The field of nineteenth-century Native North American history is beginning to turn in a new and much darker—dark as it already is—direction. Books like Donna Akers's Living in the Land of Death (2004), Christopher Haveman's Rivers of Sand (2016), and Gregory D. Smithers's Cherokee Diaspora (2016) have shown the federal policy of Indian removal to offer nothing more than legal cover for myriad acts of ethnic cleansing. John P. Bowes's Land Too Good for Indians makes three important contributions to such recent work. First, by surveying the complicated and idiosyncratic nature of the northern "removals," he completes our general understanding of how federal and state governments and local citizens drove so many thousands of people out of their homes. Second, he explains how particular sets of circumstances shaped the contours of the North's cleansing. Third, Bowes argues that the Indian Removal Act did not stand alone as the driver of the removals but was instead just one of many iterations of [End Page 668] a recurrent American dream—the elimination of the Indian.
Case studies illustrate the variety of removal events that cleared most of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan for invasion and purchase. The violent wars fought between the United States and the inhabitants of the Ohio country between the end of the American Revolution and the War of 1812 broke the Shawnees, while force also drove away the Miamis in the 1840s. But not every story played out in such relatively linear fashion. The Delawares, for example, whom the diasporic winds had scattered in the colonial period, struggled to maintain their collective identity in the face of their broad dispersal across the Ohio country and, in the end, abandoned the east together to maintain themselves as a people in the west. The Potawatomis, who held the land that became Chicago, found themselves maneuvered into ceding their lands not so much by the federal government but by a set of Anglo arrivistes who had usurped the economic power that French and métis traders, who enjoyed strong family ties with the Potawatomis, had once held. In Michigan, Anishinabek people managed to purchase, with cash from their federal annuities, land they had ceded when the Panic of 1837 all but ended immigration to the state. In 1850, their men, as long as they did not proclaim membership in a tribe, further obtained the right to vote.
Such disparate experiences, most but not all of which resulted in the expulsion of people from their homes, hinged on local circumstances more than on federal policy dictates. Different strategies to maintain a land base, good or bad relations with neighboring communities, as well as the vagaries of political leadership and economic fortune were always decisive. Stepping back from such local particularities, however, Bowes exposes something vital to our understanding of the removals as a national issue. The civilization policy of the 1790s and 1800s, the removals between 1830 and 1850, allotment in the 1890s and 1910s, and termination in the 1950s can no longer stand as the discrete gradients of an ever-evolving federal policy. Instead, we must, he argues, see them as but momentary manifestations of a single and persistent desire on the part of Americans to rid the land [End Page 669] of the people to whom the idea of the "Indian" attached all sorts of fantastically savage and malign designs.
JAMES TAYLOR CARSON is head of the School of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Languages at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. He is the author of The Columbian Covenant: Race and the Writing of American History (2014) and is currently exploring the idea of global indigenous histories.