American Indians in U.S. History

By Sweet, Julie Anne | South Carolina Historical Magazine, January 2005 | Go to article overview

American Indians in U.S. History


Sweet, Julie Anne, South Carolina Historical Magazine


American Indians in U.S. History. By Roger L. Nichols. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003. Pp. xxii, 242; $17.95, paperback.)

Roger L. Nichols has written a concise history of American Indians from their origins to present day that covers all major events and controversies. Taking a chronological approach, each of his chapters tackles a different epoch in history and shows how Indians reacted to changing circumstances. Rather than portraying them as victims, Nichols describes the ways that they attempted to work with opposing parties, especially the federal government, in order to maintain their society and culture. He reveals the difficulties of tribal unity and shows the complexity of a people often presented in flat, generic terms. Despite its brevity, Nichols's text does not favor one nation or region over another, but instead offers a broad overview that fulfills its goal to "highlight the main issues in American Indian history" (p. xi).

Nichols begins with the recent controversies regarding how long humans have resided on the North American continent in light of modern scientific discoveries such as DNA testing. He discusses the Archaic era and its diverse peoples focusing on the Southwest and the East Coast to show the gradual evolution into the various confederacies that existed upon European arrival. With the appearance of the Spanish, American Indian lives changed forever. The French, Dutch, and English soon followed, and the contest for domination began. Instead of telling the traditional tale of Europeans encountering little resistance from the natives, Nichols narrates the different reactions that each group had to the intruders and describes how many challenged the newcomers diplomatically and militarily. The eighteenth century featured various peaceful exchanges such as trade and religion and a series of wars among Europeans both in Europe and North America. In the latter theater, the Indians preferred to remain neutral but could not as hostilities spilled into their homelands. The final conflict, the American Revolution, gave rise to "a self-confident and aggressive government whose citizens feared or hated [Indians]" (p. 79), and the results of this event would affect Native Americans for years to come.

During the next century, Indians came into direct conflict with the United States as the new republic expanded its borders into native lands. In reaction to this invasion, "tribal leaders negotiated, prayed, fought, and continually relocated as they struggled to keep their identities, customs, and lands from their ever more aggressive frontier neighbors" (p. 81 ). Often, these different approaches caused controversies among tribesmen, resulting in divisions that only helped the U.S. government in its quest to conquer the continent. In the Old Northwest, some individuals sought to create a pan-Indian alliance to resist the Americans, but military defeats broke their spirit of cooperation. In the Southeast, greedy planters seeking more land found their hero in Andrew Jackson whose removal policy relocated thousands of Indians across the Mississippi River with much devastation for its participants. On the Great Plains, western tribes came into conflict with the U.S. army, which aspired to destroy the real and perceived threats that Indians posed to expansion. …

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