who sacrificed at Tohopeka (p. 248). In its own way, Braund's volume honors them as well, and is a must-read for anyone interested in Creek history and the War of 1812.
Steven C. Hahn is an associate professor of history at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. He is the author of The Invention of the Creek Nation, 1670-1763 (2004) and The Life and Times of Mary Musgrove (2012).