The Boundaries between Us: Natives and Newcomers along the Frontiers of the Old Northwest Territory, 1750-1850
Daniel P. Barr's collection of eleven essays entitled The Boundaries between Us stands as a testament to the transformation of Native American and frontier scholarship by the "new Indian historians." Inspired by Richard White's seminal 1991 study of the Great Lakes Indians entitled The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815, historians have been chronicling the fluid cultural interaction between Euro-Americans and native peoples on the American frontier for over fifteen years. In many ways, Barr's essayists are the products of White's efforts to break from historical convention and "place Indian peoples at the center" of their own history (White, Middle Ground, xi). In The Boundaries between Us, Barr has assembled essays that build upon White's methodologies in order to examine "the sociocultural context in which natives and newcomers lived, traded, negotiated, interacted, and fought" (xii).
Ian K. Steele's opening essay, "The Shawnees and the English: Captives and War, 1753-1765," demonstrates the "new Indian history" by connecting the capture and harsh treatment of Shawnee Indians by British colonial authorities in South Carolina to the tribe's decision to fight alongside the French during the Seven Years' War. Steele's willingness to identify the cultural and personal reasons motivating the Franco-Shawnee alliance challenges the orthodox arguments that the tribe sided with the French because they were vicious, greedy, or easily manipulated. Daniel Barr's "'This Land Is Ours and Not Yours'" also affords the Western Delaware agency in their decision to ally with the French during the Seven Years' War. Barr argues that the Western Delaware were not simply "pawns of the French," but participated in the conflict as a direct "response to the past removal experiences" by the British and as a violent effort "not to be migrants again" (25-26). Both Steele and Barr reject past historical characterizations of natives as helpless victims in colonial warfare, and portray both the Shawnee and [End Page 95] Western Delaware as powerful and conscious participants in the struggle for North America.
The "new Indian history" also recasts the role Euro-Americans played in the development of the "middle ground," advancing their position beyond simply agents of conquest and acculturation. Mathew C. Ward's "'The Indians Our Real Friends'" examines the manifold relationship between the British Army and the Northwestern Indians. Ward demonstrates that the British Army's policies on the frontier balanced Indian-white diplomacy, trade regulation, and efforts to halt white squatters with their traditional task of defending the British backcountry. Frazer Dorian McGlinchey uses the cultural confusion surrounding the Adena Indian mounds to examine the Ohio Company of Associates' failed effort to carve out a utopian community in the Northwestern Territory. The unwillingness of the Marietta settlers to accept the fact that the ancestors of the Ohio Indians constructed the impressive mounds that dotted the region and their ultimate failure in achieving their "glorious vision" for their backcountry settlement, illustrates the "gulf between the mythology . . . and fraught reality of the early expansion of the United States in the Northwestern Territory" (135). Donald H. Gaff draws upon the lives of three native leaders to challenge the dialectical historical framework that places Euro-American and Indian cultures at odds. Little Turtle, Jean Baptiste Richardville, and William Wells's ability to transcend both native and white culture demonstrates that many Northwestern Indians carved out their own personal "middle ground" on the rapidly developing northwestern frontier. Thomas J. Lappas's account of the Black Hawk chief Keokuk's leadership during the removal period also reveals the ability of a pragmatic native leader to balance his traditional role as chief with the stark reality of his tribe's inevitable removal.
The Boundaries between Us stands as a testament to the historiographical earthquake unleashed by Richard White's Middle Ground. From the reinterpretation of Pontiac's pan-Indian uprising to the impact of trade debt and commercial agriculture on United States Indian policy, Barr's essayists expand our understanding of the complex relationship between natives and newcomers. Despite lacking thematic cohesion, Boundaries between Us is confirmation of the rewards of historical revisionism and an exciting harbinger of future "new Indian scholarship."