In a Barren Land: The American Indian Quest for Cultural Survival, 1607 to the Present

In a Barren Land: The American Indian Quest for Cultural Survival, 1607 to the Present

by Paula M. Marks

Award-winning historian Paula Mitchell Marks reconfirms her status as one of the foremost contemporary chroniclers of the American West with this often appalling, yet always engrossing, account of American Indian cultures under siege from 1607 to the present. In a dazzling synthesis of the latest research with masterful storytelling, Marks portrays the systematic


Award-winning historian Paula Mitchell Marks reconfirms her status as one of the foremost contemporary chroniclers of the American West with this often appalling, yet always engrossing, account of American Indian cultures under siege from 1607 to the present. In a dazzling synthesis of the latest research with masterful storytelling, Marks portrays the systematic dispossession of America's original inhabitants over centuries of broken promises and bloody persecutions. Well-known events and personalities — the Battle of Little Big Horn, the Trail of Tears, Geronimo, to name a few — are juxtaposed with lesser-known but equally pivotal episodes such as the Navajos' Long Walk, the Snake Indian resistance, and more.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Marks has proven herself a skilled historian, having won the Western Writers of America Award for Precious Dust. However, her latest will probably be viewed as a valiant, but flawed, effort. She has taken on a topicAmerican Indians' forced divestiture of their ancestral lands by European immigrantsthat is perhaps impossible to properly embrace in a single volume. Marks not only spans a good portion of a continent, but also follows, in chronological order, the full 500 years of Native American-European relations, from their first encounters with each other to Indian land claims of the 1990s. In the first half especially, Marks's attempts to cover every instance of Indian removal undermines her book's cohesion (just when the reader is getting acquainted with John Ross and the Cherokees, up pop the Chickasaws). As timeand pagesgo by, the government's Indian policy becomes more unified, and so does Marks's narrative. If the sheer amplitude of the persecutions is daunting, there is still something to be gained by the recitation of it; we can look back and proclaim our ancestors despicable, now that Americans have stolen all the land humanly possible from its first inhabitants. It also becomes clear that less has changed over the past millennium than we might like to think, and that John C. Calhoun's early-19th-century dictum on the treatment of Native American still holds: "Our views of their interest, and not their own, ought to govern them."
Library Journal
Marks, whose recent book about the gold rush, Precious Dust (LJ 2/15/94), won the Western Writers of America nonfiction award, examines the white conquest of Native Americas' lands from 1607 to the presenta constant and enveloping dispossession that, she notes, still causes problems today. Covering a specific time period in each chapter, she also addresses the complex bureaucratic political situation Native Americans now face as they attempt to manage their own resources. More important, she illustrates how the many Native American tribes and their leaders attempted to adapt to an alien culture. Ably blending various sources and photographs with contemporary historical scholarship, she reveals some long-forgotten policies regarding Natives' rights to land and self-governance while bringing to life important facts about little-known historical figures. Recommended for public and academic libraries.Vicki L. Toy Smith, Univ. of Nevada, Reno
Inside cover maps of the locations of federally recognized tribes (as of 1990) bracket this chronicle of American Indian cultures under siege from the 17th century onward. Marks (American studies, St. Edwards' U., Austin) views the unsettling of the West from the indigenous perspective. Proponents argue that tribal casinos are the new buffalo in meeting needs. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
A detail-packed survey of the manifold conquest of North America. In that conquest, writes historian Marks (And Die in the West, 1989), laws and whiskey figured as prominently as did firearms. Beginning her overview with the Plymouth Bay colony and ending in modern times, Marks considers the longstanding patterns of dependence and subservience established as a matter of policy by the European powers and their American successors. In the presence of these powers, Native American nations compromised and bargained in the hope of maintaining their lands, making major cultural adaptations that often reached the point of cultural suicide. Marks doesnþt arrive at any startling conclusions in her pages, and she breaks no new ground; the account relies, strangely for so sweeping a survey, on a relatively small number of sources. Yet she weaves together her narrative skillfully, emphasizing several themes without belaboring the usual guilty- conqueror-vs.-noble-victim trope. She shows, for instance, that in many cases the Indian nations were bargained straight into untenable situationsþin the case of the Sioux, for instance, trading hunting rights for federal rations that arrived only irregularly, which led to thousands of deaths by starvationþand that these desperate situations often led the Indians to an unwanted alternative, namely armed resistance. Marks traces the course of Native American dispossession from outright conquest and theft to federal programs that, intentionally or not, destroyed what little sovereignty most Indian nations may have enjoyed; she offers a variety of case studies to press her argument, and they do not make for cheering reading. Students of Indianpolicy will find this a useful reference.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.24(d)

Read an Excerpt

They were strange and rather pitiful, the voyagers who sailed into the bay and up the river and began scratching out an odd sort of village on a swampy peninsula. They showed little ability at gathering or growing things to eat, at fishing or hunting. They did not adapt well to the climate and grew sick. They fought among themselves and failed to make proper seasonal provisions. Surely they would tire of such an existence and go back to their own lands. At one point, the whole group did sail away. But soon they returned.

The natives of the bay area at first found this incursion only mildly disturbing. They had repeatedly come in contact with crews of ships from across the ocean. The natives no doubt knew of the short-lived village of voyagers on an island to the south some three decades earlier, and they easily recalled that in the same period one of their own number, a young man who had been kidnapped by a ship's crew, had returned in a vessel accompanied by eight men in long robes.

These men had constructed a lone wooden "mission" on a river feeding into the bay. A group of natives, perhaps angered by the missionaries' attitude toward their own religion, perhaps eager to avenge the kidnapping of natives by ship crews, had killed the eight after only a few months' coexistence.

Now the natives killed a few of the newcomers forging into their hunting grounds. Others they helped, sharing food supplies and showing them how to plant corn and tobacco, squash and beans, how to dam part of a stream to trap fish, how to hunt deer and otter, opossum and turkey.

Meanwhile, more people from across the ocean came -- not just men, but women and children. Their fields and dwellings spreadoutward from the initial village, which they called Jamestown, all along the river, which they called the James, completely unconcerned with what the natives called it. The wild game fled into the oak and pine forests. The newcomers' livestock trampled the fields on which the natives, now often ill with strange and terrible maladies, grew their crops. The newcomers talked and acted as if the whole region belonged to them, even alleged that some distant authority told them they could have it.

And sooner or later each native awoke to the chilling realization that the strangers were "a people come from under the world, to take their world from them."

Copyright © 1998 by Paula Mitchell Marks In a Barren Land. Copyright © by Paula M. Marks. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Paula Mitchell Marks is a major historian of the American West whose last book, Precious Dust, won the Western Writers of America Award for the best nonfiction book of 1994. A Ph.D. in American civilization from the University of Texas, she now serves as associate dean of the New College Program and as associate professor of American studies at St. Edward's University in Austin. Active in writers' and historical organizations, she is also a board member of the Texas Institute of Letters and a fellow of the Texas State Historical Association. She and her husband, Alan, and daughter, Carrie, live in Buda, Texas.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >