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Eighteenth-Century Studies 35.2 (2002) 309-313

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Book Review

Indian Re-Creation Stories

Andrew K. Frank,
California State University, Los Angeles

Gary Clayton Anderson. The Indian Southwest, 1580-1830: Ethnogenesis and Reinvention (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999). Pp. vi + 376. $39.95 cloth.

Daniel R. Mandell. Behind the Frontier: Indians in Eighteenth-Century Eastern Massachusetts (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996). Pp. xiv + 255. $45.00 cloth, $19.95 paper.

David Swatzler. A Friend Among the Senecas: The Quaker Mission to Cornplanter's People (Mechanicsburg, Penn.: Stackpole Books, 2000). Pp. xvi + 319. $24.95 cloth.

Historian Robert F. Berkhofer observed in The White Man's Indian: Images of the American Indian From Columbus to the Present (1978) that most Americans "still conceive of the 'real' Indian as the aborigine he once was, or as they imagine he once was, rather than as he is now." More than a decade later, in Africans and Native-Americans: The Language of Race and the Evolution of Red-Black Peoples (1993), Jack D. Forbes similarly observed that contemporary Americans still expect Indians to hunt, live in teepees, and otherwise shun "white customs." Berkhofer's and Forbes' critiques drew attention to the all-too-frequent tendency to bestow the label of cultural authenticity only to those timeless traditions with primordial pasts.

In recent years, many ethnohistorical studies have demonstrated the survival of Native peoples and cultures throughout five hundred years of colonization. [End Page 309] In eighteenth-century North America, this survival was no easy matter. Incessant warfare, burgeoning EuroAmerican populations, and governmental policies specifically designed to eradicate Native traditions compounded the persistent problems of disease and colonization. While looking for indications of cultural continuity, scholars have frequently lost sight of the creative adaptations that Native peoples employed in order to survive, and consequently they have often confirmed rather than responded to Berkhofer's and Forbes' critiques. As a result, the complex realities that lie behind cultural persistence have been overshadowed by images of an unchanged Indian world, one where Indians have static cultures and a timeless sense of self. The three books under review challenge these preconceptions by focusing on the innovative responses and choices of various Indian groups as they resisted assaults on their communities and cultures. Together, they demonstrate how survival required Native Americans to incorporate new peoples, technologies, polities, economic practices, and religious beliefs.

Gary Clayton Anderson, in an insightful work that deserves the attention of southwestern and Borderland historians, focuses on the choices that Natives confronted while defining and re-defining themselves in the southern plains and southwest. Even as Spanish colonization destroyed Native populations and resources in what later became northern Mexico, New Mexico, and eastern Texas, Anderson explains that the region's Indians capitalized on the new economic and cultural opportunities that the Spanish presence provided. The various Native groups in the region continually recreated their societies and underwent processes of ethnogenesis whereby new communities were created, in order not only to cope with demographic and climatic changes, especially droughts, but also effectively to resist Spanish missions and then American soldiers.

Anderson ultimately explains how the Comanche, Apache, Caddo, Wichita, and Pueblo Indians formed a complex political economy and otherwise thrived in the eighteenth century. When the Spanish arrived, he explains, these nations did not exist. Instead, Jumanos and Coahuiltecans, as the Spanish called them, lived in small bands along the lower and central Rio Grande. As European-introduced diseases devastated their populations, Apache groups formed and incorporated themselves into this world. They integrated the survivors of the epidemics and shaped their new economy around raiding, poaching, and recently-introduced livestock. The Comanches similarly united Caddos, Wichitas, and Pueblos and "would prove to be the masters of ethnogenesis and by 1780 would create the most powerful native society in the Southwest" (4). Although each Native group responded differently to their eighteenth-century predicaments, one thing remained consistent: "those [who] embraced mobility and incorporation with others fared the best" (8).

Incorporation did not mean either blindly following the dictates of the Spanish missionaries or abandoning traditional identities or values. Instead, Anderson explains...


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