The adoption of firearms by American Indians between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries marked a turning point in the history of North America's indigenous peoples--a cultural earthquake so profound, says David Silverman, that its impact has yet to be adequately measured.Read more...
The adoption of firearms by American Indians between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries marked a turning point in the history of North America's indigenous peoples--a cultural earthquake so profound, says David Silverman, that its impact has yet to be adequately measured. Thundersticks reframes our understanding of Indians' historical relationship with guns, arguing against the notion that they prized these weapons more for the pyrotechnic terror guns inspired than for their efficiency as tools of war. Native peoples fully recognized the potential of firearms to assist them in their struggles against colonial forces, and mostly against one another.
The smoothbore, flintlock musket was Indians' stock firearm, and its destructive potential transformed their lives. For the deer hunters east of the Mississippi, the gun evolved into an essential hunting tool. Most importantly, well-armed tribes were able to capture and enslave their neighbors, plunder wealth, and conquer territory. Arms races erupted across North America, intensifying intertribal rivalries and solidifying the importance of firearms in Indian politics and culture.
Though American tribes grew dependent on guns manufactured in Europe and the United States, their dependence never prevented them from rising up against Euro-American power. The Seminoles, Blackfeet, Lakotas, and others remained formidably armed right up to the time of their subjugation. Far from being a Trojan horse for colonialism, firearms empowered American Indians to pursue their interests and defend their political and economic autonomy over two centuries.
- ISBN-13: 9780674737471
- ISBN-10: 0674737474
- Publisher: Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard Universi
- Publish Date: September 2016
- Page Count: 400
- Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-08-29
- Reviewer: Staff
Silverman, professor of history at George Washington University, ranges across the continent exploring the relationships between indigenous Americans and firearms, “an essential factor in the rise of some Native peoples and the fall of others.” From their earliest interactions with European colonists, indigenous Americans became aware of the advantages firearm possession offered not only in warfare but in hunting, trade, and diplomacy. Silverman structures his study by following the “gun frontier” from the 17th to the 19th century. Access to guns empowered individual groups of indigenous Americans, largely at the expense of tribal communities that lacked such weapons. In the Carolinas and Florida, for instance, indigenous groups with firearms took captives from rivals to sell as slaves to white plantation owners. Plains Indians peoples such as the Blackfeet succeeded in supplying themselves with guns and becoming expert in their use, but their inability to produce their own firearms led them into disastrously unbalanced trading arrangements with white Americans. This situation, in conjunction with disease epidemics, loss of grazing lands, and the ever-increasing spread of white settler colonists, would by the 1880s deprive even the best-armed Native Americans of their lands and sovereignty. Silverman tells this sad and bloody story with verve, making this an essential work for scholars of colonial encounters. (Oct.)