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  • Traders and Raiders: The Indigenous World of the Colorado Basin, 1540–1859 by Natale A. Zappia
  • Bruce Granville Miller
Traders and Raiders: The Indigenous World of the Colorado Basin, 1540–1859, by Natale A. Zappia. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2014. xii, 240 pp. $39.95 US (cloth).

This book poses the question, What if we view the Colorado Basin as composed of an indigenous core in the period 1540–1859, with a Euro and Euro-American periphery? Natale Zappia, an assistant professor of history at Whittier, unsettles common perceptions of Native-white relations and carefully builds up his story of dynamic alliances (variously between Native groups and Europeans, between Native groups against Europeans, against each other, and across linguistic lines), violent conflicts, and transformations in economic systems in the region. He connects his work with contemporary currents in historiography in describing what he calls the “interior world” of a region which shifted spatially for centuries before finally collapsing in the face of a failed revolt, the Franciscan economy, the influx of settlers, and the control exercised by US military.

Zappia nicely intersperses the book with “interludes.” These interludes help carry the theme of the nascent state building of Native groups, of the relationship between slavery and bondage (practiced by both Natives and whites), the role of climate change in shifting polities, and the influence of horses in the transition from trading to raiding in the latter years.

This small book, 144 pages of text, exemplifies the recent trend in academic publishing toward shorter books that might be purchased for course use. The interludes are no doubt intended to humanize the text for students with short attention spans. The author has responded to the challenge of brevity with a crisp, well-written book with a powerful central argument. He makes very clear that Native people carried on with their own world, sometimes brushing off European efforts to missionize or to integrate them into Euro-American economic spheres. A particular value of the book is its emphasis on violence and conflict over long periods, rather than on stability and an inevitable establishment of Euro-American control, assimilation, and appropriation. Recent scholarship in the Pacific Northwest, for one example, and New England for another, points to far [End Page 549] more conflict and disturbance over longer periods than previously understood by those interested in documenting the march to triumph of Euro-American societies.

Zappia raises a number of questions that inspire readers to further thought. For example, what happened to Native captives brought into the orbit of another Native community? But the book raised several questions in my mind that I wish he had explored in more detail. He writes that Quechan warriors in the 1850s visited allies to ask them to join in an assault intended to wipe out the Maricopa “and their treacherous alliance to non-Indians” (p. 129). But I wonder: if whites and Natives had been engaged in alliances for several hundred years, was this military action based on racial differences? Was this a turning point in regional relations, shifting to newer racial concepts? It is important because these questions arise concerning violence in other parts of North America, for example, in New England in the late seventeenth century. And, while the author mentions disease and population change, he does not provide enough information to allow the reader to gauge the relative size of Indian groups, Europeans and Euro-Americans and the role of population in shifting power relations. But Traders and Raiders sheds light on features of the contemporary world. He writes of the new reality of “hardened U.S. borders,” an issue of considerable concern, particularly since 9/11, for the many tribal groups on the US–Canadian border.

A curious side-theme, taking up much of the epilogue, is the relationship of various scholarly disciplines to the now not-too-new appreciation for the resilience of Native ways of life. Early historian Hubert Howe Bancroft is lashed for perpetrating a “triumphal ascendance” (p. 141) while leaving research on Native communities “in the hands of prodigious anthropologists” (p. 142) such as Alfred Kroeber, who wished to work with “pure,” culturally intact tribes...


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