Violence Over the Land, Book Review

Paul Fischer
11/20/2010
260400220
Natives of the Americas






Violence Over the Land, Book Review


The use of violence to dismember and destroy Native American communities is a familiar theme in American history. The root of the violence may go farther than simply the weapons and culture of Europeans, but may actually be dependent on financial variables. Ned Blackhawk introduces the concept that trade and violence are intrinsically tied in his book  Violence Over The Land, Indians and Empires in the American West, whose broad scope covers Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Mexico, Nevada, and California from the first Spanish arrivals to Indian marginalization and removal from modern society. This allows Blackhawk to show the devastating effect European trade, and therefore violence, had on Indian communities again and again. He then follows the region’s relations with the Spanish, French, Mexicans and Americans. In every case, it seems, from the collection of Indian ears on the Palacio Ristra to the dispossession of Utah’s Utes by American Mormons through child-slavery (240), the methodology of Indian devolution changes in perceptible ways that allow insight as to the nature of financial or cultural invasion as opposed to military invasion. “The ears provide a grim yet useful introduction to the history of New Mexico” (18).
This book focuses on Native Americans, who have been portrayed in a particular manner in popular culture for hundreds of years, and objectively, historically examine the narrative timeline and the causes and motives for various recorded events. From the beginning, Blackhawk acknowledges that to claim some sort of complete knowledge is impossible, especially from the period before European influence. Unfortunately, by the time events begin to be recorded, their communities have already been heavily impacted. “When Spanish traders, missionaries, outlaws, and armies ventured north, they entered worlds in the midst of dramatic change” (19). The people they encountered had already begun to adapt to fierce competition for trade goods, especially horses and weapons, and slave raiding and trading had become integral parts of Indian society.
This book also tries to put the southwest at the center of a historical narrative, one that involves far greater outside powers. The implications of wars around the world, in places that hardly knew the Southwest exists, were felt acutely by Indians. The rise of France in the New World, the Civil War, manifest destiny, all of these sorts of events or movements resulted in the dispossession and ultimate oppression of Indians. By the time settlers and diplomats came and incorporated Great Basin Indians into their political systems, violence associated with European goods was endemic. This caused for many, slavery, death and even generations later, poverty. “Upon incorporation into distant empires and nations, Great Basin Indians witnessed continued and in many cases growing destitution, prompting the increase use of violence” (265). This vicious cycle continues to ravage the region even today, where Natives live in literally a third world nation within America.
Even for Indians who have been integrated into mainstream society, the assumptions and stereotypes they are associated with are based on a post-european contact Great Basin, rather than the qualities that defined them before. An example of this is in equestrian Indians: in 1592 there were absolutely no horses in North America, “by the eighteenth century, the horse had become such an integral part of their [Indians] lives that a non-equestrian existence must have seemed distant or inconceivable” (20). Yet Indians are irreversibly associated with an equestrian existence by public imagination and historians alike. The sale of European goods to Indians not only sped up, but initiated a process of increasing violence. As new nations became involved, the process intensified: “these foreigners, Utes understood, brought guns, ammunition, and powder needed by Indian people” (123).
Other Indian nations were more able to avoid European influence. The Great Basin anthropologist, Julian Stewart, thought The Shoshones were exceptional, in their ability to remain less modified than other Indians. “Their subsistence lifestyle, migratory routes, and political structures, he believed, contradicted established notions of ‘tribes’” (277). By examining these modern researchers, Blackhawk can see the change that continues to occur in Native American society. By researching the information that is available, it may be possible to gain better insight on how to help the Great Basin Indians develop, or revert, to a better society.




Blackhawk, Ned. Violence over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2006. Print.

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