Friday, June 10, 2016

The Mad Historian's Athenaeum

DuVal, Kathleen. The Native Ground: Indians and Colonists in the Heart of the Continent. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006. ix + 320 ppg.

            I first encountered the work of Kathleen DuVal in my undergraduate course on American Indian History via this book. I am not surprised in the least to learn that she received the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for History. Her research is amazing and her writing is superb. I was enthralled immediately upon opening The Native Ground and read the book through in a night. To this day, I use her words to illustrate to my students the inadvertent destruction wrought by the expedition of Hernando De Soto and the immense differences that existed between the survivor’s accounts of his expedition and the arrival of the next Europeans a century later. I had not fully realized just how much damage De Soto’s trek through the Southeast United States caused.

            Kathleen DuVal is a professor of history at the University of North Carolina. She earned her BA at Stanford in 1992 and her Ph.D at the University of California, Davis in 2001. Her research focuses on the North American borderlands and the relationships of the people on them. She has written three books and numerous articles, with The Native Ground being her first book. For a first attempt I thought it was outstanding.  I live in Missouri and one look at an atlas shows no Indian reservations in the state. Back in the 80s when gambling on reservations began to become popular Missourians eager to gamble realized that as well. So a question was asked as to why there were none.

            The answer is in DuVal’s book. The sheer racism of American settlers drove all Native Americans from the state. Even the mighty Osage found themselves removed from the domain they had built up as white settlers replaced them. DuVal’s book is a really a history of the Osage and Quapaw tribes in the Arkansas and Missouri areas until they were removed. She ends with an look at the early Cherokee who moved to Arkansas in order to escape the looming Indian Removal of the 1830s only to find themselves being forced out of Arkansas by the ever greedy white settlers who wanted no competition for the land and resources of the land. 

            In order to tell the proper story of these two tribes, DuVal first explains what happened to their forebears in the region and how De Soto’s expedition caused immense shock waves for North American tribes. What she describes is the rise and fall of these tribes as they sought to adjust to the changes and exploit them only to find themselves exploited in the end. The writing she employs throughout the book is outstanding and not academic speak in the least. She also has multiple illustrations and maps in the book.

            All in all this is one of the better books on Native American history that I have read. I love the detail she uses in presenting her findings. The lack of footnotes is annoying, but a growing trait as publishers seek to control costs. The endnotes are very good and quite accessible. I highly recommend the book for students as it definitely portrays the events that would shape history in this region.


  1. Excellent! I'll put this on my list!

  2. Looks like a really good read!