Update 1: Looking for the Memories of Native Americans

During the past two weeks, I was reviewing the secondary literature about the concept of blood among the so-called Five Civilized Tribes because of its close relationship with American Indians’ racial perception. However, in this process, I encountered an article written by Amanda Cobb-Greetham about Cherokee and Creek women’s memories of the Civil War in Indian Territory. This article struck me because of my recent interests in the Civil War memories. As David Blight argued in his book, Beyond the Battlefield, “memory is usually invoked in the name of nation, ethnicity, race, religion, or someone’s felt the need for peoplehood (p.4).” Indian identity and the issue of who qualifies as the “real Indian” have long been controversial. Through the lens of historical memories and through exploring how American Indians remembered the Civil War, I may be able to explore how they defined themselves as a distinctive people in this sectional conflict in which white Americans and African Americans re-defined their identities as well. Thus, after conferring with my advisor, Professor Andrew Fisher, I decided to change my focus on Five Civilized Tribes’ Civil War memories to explore how they made sense of the war and how they rationalized their distinctive identity.

I faced some difficulty with this topic. First was the scarcity of secondary literature on this topic. Most of the literature of Civil War memories focus on the sectional relationship between white Northerners and Southerners and the black-and-which racial tension embodied in the limitations of reconciliation. However, very few literature deals with American Indians’ Civil War memory and even fewer for the so-called Five Civilized Tribes. I am now setting out to a field that is largely unknown, which would be an exciting challenge for me without knowing the potential results. Lacking the secondary literature, I have some trouble pinning down the archives I should look at. Luckily, I found a collection called “Indian Pioneer Papers Collection” in the University of Oklahoma library, which is the oral history conducted in Oklahoma as part of the Work Progress Administration project. I spent a week reading the oral history transcripts of Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, and Choctaw about their Civil War experiences or their families’ experiences. From their accounts, I found some patterns. Among those who were interviewed, most of them expressed their feeling of not being willing to participate in the war at the beginning and were forced to join the war due to the constant raiding and persuasion of Confederate commissioners. The omission of the discussion of slavery in these accounts may have suggested some interesting tribal perspectives of the Civil War, which I would explore further in the later stages of research. It is also interesting to see the variation of the five tribes’ experiences, where the Cherokee experienced the split between Stand Watie and the loyal Cherokees and Opuithli Yahola led the non-Confederate Creek to flee to avoid the war.

For the next stage of research, I will continue to exploit relevant materials from the Indian Pioneer Papers Collection. Meanwhile, I went over the archive catalog of Oklahoma Historical Society and Western History Collection of the University of Oklahoma and summarized the list of archives I may look at. I also reached out to the archivists there. Once they provide more detailed information about archives for me, I will start reading those archives as well. I expect these archives to present me more native voices of the Civil War memories and the minority’s perspective in the national progress of the United States.

 

Reference
Blight, David W. Beyond the battlefield: race, memory & the American Civil War. Univ of
Massachusetts Press, 2002.

Cobb-Greetham, Amanda. “Hearth and home: Cherokee and Creek women’s memories of the Civil
War in Indian territory.” In The Civil War and Reconstruction in Indian Territory.
University of Nebraska Press, 2015.

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