Review of Native American Writing in the Southeast

Native American Writing in the Southeast: An Anthology, 1875-1935, edited by Daniel F. Littlefield Jr. and James W. Parins (University Press of Mississippi, 1995)

Some of the earliest published writing in English by Muscogee and Yuchi authors has been reprinted in an excellent anthology recently edited by two scholars at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Native American Writing in the Southeast covers the period from 1875 to 1935, a time of dramatic change in Indian Territory and the State of Oklahoma. The book features representative works by twenty-eight authors from the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Muscogee Nations. Included are one Yuchi and six Muscogee writers.

The book’s title is somewhat misleading, since all of the selections were written after the tribes had been removed from their ancestral homelands. But the editors clearly understand the historical and cultural significance of the literature they are working with. Most of the Muscogee and Yuchi authors, for example, are identified by their tribal town affiliation.

A short introduction explains the historical context for these writings. Oklahoma statehood and the allotment policy, “the most devastating and destructive policy since removal,” produced a literary response the editors describe as “dynamic” (ix).

“One important way in which the tribal peoples of the Southeast responded to their long history of cultural discontinuity and struggle to survive was a written literature” (xviii). This response came in a variety of forms, including history, biography, journalism, fiction, poetry and humor.

James Roane Gregory (1842-1912) is the lone Yuchi voice in the book. He was a member of Big Spring tribal town, attended Coweta Mission School, and enlisted with Union forces during the Civil War. He later farmed near Inola and also held political office in the Creek Nation.

In his spare time Gregory wrote historical essays and poetry, which were published in Creek Nation newspapers. The four selections reprinted in this book include insights on the early history and culture of the Yuchi and Muscogee people.

Alexander Posey (1873-1908) was one of the first American Indians to receive national acclaim for his writing. He was a member of Tuskegee tribal town and was elected to the National Council at the age of twenty-two. He also held other government posts and published a weekly newspaper before his untimely death.

Posey wrote more than 250 poems and many more essays, though he is best known today for his humorous column “Fus Fixico’s letter.” Four of these pieces are reprinted here, along with five poems that reflect his love for the land and people around his home in the Tulledega Hills: “Hedged in, shut up with long forgotten ways, / And stories handed down from sire to son” (97).

Pleasant Porter (1840-1907) was the last elected chief of the Creek Nation before Oklahoma statehood. He was educated at Tullahassee Mission and served in the Confederate Creek army during the Civil War, which led to a political and military career in the Creek Nation.

In 1905 he chaired the Sequoyah Convention, which proposed statehood for Indian Territory (separate from Oklahoma Territory), a proposal rejected by the U.S. Congress. In the essay reprinted here, Porter describes his reasons for supporting the idea of a separate Indian state.

Charles Gibson (1846-1923) was born near Eufaula and later owned a grocery store there. He was largely self-educated, yet wrote regularly for Alexander Posey’s newspaper and for other periodicals.

Gibson’s writings included essays on Indian history and folklore, as well as humorous critiques of Indian affairs. The seven pieces reprinted here offer examples of both.

William McCombs (1844-1929) was a member of Cheyaha tribal town. He enlisted in the Confederate army, and after the war he held a number of government posts in the Creek Nation. In 1868 he was also ordained as a Baptist minister, and he preached in the Muscogee language until his death.

McCombs was known as one of the best orators in the Creek Nation. The speech reprinted here reflects his patriotic attitudes.

Jesse McDermott (1882-?) was a member of Hickory Ground tribal town who attended the Creek national boarding school at Eufaula. He later trained to be a stenographer and worked with the Dawes Commission, and also worked on behalf of Loyal Creek claims.

Like other Muscogee writers, McDermott admired Alexander Posey and patterned his own humorous essays after “Fus Fixico’s letter.” The two pieces reprinted here offer entertaining perspectives on the legal system.

Joseph Bruner (1872-?), a member of Lochapoka tribal town, attended the Wealaka Mission School and Baptist Indian University (Bacone College). He worked in the oil and gas business and was active in Creek Nation and U.S. political affairs. The three essays reprinted in this book describe the traditional history of the Muscogees.

In their introduction, the editors mention several important Muscogee writers who were not included in this book: George Washington Grayson, Sophia Alice Callahan, Thomas Moore, Acee Blue Eagle, Louis Oliver, and Joy Harjo.

This book is the first comprehensive anthology of southeastern tribal literature in English and it will be an important resource for many people. These pioneering writers “provide a vital link between earlier, tribal times and the contemporary realities of Indian America and its literature” (xxiv).

Anyone who would like to read more Muscogee and Yuchi narratives from this period will be interested in Theda Perdue’s anthology Nations Remembered, which contains oral histories covering the years 1865 to 1907.

Muscogee Nation News, July 1997

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