- The Borderland of Fear: Vincennes, Prophetstown, and the Invasion of the Miami Homeland by Patrick Bottiger
Every fall the denizens of Tippecanoe County, Indiana, celebrate two noteworthy events in their county's history: the Feast of the Hunter's Moon and the battle of Tippecanoe. Celebrants are invited to experience their state's valiant past as reenactors play out their interpretations of life in a French trading fort or of fife-playing, costumed militiamen bravely marching from the burned cabins of an imagined Prophetstown in 1811. Visitors pay for the chance to eat rabbit stew, watch military maneuvers, and admire costumes near the site of the eighteenth-century Fort Ouiatenon. Later in the season, visitors solemnly lay wreaths at the Tippecanoe battlefield in praise of the noble dead and envision William Henry Harrison's charge against the Shawnee Prophet Tenskwatawa's ill-fated warriors. Both events demand that we embrace the performance of the historical narrative that Patrick Bottiger justly challenges us to revisit in The [End Page 148] Borderland of Fear: Vincennes, Prophetstown, and the Invasion of the Miami Homeland.
Bottiger asks readers to reconsider the histories of Prophetstown and the battle of Tippecanoe and to look beyond the framework of competing Indian and American nationalisms. By framing Prophetstown's founding through a nativist/accommodationist lens, historians risk "situating all Indians within the context of American nationalism" (p. xv). The author begins his study by asking readers to look "east from Miami country" and consider the western Ohio River Valley as a borderland wherein power was contested between Native and non-Native peoples and where the Miami people expressed their sovereignty beyond the more easily recognized boundaries of nation, state, and empire. Bottiger argues that there were, in a sense, two Prophetstowns. One was a vibrant, multiethnic town established by the followers of Tenskwatawa. It was nominally governed by the Prophet, and its core group of residents was composed of Ho-Chunks, Potawatomies, Kickapoos, and Shawnees. The other Prophetstown was created by the factionalized Americans, Miamis, and French who demonized the town. This Prophetstown, which Bottiger represents as a vortex of frontier violence and regional economic instability, was created by the rampant lies and rumors of those who were most threatened by its existence. He argues that this second imagined version of the settlement anchors the erroneous narrative that reenactors and modern scholars alike have embraced. As Richard White states on the back cover of The Borderland of Fear, Bottiger's research tells us that "[m]uch of what we know about Prophetstown … is a lie."
The Borderland of Fear is at its best when it delves into the local and regional details that are often overlooked and disassociated from the Tippecanoe narrative. The changing circumstances of the Miami people and their decentralized political culture are presented in a nuanced interpretation that foils any attempt to dismiss Native leaders such as Little Turtle and Pacanne as agents of accommodation in the face of inevitable American expansion. Similarly, the volatile frontier politics of proslavery and antislavery factions emanating from Vincennes, Indiana, and William Henry Harrison's ineffectual leadership are thoroughly presented. The pivotal role of political factions in Vincennes and of the conjured threat of Prophetstown upends much of the current scholarship on the subject.
Bottiger's research is thorough, and the narrative is clean and to the point. There are some redundancies in the chapters that better editing might have avoided. Also, the author discusses Miami women somewhat superficially and does not sufficiently scrutinize the roles of American and French women in Vincennes and the Indiana Territory, rendering them almost completely invisible. While The Borderland of Fear is a much-needed corrective to the mythologized narrative of the region, we will have to wait for a more fully integrated history that includes the Indian, American, and French women whose stories remain untold. [End Page 149]