Perhaps the single greatest concern of English colonists in North [End Page 483] America after the Seven Years’ War was the fear of pan-Indian confederations. This is but one of several bold claims made by Robert M. Owens in Red Dreams, White Nightmares: Pan-Indian Alliances in the Anglo-American Mind, 1763–1815, which looks at Indian collaboration during Pontiac’s Rebellion, the era of the American Revolution, and the War of 1812. According to Owens, anxiety over Native alliances was amplified by an environment of imperial competition, a fledgling American state trying to establish its own legitimacy, and southern plantation owners’ concern that frontier chaos would inspire a slave rebellion. Owens’s work differentiates itself from the historiography on pan-Indianism by emphasizing “the link between Anglo-Americans’ fears of Indians, especially the dread of broad Indian alliances, and its influence on European and American Indian policy” (p. 7). Through careful analysis of political correspondence, legislative initiatives, and newspaper articles from across America during this turbulent period, Owens argues that Anglo-American anxiety created several precedents that defined America’s Indian policy well into the nineteenth century.
The greatest chance for pan-Indian confederation in these years, Owens contends, was in the 1790s after the American War for Independence. Shawnee chief Blue Jacket and Little Turtle of the Miami assembled a confederation of indigenous peoples north of the Ohio River whose lands were threatened by American expansion after the Treaty of Paris. This “Northwest Confederacy” attacked white settlements across the frontier and inflicted two significant defeats upon the U.S. Army in 1790 and 1791 before the alliance was shattered by General Anthony Wayne’s victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794 (p. 107). The Indians’ successes were amplified by efforts of the British Indian Department and the Northwest Confederacy to recruit the major tribes of the South to their alliance, including the Creek, Cherokee, and Chickamauga. In the end, Wayne’s victory derived largely from the strategy used by President George Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox: engage in diplomatic negotiations with the Indians while simultaneously planning for war. In 1790, the [End Page 484] Treaty of New York secured Creek neutrality and was followed by major offensive strikes deep into Indian country. The treaty helped the United States win the war, but it also created divisions inside the Creek Nation. Opponents of the treaty created the Red Stick faction and were courted nearly twenty years later by Tecumseh to join the Indian alliance he molded out of the ashes of the old Northwest Confederacy. In part to prevent the Red Sticks from joining Tecumseh during the War of 1812, Andrew Jackson launched a brutal campaign that destroyed Creek military resistance forever and paved the way for their removal to Indian Territory in the 1820s.
The one missed opportunity in this brilliant work is that Owens dedicated only a few pages in the epilogue to the Seminole Wars, which embodied the key elements of his central argument. Previous historians of these conflicts have insisted that after the turn of the nineteenth century, the swamps of Florida threatened slaveholders as a nearby refuge for escaped slaves. Here, large maroon communities hid among the Seminole Indians who adopted them as full members of the tribe, allowed them to marry into the tribe, and permitted them to hold leadership positions. An appropriate fourth part of this book could have applied Owens’s analytical model to examine the extent to which southerners feared alliances between Seminoles and escaped slaves that could foment a large-scale slave rebellion across the Deep South. This omission aside, Red Dreams, White Nightmares is an essential work to fully understand the nature of pan-Indianism, its relationship to the imperial conflict over North America, and how the legacies of Indian collaboration influenced America’s Indian policy throughout U.S. history. [End Page 485]
KURT WINDISCH is a PhD candidate in the History Department at the University...