Braund, Kathryn E. Holland. Deerskins and Duffels: The Creek Indian Trade with Anglo- America, 1685-1815 (Indians of the Southeast). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.
Kathryn Braund’s Deerskins and Duffels is a valuable addition to Creek history. This book examines the Appalachian deerskin trade from the American Indian perspective. Braund’s work centers around the Creek Indians and there interactions with European traders in the deerskin trade. Over the 130 years covered in this book Braund clearly depicts the shifting fortunes of Creeks as trade partners and victims of th deerskin trade. Braund presents her agreements in a narrative that is engaging. Beginning in 1685, Braund describes the Creeks as loose confederation of towns, not a unified political entity. Despite the lack of cultural cohesion the Creeks ,as Europeans referred to them, were still a nation. Their numbers were respected by Europeans ,who adapted their trade behaviors to fit the Creek’s traditions. Early on the deerskin trade benefited the Creeks, their habit of trading with “friends” forced competing European forces to curry the favor of various tribes through better exchange rates, gifts, and improved technology. During this early phase the trading of deerskins had little impact on the rhythmic nature of Creek life. This would change after the Proclamation of 1763 and the American Revolutionary War. Through a combination of legislation, competition, and greed the deerskin trade eventually corrupted Creek traditions, leaving once strong trading partners a crippled people addicted to the industrial teat of Europe and later America. The trade of deerskins, one a unifying force between two cultures was at an end.
Braund makes several important contributions to the study Creeks and Appalachian history. Braund is actively participating in New Indian history, rejecting previous views of the Creeks as simplistic savages. Like Davis and Dunaway she argues that American Indians and Appalachia were central players in the larger world systems economy. Appalachia’s rough terrain and primal forests are described as challenges to the trade of deerskins. Despite the difficulties both Davis and Braund argue deerskins were a vital industry. Another aspect she shares with Davis is her presentation of the Creeks as subsistence farmers. While Braund makes little mention of specifics she does mention the changes livestock and stagnant farming had on the region. .Her Creeks are members of a rich culture with distinct social, gender, economic roles. Beyond the arguments presented in the above paragraph, Braund makes several claims. One surprising claim was that many traders sought to develop good personal relationships with their Creek partners. This challenges the fact that Indians were simply victims of White greed. Accounts of fair trading policies and a need to maintain strong alliances are plenty. In fact many traders became integrated into Creek life following the rhythm of the seasons and intermarrying. Braund asserts that this honest relationship continued until the Proclamation of 1763 opened up the trade making the business even more cutthroat. Braund asserts that from 1763 on the deerskin trade became more about profit than stable relationships.
Braund also argues that while the Creeks originally held the power in the trade of deerskins their dependence on European goods soon undermined not only this position but their entire culture. Braund describes how traders used debt to maintain trade imbalances. Many Creeks purchased goods worth more than they produced, spent large portions of their trades goods on rum, and ignored native made stone and wood items for European metals ones. The wealth gap eroded away the Red/White power sharing, war split the people, and over indulgence in rum further complicated life. Braund argues that the influx of European goods and participation in European politics robbed Creeks of their land, traditions, and autonomy.
Braund also takes time to describe the roles of women in Creek society. Creek women were important members of the tribe. Being a matrilineal society women were far from unimportant. They were the “face” of trade negotiations, farmers, and possessed and agency and independence unheard of in many European accounts. While not stressed Braun does infer that Creek women who married Whites acted in some sense as a connection between bloodlines, forming treaties without pens. The traditional roles of women in Creek culture were one of many aspect of Creek life that were disrupted by the influx of European goods.
Braund utilizes a variety of approaches and sources in Deerskins and Duffels . While the economic aspect of this work is readily apparent there are several different histories going on at once. Braund is going beyond simple economics, she explores culture, politics, the role of gender, and mythology. As such she draws on a host of sources. Many of her sources are drawn from Bartram, Corkran, and Adair. Adair’s History is one source that is utilized extensively. Braund also relies heavily on interpersonal communications, in the form of letters, reports, and journals. These form the bulk of her primary sources. This combination of sources forms a solid foundation for Braund’s arguments. Her research is grounded and careful. She is particularly wary of using statistics as gospel fact. In many cases she explains the background behind the statistics and as with sources dealing with the weight of deerskins she explains the vagueness of the source and how she arrived at her deductions. This is the mark of a professional.
Overall Braund creates an excellent narrative of the deerskin trade and the impact it had on Creek culture. Her depiction of the Creeks is believable and well documented. While Braund does explain her use of “sketchy” statistics, these sources are often central in supporting her arguments. The weight of deerskins is an important factor in determining the exchange rate between Creeks and Europeans. A 27 pound difference in weight is a large hole. This is something that should be further explored in either a newer edition or other aspects of her research. Beyond the question of statistics one it would be an improvement to include more native sources. She draws on the relationship between Creeks and their ritual approach to the natural world, yet much of her research in this regard is derived from Nunez’s material. More material from natives concerning myth would be of help in fleshing out the ritual aspects of Creek life which the deerskin trade overcame.