Master of Arts (M.A.)
Andrew H Fisher
“Unoccupied and of a Valuable Kind”: The Georgia Gold Rush and Manufactured Cherokee Savagery Georgia’s antebellum gold rush, beginning with the discovery of the yellow metal in the Cherokee Nation in the late 1820s, is often cited in passing by scholars as one factor among many contributing to Cherokee removal. While focused research on the Georgia gold rush as a whole is limited, the largely overlooked issue of Native mining activities requires particular attention. Considering Cherokee and non-Native commentary on the civilizational implications of officials’ actions, this investigation highlights the rhetorical role of the gold rush in the process of removal. Though Euro-Americans justified removal by mischaracterizing the Cherokees as savage hunters rather than farmers who emulated southern planters, actions against Cherokee mining were more brazen than any measures to displace the Cherokees from their agricultural lands, suggesting that the novelty of mining as a potential mark of Native civilization created an opportunity for white officials to manufacture savagery—that is, to contrive a situation wherein an argument for a superior Euro-American right of occupancy could more credibly be made. The result was an enduring myth that the Cherokees had sat idly on precious mineral resources for centuries, never making effective use of them, as only a civilized people could. “Dry as the Blood of Its Builders”: The Cliff Dwellers, Popular Archaeology, and the Racial Implications of Indianness This investigation uses popular and academic treatments of the so-called Cliff Dwellers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a lens for understanding when and to what extent Euro-Americans in this period regarded Native American savagery as a matter of racial essentialism. Despite an emerging scholarly consensus to the contrary, non-academic publications and amusements—most prominently the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition—routinely used architecture, human remains, and other fixtures of archaeological science to assert that the Cliff Dwellers were, in fact, an extinct race, perhaps even a white race, with no connection to living Native groups. This view was well-established and popularized among the general public in the United States well before the turn of the twentieth century, largely as a result of the widespread acceptance, by the time of the Chicago World’s Fair, of the Social Darwinian idea that cultural evolution from savagery to civilization was grounded in biological inheritance and was strictly unidirectional. The great civilization of the Cliff Dwellers, then, could not have given rise to backward Indians. Influenced by the same evolutionary thinking as laypeople who accepted this racial distancing as a matter of course, even professional archaeologists struggled at times to reconcile evidence that the Cliff Dwellers had living descendants with seemingly intuitive logic suggesting the contrary.
© The Author
Estreicher, Justin Tyler, "“Unoccupied And Of A Valuable Kind”/“Dry As The Blood Of Its Builders”" (2020). Dissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects. William & Mary. Paper 1616444339.
Available for download on Friday, August 14, 2026