Thursday, June 25, 2009

War of a Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the U.S.-Mexican War
By Brian DeLay. New Haven: Yale University Press, October 2008. Cloth: ISBN 978-0300119329, $35. 496 pages.

Review by Bradley Montgomery-Anderson, Northeastern State University

War of a Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the U.S.-Mexican War is the latest book in the Lamar Series in Western History. The author, Brian DeLay, is a professor of history at the University of Colorado in Boulder and is a well-known expert on borderlands history and the interactions of Native Americans with nation-states. He has made a unique contribution to the study of the U.S.-Mexican war by examining the role of Indian raids within the context of American and Mexican nation-building in the Southwest. This book is a good complement to Comanche Empire, the previous publication in the series. Like that work, War of a Thousand Deserts re-orients traditional narratives of the region by presenting indigenous nations as active participants whose role is equal to that of the more traditionally portrayed nation-state. This perspective comes through strongly throughout the book, and DeLay warns the reader, “The all too common notion that nation-states are normative and that polities deviating from that norm are somehow politically incomplete misrepresents the workings of nonstate societies” (119). Another important idea of the work is that Indian raiding reached such a scale and intensity in northern Mexico that it served as a crucial factor to the success of the American armies when they invaded that country in 1846. DeLay’s central thesis is best summarized by the name he uses for these raids as a whole; the “war of a thousand deserts” was so relentless and widespread that it depopulated the northern part of Mexico and prevented any significant economic growth there. DeLay shows how these raids coincided with the American invasion to such a degree that they fueled a Mexican narrative of the war that depicted the Americans as actually inciting and supporting the Indians.

This book is divided into three parts. In the first part, “Neighbors,” DeLay traces the path from relatively peaceful relations between the Comanches and the Mexicans to the all-out warfare that was prevalent by the 1840s. It is interesting to see how the Mexican government loses an opportunity in the 1830s to create better relations with the Comanches and their allies as northern plains tribes and removed tribes increasingly encroach upon their territory. American advances into the area, partially as a result of the removal of the southeast tribes to the region, meant a trading partner who not only provided better and more varied goods but who also helped to cement relations with these other indigenous nations. Peace with the Cheyenne and Arapaho in 1840 was followed by a dramatic increase in raids into northern Mexico. This increased raiding significantly enlarged Comanche wealth—chiefly in horses and captives—and resulted in the period of regional Comanche ascendancy as they became the center of a trading network for these plundered goods. Raids also helped to cement the alliance of Kiowas and Kiowa Apaches with the Comanches. One of the most important ideas of this book is the role of vengeance for motivating the raids as well as for creating as a unifying bond between the Comanches and their allies. The resulting incursions into Mexico DeLay characterizes as “revenge campaigns” motivated by the “galvanizing dead.” The author thoroughly explains the cultural motivations for raiding, including the intense social pressure to display bravery and military prowess.

In Part Two, “Nations,” DeLay discusses the issue of Indian raids within the framework of the emergent Mexican state. The inability of the central government to deal with the indigenous invasion of its northern territory put the very concept of a unified Mexican nation-state at risk. The poorly defended provinces came to question their role and purpose in a republic whose government seemed more concerned with palace intrigues than with the issue of national defense. DeLay provides a thorough background to the instability of the Mexican government during this period and shows how economic and political turmoil led to the neglect of the northern defenses. It is fascinating to follow his description of how the construction of a Mexican national identity becomes unraveled in the peripheries. He places this basic failure of the Mexican government as the cornerstone of what he refers to as the Texas Creation myth. In this narrative of Texas Nationhood, the Texans “made the desert smile” (229), whereas the Mexicans had been unable to develop or even defend it. Indian raids thus served as a crucial backdrop for Texan claims to independence.

The two processes outlined in the first two parts of the book—the reorientation of Indian raiding southward and the collapse of nation-building in the Mexican north—create the setting for the U.S.-Mexican war. In the third part, “Convergence,” DeLay explains how these two narratives played a decisive role in the outcome of that conflict. The Texas Creation myth becomes a more general justification of U.S. annexation of half of Mexico: “They would defeat the Indians, would redeem the captives, and would rescue the vast, derelict garden of northern Mexico from Mexican neglect” (296). The author concludes the book with an insightful epilogue on the peace treaty ending the war and specifically on the provision of the treaty requiring that the U.S. government prevent future Indian raids into Mexico.

The book has a number of attractive and useful maps; of particular interest are those that depict the individual raiding routes. An appendix shows the numbers of casualties involved in the raids and allows the reader to better understand raiding patterns. It would be more effective if the author briefly discussed the motivations and interests of the individual indigenous nations who participated in the attacks. The mechanisms and incentives for the revenge campaigns receive a thorough treatment; at the same time, it would be useful to integrate more cultural and historical information of the indigenous peoples into the overall narrative. This lack does not seriously detract from an important and well-researched work that will be a stimulating and provocative read for anyone interested in the Native American history, Mexican-American relations, borderlands history, and Southwest history in general.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why We Fought: America’s Wars in Film and History

Edited by Peter C. Rollins and John E. O’Connor.
Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, July 2008. Cloth: ISBN 9780813124933, $75.00; paper: ISBN 9780813191911, $40.00. 624 pages.

Review by David R. Buck, Thiel College

Many scholars have a hard time accepting film as a legitimate method of depicting history, given its relatively recent development as a vehicle for representing events. While cinema has existed for only a short time in comparison to other art forms, such as literature, music, dance, or painting, film plays an increasingly important role in the study of history. In many cases, people “know” their history from what they see, which is especially true in the genre of war films. Why We Fought: America’s Wars in Film and History, edited by Peter C. Rollins and John E. O’Connor, attempts to give their audience insight into the various roles that film plays in influencing, reflecting, and interpreting American war experiences (1). This massive undertaking began from the 2005 conference “War in Film and History.”

Rollins and O’Connor’s finished product is a great resource. It is chronologically organized, and uses a variety of mediums and types of analysis. Furthermore, it can be used by many historical scholars. It appeals to scholars who already have an understanding of how one can use film as a medium for historical analysis. At the same time, it encourages historians to integrate film into their repertoire of historical documents. Additionally, Why We Fought is a solid resource for those who want to integrate historical film into the classroom.

Why We Fought is divided into four major periods. “The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries: Revolution, Conquest, and Union” covers the most history, stretching from the American Revolution to end of the Civil War. This section examines films on the American Revolution with a chapter that focuses on Drums Along the Mohawk and The Patriot (John E. O’Connor). Then comes a chapter that focuses on the Alamo films (Frank Thompson), followed by a chapter that concentrates on the Mexican-American War (James Yates). Finally, this section ends with chapters that examine Ken Burns’s Civil War miniseries (Gary E. Edgerton) and Cold Mountain (Robert M. Myers), respectively. While this first period captures many aspects of American history through war films, it does not provide coverage of war films about late-nineteenth-century American imperialism.

“The Twentieth Century: Total War” does an admirable job of exploring the World Wars and the inter-war years. Several chapters deal with World War I and the reactions to it. In the first of these chapters, Michael T. Isenberg argues that The Big Parade illustrates the rise in isolationism during the post-war years. Next, James Latham examines how the film industry promoted the theme of war during the World War I era. In the last chapter on the Great War era, David Imhoof examines the reaction of the citizens in Göttinger, Germany to the films Westfront 1918 and All Quiet on the Western Front. Moving from examining the war years, John Whiteclay Chambers II explores how Hollywood shifted gears and supported isolationism and non-intervention during the majority of the 1930s. Cynthia Miller continues the march to the Second World War by examining how Hitler, Beast of Berlin helped signal a shift away from isolationism. Ian S. Scott investigates the role that propaganda played, after the entrance of the United States into World War II, through Why We Fight and Projections of America. Frank J. Wetta and Martin A. Novelli consider the plight of the returning veterans as portrayed in The Best Years of Our Lives. Focusing on the war period itself, J. E. Jones examines how From Here to Eternity brought the history of the war to the American public. Finally, this second period ends with a look at D-day, as Robert Brent Toplin reflects on how during the 1960s (The Longest Day) and the 1990s (Saving Private Ryan), films portrayed historical events while making comments on contemporary issues.

“Cold War and Insurgency: The Paradox of Limited Wars” covers the Cold War and the Vietnam War. The first chapter in this section deals with how Berlin is used in film to represent the divide between the West and East in the Cold War (Thomas W. Maulucci). In the only chapter to focus on gender roles, Patricia Neal’s character in The Day the Earth Stood Still represents a contrast to the normal portrayal of women during the 1940s and 1950s (Susan A. George). Shifting to the Vietnam War, the focus becomes the problematic nature of the bias inherent in productions about the war and how films about this war reflected American opinions (Peter C. Rollins). In the following chapter, Platoon illustrates the life of the soldier in the Vietnam War (Lawrence W. Lichty and Raymond L. Carroll). The final chapter shows how the two versions of The Quiet American are impacted by the difference of almost fifty years between the productions (William S. Bushnell).

“The Twenty-first Century: Terrorism and Asymmetrical Conflicts” reviews the most recent American conflicts. John Shelton Lawrence and John G. McGarrahan focus on how Black Hawk Down as a film, along with Pentagon support, helped defend the perception of the armed forces, following the model established by Lawrence Suid. Moving into the twenty-first century, Jeffery Chown explores how the accessibility of film/video has altered the war film, evaluating a variety of films from the war in Iraq. Stacy Takacs examines Jessica Lynch’s myth-like portrayal, and finally, James Kendrick examines how the events of 9/11 have been depicted on both the big and small screens.The primary strength of Why We Fought lies in its wide scope. Its second strength is that Rollins and O’Connor do not restrict the type of film, including feature productions, documentaries made for cinematic release, and productions made exclusively for television. By having this wide variety of film types, this collection provides an appropriately complete illustration of how war has been depicted and its role in understanding American history.

Why We Fought also provides breadth in the types of analysis that the individual chapters provide. Some chapters focused on the films themselves and how they depicted the subject matter. Other chapters place the films and the film industry into the context of the period in which the productions occurred. Rollins and O’Connor make sure that the chapter’s authors are committed to taking a “film and history” approach. This means that evaluations about a war film need to: (1) place the film in its historical context; (2) be aware that the film is a vehicle for propaganda; (3) keep in mind that the film’s sponsorship and/or censors impact its message; (4) that war films are their own genre; and (5) caution must be used when studying films (25). The articles included in this collection add significantly to the study of film and history by taking into account these concerns.

Another strength of Why We Fought is the filmography and bibliography provided by John Shelton Lawrence. Lawrence lists (in chronological order by production date) every film cited in the work, plus many other major war films. Further, he breaks this list down into historical eras. Also, he provides sources for more comprehensive filmographies, as well as printed resources for each of the historical eras. His bibliography is a solid addition to the book. Following the same historical-era breakdown as the filmography, Lawrence provides both a list for general works and those that have a film focus. These additions only strengthen an already excellent resource work.
[See an additional review of this book below.]

Why We Fought: America's Wars in Film and History

Edited by Peter C. Rollins and John E. O’Connor. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, July 2008. Cloth: ISBN 9780813124933, $75.00; paper: ISBN 9780813191911, $40.00. 624 pages.

Review by Ron Briley, reprinted by permission of History News Network at

War has played a significant role in shaping the American experience since the nation declared its independence from the British Empire and commenced upon a policy of territorial expansion. Accordingly, the drama of warfare emerged as a staple genre of the Hollywood film industry during the early twentieth century. America’s wars, as captured in both documentary and feature films, is the subject of an intriguing volume edited by film scholars Peter C. Rollins and John E. O’Connor, who established the academic journal Film & History. The collected essays were selected from presentations delivered at the 2005 conference “War in Film & History.” Editors Rollins and O’Connor assert that the twenty-three essays contained in Why We Fought explore “how motion pictures have influenced, reflected, and interpreted the American experience of war” (xv). Employing what the editors term the film and history approach, Why We Fought analyzes American war films as a genre reflecting the historical context in which they were made. The editors acknowledge, however, that the war film must be approached cautiously as the genre is often subject to censorship or supports government propaganda goals.

Thus, films should be perceived as historical artifacts, deserving the same critical analysis scholars apply toward more traditional archival sources. This historical approach tends to assure that the essays are relatively free from the jargon of cultural studies and are accessible to the general reader. And as one might expect from this emphasis upon historical context, the essays are arranged chronologically, ranging from the Revolutionary War to the invasion of Iraq. There are, however, some important gaps in this survey of American war films. Missing are motion pictures dealing with the Indian Wars of the American West (albeit, Rollins and O’Connor have tackled this issue in a previous volume dealing with the American West), and the Korean War remains the forgotten war.

The importance which the volume places on historical context is evident in the volume’s lead essay on the Revolutionary War films Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) and The Patriot (2000). O’Connor argues that producer Darryl Zanuck, anticipating a wartime alliance with Great Britain, portrayed American Loyalists rather than the British as the primary villains in Drums Along the Mohawk, while Mel Gibson’s character Benjamin Martin in The Patriot was driven more by personal vengeance than political principle. Filmmakers have also drawn upon the dramatic siege of the Alamo. Serving as a consultant for director John Lee Hancock’s The Alamo (2004), Frank Thompson asserts that Hollywood’s most recent depiction of the battle best illuminates the complex realities of the Texas Revolution. The Mexican-American War has failed to gain the attention of feature filmmakers, but James Yates insists that the 1998 Dallas, Texas KERA-TV production The U. S.-Mexican War (1846-1848) successfully interrogates Manifest Destiny readings of American conquest. The Mexican-American War was eclipsed in the popular imagination by the Civil War. While older generations were influenced by such feature films as The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Gone With the Wind (1939), Gary Edgerton observes that Ken Burns’s television history of the Civil War (1990) provided a theme of unity during a period of multiculturalism. Nevertheless, Robert M. Myers insists that Charles Frazier’s novel Cold Mountain and its 2003 cinematic adaptation demonstrate the continuing influence of the South’s “lost cause” in American culture.

The global conflicts of World Wars I and II have received considerable attention from filmmakers, and Why We Fought devotes nine chapters to these struggles. Michael T. Isenberg argues the popularity of King Vidor’s The Big Parade (1925) suggests that the antiwar disillusionment and isolationism of the 1920s was perhaps overstated. James Latham also maintains studios promoting films to local exhibitors during the 1920s emphasized weaponry and nationalistic themes. On the other hand, John Whiteclay Chambers II asserts that during the early 1930s, Hollywood was a vehicle for isolationist sentiments. Yet, as David Imhoof argues in his study of local film audiences in Gottingen, Germany, an antiwar film such as All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) did not always fare well with film goers. By the late 1930s, many Hollywood filmmakers were beginning to advocate interventionism, and Cynthia J. Miller provides a fascinating case study of film propaganda in the low budget production, Hitler, Beast of Berlin (1939).

While the wartime series Why We Fight directed by Frank Capra is well known, Ian S. Scott makes a contribution by emphasizing Capra collaborator Robert Ruskin’s Projection of America series, which provided a quiet affirmation of American everyday life. Frank J. Wetta and Martin A Novelli insist that films such as The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) provided positive models of postwar integration for veterans despite the reservations expressed by writers such as Paul Fussell. A more critical interpretation of the war is offered by J. E. Smyth who argues that the James Jones novel From Here to Eternity and its film version by director Fred Zinneman represent the protest of the working-class soldier against the military establishment. In the final piece on World War II, film historian Robert Toplin concludes that films such as The Longest Day (1962) and Saving Private Ryan (1998) demonstrate that the Normandy invasion may be used to shed light upon the contemporary concerns of filmmakers.

The third major section of Why We Fought deals with the Cold War and Vietnam conflict. Thomas W. Maulucci insists that essential to understanding the Cold War is how filmmakers, in both documentaries and features, have employed the city of Berlin as a symbol of the global power struggle between the Soviet Union and United States. In one of the few essays in the collection to focus upon gender issues, Susan A. George highlights the courageous role played by Patricia Neal as Helen Benson in Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), advocating peaceful co-existence.

The conventional academic wisdom on the Vietnam War is challenged by Peter Rollins in his essay arguing that the thirteen-episode WGBH series Vietnam: A Television History (1983) was marred by errors and misperceptions regarding the conflict. In a somewhat similar vein, Lawrence W. Lichty and Raymond L. Carroll suggest that Oliver Stone’s interpretation of Vietnam in Platoon (1986) was overly influenced by the director’s reading of domestic cultural politics during the 1970s. On the other hand, William S. Bushnell argues that the 1988 production of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American was tarnished by anti-communist propaganda, while the 2002 film adaptation by Phillip Noyce better conveys the nuances of Greene’s writing.

The final section of the volume deals with the contemporary conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan along with images of terrorism. And the general drift of these pieces is more critical of American policy than the essays on Vietnam. John Shelton Lawrence and John G. McGarrahan maintain that despite Defense Department cooperation with filmmakers, the rushed release of Black Hawk Down (2001) did little to alter a negative image of the American military still influenced by the Vietnam War. The rise of modern media in the hands of soldiers in Iraq leads Jeffrey Chown to suggest that the line between feature and documentary war footage is increasingly blurred. Stacy Takacs is also critical of how the military attempted to manipulate the “captivity narrative” of Jessica Lynch in order to foster support for the Iraq invasion. On the other hand, James Kendrick argues that feature films such as Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center (2006) and Paul Greengrass’s United 93 (2006) offer traditional heroic war narratives.

These outstanding essays provide proof of the war film genre’s lasting legacy in American history and cinema. John Shelton Lawrence also augments the text with a useful filmography and bibliography. But as the pieces in this fine collection attest, the American war film might expand its focus to provide greater insight into the war experience of women, under-represented ethnic and racial groups in an increasingly diverse America, and “enemy” soldiers and civilians. Indeed, the United States often seems to be a nation made of war, and filmmakers and scholars focusing upon war appear to have ample material for further films and scholarship.
[See an additional review of this book above.]

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tycoon’s War: How Cornelius Vanderbilt Invaded a Country to Overthrow America’s Most Famous Military Adventurer. By Stephen Dando-Collins. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press, September 2008. Cloth: ISBN 978-0-306-81607, $26. 384 pages.

Review by Daniel Gerling, University of Texas at Austin

Tycoon’s War: How Cornelius Vanderbilt Invaded a Country to Overthrow America’s Most Famous Military Adventurer by Stephen Dando-Collins is a well-written and compelling story about an oft-overlooked chapter in U.S. history, but is perhaps titled inappropriately. First of all, the book is predominantly about the military exploits of the Tennessean filibuster William Walker in Nicaragua in the mid-1850s. Coverage of Vanderbilt during this time period takes a back seat to the vivid stories of Walker’s numerous battles. Second, Dando-Collins doesn’t convince the reader that Vanderbilt was the key—or even a necessary factor—in Walker’s defeat in 1857. Still, Tycoon’s War is a creative work, well worth the attention of those interested in the nineteenth century. As one might expect from an author of both fiction and history, including several sagas about the politics and warfare of the Roman Empire, the Australian author has here written a narrative history about a young man (Walker) inspired by his own reading of Caesar’s military strategy.
Walker, a man who would be nearly forgotten today in the U.S. if not for Alex Cox’s anachronistic 1987 film and a handful of historical works, certainly deserves a place alongside—or perhaps in front of—Vanderbilt in this work. A prodigious child growing up in Nashville, Walker (1824–1860) finished college at the age of fourteen, received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania by eighteen, and found time to travel through Europe, serving in the Medical Faculty at the University of Paris and honing his combat skills in fencing contests. During this time he also gained fluency (in addition to Greek and Latin) in French, German, and Spanish—the latter a language that would aid him tremendously during his exploits as an adventurer. After brief stints back in Nashville as a doctor and in New Orleans as a lawyer and abolitionist newspaper editor, Walker headed to San Francisco, from where he would launch his freebooting adventures.
At 29, he led an unsuccessful expedition to Baja California and Sonora. After several months, Walker and his men were chased back across the border and wasted no time preparing to participate in the civil war that had just broken out in Nicaragua. It was there that Walker cleverly maneuvered his way into a position to attack and win the Nicaraguan capital, Granada. From here he installed himself as commander-in-chief of the Nicaraguan Army, and supported a puppet president, Don Patricio Rivas.
Meanwhile, “Commodore” Vanderbilt was busy seeking revenge against his former business allies Cornelius Garrison and Charles Morgan, who hijacked the Accessory Transit Company, the steamship company taking passengers from one coast to another via Nicaragua, from Vanderbilt while he was on vacation. It was to these two men that Vanderbilt penned his famous line, “Gentlemen, you have undertaken to cheat me. I won’t sue you, for the law is too slow. I’ll ruin you. Yours Truly, Cornelius Vanderbilt.” Vanderbilt then turned his vengefulness toward Walker when he discovered that Walker had made a deal with Morgan and Garrison to cut Vanderbilt out of the profitable Nicaragua passage.
With the rest of Central America ready to mobilize against Walker out of fear that the Tennessean’s ambitions extended beyond the Nicaraguan borders, Vanderbilt was more than willing to supply the alliance with money and weapons. After less than two years in control of the country, as commander of the army and then as president, Walker was defeated in 1857 by the Central American alliance with the aid of Vanderbilt and the British. However, very little evidence is provided to support the claim in the subtitle that “Vanderbilt invaded a country to overthrow” Walker. Walker was allowed to return to the U.S., but led three more unsuccessful attempts to reclaim his leadership in Nicaragua. On the final attempt he was captured and shot by a firing squad. Dando-Collins makes the excellent point that although Walker is barely known in the U.S., he is a notorious and widely-reviled figure in Central America—though this fact didn’t stop President Reagan from appointing William G. Walker as ambassador to El Salvador.
Another note Dando-Collins makes, and perhaps the book’s most significant contribution to the historical record, is about Walker’s motivation for controlling Nicaragua in the first place—or rather, what wasn’t Walker’s motivation. Contrary to popular belief and several histories on the subject, Walker did not go down to Central America in order to create slave states. Only when Louisianan Pierre Soulé convinced Walker in 1856 that more support would arrive from the southern U.S. if slavery was allowed did Walker overturn Nicaragua’s 1838 law banning it. What, then, did motivate Walker? Dando-Collins writes that the answer is “empire-building,” and then leaves it at that. Unfortunately, as important a matter as this is, Walker’s motivation is unelaborated and relegated to a brief section after the Epilogue. The book would have benefitted from a fuller treatment of his motivation woven into the narrative
Tycoon’s War is very sparsely footnoted, which, in addition to its narrative style, will most certainly frustrate some readers seeking a well-documented, definitive history of Walker’s exploits. The book also misses the opportunity to surround the story with the rich contexts of adventuring, U.S. politics of the 1850s, U.S. foreign relations, and Nicaraguan history. Notably missing from the bibliography are the works of Robert May, particularly Manifest Destiny’s Underworld and The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire, 1854–1861.
Nevertheless, the combination of industrial capitalism, mercenaries, greed, excess, and genius—combined with Dando-Collins’ storytelling capabilities—make this a very absorbing story, and one worth retelling. The author also deserves credit for the unique storytelling structure. By placing Vanderbilt and Walker next to each other in this way, the reader is forced to contrast the two characters. This task is not a difficult one since the two men had so little in common. But in the end, the Vanderbilt-Walker conflict makes clear that imperialism is a matter for wealthy businessmen and the State Department, not individuals.
Seeding Civil War: Kansas in the National News, 1854-1858. By Craig Miner. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, September 2008. Cloth: ISBN 978-0-7006-1612-1, $34.95. 305 pages.

Review by Gary L. Cheatham, Northeastern State University, Oklahoma

Craig Miner’s many achievements as an eminent scholar include writing, co-authoring, and editing well over a dozen books and monographs on the history of Kansas and the Southwest. His latest book, Seeding Civil War: Kansas in the National News, 1854-1858, explores how “Kansas was more important to the coming of the Civil War than has been hitherto recognized,” because of the way in which the national press “talked about” events in Kansas Territory. “The rhetoric surrounding Kansas events” in the press, Miner writes, became the “main event in influencing cultural understanding and political behavior” on the national level. The Northern versus Southern debate over the western expansion of slavery in Kansas was made more antagonistic as a result of the way in which the national press framed the news of events in the territory.
Drawing from more than 70 period newspapers and other periodicals from coast to coast, and in the North and South, Miner looks at the language used by newspaper writers and editors in covering events in Kansas during the first four years of the territory’s history. Going behind the words and phrases found in the newspapers, Miner uses a probing writing style that opens a door to the mid-nineteenth century United States, allowing the reader to feel transported back in time. Through this door the author successfully shows how a national press helped set the mood and tone of the nation shortly before it erupted into armed conflict. The national tension created by the press was partly manufactured by the newspapers and their Kansas correspondents, who were sometimes guilty of sensationalism in an attempt to get editors to print their stories.
Miner’s work is not confined, however, to a discussion of how the press covered Kansas during its territorial period. Recognizing that Americans were not getting their news and political insights from newspapers alone, he also discusses the role of religious periodicals and viewpoints in the debate. From this the reader learns that not only did many Northerners find slavery “evil,” Southerners were shocked by the anti-Southern political rhetoric coming from Northern pulpits. The author also points out that abolitionism had itself become a religion by the 1850s. In addition, Miner ensures that the Northern and Southern religious and political views on the Kansas question are given equal billing.
The political and social events occurring inside Kansas are also well covered in the book. This material is not only useful for helping to explain the role of the press in the national debate on Kansas, it provides an excellent summary of the history of the territorial governors and legislatures, and the history of the Lecompton Constitution. Although the various territorial governments and constitutional questions were plagued by internal political and social upheaval, including charges of spurious activities, Miner correctly points out that the “Kansas government, bogus or not, had operated.”
In the end, some national press stories about what was going on in Kansas did not always precisely correspond with actual events. Newspapers publishing stories about “bleeding Kansas” may have helped sell papers, but the embellishment tactics used by the correspondents and their editors only heightened the growing social and political divisions between the North and South. Although the competition among journalists over the Kansas story and the business of selling newspapers was not the most important factor that influenced the coming of the Civil War, the press did play a significant role in the development of this national tragedy.
Miner’s writing style makes this an engaging and easy-to-read book. Seeding Civil War is an impressively researched volume that is sure to become a standard work on the role of the press in the political and social struggle that resulted in the Civil War. The book is also an important work for anyone wanting to study the history of Kansas Territory.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Stricken Field: The Little Bighorn since 1876. By Jerome A. Greene. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, May 2008. Cloth: ISBN 978-0-8061-3791-9, $34.95. 384 pages.
Review by Robert E. Meyer, DePaul University

In Stricken Field, author Jerome Greene faces the daunting task of producing an “administrative history” of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (as the dust jacket identifies this volume) that transcends the dull recounting of a bureaucracy implied by such a characterization. For the most part he succeeds, although not without considerable attention to the mundane. In Chapters 2 through 6, Greene dutifully chronicles developments in such matters as the electrical system, plumbing fixtures and dimensions of the caretaker’s quarters. These chapters tell the story of the battlefield from the first attempts to memorialize the site in the form of rough wooden markers where the bodies of the Seventh Cavalry troopers were found after their 1876 defeat, through the establishment of Custer Battlefield National Cemetery, under the control of the War Department until 1940, to the current administration of the site by the National Park Service.However, this workmanlike narrative is happily augmented by a wealth of fascinating tidbits, such as the fact that Gen. Philip Sheridan, who considered Custer his protégé, sent a detachment under his own brother, Lt. Col. Michael Sheridan, to the Little Bighorn in 1877 to remedy the scandalous condition of the graves dug immediately after the battle, which, due to the harsh Montana winter weather and the intervention of wild animals, no longer fully contained the corpses that had been committed to them. Also of interest are the references to participation of members of the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Crow tribes at memorial observances, as in 1926 when former adversaries White Bull, a Lakota warrior, and General Edward S. Godfrey, one of Custer’s lieutenants in 1876, exchanged symbolic gifts, with White Bull receiving an American flag, and Godfrey coming away with “a prized wool blanket” (64). In this passage, Greene comments on the symbolism of the exchange, calling it a “none-too-subtle message . . . that the tribesmen, once demonstrably hostile to the government, were now acceptably subordinate to it” (64).Each of the last four chapters of the book contains its own separate chronology. Chapter 7, “National Park Service Interpretation” sets up the struggle to control the meaning of the memorial, with those favoring a celebration of American military exploits and sacrifice (and glorification of Custer) eventually giving way to a broader view. Chapter 8, “Research and Collections,” tells of how the collection of artifacts and documents at the Little Bighorn grew, while Chapter 9, “Support and Interest Groups,” deals primarily with the history of the Custer Battlefield Historical and Museum Association (CBHMA). Disputes between this group and the National Park Service reflect the conflicts associated with reassessment of the battle, as the CBHMA opposed the appointment first of Barbara Booher and then Gerard Baker, both Native Americans, to the position of superintendent, and objected to the sale of Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (subtitled “An Indian History of the American West”) at the park’s bookstore.Throughout these sections, as in the book as a whole, Greene, a former Research Historian for the National Park Service, handles his material objectively and expertly. Extensive endnotes serve as evidence that Greene has studied not only the voluminous published literature, but has pored over letters, memos and other documents to piece together the fabric of his narrative. Occasionally, however, definitions of technical terms with which historians and archivists are no doubt familiar (e.g., “accession” and “interpretation”) are either delayed or completely omitted, leaving the uninitiated reader to grope for meaning.The emotional peak of this book—and it is a tribute to both to the material itself and to Greene’s treatment of it that such a phrase is appropriate—occurs in Chapter 10, “Indian Memorial,” with the account of the movement to have the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne dead honored at the Little Bighorn site, an effort which came to fruition with the dedication of a new memorial in 2003. Greene points out that, in 1925, a letter from Mrs. Thomas Beaverheart of the Northern Cheyenne requesting “that a marker be placed on the battlefield to indicate the spot where her father, Lame White Man, had fallen in battle” (170) received no response from the superintendent. Since this was during the period when the site was administered by the War Department, it is not surprising that attempts to honor those who defeated a regiment of the U.S. Army were unwelcome. Greene notes that, after the site came under the administration of the National Park Service, this “military perspective” (227) remained unchanged, at least to begin with, partly because the superintendent from 1941-1956, Edward S. Luce, was a former member of the Seventh Cavalry. Things changed gradually as members of the American Indian Movement (AIM), most prominently Russell Means, prodded (sometimes harshly) the white establishment to a more inclusive vision. One important adjustment involved changing the name of the site from Custer Battlefield National Monument, a name that was offensive to those Native Americans who had pushed, in 1972, for a plaque honoring warriors who “opposed the hostile aggression of the United States government” (227), to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, its current name. As he does throughout this book, Greene explains the conflicting motivations of the interested parties in dispassionate terms. He departs from this measured approach only in the last paragraph of Chapter 10 when he offers the following opinion: “In the final analysis, the Indian Memorial is in the correct place at the correct time” (238).The Lakota and Cheyenne won the Battle of the Little Bighorn, but lost the larger conflict of which it was a part. At the time, their victory was seen as an abomination, their defeat as the justified subjugation of a savage and anachronistic way of life. In the broadest sense, this volume serves as a reminder that it is necessary, though painful, to look at events of the past through a series of new lenses, and to recognize that the truths we embrace are sometimes honored at the expense of other, equally valuable truths.
The Nez Perces in the Indian Territory: Nimiipuu Survival. By J. Diane Pearson. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, June 2008. Cloth: ISBN 978-1-59213-870-8, $34.95. 383 pages.
Review by Bradley Montgomery-Anderson, Northeastern State University, Oklahoma

The Nez Perces in the Indian Territory is an absorbing account of a period when the Federal government used relocation to Indian Territory as a means of punishment for what it viewed as recalcitrant tribes. Following their 1877 defeat in Montana, Chief Joseph’s followers were relocated to a small reservation in the north central portion of the Indian Territory. Author J. Diane Pearson fills a significant gap in their story; the previous literature on this tribe focuses on the war and the attempted flight to Canada. Pearson’s substitution of the designation “Nez Perce” with the group’s self-designation, Nimiipuu, indicates the indigenous perspective she presents. The Nimiipuu survive a harrowing seven-year ordeal that includes an eight-month stay at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and an initial attempt at relocation at the Quapaw agency in the northeastern corner of the Territory. After ten months of substandard living conditions and bureaucratic incompetence, the Nimiipuu were finally settled near present-day Ponca City, Oklahoma, on what was intended to be their reservation. Pearson deftly traces the journey and paints an intimate portrait of the Nimiipuu as they tried to adjust to a new way of life while at the same time steadfastly refusing to give up hope of returning home. What makes her account of this experience especially remarkable is her presentation of the variety of attitudes toward the prisoners and their plight. At many stages of their journey the prisoners were treated as celebrities: a circus-like atmosphere prevailed as spectators hunted for souvenirs, gawked at ceremonials, and constantly sought to meet with Chief Joseph. Throughout the work, Pearson emphasizes Chief Joseph’s diplomatic attempts to improve his people’s living conditions, as well as his persistent efforts to leave the Territory.Such persistence was necessary as the Department of the Interior and the Army argued over expenses, and inept bureaucrats failed to supply adequate provisions. Pearson’s depiction of the Nimiipuu’s journey to and experience on the Indian Territory reservation reveals an intriguing cross-section of late nineteenth-century attitudes towards Native Americans. Throughout the text she provides local newspapers’ reactions to the presence of the detainees, as well as accounts of groups that are sympathetic to their cause. Pearson does an excellent job of using such sources to portray the social and economic complexity of the world into which the Federal government had thrust the Nimiipuu. For example, she makes an insightful comparison between the experience in northeastern Indian Territory and at the Oakland sub-agency in north central Indian Territory where they spend the greater part of their exile. The local population at their would-be reservation was “more progressive than eastern Kansas and Southern Missouri, and people were more accepting of American Indians’ participation in economic and social structures” (171).Pearson is at her best when she portrays the Nimiipuu’s adaption to the complex lifeways, both economical and cultural, of the Kansas-Indian Territory border region. It is fascinating to read about the economic and social interactions with the border town of Arkansas City, Kansas, as well as the experience of the Indian students at nearby Chilocco Indian Industrial School. Pearson devotes a chapter to the topic of Indian schools and discusses the experiences of Nimiipuu students at the local school as well as at the more famous Carlisle school in Pennsylvania. Another chapter explores the role of religious communities during the exile. This is an important topic, as the religious groups played an essential role in the Nimiipuu return to the northwest. An initial group of widows and orphans returned in 1882 when an Idaho Presbyterian church voted to accept them into their community. In the end it was a memorandum submitted by Kansas Presbyterians that gained the attention of Congress, and in 1885 the Nimiipuu left the Oakland agency and returned home.The name “Oakland,” the focus of so much activity in the book, is no longer found on modern maps of Oklahoma; the reader’s ability to grasp the role of such places in the detainees’ relocation is limited by the book’s lack of maps. The only map in the entire book is a large-scale map showing the prisoners’ journey to and return from the Indian Territory. While the focus of the book is the Nimiipuu experience, the reader could better understand this experience if it were presented in a broader national context. For example, the Meeker Massacre of 1879 and subsequent relocation of the Colorado Utes receive no mention; it would be enlightening to have an occasional glimpse of how such incidents impacted, either positively or negatively, the public’s view towards the plight of the Nimiipuu as well as their effect on Federal policy. The book ends somewhat abruptly with a brief description of the remainder of Chief Joseph’s life. The Nimiipuu were resettled in two different areas, with religious affiliation being the prime determiner of who went where. The Nez Perces in the Indian Territory would be improved by a short epilogue that briefly shows how these communities fared and what contacts were maintained between them. In her foreword, Patricia Penn Hilden alludes to the Oklahoma Nez Perces—those Nimiipuu who married other Indians and stayed in the Territory—but no mention is made of the continued survival of this part of the Nimiipuu community. These limitations, however, do not seriously detract from the book; its central goal is achieved. Pearson’s portrayal of how the tribe maintained its identity and culture through a catastrophic and poorly-organized relocation admirably succeeds in making an important contribution to the literature on the Nimiipuu experience.