Violence over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West

By DeSpain, S. Matthew | The Journal of Chickasaw History and Culture, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Violence over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West


DeSpain, S. Matthew, The Journal of Chickasaw History and Culture


Violence over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West by Ned Blackhawk Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2006. 384 pages. ISBN 978-0-674-02290-4.

In Violence over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West, Ned Blackhawk explores the themes of colonialism and imperialism in the Great Basin, a region that has not received much attention. In a manner and scope reminiscent of Blackhawk's mentor Richard White in The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815, Blackhawk crafts a regional view of shifting power balances and interactions between various Native and European groups. Essentially, Blackhawk seeks to historicize colonialism through the lens of violence, exploring just how elemental violent interaction between Indians and whites was in the evolution of cultures. The Great Basin he focuses on is a vast region encompassing Northern New Mexico and Arizona, Nevada and Utah, western Colorado and Wyoming, eastern California, and stretching northward to southern Oregon and Idaho. The tribe Blackhawk focuses on most is the Ute, but he also looks at the Paiutes, Shoshones, and other Great Basin groups. He examines the strategies they utilized as the processes of invasion and conquest came into play.

The book is divided into two parts. The first four chapters focus on the Ute Indians and their relationship with the Spanish (and later the Mexicans) from the time of first contact through the mid- 1800s. Blackhawk sees the first encounters between the Utes and Spanish as violent clashes, and rightfully so. In a rippling effect, the Ute visited upon others in increasingly violent ways as they adapted to the pressure of Spanish intrusion, institutions, and trade. More specifically, the first chapter details how central the Ute were to the Spanish military plans up until 1750. The next chapter looks more at the eighteenth century slave trade in New Mexico and how that affected relations between tribes through the Great Basin. The following chapters focus on the way the dynamics between the Ute and the Spanish changed as other European nations pushed into the region and as Spain lost control when Mexico gained its own independence. Violent interaction continued with the next wave of conquest when Canadian and United States representatives entered the region. The focus upon the Ute and other Great Basin tribes and the expanding United States presence from the time of early government exploration through the end of the 1800s makes up the second half of the book (the last three chapters). …

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