Robert Owens is Associate Professor of Early American History at Wichita State University. This interview is based on his new book, Red Dreams, White Nightmares: Pan-Indian Alliances in the Anglo-American Mind (University of Oklahoma Press, March 2015).
JF: What led you to write Red Dreams, White Nightmares: Pan-Indian Alliances in the Anglo-American Mind?
RO: While researching my dissertation about William Henry Harrison’s early years, and the Indian wars of the 1790s, I was struck by a letter from Secretary of War Henry Knox wherein he noted his great fear that Creek Indians from the Southeast were meeting with Ohio Valley Indians. Knox noted that this could lead to the most “pernicious effects,” that is, a pan-Indian confederacy opposed to American expansion. I realized that historians of this period tended to treat affairs north and south of the Ohio River as discrete topics, but for Americans at the time, they were inextricably linked. I wanted to write that story.
JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Red Dreams, White Nightmares?
RO: From 1763 through the War of 1812 and beyond, an all-consuming fear of broad Indian coalitions proved the driving argument for American Indian policies. As the nineteenth century wore on, and slavery became increasingly important to the South, fears of pan-Indian wars were further linked to the fear of slave rebellions as well.
JF: Why do we need to read Red Dreams, White Nightmares?
RO: Red Dreams, White Nightmares illustrates how Anglo-Americans’ fears of the other, especially Indians and slaves, drove American policies of expansion and served as a unifying factor for a politically, ethnically, and economically diverse white population. The rhetorical threat posed by Indians and blacks served as a justification for the uglier aspects of empire building.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
RO: I always loved history, but in my sophomore year of college I decided that I wanted to pursue academic history as a profession.
JF: What is your next project?
RO: My next project looks at the mediation of intercultural crimes, particularly murder, in Early America.
Looking forward to hearing about it! Thanks Robert.
And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner