New Men: Manliness in Early America

By Thomas A. Foster | Go to book overview

4
Real Men
Masculinity, Spirituality, and Community in
Late Eighteenth-Century Cherokee Warfare

SUSAN ABRAM

In 1761 the colonial soldier William Fyffe noted that war was the “principal study” or “beloved occupation” of Cherokee men from the southern Appalachian region.1 As the historian John Phillip Reid noted, “Warfare to the Cherokees was a business, a grim, dangerous, exciting business so important to their way of life that its mores and values dominated their culture.”2 Indeed, the Cherokee “beloved occupation” was a complex institution with gendered expectations and values that promoted leadership, brotherhood, and communal solidarity, and also validated traditional Cherokee gender roles. Virtually without exception, Cherokee men, at one time or another, participated in a culture of warfare as an integral part of their lives, typically demonstrating their manliness through the scalping of enemies and later dancing in performative celebration.

In the eighteenth century, warfare in Cherokee culture was an institution that expressed spiritual power, honor, and communal and clan values.3 This chapter examines Cherokee warrior culture and how it reflected many of the gendered beliefs, values, and traditions of the Indian nation’s society. In particular, it considers war not only as a path to manhood but also discusses how it played a dominant role in the expression of masculinity. In addition, this chapter will explore the battles played out in the spiritual realm as Cherokee men sought enhancement of their masculine powers and the diminution of that in their enemies. Ultimately, warfare served to interconnect warriors with the political and communal realms of Cherokee society. Unlike Anglo-American warfare, Cherokee warfare did not serve a patriarchal culture. Cherokee warriors fought for the honor and protection of their clans, to secure their place as real men, and to enter a warrior brotherhood. All these are expressions of Cherokee masculinity.

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