- Images and ImaginationToward a Conversation about Eighteenth-Century Euchee History
In modern-day Oklahoma, Euchees are members of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, but they have retained a distinct language, culture, and social identity. In volume 4 of Native South, Stephen Martin and Adam Recvlohe presented an overview of the Euchee (Yuchi) History Project, a tribally run, community-centered effort aimed at documenting and making accessible the history of the Euchee people. As part of the project, Chairman Andrew Skeeter and the Euchee (Yuchi) Tribe of Indians hosted a History Symposium in October 2010. Tribal members, researchers involved with the project, and academics whose research touches in one way or another on Euchee history spent two days in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, making presentations to, and listening to suggestions and reactions from, assembled members of the Euchee community. I have been serving as an advisor for the project since 2009, and I was honored to be asked to present some thoughts on eighteenth-century Euchee history to the symposium.1
My presentation followed talks by Professors Mary S. Linn (on Euchee linguistic distinctiveness and dialects) and Robbie Ethridge (on the regionwide disruption and coalescence occasioned by the seventeenth-century Indian slave trade), both of which very effectively put on the table issues of alliance building, group solidarity, and endemic change. When it was my turn to speak, I worked to situate eighteenth-century Euchee experiences within the context developed by Linn and Ethridge. My larger goal, though, was to make the material accessible to nonacademics, thereby opening up the opportunity for members of the Euchee community—who know their history in ways that a non-Euchee like myself cannot hope to replicate—to engage with, critique, correct, and expand upon the thoughts and information that I was presenting. In the interests of accessibility, I centered my talk on three 1730s images, two of which depict Euchee individuals while the third situates [End Page 149] the Euchees as a polity within the region’s geopolitical system. I tried to demonstrate what a close reading of each image could tell us about Euchee experiences during this period of their history. I also, however, noted ways in which images produced by non-Euchees inevitably tell us only part of the story, and I suggested that some imagination is necessary if we wish to push beyond the images and better understand the challenges and possibilities confronting eighteenth-century Euchee people.
What follows is a modified version of my talk; I am grateful to Robbie Ethridge, Native South’s editor, for encouraging me to convert the presentation into a “Field Note.” In this format, I hope to speak to several audiences. To my colleagues in early American and early Native American history, I present this close reading of three images many of us know well, not to break new analytic or historiographical ground but simply to demonstrate how these images (and others like them) can help us make our larger conclusions about eighteenth-century Native life less abstract and the process of coming to those conclusions more dialogic. To my colleagues in Native American history who are engaged with Native communities, I present what follows not as an example of “best practices”—I am not qualified to make a judgment of that sort—but simply as an illustration of how one scholar attempted to present his work to, and continue a conversation with, one Native community. And finally, to my colleagues among the Euchees themselves, I present this essay as a marker both of the dialogue fostered by the symposium and of my gratitude for their hospitality in allowing me to take part in that conversation.
We might profitably begin our discussion of eighteenth-century Euchee history by investigating the larger world that they inhabited. Consider, for example, this 1737 Chickasaw map of the South (fig. 1). The Euchees appear on the map; they are the small circle labeled D. Now, what does this map tell us about their world?2
To begin with, the Euchees in 1737 inhabited an Indian-dominated region. The map shows us that in any number of ways. Most obviously, the circles denoting the British (A) and French (I...