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  • The Failure of Political CentralizationMad Dog, the Creek Indians, and the Politics of Claiming Power in the American Revolutionary Era
  • Steven J. Peach (bio)

On October 28, 1796, a Creek headman named Mad Dog dispatched a talk to the governor of Spanish Louisiana, Francisco Luis Hectór, barón de Carondelet. In it, Mad Dog requested thirty dollars in silver from Governor Carondelet, reasoning that "I have been always true to your Country." To prove his worthiness, Mad Dog added, "I have been [always] zealous for your Governmt and Spoek always for you to my people & others in opposion to you and your Country." In exchange for a possible receipt of the gift, he pledged that whenever the governor required Creek assistance, "the greatest Attention Will be given By your friend the Mad Dog and the Whole Creek Nation." Mad Dog's talk reveals two trends shaping Creek politics after the American Revolution. By assuming power as a representative of the "Whole Creek Nation," Mad Dog attempted to preserve Creek lands, influence, and access to goods by uniting Creek country against US expansion in the late eighteenth century. In doing so, he and like-minded Creek headmen advanced a nation-building project. It called for the replacement of town and clan autonomy with a centralized hierarchy that concentrated power into the hands of select elites like himself who represented the Creek nation's interests in diplomacy with European American and Indigenous authorities.1

Creeks and Spaniards alike recognized Mad Dog's nationalizing authority, leading Spanish officials to communicate with him as the intermediary between Creek country and Spanish Florida. One report from 1786 refers to the headman as the "king and chief of the whole [Creek] nation," and, in the same year, the governor of West Florida, Arturo O'Neill, opined that true authority lay with Mad Dog, "the [End Page 81] one I consider of most importance in the said [Creek] Nation." The governor supported this opinion by informing his superior that the Creek "Indians . . . sent the said Mad Dog to Consult with me" about American desires for Creek land and to request ammunition for Creek warriors. O'Neill supplied Mad Dog with goods "so that he and his Warriors may defend themselves" from American settlers. Alexander McGillivray of Little Tallassee, usually seen by scholars as the head of the Spanish-Creek alliance in the late eighteenth century, acknowledged his subservient position to Mad Dog. In 1785 McGillivray wrote the cofounder of the Panton, Leslie and Company (PLC), William Panton, that "I didnt think proper to go by myself" to Spanish East Florida on official business without the "Cheifs of Consideration[,] officially the Famous Mad Dog," who had been occupied with hunting bear. After McGillivray's death in 1793, Mad Dog continued as the conduit for Creek relations with the Spaniards. In conjunction with Governor Carondelet, he devised an arrangement by which Spain promised to award Creek headmen with medals, commissions, and other favors in exchange for securing the awardees' allegiance to the Spanish. Together, the commissioned headmen and Spanish authorities would then seek support among other southern Indians to form a compact against the United States.2

On the other hand, the "opposion" that Mad Dog identified to Governor Carondelet in 1796 hints at a second trend in Creek society that paralleled centralization. Arrayed against the "Nation," Creek towns, clans, and individuals championed local autonomy and departed from policies and agreements that Mad Dog tried to enact as a national leader. Creek resistance to national elites presents a different perspective on Mad Dog, whose national leadership in the American revolutionary era has attracted some scholarly attention. Scholars interested in explaining Creek responses to US and Spanish settler intrusion, trade debts, and land loss correctly depict Mad Dog as a proponent of Creek sovereignty and an articulate defender of Creek lands. They point out that he, like McGillivray, believed that Creek survival depended upon towns and clans acting in unison with elites. Creek headmen struggled to engineer a "Nation" that foisted policy from the top down, however, because a multitude of Creeks imposed limits on nation building from the bottom up. By investigating the variety of peoples who...


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pp. 81-116
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