- Raiders and Traders: The Indigenous world of the Colorado Basin, 1540–1859 by Natale A. Zappia
By Natale A. Zappia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.
In the introduction to this important and highly valuable book, Natale Zappia asks readers to invert many of the standard frames of reference structuring our narratives about Indigenous people and Euro-American colonizers. Building upon the most trenchant analyses of borderlands scholars, Zappia situates the cultures and landscapes of Indigenous communities of the Colorado River Basin at the center and moves Euro-American empires to the periphery. He implores readers to take seriously the web of economic relationships, transportation corridors, political organizations and cultural practices that marked the region before the arrival of Spaniards, and that structured—and sometimes thwarted—Euro-American entry into the vast lands between the Rio Grande and the Pacific Ocean. Placing Indigenous people in the center of the history unfolding in what Zappia terms “the Interior World”—a term which borrows from Michael Witgen’s notion of an “Indigenous World”—helps us come to terms with the dizzying array of alliances, conflicts, and shifting identities emblematic of borderlands history.
Starting the narrative with Indigenous people at the center, Traders and Raiders: The Indigenous world of the Colorado Basin, reflects the best of Borderlands history, American Indian history and the history of the US West. As scholars such as Juliana Barr, Ned Blackhawk and Pekka Hamalainen have noted, Spain did not fully control the region known as the Spanish Borderlands. Zappia elaborates on these conclusions to argue that the Interior World was crisscrossed by numerous borderlands between Indigenous groups and “a paradoxical relationship between political-economic autonomy (from Spaniards, Mexicans, and Americans) and captivity (by Indian communities)” (6). Although the manifestations of colonialism (missions, presidios, settlements) ringed its periphery and failed to fully subjugate Indigenous peoples, those same Native communities participated in the slave trade and captive-taking complex that tied them to—and sometimes distanced them from—Spaniards. These violent exchanges characterized much intercultural contact throughout the borderlands, but more than that, Zappia provides a nuanced rendering of categories of unfree labor and forced bondage that embraces a range of statuses that changed over time and space. Rather than rely on singular or static definitions of labor or citizenship, Traders and Raiders explicates a shifting set of economic relationships and political statuses that complicate our understanding of community dynamics and cross-cultural relations.
After an informative introduction that grounds the reader in time, place and scholarship, Zappia narrates the emergence, elaboration and collapse of the Interior World in six succinct and well-written chapters. Chapter One offers a view of the Indigenous cultures of the Colorado River Basin before the entrance of Hernando Alarcon in 1540. With Indigenous peoples living in and moving through this vibrant desert region, Zappia notes the “overlapping, pulsating territories” that characterized relations between Quechans, Movahves, Cocopahs, Chemehuevies, Maricopas, Chumash, Yokut and other groups (16). In this borderlands landscape unto itself, “no singular state, confederacy, or empire” controlled the crisscrossing transportation networks and migratory trails (17). The inability of any individual group to gain control of the Interior World continued through initial European contact, the focus of Chapter Two. Despite the multipolar relations of power during the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, one group, the Quechans, gained influence because their location in and around the Colorado River Delta enabled them to control north-to-south and east-to-west trade networks. Quechans also made valuable trade alliances with the Maricopas to the northeast. This power enabled them to expel Spanish colonists in the 1750s.
Trade in new and old commodities continued through the Interior World, resulting in the slow consolidation of power by some Indigenous groups along the Colorado River Basin, but trafficking in human captives and slaves upended centuries-old relationships and alliances. The growth of the well-known networks in slave and captive trading, and their impact on native communities, is the subject of Chapters Three and Four. Contributing to the scholarship of many of the aforementioned scholars, Zappia analyzes how Yokuts, Mohaves, Utes and...