A spirited resistance: the North American Indian struggle for unity, 1745-1815, Volume 109, Issue 4
In the early 1800s, when once-powerful North American Indian peoples were being driven west across the Mississippi, a Shawnee prophet collapsed into a deep sleep. When he awoke, he told friends and family of his ascension to Indian heaven, where his grandfather had given him a warning: "Beware of the religion of the white man: every Indian who embraces it is obliged to take the road to the white man's heaven; and yet no red man is permitted to enter there, but will have to wander about forever without a resting place." The events leading to this vision are the subject of A Spirited Resistance, the poignant story of the Indian movement to challenge Anglo-American expansionism. Departing from the traditional confines of the history of American Indians, Gregory Evans Dowd carefully draws on ethnographic sources to recapture the beliefs, thoughts, and actions of four principal Indian nations--Delaware, Shawnee, Cherokee, and Creek. The result is a sensitive portrayal of the militant Indians--often led by prophets--who came to conceive of themselves as a united people, and launched an intertribal campaign to resist the Anglo-American forces. Dowd also uncovers the Native American opposition to the movement for unity. That opposition, he finds, was usually the result of divisions within Indian communities rather than intertribal rivalry. In fact, Dowd argues, intertribal enmity had little to do with the ultimate failure of the Indian struggle; it was division within Indian communities, colonial influence on Indian government, and the sheer force of the Anglo-American campaign that brought the Indian resistance movement to an end. An evocative history of long frustration and ultimate failure, A Spirited Resistance tells of a creative people, whose insights, magic, and ritual add a much-needed dimension to our understanding of the American Indian.
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LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
Dowd digs in to a somewhat unfamiliar topic: native American spiritualism. It was part aspiration and part salvation. It was the nativistic mindset of some Indian leaders -- spanning the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico -- who sought pan-Indian resistance to the accelerating dominance of European and, ultimately, American settlers in their shared "new world." During the latter half of the 18th century and up to 1815, many Indian prophets shared and mutually reinforced a vision of re-energized Indian respect -- in part atavistic, in part adaptive and flexible -- for their traditional values, cultural frames of reference and distinct Indian understanding of their place and relationships with the animal and physical environments they lived in. This spirituality was sensibly aligned with political, economic and military concerns. A paramount demand and goal was the elimination of both European land acquisition and European intrusion into the public and private lives of Indians. The "spirited resistance" waxed and waned in the context of widespread internal opposition from "neutral" or "accommodationist" Indian leaders, who sought to maintain useful relationships with the Europeans and also sought to minimize the unavoidable negative aspects of those relationships. Dowd makes it clear that all the warfare, in-fighting, diplomatic intrigue and contentious disputes about authority and leadership were not simply the usual wrangling of powerful people and groups trying to deal with change they could not completely control. "A Spirited Resistance" is an account of prescient and proud Indians who thought they saw an opportunity and a path to escape the European-American dominance that was smothering their cherished way of life. A couple notes: With trivial exceptions, Dowd does not indicate that Indian women played any public or substantial role in the nativist resistance. This is a puzzling void, given the matrilineal kinship bonds of many Indian nations and the potent roles of women in tribal decision-making and warfare. The motivations of the accommodationist Indian leaders are not described in any completely satisfying way. Were they less aware or less convinced that European-American dominance was accelerating? Were they simply less willing to act to forestall it?
LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
This is one of a number of path-breaking histories published in the late 1980s and early 1990s that helped reshape perceptions about the North American Indian past. Using an approach similar to Richard White's contemporaneous work, “The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815”, Dowd's book is not a narrative history, but rather an ethnographically-based interpretation of a transformative period. Between the end of the American Revolution and the War of 1812, Indians and Americans struggled over possession of what Dowd calls the Eastern Woodlands, the vast territory stretching east-west from the Appalachians to the Mississippi and north-south from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. American victory in the Revolution and the subsequent slow withdrawal of British power turned the trickle of American pioneers into a flood by the 1790s, presenting Indians with ever-escalating demands to give up their lands to white settlers. Increasingly outnumbered by whites in the region (a more than seven-to-one advantage by 1815) and unable to obtain arms and supplies from Britain and Spain (both preoccupied with the Napoleonic wars in Europe), Indian resistance eventually dwindled and, as Dowd puts it, the surviving trans-Appalachian Indians became trans-Mississippi Indians, pushed out of their homelands in the tragic process known as “removal” (including the Cherokees' “Trail of Tears” in the 1830s). Dowd's focus is on the ways in which Indians throughout the region sought to strengthen resistance through unity, a unity based in most instances on a common religious vision. He traces the significance and influence of Indian prophets – from the Delaware Prophet, Neolin, in the 1760s (who inspired Pontiac) to the Shawnee Prophet, Tenskwatawa, in the 1810s (brother of Tecumseh) – in casting whites as children of a different god whose culture and material life posed an existential threat to the Indian world. This wasn't a new idea but drew on traditional religious views that struck a chord as Indian homelands came under pressure. Nor was this response to the white threat universally embraced – much of Dowd's analysis focuses on the swings, over time, in the degree of cooperation and conflict between those he calls accomodationists (who advocated cooperation with whites, though not submission) and nativists (who used religious notions to promote an ideological basis for resistance to white encroachment). Dowd demonstrates that the failure to create a unified resistance had virtually nothing to do with “tribal” differences – Tecumseh, for example, was actively supported by Indians from throughout the Old Northwest as well as Creeks, Cherokees and others from the southeast – but instead reflected the sharp, sometimes violent, divide that developed between nativists and accommodationists in the face of increasingly overwhelming American military and economic power. Dowd writes in a clear, straightforward style and he's quite effective in drawing from the records of the time to make his case and back up his assertions. As noted, this is not narrative history. The story line is necessarily disjointed, as Dowd jumps back and forth in time and between regions to illustrate his conceptual constructs. The major divide in the work is between developments in the Old Northwest (i.e., north of the Ohio River) and in the southeast (Cherokees, Creeks, Seminoles, Choctaws), though he demonstrates quite clearly how much interaction there was (personal, material, and spiritual) between these regions. All that said, I think any reader with a general knowledge of the main historical trends in the early republic up to 1815 will find this book easy to follow, perhaps even as fascinating as I did, and will be rewarded with new insights about the “settling” of the trans-Appalachian West.