Sunday, January 21, 2007

McBride: "Opothleyaholo and the Loyal Muskogee"


With the withdrawal of U.S. garrisons from Texas and the Indian Territory, Indians choosing to honor their ties to the Federal government came under increasing pressure from those joining forces with the Confederacy. When Confederate Indians were joined by white regiments from Texas and Arkansas, the position of the 'loyal' Indian groups became entirely untenable. They were forced to leave.

Beginning in November 1861, Opothleyaholo (O-Be-thle-ya-ho-la), an aged Muskogee (Creek) leader led nearly 9,000 men, women, and children north to Kansas, fighting three battles along the way. By some estimates, 2,000 persons died on the trek, and persistently poor living conditions once Kansas was reached led to more sickness and death.

Upon finishing Opothleyaholo and the Loyal Muskogee: Their Flight to Kansas in the Civil War (McFarland, 2000), I wasn't terribly keen on writing about it, but since it was referenced in an earlier reading list I feel obligated to cover it. This particular episode has been recounted before in Now The Wolf Has Come: The Creek Nation in the Civil War by Christine Schultz White and Benton R. White (Texas A & M University Press, 1996). Kim Allen Scott's H-Net review sums up well the worth of the Whites's book, and McBride's book is similarly disappointing. Much of Opothleyaholo is an overly harsh polemic against the U.S. government and the culture of its citizens. Many of the criticisms made in the book are valid under specific contexts, but issues of Indian-white relations are all to often generalized. Arguments are framed in black and white with little of the nuance that would be uncovered by wider and deeper research or more thoughtful contemplation.

For readers interested mainly in the Civil War period, the book's last third covers the flight to southern Kansas and the battles of Round Mountain, Chustenalah, and Chusto-Talasah. Military detail is compressed, with only a couple paragraphs devoted to each battle. Additionally, with no maps included, these events and the route of the trek itself is difficult to follow. The two Indian Expeditions undertaken by Union forces in 1862 are also briefly summarized. The book concludes with a discussion of the plight of the loyal Indians exiled to Kansas and attempts to organize them into fighting units.

We don't have one yet, but this remarkable and understudied human tragedy of the Civil War truly deserves a full scholarly treatment.
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[Seems I've had a bit of McFarland mania lately, picking up three more titles from this publisher. All of these are excellent:
Reviews of all of them should be up in a few weeks.]

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