From Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America, by Pekka Hämäläinen (Liveright, 2022), Kindle pp. 261-263:
After several generations of interactions with Europeans, variously violent and peaceful, the Six Nations knew how to manage anxious, land-hungry settlers. In 1742, at a large summit in the statehouse in Philadelphia, the Onondaga sachem Canassatego addressed the Lenapes as junior allies, relegating the English to a secondary role. “Cousins: Let this Belt of Wampum serve to Chastise You,” he reprimanded the Lenapes in sharply gendered language. “We conquered You, we made Women of you, you know you are Women, and can no more sell Land.” Canassatego ordered them to “remove immediately” from ancestral Iroquois lands. The settlers were mere spectators of the Six Nations’ power politics. The next year, another summit was held to defuse the mounting tensions between Pennsylvania and the neighboring Indians. The Six Nations envoy Zillawoolie focused on the Catawbas, promising to “persuade and charge them to be of good Behavior everywhere”—something Pennsylvania’s timid settlers dared not try. The Iroquois also demanded a right to travel through Virginia as they pleased, and they reasserted their dominance over the Delaware and Ohio Valleys.
Had they been present in Philadelphia, the Catawbas would have denounced the Six Nations’ presumption. The Great Trading Path between the Chesapeake Bay and the Piedmont continued to channel English trading parties to Catawba towns, keeping them prosperous and powerful. As ancient residents of the Piedmont, the Catawbas thought they could simply stay put and wait for goods to flow into their towns. In exchange for their precious deerskins and furs, they received guns, powder, lead, metal tools, cloth, blankets, luxuries, and rum. Certain of the strength of their position, they were aloof to the point of becoming arrogant and outright offensive. When the talks resumed in Philadelphia in the summer of 1744, the Catawbas sent a cutting message informing the Iroquois that they “were but Women; that they [themselves] were men and double men for they had two P——s [penises]; that they could make Women of Us, and would be always at War with us.”
In an era when pushing the colonists back into the sea was no longer a possibility, the Catawbas kept the settlers in a state of uncertainty: Europeans feared that the Indians might launch a war any day. The colonists’ nervousness about the Catawbas set that Indigenous group apart from the Iroquois and their artful diplomacy, and from the Shawnees and the strategic mobility they used to keep the settlers at a distance. The Catawbas knew that eventually they would have to adapt to new circumstances, compromise, and enter into negotiations with the Europeans, but they would hold on to their independence as long as they possibly could. They were determined to preserve Indigenous sovereignty in the face of unprecedented odds and to rebalance Indigenous power on the continent.
Other nations east of the Appalachians adopted a more counterintuitive approach. They relied on accommodation and compromises that required a new mindset: Indians should embrace the colonists—at arm’s length—to survive colonialism. When colonial frontiers inched toward them, they would meet the settlers on the borderlands between the two parties. This strategy demanded numbers, political gravitas, and delicate diplomacy. The Muscogee, Cherokee, and Chickasaw leaders in the Appalachian foothills and Trans-Appalachian West pursued this strategy. Tucked between French and English realms, these three Native nations were already fluent in colonial methods when the English began to push their farms and settlements uphill. The Indians left the Europeans alone, playing Louisiana, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and Pennsylvania off against each other and extracting gifts, weapons, and manufactured goods from all. The Indians were careful not to attach themselves to any single colony. The settlers thought that the Indigenous confederacies—most notably the Six Nations—had divided into pro-French and pro-English factions, but those divisions were more circumstantial than fixed. Operating in a different geopolitical landscape west of the Appalachians, the twenty-thousand-strong Choctaws divided into “Eastern,” “Western,” and “Sixtown” villages to engage with various colonies more flexibly.
By European standards, the Muscogees, Cherokees, Chickasaws, and Choctaws were dangerously decentralized and their leaders hopelessly weak, but therein lay the genius of their political systems. Most of their leaders commanded small groups, which threw the settlers off-balance: there was no single person for the Europeans to co-opt—just a multitude of seemingly ineffectual potentates who were useless to the settlers’ aims. But those leaders knew how to manage European newcomers.