- Native American Log Cabins in the Southeast ed. by Gregory A. Waselkov
In the anthology Native American Log Cabins in the Southeast, a dozen scholars focus on a phenomenon noted but not thoroughly investigated in any previous study: the proliferation of log cabins across the Native South beginning in the mid-eighteenth century. As explained by editor Gregory A. Waselkov, an emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of South Alabama, the notched-log cabin, the most simple and widespread component of the built environment across regional, racial, and cultural divides in the South, exemplifies the "creative historical trajectories" (1) through which Native people indigenized technology introduced by newcomers.
Waselkov provides context for the collection; explains limitations of the archaeological, documentary, and visual record; and introduces main ideas using Creek examples. He then models how to look past superficial similarities and consider nuanced processes of adaptation. While white contemporaries interpreted this technological shift as a sign of Native people's assimilation and acceptance of supposedly superior technology, "facts gleaned from archaeological excavations, documentary and ethnographic research, and reinterpretations of period artworks belie those old biased assessments" (2). The seven other essays in this collection echo his conclusion.
Throughout the Southeast at the time of contact, Native peoples constructed two types of residential dwellings: rectangular or square warm-weather shelters that had open sides, and round, wattle-and-daub/postin-ground winter houses. Multiple authors address the transition away from this seasonal structure model. Craig T. Sheldon, Jr., addresses changes in Upper Creek architecture. He argues that the disappearance of winter houses, the dispersal of populations from towns, and the emergence of log cabins among intermarried Creeks were interrelated and reflect the specific economic and social considerations of families rather than a widespread shift to log cabins among the entire Creek population, which he suggests occurred after removal. Keith J. Little and Hunter B. Johnson echo that conclusion and explain that the evolution of Choctaw [End Page 583] architectural styles corresponds with a breakdown of matrilineal, extended family households. After analyzing a site occupied by a Choctaw female, French male, and their children, the authors conclude that relationships between Native women and settler men factored into the transition of Choctaw architecture, which evolved to reflect the needs of nuclear families engaged in trade rather than extended kin practicing a traditional gendered division of labor.
Native peoples across the cultural spectrum utilized notched-log technology, however. Waselkov and Sheldon provide a case study of the Tensaw Creeks, a faction open to federal civilization policy. Documentary evidence from depredation claims made after the Red Stick War (1813–14) suggests that Tensaw families had incorporated log architecture into their increasingly dispersed farms and plantations. The authors explain that those Creeks most opposed to accommodationist political leaders and assimilation also built notched-log cabins in their towns. Red Sticks included clay hearths and wood ash deposits that suggest the perpetuation of ancient Creek fire symbolism, a point also made by Little and Johnson about the Choctaw, who constructed cabins with central fire pits.
Brett H. Riggs and Thomas N. Belt analyze housing among Cherokee communities in the North Carolina mountains. They caution that attention to change masks continuity, including the persistence of traditional o:si hothouses, a "marker of Cherokee cultural identity" (121). Riggs and Belt combined archaeological data and documentary records, including missionary accounts and pre-removal appraisals, to show the range of log buildings and their correlation with patterns of intermarriage and status: Families of mixed heritage tended to build larger, more elaborate structures, but so did conservative town leaders and Cherokee preachers. David J. Cranford, R. P. Stephen Davis, Jr., Theresa McReynolds Shebalin, and Brett H. Riggs turn to the Catawba, who began building log cabins after a smallpox epidemic in 1759. Survivors continued to organize space within them and locate cabins in ways that reflected traditional Catawba domestic architecture. In both cases, identity informed the built environment in ways that persisted in the face of social disruption.
Throughout the collection, authors suggest that...