Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Confronting Race: Women and Indians on the Frontier, 1815-1915

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Confronting Race: Women and Indians on the Frontier, 1815-1915

Article excerpt

Confronting Race: Women and Indians on the Frontier, 1815-1915

Glenda Riley

University of New Mexico Press, 2004

Reading this book one wonders how it could possibly have come to be given (in very large letters on the cover) the title "Confronting Race." Indeed, one is inclined to suspect that the author originally submitted the manuscript to the publisher under the subtitle, "Women and Indians on the Frontier," and that the publisher decided that it would sell better if given the more inflammatory title under which it is promoted and sold. I say this because the author concentrates on gender and to a lesser extent ethnic differences, but throughout the text studiously avoids the word "race" - choosing to describe only cultural differences. Indeed, the word "race" is not even included in the index!

Putting aside possible publisher's misrepresentions, author Glenda Riley has clearly read widely, but selectively. She finds that the women of the frontier were brave, hard-working and inventive, and that it was not the custom of most Indian tribes to willfully kill or torture women, whether Indian or European. That was a fate reserved for male captives. Women were valuable possessions, both as workers and as concubines, and were therefore regarded as one of the more valuable spoils of war, as prizes to be used and enjoyed. The children they produced, raised in the tribal culture, were also valuable in that they increased the fighting strength of the tribe, constantly facing depletion as a result of ongoing internecine conflict. Comparing the two cultures, White and native American Indian, one suspects that the author probably favored the Indian as being less "racist" than that of the Whites.

Captured White women, Riley finds, were generally treated little worse than the Indians' own women, except that Indian women had the advantage of having their mothers and sisters around them, and of having been acculturated into their position within the tribal culture, and in the routine of the tribal economy, which depended on female labor. …

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