- Of One Mind and Of One Government: The Rise and Fall of the Creek Nation in the Early Republi by Kevin Kokomoor
Historians of Creek society in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries often note the political and social dexterity of leaders who confronted [End Page 585] the imperial pressures of the southern borderlands. Headmen in both Upper and Lower Creek towns usually charted their own courses as they negotiated alliances and trade pacts with the English, Spanish, and French colonists and officials on their periphery. The decentralized nature of the Creek confederacy, historians argue, allowed them to play the imperial powers off one another, creating breathing space to navigate the profound social and economic changes of that age. Kevin Kokomoor shifts our focus to the decades during and after the American Revolution in his detailed history of Creek politics. He argues that the land hunger of Georgians and the federal government exposed the weakness of decentralized power, leading to a reformation of Creek government and a reconceptualization of Creek nationalism around the turn of the century. Like the Cherokees a bit later, the Creek sought protection of their territorial integrity and political autonomy in centralization, embodied in the form of a National Council. United States officials encouraged those efforts for their own reasons but also continued to negotiate for land cessions, creating pressures that damaged the reputation of nationalists among many Creek. By 1813, Creek nationalism had collapsed into civil war as Red Stick traditionalists turned against the National Council. Kokomoor pays little attention to economic and cultural change but his focus on the details of political and administrative transformations in the early republic is a welcome addition to the historiography of the Creek Nation.
Kokomoor begins with the Revolutionary period as different Creek communities aligned themselves with either the British or the Americans. Familiarity and allegiance with specific traders or officials often cemented those ties. In general, Creek anger toward Georgians' encroachment on their lands tilted them in favor of the British but a unified response eluded them. After the war, divisions remained. A minority of Creek headmen were willing to negotiate with the Georgians in the mid-1780s but most balked and ended up waging war against American settlers pressing into their land in the final years of the decade. They found a ready ally among Spanish officials who were eager to counter American incursions into the Southwest borderlands. Allegiances shifted but remained divided after the newly constituted federal government began to assert its interests in the region in the 1790s. Kokomoor details a "reciprocal system of manipulation" (161) by a wide range of players, including Alexander McGillivray, the Creek leader who played the Spanish and American off one another, and William Augustus Bowles, the British adventurer who claimed leadership over a faction of Creek. [End Page 586]
Conflicts over hunting, horse theft, and small-scale violence along the Creek–Georgia border began to shape a "collective Creek political identity" (177) around the turn of the century. Instead of deflecting responsibility to individual towns, headmen coordinated their responses to accusations of Creek violations, fostering a sense of unity that ultimately led to the emergence of the National Council. The Council eroded the power of local headmen by centralizing decision-making, and it bypassed the tradition of clan retribution by taking on the responsibility of meting out punishments for crimes. Historians have portrayed the National Council as a top-down institution imposed on the Creek by the agent Benjamin Hawkins to encourage land cessions and bolster the federal program of "civilization." While acknowledging Hawkins's role in fostering unification, Kokomoor emphasizes Creek motivations for establishing centralized power to deal with the relentless pressures of American settlement. The National Council ceded land to Georgia and punished horse thieves to appease Americans, hoping to protect autonomy and the territorial heart of their nation. That strategy turned out to be a losing game. American settlers squatted on Creek land with impunity, and federal officials...