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Thundersticks: Firearms and the Violent Transformation of Native America

de David J. Silverman

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372524,103 (4.17)5
The adoption of firearms by Native Americans 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 Native Americans' historical relationship with guns, arguing against the notion that Indians prized these weapons more for the pyrotechnic terror they inspired than their efficiency as tools of war. Native Americans 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 Native Americans grew dependent on guns manufactured in Europe and the United States, their dependence never prevented them from rising up against Euro-American power. Tribes such as the Seminoles, Blackfeet, and Lakotas remained formidably armed right up to the time of their subjugation. Far from being a Trojan horse for colonialism, firearms empowered Native Americans to pursue their interests and defend their political and economic autonomy over two centuries.--… (mais)
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Thundersticks is a well-researched and presented account of how firearms, introduced by European explorers, traders, and settlers, changed the native peoples of North America. Silverman has taken an in depth look at the history of colonization and the introduction of firearms and presents a compelling argument that contact with European and American colonists, and their weapons, rather than being a cause of death and loss of their way of life, actually allowed Native American groups to accumulate wealth and power. At least for a short time.

Silverman presents his narrative in the view of the "gun frontier", looking at how indigenous markets were opened to the gun trade, and how that opening affected the political, economic, and social dynamics of the native people and the Europeans/Americans they interacted with. The eight chapters look at different areas of North America and how the native people reacted, and usually thrived - albeit for a short time - with the introduction of the gun. From the Iroquis of the American Northeast, to the Seminoles of Florida, the Nuu-chah-nulth people of Vancouver Island, and the Blackfeet of the western plains, Silverman looks at how the gun frontier impacted the native people of the area. Usually, the introduction of the gun led to an increase in power, wealth, and status for one or more native peoples, who often were able to play colonial powers against each other to get better deals, increase their status, or keep themselves supplied with guns, powder, and shot even during times of war against the same colonial powers.

I found Silverman's thesis and presentation well-written and well-researched. He gives a view into early colonial America, and how the Europeans interacted with the native peoples that most mainline history books either gloss over or ignore. I learned a lot about the history of America, and how much that history was shaped not only by colonial greed and ambition, but also by the desire for power, wealth, and ultimately control of their own destinies by the native people. There were a few times where the writing was a bit slow, but for the most part I found the narrative engaging while also informative.

I recommend this book for people who are interested in history, and want to learn something new about a place and time they think they know something about. I learned a lot of new details about the history of my own country and how the gun frontier and gun culture, not only of the Europeans and Americans, but also of the native peoples, came to shape that history. ( )
  GeoffHabiger | Aug 9, 2018 |
The subtitle of this study says it all as this is not so much a history of Indian wars as it an examination of what the social impact of the gun was on the First Nations. Still, it will also function as a general overview of military conflict between the First Nations and the burgeoning settler empire as the exponential deadliness of armed conflict accelerated the demographic collapse of the Indians. One caveat that is true though is that the author is at his best in covering the period before the creation of the American Republic. I'm also not sure that the brief epilogue dealing with the American Indian Movement of the 1970s adds that much to the story, though the illustration provided of a boisterous young man hoisting an assault rifle at the 1973 Wounded Knee protest makes one wonder if the American cult of the armed citizen is as much a contribution of the First Nations to American culture as anything; it's worth a thought anyway. ( )
  Shrike58 | Mar 29, 2017 |
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The adoption of firearms by Native Americans 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 Native Americans' historical relationship with guns, arguing against the notion that Indians prized these weapons more for the pyrotechnic terror they inspired than their efficiency as tools of war. Native Americans 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 Native Americans grew dependent on guns manufactured in Europe and the United States, their dependence never prevented them from rising up against Euro-American power. Tribes such as the Seminoles, Blackfeet, and Lakotas remained formidably armed right up to the time of their subjugation. Far from being a Trojan horse for colonialism, firearms empowered Native Americans to pursue their interests and defend their political and economic autonomy over two centuries.--

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