Friday, December 23, 2016

When Native Americans Were Arms Dealers — And Powerful, Formidable Warriors

I posted a bunch of links about the American West and Native Americans last night: "Two-Day Free Shipping Before Christmas."

I didn't know of this book, however, from David Silverman, Thundersticks: Firearms and the Violent Transformation of Native America.

It's reviewed at the Los Angeles Times, "When Native Americans were arms dealers: A history revealed in 'Thundersticks'":
In the years after the American Revolution, Seminole Indians built an arsenal of weapons acquired from Cuban and British traders that allowed them to defend their lands as an alternate and well-armed Underground Railroad in what was then Spanish-controlled Florida. To the horror of Deep South elites, the Seminoles shielded and supplied guns to Panhandle communities of Black Seminoles, small villages peopled by plantation runaways, intermarried tribal members and freed slaves of the tribe themselves.

“Together they resolved to keep white Americans and their slave catchers out of Seminole territory,” historian David Silverman writes in “Thundersticks: Firearms and the Violent Transformation of Native America.” “An alliance of militant Indians and black maroons supported by European resources was the materialization of a nightmare that had haunted white southerners ever since the seventeenth century.” ...

For the most part, Silverman avoids anthropological explanations for Native American tribes’ fascination with guns — save for the book’s title, which comes from a literal translation of the Narragansett word for gun, pésckunk. To explain the indigenous arms race that once gripped the continent, Silverman uses military history and political economy to chip away at Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel” narrative, in which Europeans with superior weapons technology marched triumphantly through the Americas.

Instead, Silverman uncovers a history in which Indians quickly cornered a gun market, shocking European and American militaries with the breadth and superiority of their arms, most of them made in Britain or France. This indigenous arsenal explains why the Seminoles were able to repel the U.S. Army over three wars, spanning 1816 to 1858. Unable to best the tribe on the battlefield, the American military resorted to scorched-earth techniques — burning Seminole villages to the ground, destroying cattle herds — to starve the Seminoles and drastically reduce their population.

In contrast to a military that relied on the bureaucracy of purchase orders and shipping caravans to distribute its arms, the Seminoles’ decentralized backwoods armory lay scattered across the humid peninsula in dry, bark-lined underground caches. The tribe made  dugout canoe runs to Cuba to restock guns while raiding Florida sugar plantations for their lead-lined vats, which were melted down for ammunition. As the wars raged on, tribal leaders set up pseudo peace talks with military officials as a ruse to have their younger warriors sneak off into the bushes to buy guns from the opportunistic traders who followed U.S. military campaigns. Most notorious, tribal warriors seized muskets from the battlefield dead.

Among North American tribes of the colonial period, the Seminoles were far from alone in one-upping colonial powers to master a multinational supply network of arms. Silverman calls this phenomenon “a gun frontier,” a nimble, intertribal network of trade that created an arms race on the American continent, often decades before the arrival of sizeable numbers  of Euro-American settlers...
As you'll notice, the Seminoles don't appear to be the weakling victims of which the left always portrays American Indians. The tribe held off and defeated the U.S. army for half a century. While not all tribes had the capabilities and organization, Silverman's not the only one to document the fearsome fighting power of Native Americans. I linked yesterday S.C. Gwynne's, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History, which also offers a powerful counter-narrative placing Native Americans at the center of hegemony for vast sections of the American frontier. It's important to keep this narrative in mind when you read stories of the "genocide" against American Indians, which is the left's dominant victim's narrative (and which is a lie).