The Shawnees And The War For America, by Colin G. Calloway
Why does this book exist? To be sure, this is not a bad book, but in many ways it appears to contradict its own standards. Towards the end of the book, the author opines that books on native peoples from white writers are missing something, and yet the author appears to be white–he certainly writes with all of the white guilt typical of many books on the subject of the native peoples of this country . If this is true, that the author believes that books on his subject should be written by native Americans themselves, then by all means the author must explain why he thought that his leftist multicultural anti-American perspective would overcome the lack of understanding of the native. Self-hatred does not mean understanding the other perspective one is writing about. The author seems to have forgotten this, and the result is a book that is deeply uneven, filled with all kinds of contradictions and tensions, and perhaps not even honoring the people that it wishes to honor, namely the Shawnee tribe in the period between the early 18th century and the present-day.
The book itself is organized in a conventional manner, at least for those who are familiar with books on native tribes. The book begins with a rapturous discussion of the heathen religion of the Shawnee and some kind of bogus discussion of their being from the area where they were found later on. The author comments over and over about how far and wide the Shawnees wandered and about how important they were. The author talks about the attempts of the Shawnee to preserve their culture in the face of threats, resist the military might of Europeans and Americans, and build diplomatic bridges with other tribes to form a powerful and independent confederacy in the Midwest. In the author’s telling, the results were tragic, showing a great deal of bravery but ultimate failure. Indeed, the failure happened for somewhat predictable reason–the tribes (including the Shawnee) were deeply divided, resistance to Euro-American ways was selective and self-serving, and the demography of agricultural settlements gave the United States a decisive edge in manpower that was able to overcome even the genius of people like Blue Jacket, Dragging Turtle, and the famous Tecumseh. Sometimes quantity is its own quality, and that definitely appears to be the case here.
This is not a bad book, per se. Some parts of the book are certainly bad, like the opening, with its cringeworthy discussion of the Shawnee false religion. Other parts are bad for different reasons, like the author’s evident belief that the Shawnee were somehow justified in their brutality in ways that Europeans and Americans were not. Both sides, moreover, showed a certain willingness to play cannily when it came to diplomacy. The British and Americans would find willing chiefs to bribe in order to gain land for settlers and permanently remove it from sparsely populated hunting grounds, while the Shawnee (and widespread native) tendency was for anti-treaty leaders to avoid signing a treaty so that they would not be bound by it. Both had their own canny and dishonest tendencies and the more powerful and more numerous party won. The book rises above being worthless largely due to the fact that it captures the despair of those who lack any sense of security and so do not make efforts to improve their condition in the belief that showing improvement would make them a target. There is certainly some compassion that we can have for the Shawnee despite the fact that this book does not portray them as an entirely sympathetic people.
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