- Rivers of Sand: Creek Indian Emigration, Relocation, and Ethnic Cleansing in the American South by Christopher D. Haveman
In recent years, scholars have engaged in intense debates about the propriety of applying the terms "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing" to the treatment of indigenous peoples in the United States. Many members of Native American communities find little ambiguity in their peoples' experiences and may rightly conclude that historians are too concerned with labelling the atrocities than acknowledging their ongoing impact on the colonized. Christopher D. Haveman's study, Rivers of Sand: Creek Indian Emigration, Relocation, and Ethnic Cleansing in the American South, wades into both of these conversations by focusing on the removal of the Creek Indian people from the East during the period from 1827 to 1838. He asserts that the departures of Creek Indian people from their eastern homelands can be characterized alternately as "emigration" or "relocation," with varying levels of force and coercion applied, and that, taken as a whole, it constitutes "ethnic cleansing." He also takes an unflinching look at the devastation that each of these processes produced, while emphasizing the persistence and perseverance of the Creek Nation against incredible odds.
Haveman sets out to provide the "most comprehensive account available of a native population transfer to the West" (3) and has indubitably offered the best and most detailed overview of Creek removal to date. This is no small feat, considering that the process took many forms, had many factors, and led to many outcomes. In fact, a key contribution of this text is that it reminds us that Indian [End Page 258] removal was not a single episode in American history, nor was it an aberration. Rather it was an integral part of the colonial apparatus, an ever-expanding structure of dispossession and exploitation that manifested its design in Native American communities across the continent. This birds-eye view of Creek relocation is possible because of Haveman's thorough and minutely-detailed consideration of the multiple emigrations—voluntary, coerced, and forced—that led to the departure of the majority of Creeks before 1840. Some of his sources are familiar to students of Indian removal: diplomatic documents, talks and memorials, military orders and reports. But he has also painstakingly reconstructed the day-to-day operations of ethnic cleansing by poring over less-used accounts and claims, particularly those connected to emigration contractors and agents. What he reveals is not surprising: the entire enterprise was scaffolded on deceit and greed and many individuals, from President Andrew Jackson down to unnamed liquor peddlers crowding into internment camps; he even notes the complicity of other Creeks. This study provides new and important insights about the many varieties of fraud that were perpetrated and the many, often unrecognized, ways that Creek people fought to maintain their autonomy and identity throughout the process.
Through ten chronologically-arranged chapters, Haveman details the slow dissolution of the Creek Nation in the East and its piecemeal relocation to the West. Beginning with the treason of William McIntosh at the Treaty of Indian Springs in 1825 and ending with the violent extraction of Creek people ensconced in the Cherokee and Chickasaw nations in 1837, the book considers each episode of emigration in turn and the author expends considerable energy to follow the approximately 23,000 removed Creeks after their arrival in the Trans-Mississippi West. These post-removal outcomes were just as the Creeks had predicted: disastrous. As Haveman and others describe, far more Native southerners died from disease, starvation, and perhaps, despair, than died from direct attacks before or during their relocation. Through it all, Creek men and women struggled [End Page 259] to preserve their lands, their property, and their independence, though sometimes working at cross-purposes. When hundreds of Lower Creeks enrolled to emigrate voluntarily, they faced threats from headmen and warriors opposed to emigration. When Creeks enrolled after the Treaty of Washington (1832) to relocate due to the deteriorating situation among white Alabamians...