The Worlds the Shawnees Made: Migration and Violence in Early America by Stephen Warren (review)
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Keywords

Native Americans, Shawnee, Migration, Archeology, Borderlands

The Worlds the Shawnees Made: Migration and Violence in Early America. By Stephen Warren. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014. Pp. 308. Cloth, $39.95.)

In 1755 the British Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the South, Edmund Atkin, described the Shawnees as ‘‘the Greatest Travellers in America’’ (1). Stephen Warren’s new book, The Worlds the Shawnees Made, follows the migrations of these travelers, and in doing so seeks to turn familiar, but increasingly complex, narratives of forced relocation and dispossession on their heads by demonstrating how the Shawnees managed to turn loss into strength. Fittingly, Warren’s work also ranges widely across disciplines and across much of the North American continent.

Warren’s introduction dives briskly into several important debates, utilizing ethnography and archeology to formulate an assertive argument against scholars who equate ‘‘migration with loss’’ (8). Acknowledging that some pan-Indian practices exist within modern Shawnee society, Warren contends that unique identities survived Jacksonian removal and continue to the present. In this rendition of Shawnee history, Tecumseh stands out not as an exemplar of a Shawnee ability to forge pan-Indian alliances, but as an exception within a longer continuity that saw revitalization movements fail because ‘‘Indian peoples in the upper country preferred life in villages’’ (18).

The first chapter continues the examination of the village, and calls into question the propriety and utility of the unifying concept of the Indian nation. Warren drives home the idea that it ‘‘makes more sense [End Page 661] to view Eastern Woodland Indians as parochial cosmopolitans whose transient villages offer the best window into their identities’’ (21). Despite criticizing the field at large for using the nation–state as a default analytic, Warren is hardly the first to approach Native history through the lens of the village. Though the book takes issue with Richard White’s portrayal of Iroquois dominance in the Ohio Valley, the opening pages of The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815 (New York, 1991) provide a similar warning against viewing Indian polities as cohesive nations. Fortunately, Warren’s meticulous work following the groups that eventually consolidated into the Shawnee nation succeeds in capturing the messy contingency of village-based politics in action.

A more interesting contribution is Warren’s use of archeology in order to understand long-term continuities and transformations. The opening chapters make clear that Warren has dug deep to recover all the information he can concerning the Fort Ancient ancestors of the Shawnee. Revealing links between Fort Ancient peoples and the Shawnees, the book challenges analyses in which ‘‘disjuncture with their ancestors’’ made Native peoples ‘‘new peoples’’ (30). Though the success of this argument partially hinges on factors outside Warren’s control, including the accuracy of archeological findings and upon how one defines transformation, the author’s longue durée approach should stoke debate. Recent archeological discoveries also make for a persuasive argument that the Middle Ohio Valley was largely depopulated prior to the slave raids of the Iroquois, rather than because of these attacks. Human remains of protohistoric Fort Ancient peoples reveal lower levels of violence than those in other locales, and excavations provide evidence of a general abandonment of the region in the decades before large-scale Iroquois raids began in 1669. Warren complicates our picture of the region, arguing that the Shawnees left in response to a variety of push and pull factors. Trade opportunities pulled them closer to English traders, while the raids of the Occaneechees and Westos, coming from the Piedmont in order to deliver captives to Virginian traders, helped to push them from the Ohio Valley. Attacks by the Iroquois were one of many pressures bearing upon the Shawnee.

The Worlds the Shawnees Made continues with a reconsideration of Shawnee migration, explaining the frequent placement of villages in spaces between rival groups as a means to survive by serving as ‘‘guides, porters, slave hunters, mercenaries, and traders’’ (81). Here Warren is at [End Page 662] his analytical best, demonstrating a counterintuitive claim through sources that show the Shawnees actively leveraging their precarious positioning within violent borderlands. Between...