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  • Unsettling the West: Violence and State Building in the Ohio Valley by Rob Harper
  • William Heath
Rob Harper, Unsettling the West: Violence and State Building in the Ohio Valley. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018. 272 pp. $47.50 (cloth).

Unsettling the West is a thesis-driven book that alternates specific stories with reiterations of the big picture. The central argument that Ohio Valley violence was directly related to the extent of state support is important, overturning assumptions that frontier Indian hating was the culprit while governments east of the Appalachians tried to prevent bloodshed. The introduction uses accounts by David McClure and Nicholas Cresswell to evoke frontier life. It also discusses how Native American leaders, such as Guyasuta of the Seneca, vacillated between peace and war. Although mistrust and hatred were rampant between colonists and Indians, "the escalation and de-escalation of hostilities correlates closely with the evershift ing influence of governments" (5). When the powers of the state were low, mutual accommodation was higher. "Instead of Hobbesian anarchy or a [End Page 192] two-sided clash of opposing cultures," Harper argues, "the region exhibited a complex pattern of coalition building" (21).

Chapter 1 begins in 1765. The narrative focuses on two locales—the Redstone colony (near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) and Two Creeks (a Seneca town along what is now the Pennsylvania-Ohio border)—where a fragile accommodation was achieved. While in central Pennsylvania the notorious Paxton Boys killed Indians with impunity, the Upper Ohio Valley was relatively peaceful (although records are incomplete). Chapter 2 adds support to Harper's thesis, showing how the actions of Virginia governor Lord Dunmore instigated the war that bears his name. Virulent Indian haters were prevalent in the region, however, as Michael Cresap, Daniel Greathouse, and Lewis Wetzel (who is not mentioned by Harper) slaughtered defenseless Indians to provoke hostilities. Once war did break out, the repulsed Shawnee attack at Point Pleasant ultimately cost the Indians Kentucky.

Chapter 3 looks closely at a two-year interim prior to the American Revolution; it was a time when John Connolly controlled Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, civic chiefs like the Delaware leader White Eyes sought British support, and the Mohawk chief Pluggy led his assorted renegades on bloody raids. Yet because no state power was directly engaged, this period avoided any large-scale violence. The following chapter traces how the situation deteriorated. Here, the activities on the Wabash River of English commander Henry Hamilton and his antagonist George Rogers Clark calls for elaboration. The British armed the Indians and sent them against the American frontier, especially Boonesborough, Kentucky. The American government reciprocated, giving colonial militia the wherewithal to enable "Indian haters to kill" (100). Two defenseless civic chiefs, Cornstalk of the Shawnee and White Eyes, were deliberately murdered by Americans to deliberately ignite a war to the death. Nonetheless, most military efforts in the late 1770s were largely ineffectual. With the exception of Clark's intrepid capture of Vincennes, Indiana (which the author neglects), no crucial battles were fought.

Chapter 5 vividly illustrates how the situation worsened. In the spring of 1780, Major Arent De Peyster sent soldiers and warriors to attack the Falls of the Ohio (Louisville, Kentucky). They captured Ruddle's and Martin's Stations on the Licking River, taking hundreds of captives, but that was all. Then Joseph Brant led his British-allied Indians toward the same objective, ambushing and killing thirty-six reinforcements for Clark, whose men [End Page 193] attacked Shawnee towns in Ohio that August. Although Brant did not advance on Louisville, warriors did kill two dozen Kentuckians in the Long Run Massacre (an event that Harper does not mention). Meanwhile, the Delaware in eastern Ohio were divided into a pro-British war faction and a pro-American Moravian peace faction. Under increasing pressure, both groups abandoned their towns and moved to the Upper Sandusky area. Since they were starving, however, many Moravians returned to harvest crops. They were slaughtered in cold blood by David Williamson's command of 160 men from western Pennsylvania in the notorious Gnadenhütten Massacre; in it, 96 men, women, and children were bludgeoned to death. Harper's description of this atrocity is the strongest sequence...

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