Continuity in Settler Colonialism at Marco Island

Even though millions of tourists and residents have traipsed across this peninsula year after year for well over a century, Florida still seems like a new place. Digging just a little beneath the surface, however, reveals a history as deep as the Roman past undergirding the streets of London, or the history of the Pharaohs looming over Giza in Egypt. The account of anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing below, for example, reveals the remarkable similarities between the mounds, middens, and channels the Calusa people left behind on Marco Island with the canals and houses where people on the island live today.

Cushing, a wunderkind anthropologist who took over the ethnology department of the Smithsonian at the the age of 19, “explored” the area in 1896 based on a second-hand account of the mounds and artifacts he heard from a British Army officer at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia. It didn’t take Cushing very long to find what he was after. Cutting through the very fist mangrove he encountered on the fringes of Marco Island, Cushing “dimly beheld, in the sombre depths of this sunless jungle of the waters, a long, nearly straight, but ruinous embankment of piled-up conch shells.” This led him to one of the most significant areas of Native settlement in the State of Florida.

“Threading this zone of boggy bins, and leading in toward a more central point, were here and there open ways like channels. They were formed by parallel ridges of shells, increasing in height toward the interior, until at last they merged into a steep, somewhat extended bench, also of shells, and flat on the top like a platform. Here, of course, at the foot of the platform, the channel ended, in a slightly broadened cove like a landing place…. In places off to the side on either hand were still more of these platforms, rising terrace-like, but very irregularly….”

“It was apparent that this had actually been a central court of some kind, had probably been formed as an open lagoon by the gradual upbuilding on attol-like reefs or shoals around deeper water, of these foundations or ramparts as I have called them….”

“Here… had been a water-court, around the margins of which, it would seem, places of abode whence these remains had been derived–houses rather than landings–had clustered… or else it was a veritable haven of ancient wharves and pile-dwellings, safe alike from tidal wave and hurricane within these gigantic ramparts of shell, where, through the channel gateways to the sea, canoes might readily come and go.”

– Frank Hamilton Cushing, “A Preliminary Report on the Exploration of Ancient Key-Dweller Remains on the Gulf Coast of Florida,” 1896

Notice any similarities in the aerial photos of the island below?

Marco Island Today
Marco Island Area Today

There are similar examples all over Florida. Maybe I’ll share some more some time, unless I finish my dissertation on this subject–among many others!–before I get around to it.

Upcoming Books in Native American History

March 2018

Bockstoce, John R. White Fox and Icy Seas in the Western Arctic: The Fur Trade, Transportation, and Change in the Early Twentieth Century. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018. Link

Calloway, Colin. The Indian World of George Washington: The First President, the First Americans, and the Birth of the Nation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. Link

Cover for  The Indian World of George Washington

Graber, Jennifer. The Gods of Indian Country: Religion and the Struggle for the American West. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. Link

Little, Ann. The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018. Link

Monaco, C.S. The Second Seminole War and the Limits of American Aggression. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018. Link


April 2018

Kracht, Benjmain R. Religious Revitalization among the Kiowas: The Ghost Dance, Peyote, and Christianity. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2018. Link

Nohelani Teves, Stephanie. Defiant Indigeneity: The Politics of Hawaiian Performance. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018. Link (Image)

Schulze, Jeffrey M. Are We Not Foreigners Here?: Indigenous Nationalism in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018. Link

Sharfstein, Daniel J. Thunder in the Mountains: Chief Joseph, Oliver Otis Howard, and the Nez Perce War. New York: W.W. Norton, 2018. Link


May 2018

Biolsi, Thomas. Power and Progress on the Prairie: Governing People on Rosebud Reservation. St. Paul: University of Minnesota Press, 2018. Link

Power and Progress on the Prairie

Haynes, Joshua. Patrolling the Border: Theft and Violence on the Creek-Georgia Frontier, 1770-1796. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2018. Link


June 2018

Archer, Seth. Sharks Upon the Land: Colonialism, Indigenous Health, and Culture in Hawai’i, 1778–1855. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Link

Sleeper-Smith, Susan. Indigenous Prosperity and American Conquest: Indian Women of the Ohio River Valley, 1690-1792. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018. Link

Native Hatred and American Populism: The Jacksonian Beat

As Americans struggle to understand or resist the travel ban, hate crimes, aggressive immigration agents, and government-maintained lists of immigrant crimes—to list but a few of the earthquakes rollicking the American social landscape so far in 2017—it can seem as though we are living through events without precedent in American history. A quick stroll through the archives reveals that this simply isn’t true. Here’s a commonplace example from the late 1830s that resonates with today’s dark mood.

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The 1830s were just as seismic as our own time. Andrew Jackson ascended to the Presidency on the one-two punch promise of populist upheaval and Indian removal in 1828. Historians will argue over the extent of the “democratic surge” until we’re all speaking hexadecimal or Martian, but only an insane person could argue with the “success” of Jackson’s Indian policies. Indian hatred laid down a persistent beat beneath the American freestyle throughout the 1830s. Thousands of Indians in the Southeast were marched westward at the point of the bayonet and on the razor’s edge of starvation. Wars in Florida and Alabama tore villages apart, forcing the most intransigent or tragically fortunate Native peoples deep into the South’s swampy fastnesses, while war in Illinois signaled the end of organized Native resistance in the Old Northwest. When it comes to basic human conditions like peace and prosperity, the 1830s—like most decades since the European invasion began more than five hundred years ago—were bad for Native Americans.

American newspapers kept the anti-Indian beat pulsing throughout the Removal era. The image above comes from the February 1, 1838 issue of the Army and Navy Chronicle. It does a lot of work in support of American colonialism. It creates the illusion of certainty and superiority by enumerating and classifying Indians—similar, perhaps, to a list of countries with suspected links to terrorism. It instills fear by associating these thousands of potential enemies with “striking” on the frontier—not too far from, say, a list of crimes committed by immigrants, or claims of 122 “vicious” combatants returned “to the battlefield” from Guantanamo. And it links these numbers to the military by publishing it under the heading of the War Department—a bit like the current “military operation” sweeping fearful immigrant communities throughout the United States.

Most newspapers from the era laid down the same beat. If the rap wasn’t Indian war, Indian fear, or Indian hatred, it was a breathless accounting of the things that were possible when the Indians were gone. Books and newspapers in the South instructed readers to plant cotton beneath the tilled husks of old corn fields, for example, for best results (i.e., profits to buy more human beings, but that’s a different story). These “fever dreams” of cotton wealth and “flush times,” as Joshua Rothman calls them, created spectacular booms and devastating busts. We should keep that in mind as we argue over what it means to “Make American Great Again.”