Department of History

Writing Great History in the Southeast: Former Auburn Graduate Student Wins Prestigious Book Award

Writing Great History in the Southeast: Former Auburn Graduate Student Wins Prestigious Book Award

indians and soldiers

The rockets fired from British ships gave off a red glare as they burst over the heads of the soldiers stationed at Fort McHenry near Baltimore, Maryland in September of 1814. The garrison of soldiers at the fort fought off the bombardment by the British in such gallant fashion that it caused a young poet and lawyer, being held captive by British regulars on a ship on the Patapsco River, to pen a poem that later became this nation’s national anthem. This is perhaps the most famous story from the war of 1812, and while it might be familiar to many, a less familiar but equally important story from the War of 1812 is the one of Native Americans involved in a conflict that paralleled and intersected the larger war between British and American forces. In what became known as The Red Stick War (1813-1814) Americans, fearful that southeastern Indians would ally with the British, joined a civil war between one side made up of factions of Creek Indians who supported the National Council, and another side composed of Red Sticks who opposed it. As a result, a struggle that began as a civil war between the Creeks turned into a military campaign by the American government designed to destroy Creek power.

Some Native American tribes wished to prove their loyalty to the United States. Contingents of Choctaw and Cherokee warriors joined the American war against the Creeks, and defeated the Creek people, shaping the trajectory of the American southeast for centuries to come. It is this topic that former Auburn graduate student and current adjunct professor of history at Western Carolina University, Susan Abram, has chosen for her forthcoming book, tentatively titled The Forging of a Cherokee-American Alliance in the Creek War: From its Creation to its Betrayal. Her manuscript has recently been awarded the 2013 Anne B. & James B. McMillan Prize from the University of Alabama Press. This award is given annually to the manuscript chosen as the most deserving among works focused on Alabama or Southern History and Culture. The prize includes a cash award and publication of the work by University of Alabama Press. Auburn affiliates Wayne Flynt and Glenn Feldman have been past recipients of the award, Flynt receiving the honor in 1995, 1997, and 2003; and Feldman earning recognition in 2012. Abram hopes that her work will help clarify the fact that the period of Cherokee history between the 1780s and the removal period of the 1830s significantly shaped the leadership, diplomacy, government, and culture of the Cherokee Nation. Abram further contends that Cherokee participation in the Red Stick War made an important and necessary contribution to the victory of the United States in the southern theater of the War of 1812.

One of the acknowledged perks of being a historian is the many opportunities for travel made possible by the need to conduct research. Abram’s project took her to the Horseshoe Bend National Military Park in Daviston, Alabama; the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery, Alabama; the Southeastern Regional Archives and Georgia State Archives in Morrow, Georgia; the Tennessee Department of Archives and History in Nashville, Tennessee; and the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C. Dr. Abram said that she owes a great debt to archivists in locations that she could not physically visit, such as the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for providing valuable research materials from a long distance away.

Abram offered some sage advice for students or scholars pursuing their research interests. “Even though the process is tedious at times,” she admitted that it can be “extremely rewarding and worth every minute of work.” Dr. Abram highlighted the importance of keeping an open mind and suggested that researchers should always “save time to reflect on your ideas and goals; some of your preconceived notions as to what you might find will probably at times fall by the wayside as history reveals more evidence and ‘pearls.’”

While Dr. Abram’s intellect, writing talent, and research skills no doubt played the major role in her success, she was not short on praise for faculty members at Auburn who helped her along the way. “Auburn’s faculty established high expectations for me,” she noted, “which caused me to reach for goals that might have seemed unattainable at an earlier time.”  Abram mentioned how fortunate she felt while earning her doctorate at Auburn to have the “amazing support” that the university’s faculty provides to its graduate students. When asked about inspiration for her writing, Dr. Abram continued to cite Auburn faculty. Even though she has been inspired by many notable writers, she stated that her doctoral advisor, Dr. Kathryn Braund deserved special acknowledgement for “her high level of scholarship and attention to detail which have caused me to aspire to set the bar high for myself in my own academic endeavors.” Dr. Abram also appreciated Dr. Braund’s passion and ability to make Native American history relevant and exciting not only to other academics, but for the general public as well. Abram notes that this is a skill that she hopes to foster in her own work, as well as that of her students.

Last Updated: January 17, 2017