Monday, April 20, 2009

The Shawnees and the War for America by Colin G. Calloway

In the litany of American wars, the Indian Wars are often overlooked. They are not celebrated and memorialized with the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and the world wars of the twentieth century. Americans several generations removed from the events forget that there even were wars between European settlers and Native Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Violence on the frontier is just remembered as "trouble." "There was trouble with some Indians." Rarely is it admitted that whites fought a war to eliminate (exterminate) Native Americans.

Perhaps these wars are forgotten because we are unable to reconcile our Constitutional commitment to justice with the apparent crimes of our ancestors. We would rather forget.

It is difficult now to imagine a time when the spread of Europeans across the continent of North America was not seen as inevitable. We now wonder why the Shawnees and other tribes would have bothered to fight.

As Colin G. Calloway makes clear in The Shawnees and the War for America, there were wars. The Shawnees and other tribes thought that they could win. Some whites feared the Indians might prevail. In response, the U.S. government sent military forces to the frontier repeatedly over the course of 100 years. Sometimes there were battles, but at other times there were peace settlements. The Indians actually won some of the battles, but they always lost the peace, as the whites repeatedly violated the treaties.

Calloway's concise history of the Shawnees, whose lands ranged from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, is on the surface a calm, respectful story, but I sense underneath a rage at the atrocities committed by both whites and Indians. But, perhaps, that feeling comes from me, the reader.

The Shawnees and the War for America is the second volume of The Penguin Library of American Indian History. The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears by Theda Perdue and Michael D. Green was the first. Public libraries should get them all.

Calloway, Colin G. The Shawnees and the War for America. Viking, 2007. ISBN 9780670038626

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