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BLOG: Slavery Among Native Americans

Last week, I had the joy of celebrating one year of completing the final book in the Antonius Trilogy--Soldier of Fate. I'm pleased to announce that it has recently received accolades from both the Historical Novel Society and Discovering Diamonds Book Reviewers. This incredible adventure of being an author is constantly full of surprises and I feel so blessed to know and work with so many gifted authors throughout the year.

Today, I'd like to share a blog by a gentleman I met on the HIstorical Novel Society virtual conference this summer, and whose specialty is American history--an expert in blending history of the American West and the Civil War together for adventure and heightened character. Here is a short blurb from Rex Griffin's upcoming book, Moon of Black Hearts. Be sure to be on the lookout for it around Christmas this year!

Blurb from Moon of Black Hearts

Shad, an orphan slave of Creek Indians, clings to the only family he knows. But when a childhood enemy returns as a slave trader, Shad runs away straight into the erupting Civil War, set to rip nation, tribes, and Indian Territory apart.

Slavery Among Native Americans

By Rex Griffin

As you can see from the book cover blurb, my novel, MOON OF BLACK HEARTS, is the story of Shad, an African slave of Muscogee/Creek Indians at the outbreak of the American Civil War. I repeat that line whenever I give the elevator pitch for my book. The first reaction of at least half—probably more—of the people who hear it, is, “I didn’t know Indians owned slaves.”

And interest in my novel takes off.

Surprisingly, even a number of my American Indian friends have had the same reaction.

Yet tribes raided one another long before Columbus came along. It was common practice for a captive to be brought to a tribe as a slave, only later to be returned, bartered away, or adopted into the tribe. Not exactly the permanent condition of work-based servitude European culture thought of as “slavery.”

As British, and later, American, culture pressed into what is now the American South, the main tribes who already lived there adopted American ways, including African slavery. These five tribes—the Cherokee, Muscogee (dubbed “Creeks” by whites who found them living in towns along the creeks of Georgia and Alabama), Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole—soon found themselves awash in white people who had an insatiable appetite for more land. The whites promised the natives they would be undisturbed in lands to the west, the new Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), and flattered, bribed, bullied, and threatened the tribes to move there.

Dissent among the Cherokee and Muscogee tribes split both into factions. Each had one group who gave into the inevitable, signed a treaty, and voluntarily moved to Indian Territory. Each also had a more traditional group who refused to leave. Once the “realists” signed the treaties, the traditionalists were forced—at gunpoint—to move, too, along what the Cherokees called The Trail of Tears. When they arrived in Indian Territory, the traditionalists hunted down the treaty signers, leading to fratricidal wars within both tribes. The blood flowed at first, but, as time passed, violence eventually died down to a simmering hatred. Those hatreds re-ignited with the coming of the Civil War.

Whether treaty signers or traditionalists, the tribes brought their slaves with them on the Trail of Tears. These slaves played a crucial part in rebuilding the tribal societies that had been torn apart by their removal.

And these societies were not a bunch of people living in teepees (tribes they referred to as “Blanket Indians”). Many lived in towns, which they did long before the time of Columbus. They had businesses, farms, ranches, even plantations. Many were Freemasons, others ordained Christian ministers, and a few even became lawyers. They cherished education and built schools. The Cherokee leader, Sequoyah, even developed a syllabary for his tribe’s language, and began printing newspapers in that language.

In short these people, who at the turn of the Twentieth Century were called The Five Civilized Tribes, had long emulated white societies, including their African slavery. Sort of.

In the southernmost states, the Deep South, cotton plantations formed the foundation of the economy. Plantations demanded large numbers of slaves, who worked every day in the hot sun, with brutal overseers, whips in hand, hovering above them. Plantation slaves worked, “From can to can’t,” from the earliest light they could see by until darkness allowed them to see no longer. Some among the Cherokees and, I believe, the Choctaws, had plantations as well. (Disclaimer: I don’t know as much about the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes as I do the other three.)

On smaller farms and in the more northerly parts of The South, slavery was more “family-oriented.” That is, fewer slaves lived on small farms, and frequently the slaves, as well as their owners, were family units. This is closer to the type of slavery prevalent in Indian Territory.

But even here there are differences. In truth, white society was stricter, and more brutal, with their slaves than tribal societies. On the whole, the people of Indian Territory treated their slaves with a more lenient attitude, the likely product of generations of back-and-forth raiding for captives. But this leniency varied from tribe to tribe, as well as from individual to individual.

Shad, my protagonist, is the slave of a Muscogee/Creek family. His situation is much like that of a sharecropper, typical for the Muscogee. He lives with his brother, Ira, on a shack at the back of the Perryman Ranch. They’re given seeds to plant and animals to tend, but are more-or-less left alone to do their chores. Shad’s best friend is Luke Perryman, the owner he grew up with. They’ve hunted and fished together all their lives, the main entertainments for rural young men. But when a childhood foe returns as a slave trader, Shad is forced to flee . . .

Slavery among the Seminoles was even looser than that of the other tribes. The Seminole, once a branch of the Muscogee, migrated generations before to what is now Florida. You may recall that Spain owned Florida up to 1821. Until then Florida was a haven for runaway slaves, who were welcomed by the Seminoles, and fought alongside them in the several Seminole wars.

Forced to move to Indian Territory, the slaves who accompanied the Seminoles lived in separate towns. Slavery among the Seminoles amounted to the owner providing seed, and the slave returning a portion of the crop at harvest. Seminole slaves carried their own weapons, which was against tribal law among the Muscogee, though individual owners, like the Perrymans, often allowed it for hunting.

Contrast that with the Cherokees, who had a law which forbade teaching a slave to read. As a matter of fact, the Goingsnake Uprising, the largest slave uprising in Indian Territory, occurred when a group of Cherokee slaves met a group of Seminole slaves at Fort Gibson. Twenty Cherokee slaves, on learning of the loose conditions the Seminole slaves lived under, stole away on November 15, 1842, headed for freedom in Mexico. They picked up other slaves along the way. The Cherokee Nation put a militia company of 100 armed men in the field and captured the runaways. After the uprising, the Cherokee Tribal Council enacted stricter slave laws and expelled freedmen from their Nation.

As the Civil War approached, other tribes followed suit with their own strict slave laws, including the Muscogee. The Muscogee Tribal Council required passes for travel by all slaves, and beefed up slave patrols by the Light Horse Police.

These new measures made escape difficult for Shad. You can find out how when MOON OF BLACK HEARTS comes out this Christmas.

Meet Rex Griffin!

Rex Griffin graduated from The University of Oklahoma, and has studied the craft of writing under Jack Bickham, Donald Maass, Lisa Cron, William Bernhardt, and James Scott Bell. An avid historian and Civil War re-enactor, Rex grew up on tales of Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), once home to Union and Confederate armies, Missouri Bushwhackers, renegade Comanches, runaway slaves, desperate outlaws, Buffalo Soldiers, Kansas Jayhawkers, frontier marshals, and Native Americans forced there at the point of a bayonet. Americans all, they forged who we are today, deserve to be known, and demand to be heard. Rex wants to tell their stories. His first novel, MOON OF BLACK HEARTS is due out at Christmas. He is currently writing his second, TIME TO STRIKE.

Connect with Rex

Twitter: @frontier_on

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