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Week 6

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Resistance and Adaptation



October 8: Adaptation: The Diplomatic and Cultural Response to European Expansion in the West



The historian Pekka Hamalainen has written that the introduction of horses in North America (following European contact) shaped the history of Plains Indians deeply, in both positive and negative ways. The grasslands of the Great Plains stretched from North to South, and along this axis different Indian nations found different uses for horse herds. Some groups were nomadic, some sedentary; some had vast herds, some only small ones. But all Plains Indian nations "faced difficulties in balancing horse numbers, ecological constraints, [and] economic-military demands." And all of them displayed, in Hamalainen's words, a "wide range of creative but variously successful equestrian adaptations."


In this module we will take a close-up look at the Comanche nation to think about how they adapted to the introduction of horses with great economic, military, and geopolitical success, dominating large areas of land well into the nineteenth century. The role of horse culture, interactions with European empires, and intertribal relations and warfare are central factors in this history. This "Comanche Empire" had a lasting impact on the future development of Mexico and the United States, and is an important chapter in the history of Native American military power.  



Audio File- Context for Thursday's class: 





Comanche horse culture, from George Catlin's Letters and Notes on the Customs, Conditions, and Manners of the North American Indians (1842). 

All images   Source: Internet ArchiveClick on the images for a larger view.







Study Questions 


  1. What information does Thomas Velez Capucin give about the trade interactions between the Comanche and the French in the eighteenth century? How were the Comanches adapting to the presence of European empires?
  2. What do the sources "Descriptions of the Comanches" and Bishop Tamaron's "Account of his Visitation" tell you about: a) intertribal relations, b) the political situation of New Mexico, and c) the environmental conditions of the region?
  3. Pedro Vial and Francisco Xavier de Chaves describe a diplomatic mission to the Comanches on behalf of the Governor or Texas, which was at that time a Spanish territory. What was at stake for New Mexico in these peace talks? And how does Vial and Chaves's personal background help to mediate between New Mexico and the Comanches?
  4. Jumping forward in time: George Ruxton's Adventures in Mexico (1847) was published a century after the earlier readings, during the Mexican-American war. In this conflict the United States invaded New Mexico and parts of northern Mexico with relative ease. Judging from Ruxton's account, why do you think the invasion of Mexico might have been this easy for the US? Why does Mexico appear as "lawless" and "uncivilized" to Ruxton? And what might have been the Comanches' influence in this conflict? 
  5. Thinking across these texts, how do these sources challenge or alter your views on the power struggles between European empires? Who had the upper hand, and how did they get it? What was the Comanche Empire, and how did it operate in relation to other (European and Indian ) nations?




October 10: Pontiac's War, British Indian Policy, and the Early Republic


This unit covers the 1760s-1795, a period in which the Native peoples of the Northwest, the French, the British, and the Americans fought for control of the region around the lower Great Lakes and Ohio Valley. The readings cover the ending of the French and Indian War (1754-1763), British Indian Policy, Pontiac's War, and conflicts between Native peoples of the Northwest and the British. Then, the readings consider the United States' attempt to take control of the region. We will begin with Major General Arthur St. Clair's defeat at the Wabash by an Indian confederacy led by Little Turtle (Miami) and Blue Jacket (Shawnee). Then, we will consider the defeat of the Indian confederacy at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, which led to the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. The Indian delegates ceded to the U.S. much of present-day Ohio and part of Indiana and the U.S. promised a boundary between their lands and American territory. 


Some historians call the period from 1754-1814 the Sixty Years' War. This term connects the individual conflicts into a framework that sees this violence and as continuous military struggle for control over the land, resources, and peoples of the Great Lakes region. It might be useful to keep this framework in mind when considering these documents.







The Signing of the Treaty of Greene Ville  

The Signing of the Treaty of Greeneville, 1795, as depicted by Howard Chandler Christy (painted in 1945). For more on the Treaty here and here.




Study Questions 


  1. What were British policies towards Native peoples? How were these policies different from French policies? How did the presence of the French affect British Indian policies? How and when did the British policies change? Why?
  2. What were some of the reasons for Pontiac's War (Rebellion)? Consider Johnson's 1764 letters.
  3. Are Pontiac's War, the Proclamation of 1763, and the Treaty of Fort Stanwix connected? How are these events part of the lead up to the American Revolution?
  4. Sir William Johnson played a large role in the Treaty of Fort Stanwix. Given what we've read in past classes, his letters, and the essay on the Treaty, can you explain how the Treaty of Fort Stanwix caused tension between the United States and Northwest Indian peoples? Also, how it might have caused tensions between various Native groups?
  5. William Darke describes the defeat of the United States Army by a confederacy of American Indians. How does Darke describe November 4, 1791? Focusing on how he describes the Indians versus the American troops and militiamen, what are some of the reasons he gives for the American's defeat?
  6. The accounts of the Battle of Fallen Timbers provide three perspectives on the conflict--British, American, and Odawa. How does each man frame the battle (i.e. politically, socially, religiously)? How might you connect the accounts of the Battle of Fallen Timbers to the Treaty of Greenville? What actions and results of the battle might have led to Native peoples' agreeing to the Treaty's terms?




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