This magnificent, sweeping work traces the histories of the Native peoples of the American West from their arrival thousands of years ago to the early years of the nineteenth century. Emphasizing conflict and change, One Vast Winter Count offers a new look at the early history of the region by blending ethnohistory, colonial history, and frontier history. Drawing on a wide range of oral and archival sources from across the West, Colin G. Calloway offers an unparalleled glimpse at the lives of generations of Native peoples in a western land soon to be overrun.
Author of First Peoples and a distinguished Dartmouth historian, Calloway concentrates on the Indian experience from the Appalachians to the Pacific, in a time frame from prehistory to the 18th century. The scope is staggering, but Calloway masters it, demonstrating a remarkable command of a broad spectrum of historical, ethnographic and archeological sources including printed material and oral traditions. Conventional American history moves from east to west. Calloway's narrative tends instead to follow a south-north pattern, with cultural innovations like corn and horses diffusing from Mesoamerica along the river-centered trade routes. Conventional histories of Indian-European relations place them at the center of the Native American experience in what became the United States. Calloway demonstrates that until the mid-18th century, the European impact was secondary and indirect on most of the cultures involved. Conventional myths assert the relative peacefulness of Native American interaction. Calloway shows that conflict was also a norm. Conventional wisdom presents Indian cultures as static, living in a timeless harmony with their environment. Calloway establishes that they were in fact constantly changing, adapting to climatic changes, animal migrations, ecological and technological innovations and, not least, the movements, peaceful and hostile, of other cultures. Indian response to European penetration was correspondingly flexible, ranging from partial accommodation to resistance, then rebellion, as European governments sought to move from asserting influence to exercising control. And Native Americans sustained that agency until the "Killing Years," the period from 1770 to the century's turn, when the impact of the American Revolution extended from the Appalachian Mountains to the Pacific Coast, and a smallpox pandemic unpredictably turned the Native American West into a graveyard. It was that last episode, mocking theories of historical determinism, that set the stage for the Lewis and Clark expedition to encounter shocked survivors and suddenly empty lands that seemed to invite European occupation. One Vast Winter Count is both a major work in its own right and a magnificent first volume in Nebraska's new History of the American West series. History Book Club, Military Book Club and Reader's Subscription Book Club selections.