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Footnote: Horse Manure in the History Books . . . the Series

Footnote: Horse Manure in the History Books  . . . the Series


The painting above portrays Benjamin Hawkins, Principal United States Agent to the Southeastern Indians.  In the background is the thriving new, planned town of Macon, GA with prosperous Creek farms on the Ocmulgee Reserve in the foreground.  Notice that all the Creeks near Hawkins are supplicating themselves, while those on the far left are standing, but shorter than Hawkins.  Actually, they would have been much taller than Hawkins.  Hawkins is painted in brighter colors and at a more refined resolution than the Creeks.

These not-so-subtle portrayals by the artist were symptomatic of the 1800s.   Southern whites had created a doomed feudal society in which socioeconomic status was based on race.  As stated in the previous article, in a matter of a few decades the Creeks went from being the greatly admired business partners of British colonists to being bitterly hated by Georgians, because they refused to be submissive or consider themselves inferior in any way to Europeans. 

saintnancyward2We really don’t know who Nancy Ward was.  By the time of her death,  Southerners were converting the evil institution of slavery into a religious belief . . . a noble aspect of their “Christian civilization.”   Because Nancy Ward was at least half white, bore several children, who were at least 3/4 white . . . and perhaps most importantly, introduced slavery to the Cherokees, she was raised up as a heroine and a role model for “Good Injuns.”

The Antebellum Period propaganda image for Nancy Ward has in recent years been repackaged by female intellectuals.  She is now a patron saint of feminists,working mothers and women warriors.  It was no accident that an artist recently painted her as a full blood Native American with the Russian Orthodox halo motif behind her head, used to denote canonized saints.

In the “Horse Manure in the History Books” series, we will be looking at the many myths created about Native Americans in the Southeast. Some myths will date from the Antebellum Period and reflect efforts by whites to support the government’s foul treatment of the tribes or their belief in the inherent superiority of Europeans. 

Others are myths created by historians and archaeologists out of ignorance.  The current generation of academicians refuse to revise these “bad calls” because such refinements would make them appear less than omniscient.  

For example, in 1934 a 23 year old James Ford arrived at Ocmulgee National Monument with three years of marginal liberal arts education in Mississippi and one season of working as a laborer on an archaeological site in the Southwest.  He was appointed archaeologist for the excavation of Mound D-1, which he named the Ocmulgee Earth Lodge, because he thought that it was built by Mandan Indians. 

Ford’s boss, Arthur Kelly, was from Eastern Texas.  Because the oldest houses at Ocmulgee were round,  Kelly and Ford originally assumed that Ocmulgee was built by Caddo and Mandan Indians from the Western Plains!  To this day, most Southeastern archaeologists still insist on labeling all Creek chokopas (rotundas) . . .  earth lodges  . . . despite the fact that there are many eyewitness accounts from people like William Bartram, that accurately describe what these structures actually looked like.

Many of the late 20th century and contemporary myths are being created by Native Americans with intellect-challenged Caucasian academicians as accomplices.   Many Native Americans carry a sense of inadequacy and cultural amnesia.  They want to magnify or even falsify the cultural importance of their particular tribe in order to make themselves as individuals seem more important.  

For example, about 14 years ago, art iinstructors on the Eastern Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina began teaching ceramics students how to make stamped pottery. The best known style of stamped pottery is Swift Creek . . . named after a stream in Macon, GA.  However, Swift Creek pottery actually first appeared around 0-100 AD at the Mandeville Site on the Chattahoochee River in deep southwest Georgia.  Nevertheless, within a year after stamped pottery was being taught on the reservation,  Cherokee artisans began showing up at Native American arts festivals, with signs stating that the Cherokees “invented” Swift Creek pottery. 

This fabrication has now ventured off into la-la land.  The latest Cherokee-funded films about the Cherokees now state that not only did the Cherokees “give the world” Swift Creek Pottery, but they were the first people in the Americas to invent pottery.  Say what-t-t?   The oldest pottery in North America is found in the vicinity of Savannah, GA and dates from around 2,400 BC.

One of the most important reasons to study history is so not to make the same mistakes again.  It seems that our society keeps on making the same mistakes, but maybe you won’t, after reading articles from Horse Manure in the History Books.

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

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