Atkinson on Cashin, 'Guardians of the Valley: Chickasaws in Colonial South Carolina and Georgia'

Author: 
Edward J. Cashin
Reviewer: 
Roark Atkinson

Edward J. Cashin. Guardians of the Valley: Chickasaws in Colonial South Carolina and Georgia. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2009. 196 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-57003-821-1.

Reviewed by Roark Atkinson (Ramapo College of New Jersey)
Published on H-SC (May, 2011)
Commissioned by Phillip Stone

To write a review of a work written by an author who has recently died, and who may not have lived long enough to finalize the manuscript, is a troublesome exercise. One wishes to be critical (if fair), but may feel the need to make allowances for omissions and errors, especially since the author is no longer around to defend the work. Furthermore, at some earlier stage, posthumous monographs become group efforts instead of the work of a solitary historian and his or her editors. But they can still be important works of history. An earlier historian of Georgia, John Tate Lanning, for example, died before he could complete his book The Royal Protomedicato: The Regulation of the Medical Professions in the Spanish Empire (1985). That book’s editor, John Jay TePaske, offered an excellent description of the difficult task of completing Lanning’s book (which was far from finished). Even though he sometimes disagreed with Lanning’s interpretation, the final product was a significant contribution to history. Before Edward J. Cashin died in the fall of 2007, he had submitted the “completed manuscript” of Guardians of the Valley, according to an editors’ note in the volume. These editors do not reveal the state of the manuscript, so we are left wondering if all the work had been done, and if Cashin would have approved of the final version. It is one thing for a reader to wish that an author had written a different book; it is quite another to wonder if the author himself wished that he had done so. Yet the work exists and deserves to be reviewed in its present state.

Guardians of the Valley is a largely chronological account of a neglected branch of the Chickasaw Nation, the Lower Chickasaw, who flourished in the Savannah River Valley over most of the eighteenth century. They were part of the so-called five civilized tribes in the Southeast who experienced removal in the early nineteenth century, and who now survive on a reservation in Oklahoma. The story centers ostensibly on Fanni Mingo, or Squirrel King, which is not so much a person as a title. A Fanni Mingo was any Chickasaw man adopted by another Chickasaw family as a protector and leader.[1] Cashin had great admiration for the particular Squirrel King of the Lower Chickasaw, who flourished in the first half of the eighteenth century (he died in 1755). Here was a man who lived up to his title, even when contemporaries wrote him off as a dissolute, senile alcoholic. In Cashin’s hands, the Chickasaw leader was a force to be reckoned with, actively participating in many of the region’s most significant events; one only wishes that it was a more three-dimensional rendering (the primary sources probably preclude any richer character development). Other important figures make appearances: John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist tradition; James Oglethorpe, founder of the colony of Georgia; James Adair, the Indian trader and ethnographer; and Jeffrey Amherst, the British war hero. Among the most interesting people to emerge in Cashin’s account was the “thrice-widowed Mary Mathews [Bosomworth],” a Chickasaw woman who became an important power broker between Native Americans and colonial leaders in the region (serving as a diplomat in Charleston, South Carolina, she ordered a Creek chief killed in order to end a war that had erupted between the Creeks and Cherokees--an act for which the governor of South Carolina would himself take credit).

Regrettably, hundreds of obscure or less-interesting figures populate the bulk of the work. Nonexperts will quickly lose interest after the first few chapters. This is a pity, since the narrative pace picks up in the last several chapters. Here the familiar story of Native Americans losing the middle ground between warring empires was repeated among the Chickasaw. As with the Iroquois (but unlike the Catawba, the Chickasaw’s neighbors), once the British dominated North America after the French and Indian War, the Chickasaw were left with little more to do than anticipate white depredations on their lands. Their official neutrality (or de facto loyalism, depending on how one wants to understand Cashin’s treatment) during the American Revolution sealed the deal. Like most of the other “civilized tribes,” the United States removed the Chickasaw from the Southeast by the 1830s, seizing their lands as punishment for supporting the British.

The chapters are organized according to general topics that relate to the particular period under discussion: “Carolina Allies,” “Georgia Allies,” “Fighting on Both Fronts,” etc. One cannot really say that they are thematic, so one frequently does not know if there is a larger significance to each chapter’s coverage. The early chapters contain details drawn from primary sources that specialists can appreciate. Later chapters provide excellent analysis of primary sources from the late eighteenth century, noting historical errors. Cashin also commissioned several excellent maps of the region, and included some important historical maps, notably a Native American map from circa 1724.

There are themes woven through the book that hold interest. One is the issue of rum, and Oglethorpe’s attempt to ban it (along with slavery) from Georgia. It is a theme that has a larger relevance, given Squirrel King’s reputation as an alcoholic, as well as the general destruction of Native American culture partly resulting from the rum trade. Oglethorpe clearly believed that rum was as harmful to Native Americans as slavery was to African Americans. His failure to prevent their spread in the province is important to highlight, since it suggests that there were cultural forces at work at the earliest stages of colonial settlement that gave rise to an Anglo American plantocracy in the Southeast. In their own way, when viewed beyond a regionalist’s perspective, these forces were as significant as those that shaped colonial New England, New France, and New Spain. This reader wishes that Cashin had done more to develop this theme and place it into a larger Atlantic world perspective. Indeed, if Cashin had organized chapters around themes such as this, the book as a whole might have been a more compelling read.

Structural problems appear throughout the work: while the Lower Chickasaws are supposed to be the center of the narrative, whenever more familiar personages appear on the scene, they are shunted to the periphery. The book, given its chronological structure, frequently becomes a tangled thicket as the Lower Chickasaws aid one group, attack another, ally with still others and so on, while European and colonial affairs come to occupy the center stage. When Oglethorpe appears, Cashin shifted to a conventional account of intercolonial rivalries between South Carolina and Georgia that seem to have little to do with Fanni Mingo’s band. We find no references to important recent scholarship, like Jane Landers’s work on Fort Mose or Daniel Richter’s work on the mourning war tradition. Slavery is barely mentioned (let alone marronage), and it is unclear what relationship the Chickasaws had to the Atlantic slave trade (versus what we might assume was their much older tradition of slaveholding before the Europeans appeared). We know from other studies that they had many slaves (James R. Atkinson’s work on the Chickasaw has some useful information on this topic--Splendid Land, Splendid People: The Chickasaw Indians to Removal [2003]). What role might Native American slaveholding have had in shaping relationships with white slave owners? There are also some organizational problems. The reader is expected to know who Piomingo was when he appears on page 93; it is only at the end of the work that we come to realize he was an important power broker after the American Revolution. And one needs to be careful to distinguish between two different Thomas Browns, one a Chickasaw, the other a British leader of loyalist Indian warriors--Cashin did not make this distinction for the reader.

Finally, what is this book really about? The author’s first six words offer a hint. Alluding to Moby Dick (1851), Cashin wrote: “You may call me Imanadi Afahena.” He received this name from the Chickasaw people, in the presence of Governor Bill Anoatubby (who wrote the glowing blurb on the book’s dust jacket). This special relationship, perhaps, is what lends Cashin his “unique access to the modern Chickasaw Nation” which “aided” his research (also stated on the dust jacket). Beyond any Dances with Wolves (1990) pretensions, in an age where “special relationships” between historian and subject are fraught with difficulty (Stephen Ambrose’s dubious interviews with Dwight David Eisenhower come to mind), and when all historians should probably strive harder toward transparency so that others may verify their work and eliminate biases of interpretation, Cashin’s admission is unsettling. It seems to be less a matter of full disclosure than bragging rights. It certainly does not yield new primary sources. The ones cited in the (rather skimpy) endnotes and bibliography are familiar to anyone who studies the region. Yet, as it turns out, his personal relationship with the Chickasaws was central to the book’s purpose, and the Melvillian phrase is probably deliberate. Cashin wanted to champion the “history of the heroic Chickasaws” (as he called them) of the Savannah River Valley, but he seemed to be in pursuit of an elusive adversary: anyone who would ever diminish the Lower Chickasaw’s “place in history” (p. 130) To the extent that this reader can identify a thesis, it seems to be this: the Lower Chickasaw were part of history. But it is difficult to know why this is important, or who would find it important, if we limit ourselves to Cashin’s book. Perhaps, with more time, Cashin would have explained this to us. As it is, the full significance of the Lower Chickasaw will have to wait for future scholars to illuminate. Guardians of the Valley, if not the last word on the subject, will at least serve as a starting place for further inquiry.

Note

[1]. James R. Atkinson, Splendid Land, Splendid People: The Chickasaw Indians to Removal (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2003), 18.

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=32904

Citation: Roark Atkinson. Review of Cashin, Edward J., Guardians of the Valley: Chickasaws in Colonial South Carolina and Georgia. H-SC, H-Net Reviews. May, 2011.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=32904

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.