This is a survey of the methods of warfare employed by the Indians and, at times, by the British Army. As Skaggs and Nelson mention, the modern trend of the study of the Indian midwest can be traced back to a seminal work edited by Helen Hornbeck Tanner entitled Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History. This work is a classic in unifying geography, cartography, ethnology, and history into a single volume that provides an overview of how the Indians viewed the midwest. The Atlas provides an antidote to most European historical depictions of the area as an unsettled wilderness by provided a chronology of the Indian settlement of the area. Another book that came before Tanner, but is still widely quoted is the classic Council Fires on the Upper Ohio by Randolph C. Downes that set the standard for telling Indian history from the Indian point of view. Downes explains how the Indians managed to hold back loss of their homelands during much of the Sixty Years’ War by playing the whites off of each other.
In contrast to the traditional histories of the era and area is the relatively new field of Ethnohistory. In older histories, European actors were followed minutely, but the Indians were often mere foils built from racial prejudices and stereotypes, both good and bad. Ethnohistories and other studies that used ethnohistories to build a fuller view of all parties proliferated from the 1960s to the present day. They provided a much needed tonic to the traditional view and over time outgrew their earlier cloying depictions of Indians as completely naive and faultless in the conflicts. An example of this growth in the context of this paper is the sensitive issue of scalping. During the early days of Ethnohistory, a myth took hold that the Indians only began scalping when the Europeans introduced scalp bounties. James Axtell took great pains to dismantle the myth with ethnic, archaeological, forensic, and artistic studies in ‘The Unkindest Cut, Or Who Invented Scalping’ in The European and the Indian: Essays in the Ethnohistory of Colonial North America. In subsequent books, Axtell provides further detail that Indians were not just the pawns or unwilling dupes of the colonising Europeans. Axtell depicts the Indian shrewdness and subtlety to show how they retained their culture and values for two and a half centuries after first contact. Furthering Axtell’s work is Richard White’s The Middle Ground which disputed the traditional view that Indians and Whites were always at odds. White explains that the Great Lakes region was often a place of cooperation and conciliation. Although initially incomprehensible to each other, Indians and Whites over time concocted ways to understand each other. Values were often compromised by both sides to establish a working world from which each could profit. This view of Indians and Whites living together, albeit with some difficulty, has continued through recent ethnohistories.
Although most explorations of Indian and White interaction in the midwest are from the Great Lakes and Ohio valley, Kathryn E. Holland Braund examines the trade in deerskins between the British and the Creek Indians in the Gulf of Mexico south. In much the same way that the Iroquois controlled the Ohio interior through their connections with the British on the coast, so did the Creeks control the trade with the interior tribes of Choctaw, Chickasaw, and to a lesser degree, the Cherokee. This alignment would later be the basis for conflicting alliances amongst the tribes as it was in the north, but with contrary results due to local constraints. Braund, along with Gregory Waselkov, edited and annotated the papers of one of the most exacting observers of the early southern wilderness and its Indians on the eve of the American Revolutionary War, William Bartram. Bartram, a Quaker natural philosopher, went to great pains to be objective in treatment of the natural surroundings, Indians, and the whites he encountered in the area. Braund and Waselkov add value in assessing the veracity with other accounts and archives from the era.
Colin G. Calloway, one of the foremost scholars of Indians and their contact with Europeans, continues the trend of challenging Indian and White stereotypes. In New Worlds for All, Calloway counters many of the stereotypes in pointing out that communication and transportation networks existed long before the Europeans arrived, but they quickly became shared. Calloway also exposes the obvious in that horticulturist midwestern Indians who fought the ever moving European settlers would have found it odd that they were considered the nomads. Calloway also makes some interesting observations in the ways Scottish Highlanders and Indians were and were not alike. This comparative study is especially pertinent to this paper as both groups experienced the British Army as foes and employers in the eighteenth century with many of the attending issues of honour and atrocities present. In The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North America, Calloway makes the point that the first declaration of independence in North America came from the Indians of the Great Lakes with Pontiac’s rebellion. The end of the Seven Years’ War and the transfer of so much land from the French to the British without even consulting the Indians who lived on the land made 1763 a critical juncture for all three parties involved. Moving from Pontiac’s rebellion to the American Revolutionary War, Calloway describes how the different tribes and villages of Indians experienced the war. When the primary goal was to preserve their culture, land, and life, it is not surprising to find that the revolution split Indians as well as Britons. Each group or geographical area had to choose a side or try to stay out of the way as best they could, much like the colonists. In what might be the only published history that traces a segment of the Sixty Years’ War in a unified form, Calloway provides a short history of the Shawnees in The Shawnees and the War for America. This small volume is an excellent introduction into how all of the wars from 1755 to 1815 could be seen from a viewpoint other than the European. The Shawnees were originally a southern tribe that moved into the Ohio valley with European expansion. They and the Delaware, who had also moved west to disentangle from the Whites, formed the basis for the coming Indian confederation attempts to stop the westward spread of settlement. Tecumseh, a Shawnee with a Creek mother, would form the ultimate expression of this attempt in the War of 1812 with a pan-Indian confederacy.
The various attempts at Indian unity are explored in A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745-1815 by Gregory Evans Dowd. Examining four tribes, two northern and two southern, Dowd describes a distributed spiritual awakening in the 1760s as the threat to their lands was becoming acute. Prophets were often key players in these revivals and often became the impetus for a return to native self-reliance and an assertion of the divine right to the land they occupied. Dowd provides no easy answers to the questions posed and insists the Indian spiritual awakening was not just atavism, because it often incorporated modern, even western ideals. Alfred Cave delves into this complicated world in ‘The Delaware Prophet Neolin: A Reappraisal’. Cave explains that there are two views of this phenomenon. One is that the Indians adopted many Judeo-Christian elements of sin and redemption into their revival sermons. The other is that it was a ground swell realisation of what they had lost and their contact with Whites merely gave it the appearance of western religion. Cave’s conclusion is that religion was also part of the ‘middle ground’, but in the end it was too elemental in its appeal to the Indians to have been completely foreign. Although Dowd makes clear that he is trying to explain an Indian phenomenon, he is not telling the story from the Indian point of view. In contrast, in Facing East from Indian Country, Daniel Richter examines the period’s history from a completely Indian point of view. Richter takes a decidedly Sixty Years’ War perspective by looking at the radical change that visited the midwest Indians after centuries of white contact, but Indian control of this vital geography.
Not all contact between Europeans and Indians produced war. Some Indians, and the Iroquois specifically, practiced diplomacy as high art to keep the major European powers balanced against each other. Timothy J. Shannon argues that the Iroquois withstood European expansion due to their tool of choice, diplomacy over fighting when it could be avoided. Through their deft use of diplomacy, they were able to get what they wanted more often than not. No discussion of Iroquois diplomacy would be complete without Sir William Johnson, the British Indian Superintendent of the north. Fintan O’Toole traces Johnson’s family from Ireland and Johnson’s quick rise under his uncle’s patronage (British Admiral Sir Peter Warren) in New York. By the Seven Years’ War Johnson is commanding British troops along with his beloved Mohawk and other Indians. Johnson turned a close relationship with the Indians into a very lucrative and influential post for him and his associates, such has his nephew Guy Johnson who succeeded him and the Mohawk Joseph Brant who was to lead Indians in battle throughout the period. Brant’s life can tell much of the Sixty Years’ War story from both the Indian and British perspective and Isabel Thompson Kelsay does so with Joseph Brant. Brant was educated in England and a frequent visitor. More than any other Indian leader, he understood the pressures on both sides.
John Sugden is the biographer of two other important Indian leaders of the Sixty Years’ War, Tecumseh and Blue Jacket, both Shawnees. Sugden removes the myth of Tecumseh that has made him the most famous Indian of the eastern woodlands and places him in the context of his people and time that explains his force and popularity. In Blue Jacket: Warrior of the Shawnees, Sugden brings this little known warrior to life. Blue Jacket was a contemporary of Brant, but much more grounded in the Ohio country with little direct contact with the British Army. Blue Jacket was a true Indian of his age. A chief that liked rum too much and held petty grudges over years, he was also a warrior amongst warriors and understood very early on that his people could never move far enough for the settlers to be happy.
One topic that pervades the Sixty Years’ War is the inescapable fact that the style of warfare in Europe was largely not practiced in North America due to cultural, manpower, and terrain constraints. This fact has been acknowledged from the earliest histories. However, a treasure trove of recent scholarship on the subject has redefined which style prevailed and which parties practiced which style when it was required. One of the earliest writers on the topic is John Mahon in ‘Anglo-American Methods of Indian Warfare, 1676-1794’ who stated that American folklore tried to portray the lone rifleman as differentiator in the woodlands, but in reality it was closely knit units that could fire and maneuver who mastered the art of North American warfare. Mahon goes on to say that those who mastered woodland warfare and could tie tactics to a strong set of strategic goals eventually won the conflicts. In ‘The Early American Way of War: Reconnaissance and Appraisal’, Don Higginbotham examines the ways that North American warfare affected social norms and civil-military relationships. Higginbotham asks some difficult questions that have yet to be answered, such as, why did early Republic writers like Franklin and Paine stress that republicanism was peaceful when all around them was evidence that it wasn’t? Matthew Ward shows the difficulty in getting British Army regulars to adapt to the Indian way of warfare in tactics as well as supplying them in the wilderness in ‘The European Method of Warring is Not Practiced Here: The Failure of British Military Policy in the Ohio Valley, 1755-1759’.
Armstrong Starkey, in the same vein as Richard White, argues that the development of warfare was as much about cultural exchange as it was cultural conflict. Starkey says that Indians and Europeans fought as allies as much as enemies and the experience transferred to both groups to form a new style of North American warfare. In Conquering the American Wilderness: The Triumph of European Warfare in the Colonial Northeast, Guy Chet argues, in a geographically constrained way, that in the Northeast, the European way of war actually won out and the major battles there were more European than native. However, John Grenier takes a broader geographical view and comes to a different conclusion. According to Grenier, not only did Americans learn the Indian style of warfare, but learned to practice it with extravagant violence against civilians and their infrastructure. Finally, Peter Silver says that Indian warfare made disparate immigrant groups on the frontier join together, but it also made them accuse each other over old world differences when convenient. The fear mongering resulted in a savage racism against the Indians and any group that dared befriend them. It was into this complex situation that the British Army stepped in 1755 with mixed results.