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The Worlds the Shawnees Made: Migration and Violence in Early America

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In 1779, Shawnees from Chillicothe, a community in the Ohio country, told the British, "We have always been the frontier." Their statement challenges an oft-held belief that American Indians derive their unique identities from longstanding ties to native lands. By tracking Shawnee people and migrations from 1400 to 1754, Stephen Warren illustrates how Shawnees made a life In 1779, Shawnees from Chillicothe, a community in the Ohio country, told the British, "We have always been the frontier." Their statement challenges an oft-held belief that American Indians derive their unique identities from longstanding ties to native lands. By tracking Shawnee people and migrations from 1400 to 1754, Stephen Warren illustrates how Shawnees made a life for themselves at the crossroads of empires and competing tribes, embracing mobility and often moving willingly toward violent borderlands. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the Shawnees ranged over the eastern half of North America and used their knowledge to foster notions of pan-Indian identity that shaped relations between Native Americans and settlers in the revolutionary era and beyond. Warren's deft analysis makes clear that Shawnees were not anomalous among Native peoples east of the Mississippi. Through migration, they and their neighbors adapted to disease, warfare, and dislocation by interacting with colonizers as slavers, mercenaries, guides, and traders. These adaptations enabled them to preserve their cultural identities and resist coalescence without forsaking their linguistic and religious traditions.


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In 1779, Shawnees from Chillicothe, a community in the Ohio country, told the British, "We have always been the frontier." Their statement challenges an oft-held belief that American Indians derive their unique identities from longstanding ties to native lands. By tracking Shawnee people and migrations from 1400 to 1754, Stephen Warren illustrates how Shawnees made a life In 1779, Shawnees from Chillicothe, a community in the Ohio country, told the British, "We have always been the frontier." Their statement challenges an oft-held belief that American Indians derive their unique identities from longstanding ties to native lands. By tracking Shawnee people and migrations from 1400 to 1754, Stephen Warren illustrates how Shawnees made a life for themselves at the crossroads of empires and competing tribes, embracing mobility and often moving willingly toward violent borderlands. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the Shawnees ranged over the eastern half of North America and used their knowledge to foster notions of pan-Indian identity that shaped relations between Native Americans and settlers in the revolutionary era and beyond. Warren's deft analysis makes clear that Shawnees were not anomalous among Native peoples east of the Mississippi. Through migration, they and their neighbors adapted to disease, warfare, and dislocation by interacting with colonizers as slavers, mercenaries, guides, and traders. These adaptations enabled them to preserve their cultural identities and resist coalescence without forsaking their linguistic and religious traditions.

30 review for The Worlds the Shawnees Made: Migration and Violence in Early America

  1. 5 out of 5

    Colin

    How people connect to places has been an important theme in both histories and ethnographies of indigenous North America, and how one responds to special places is a major theme in literature by indigenous authors, too. This book, with its promise to focus on identities shaped by travel, indeed identities made by disconnecting from any particular place, should make an interesting contribution to the discussion. The book begins with a visit to Shawnee country in contemporary Oklahoma, and Warren' How people connect to places has been an important theme in both histories and ethnographies of indigenous North America, and how one responds to special places is a major theme in literature by indigenous authors, too. This book, with its promise to focus on identities shaped by travel, indeed identities made by disconnecting from any particular place, should make an interesting contribution to the discussion. The book begins with a visit to Shawnee country in contemporary Oklahoma, and Warren's account of this is a tour-de-force. Describing Shawnee ceremony, and quoting from people who participate in it, Warren showcases the performative aspects of identity, and the ways in which individuals can enact many different identities as occasion requires. He makes a intriguing argument that Shawnee ceremony recalls a history of travel, and old bonds of alliance and kinship that connect identities which modern law, and perhaps too much scholarship, wants to parcel out into distinct and disconnected spheres. He suggests that multi-dimensional identities are a reality for many indigenous North Americans, but also that the Shawnee example is particularly clear for showing this, and therefore it is worthy of attention. This leads him to reflect on famous historic figures like Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa and point out that their vision of a more monolithic "pan-Indian" movement in the War of 1812 faced difficulty precisely because many people chose to define themselves in varied ways, and not just by opposition to white settlers. I was reminded of an interview I once heard with John Trudell, where he pointed out how many words that have become "tribe names" are in fact words meaning "human being", and how different it is to label yourself a human, in all your complexity, than to identify yourself with just one way of life, be that red or white or otherwise. And then come the archives. After the introduction, with its ethno-historic tendency and "big picture" concerns, most of the book takes readers into the letters of fur traders, factors, slavers, and government officials. While the documentation is scrupulous (except maybe in a more speculative archaeology chapter), the book faces a problem. Really, this is an exercise in intellectual history; it sets out to be not just a history of Shawnee people, but a history of the idea of "being Shawnee". How do you get at such an abstract idea, though, when the only sources you are using are second and third hand accounts? At all times Warren's archival detective work is impressive, as it allows him to trace even where particular individuals went across the length and breadth of the Eastern Woodlands, even when the Europeans who wrote of them did not record their names. But interpreting these movements and using them to reconstruct Shawnee notions of self is a hard task. Kudos to Warren for trying, but I suspect he could have done better if he was more explicit about his interpretive method, and invited sources beyond the old scraps of writing, as he did in the first chapter. Warren is attached to one particular phrase, "parochial cosmopolitanism", which is supposed to denote a simultaneous embrace of small-scale polities and openness to outsiders. I came to groan at the phrase by the end of the book. Warren sounds it out in every section, as explanation for Shawnee actions. But the only evidence Warren presents that this is a valid concept are the other historical instances he claims it explains. Especially with a somewhat paradoxical formulation like this is, one starts to wonder if it explains so much because the concept doesn't really indicate anything very specific anyways. Despite the clear display of immense data throughout the book, I felt I was in a rather vague space for most of it-- and how different that was from the vivid and specific account made at the outset. I learned a lot from this book, but I will forget most of the dates and colonial personages told of here. What I will remember are the places where it made me think about being a human being.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    As heard on Teaching Hard History: American Slavery: http://traffic.libsyn.com/hardhistory... As heard on Teaching Hard History: American Slavery: http://traffic.libsyn.com/hardhistory...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie

    Warren challenges traditional narratives of Iroquoian land claims in the North American woodlands. A fascinating read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    I found this a somewhat interesting subject. Warren tells what ends up being a quite complex story, covering the place of the Shawnee among, and sometimes within, the other tribes. Making this a very complex story was that the Shawnee consisted of multiple tribes that migrated almost constantly, and this book covered those movements throughout hundreds of years. For instance, there are more than three “Shawneetowns” mentioned, so keeping track gets to be a chore. Also covered are other tribes an I found this a somewhat interesting subject. Warren tells what ends up being a quite complex story, covering the place of the Shawnee among, and sometimes within, the other tribes. Making this a very complex story was that the Shawnee consisted of multiple tribes that migrated almost constantly, and this book covered those movements throughout hundreds of years. For instance, there are more than three “Shawneetowns” mentioned, so keeping track gets to be a chore. Also covered are other tribes and their interactions and their many wars and skirmishes. A few specific characters are part of the story – mostly governors, chiefs, and French traders who were key in the events. I found the complexity, which I think needs to be told, was detrimental from the story – this is not a casual read, but is reasonable for capturing this history. I found quite a bit of this book was repetitive, even noticing a repeated few sentences near the end.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    Good scholarly review of the Shawnees' migration around eastern and central North America, prior to 1800 anyway. Warren gives interesting theories about the nation's motivations and possible origins too.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Deena

    To be reviewed at H-War.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sam

  8. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Freeman

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mclintoc

  10. 4 out of 5

    David Nichols

  11. 4 out of 5

    Joe Schrock

  12. 4 out of 5

    Marissa

  13. 5 out of 5

    Britton

  14. 5 out of 5

    Wendy Lonebear

  15. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Anderson

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lady Tarisa

  17. 5 out of 5

    Shawna

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

  19. 5 out of 5

    Carly

  20. 4 out of 5

    Megs

  21. 5 out of 5

    Steven Roach

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ben Lyman

  23. 4 out of 5

    Bradford

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra Schae

  25. 5 out of 5

    B. Ross Ashley

  26. 5 out of 5

    John

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gordon Jones

  28. 4 out of 5

    Caris Layman

  29. 4 out of 5

    Billy

  30. 5 out of 5

    Chad

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