Gary Clayton Anderson. The Conquest of Texas: Ethnic Cleansing in the Promised Land, 1820-1875. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005. 494 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8061-3698-1.
Reviewed by Jahue Anderson (Department of History, Texas Christian University)
Published on H-AmIndian (December, 2006)
Revising Texas Indian History
Texas Ranger John Henry Brown penned Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas, 1822-1874 and History of Texas from 1685-1893 in the 1890s. His books mythologized Anglo-Texans as heroes and Texas Indians as savages. More importantly, Brown and Texas historians of a similar ilk turned Ranger hagiography and celebratory history into accepted truths for the next century. Academic scholarship, textbooks, literature, and film conformed to such biases and mythmaking, and only recently Texas Indian scholars such as F. Todd Smith, David LaVere, and Gary Anderson have begun challenging such myths.
In The Conquest of Texas Gary Anderson details the "culture of violence" that existed in Texas--especially Northwest Texas--from 1820 to 1875. Land provided the impetus for conflict, a conflict masked in the rhetoric of race and the assumption that Indian territory was an available wilderness to be conquered and tamed by "civilized" whites. Members of all ethnic groups participated in violence in Texas, but Anglo-Texans formed a policy and strategy around racial violence that "gradually led to the deliberate ethnic cleansing of a host of peoples, especially people of color" (p. 7).
To justify this cleansing, Anderson argues that Anglos held to a "southern code" or "Texan Creed," that represented a mindset that made violence "heroic and honorable" and made it almost impossible for whites to accept any idea of ethnic diversity. Gangs of whites dressed as Indians raided, raped, and murdered across the state and many men used Texas Ranger service as a chance to pillage. Ranger John Baylor, along with his men, thrived on citizens' misconceptions about Indian behavior, taking advantage of the fear to intimidate and steal from Anglos and Indians alike. According to the documents elucidated in Conquest of Texas, the Texas Rangers reveled in the anarchy, disorder, and violence.
In addition to the theme of a "Texas Creed," Anderson addresses the captivity narrative, or memoirs by whites kidnapped by Indian raiders. Early histories assumed native degradation of captive women, but recent scholarship reveals that female captives were rarely raped in Northwest Texas. Cultural taboos prohibited Comanches from having sex during raids, while Victorian etiquette prohibited many Anglos from talking about sex in general. There was a great cultural divide over sexual relationships. More often than not, Indians took good care of their female and child captives so that they could be ransomed. Several scholars, including Daniel J. Gelo and Scott Zesch, are beginning to re-evaluate these narratives. Cynthia Ann Parker became distraught when separated from her Comanche family. Bianca Babb described her captivity with the Comanches as a "holiday." Anderson's inclusion of this type of historical revisionism marks his scholarship as cutting-edge.
Beyond these themes, Anderson also moves chronologically, beginning with the Texas Revolutionary period from 1820 to 1846. Most scholars have ignored Indians when interpreting the Revolution, but doing so removes important pieces of the puzzle. The Fredonia Rebellion, a botched attempt at an alliance between Cherokees, Anglos, and Tejanos to throw off Mexican rule, cannot be understood without incorporating the Native American perspective. Anderson's inclusion of the Indian side of the story clarifies many previously misunderstood factors that made the Fredonia Rebellion a failure.
Although as a pragmatic Sam Houston treated the Indians more fairly than other Anglo-Texan politicians, he could not stop Anglo expansionism or draw boundaries for Indian lands. As Texas became a nation and then a state in the United States, growth exacerbated tensions between whites and Indians, and government leaders forced Indians from their ancestral lands onto reservations and opened those lands to whites. The reservations became concentration camps, and traveling beyond the boundaries sometimes meant death. At times Anderson argues Indians were not safe, even in on the reserves. Anglos were known to kill defenseless women and children within the limits of the reservations.
In the chapter, "Indians and the Civil War," Anderson claims that "rustling rings and drought caused much of the destruction in West Texas," an argument counter to traditional interpretations (p. 328). Offering a completely new interpretation of Texas Indian history during the Civil War, Anderson relies on tree ring data and drought history to make ecological arguments for why Indians raided rather than starve. Native involvement in the Civil War is more complex than scholars once thought and the accepted idea that Indians took advantage of the war to raid white homesteads does not stand up against historical realities.
Anderson covers Anglo and Tejano politics in detail but shortchanges coverage of Indian politics. For example, by reading Thomas Kavanagh's Comanche Political History: An Ethnohistorical Perspective, 1706-1875 (1996) one learns about the patrilineal and militaristic Comanche society. For all the dissimilarities Anderson points out, he fails to fully recognize all the similarities between especially patrilineal societies, such as the Comanches and Anglos. Glossing over Comanche politics and focusing so deeply on Anglo-Texan politics opens the author up to accusations that he made Indians victims without agency. Although I believe Anderson gives Indians some agency, a more thorough treatment of Indian politics would add balance.
Additionally, Anderson selectively chooses the events and characters to illustrate his story and speaks volumes through his omissions, leaving out massacres, in particular, that show Natives in a poor light. Anderson also ignores the prolific work of American Indian Historian F. Todd Smith, especially his research on the Wichita and other groups of North Texas Indians. Leaving out Smith's contributions represents a large omission.
Despite these small criticisms, the work is beautifully written with excellent photographs, maps, and illustrations that accompany the provocative prose, and the work will stand as a major contribution to the fields of Native American studies and Texas history for years to come. Not only does the work offer a significant contribution, it spearheads a new field within the study of the American West--that of ethnic cleansing. However, Anderson's work says more about Euro-Americans, specifically Anglo-Texans, penchants for racial hatred, than it does about Texas Indians. David La Vere, in The Texas Indians, explores the Indian perspective more than does Anderson, providing scholars and the general reading public an excellent overview of the Native American experience in Texas. His work is not a history of Euro-Americans and their relationships to Texas Indians; rather Texas Indians take "center stage." They are not "rudderless victims." Instead they have agendas, strategies, and agency. Texas Indians, neither "noble savages" nor "red devils," were humans with developed religious beliefs, political structures, kinship networks, economic strategies, and obligations of reciprocity.
La Vere approaches his survey of Texas Indians thematically, but moves chronologically within his themes. He covers all the major tribes and their situations, such as the collapse of the Jumanos, Apache displacement, the Coahuiltecans in the Rio Grande valley, the hunter-gathering Atakapas, the Tonkawas of Central Texas, and the Karankawas of the Gulf Coast. In his chapter "The Nations of the North," La Vere succinctly covers Northwest Texas Indians, such as the Wichitas and Comanches. Immigrant Indians, including Seminoles, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Cherokees, and Creeks from the east also made a significant impact on Texas, especially after the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Beginning with Paleoindians and moving continuously through removal from Texas, the reservation period, allotment, and the 1990s, he concludes with the difficulties that the Alabama-Coushattas and Tiguas still face.
La Vere's work is the current definitive survey of Texas Indians, replacing the more anthropological work of W. W. Newcomb, Indians of Texas: From Prehistoric to Modern Times (1961). La Vere tells scholars in The Texas Indians that there is still "much historical and anthropological work ... to be done on Texas Indians in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries" saying, "it is an open field" (p. xii). Relocation in the 1950s, gaming since the 1980s, and natural resource management in the twentieth century are just a few areas ripe for study. The recent works on Texas Indians suggest major revisionism in the field, including Texas Indians, Conquest of Texas, and F. Todd Smith's From Dominance to Disappearance: The Indians of Texas and the Near Southwest, 1786-1859 (2005). All three tell a story of Texas Indians figuratively and literally losing ground in Texas.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-amindian.
Jahue Anderson. Review of Anderson, Gary Clayton, The Conquest of Texas: Ethnic Cleansing in the Promised Land, 1820-1875 and
La Vere, David, The Texas Indians.
H-AmIndian, H-Net Reviews.
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