This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

"Souls in the Treetops:" Cherokee War, Masculinity, and Community, 1760-1820




Abram, Susan Marie

Type of Degree





This dissertation focuses upon the rapid changes Cherokees underwent during the early national period in American history. They dealt with challenges that presented in a variety of ways but did not always agree upon strategy. Friction often led to dissent and even to voluntary removal. Cherokee men and the communities they served maintained many traditions while making tremendous adjustments in a new geopolitical world. Other scholars have ignored this important period in Cherokee history and its significance to their forced removal in 1838. This study will explore this seeming contradiction using the lenses of war, masculinity, and community and by tracing the culture of war from 1760 to 1820. The Cherokee acceptance of a new governing structure will demonstrate how their leadership transformed. Blood law, retribution by members for transgressions against the clan, had been the traditional method for dealing with social disorder. By 1809 this was no longer true. The more centralized National Council appointed warriors as lighthorse regulators to act in the capacity of judge, jury, and executioner. Their main duty was to punish lawless young men, Cherokee and white, who terrorized the area. Acceptable masculine actions now became government and communally sanctioned. The military structure of the Cherokees continued its transformation during the Red Stick War of 1813-1814. After suppressing a challenge from prophets preaching the return to a traditional lifestyle, Cherokees became American allies and further adapted their military structure. Many aspects of their war culture remained, such as those dealing with passage into manhood, communal support, and military methods. Yet Cherokees fought in organized companies with American military ranks. Beginning in 1816, two years after the war’s end, dissent again occurred. But this time it was Cherokee headmen, veterans of the recent war, who disagreed on how to resist American insistence on more land cessions. Many headmen voluntarily moved their communities west to Indian Territory. This method for dealing with dissention would continue to make the Cherokees vulnerable to the changing federal Indian policy that began to favor removal of all Indians to west of the Mississippi River. In addition, tensions grew between the United States and the Cherokees as veteran headmen demanded federal aid for their disabled warriors and widows from the war. As the young veterans in the east forged a centralized national government, the Cherokees became a divided and vulnerable people.