- “Land Too Good for Indians”: Northern Indian Removal by John P. Bowes
John P. Bowes has written a well-researched book that specifically looks at the removal of Native Americans from states north of the Ohio River in the nineteenth century. The author asserts that northern Indian removal has been largely ignored by scholars for seventy years. One notable exception to that was Grant Foreman, who in the 1930s and 1940s made comparisons between the removal of northern and southern Indians. In his historical accounts, Foreman stated that Natives in the northern states were “weaker and more primitive” (5) than the southern tribes, and as a result they “yielded with comparatively small resistance to the power and chicane of the white man” (5). When writing about these events, Foreman claimed that northern removal was a “more complicated undertaking” (5). This occurred “because, unlike the southern tribes, the northern Indians failed to preserve their tribal integrity and did not share a common experience of relations with Euro-Americans” (5–6).
Bowes believes that Foreman’s assessments were incomplete and did not incorporate all the aspects that made northern removal unique. The author attempts to describe this process of removal in a much more nuanced way. The writer asserts that the removal of Indians north of the Ohio River was a complex process and cannot be summarized by a specific event such as the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the Black Hawk War of 1832. The Indian Removal Act was “a continuation of, rather than a transition from, the civilization policy begun in the late eighteenth century that attacked indigenous religions, subsistence patterns, and land-holding practices” (4). The Black Hawk War revolved around the Sauk warrior Black Hawk, who along with his supporters “refused to leave rich, well-watered farmland in western Illinois in 1832” (5). Bowes asserts that many scholars have attempted to use this conflict “as the only succinct way to incorporate northern Indians into the narrative framed by the Indian Removal Act” (10). [End Page 96]
To call attention to his thesis, the author examines four specific case studies that demonstrate how different groups responded to the pressures of exclusion from their homelands. He analyzes how the Delaware Nation attempted to maintain their tribal integrity in the years before the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830, which symbolized removal policy. The author finds that despite years of dispossession on the part of American colonizers, these peoples attempted to form a cohesive community even in the face of continued expansion by the United States. Bowes also analyzes the similar difficulties faced by the Delaware, Seneca, and Wyandot Indians who resided in the Sandusky River region of Ohio as these groups faced the loss of their lands to the United States. In addition, Bowes studies the Treaty of Chicago, passed in 1833, which affected the removal of the members of the Potawatomie Nation who resided in Illinois and Indiana. Perhaps the most interesting vignette deals with the Odawa and Ojibwe nations who lived in Michigan. In this case study, Bowes examines the factors that allowed some of these peoples to avoid being displaced while remaining on their homelands in that region.
The author skillfully blended his use of primary and secondary sources when he wrote this book. Some of the primary sources that were used included the American State Papers and The Territorial Papers of the United States. These primary documents contain a vast amount of information about the treatment of Native Americans during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These sources allow a scholar to examine how these people were slowly dispossessed of their lands during this entire time period and how some groups fought to maintain their homesteads. There is also an extensive use of secondary sources from the last eighty years that allow the author to examine how many of the Natives were gradually removed from their lands and forced to relocate westward.
Bowes’s book allows scholars to reexamine...