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One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West before Lewis and Clark (History of the American West) Reprint Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0803264656
ISBN-10: 0803264658
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Many bands of Native Americans recorded their histories on the hides of buffalo or other game animals; they were called "winter counts." That is the source of the title of this enthralling and brilliant survey of the history and culture of various Native American groups from trans-Appalachia to the Pacific. Calloway is chair of the Native American Studies program at Dartmouth College; he was selected to write the opening volume in a projected six-volume history of the American West. This is revisionist history; like other "new western" historians, Calloway focuses on place rather than process. That is, he views the West as a series of regions in which various peoples entered, stayed, left, but always changed the land and were changed by it. He masterfully integrates the disciplines of archaeology, anthropology, environmental science, and history to provide a wonderful panorama illustrating both the diversity and the vibrancy of these rich cultures. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: History of the American West
  • Paperback: 631 pages
  • Publisher: Bison Books; Reprint edition (September 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803264658
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803264656
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #69,249 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Colin Calloway has written an impressive debut volume for the University of Nebraska Press' History of the American West series. It weaves the latest archeological discoveries together with Native American oral history into cotemporary European accounts to produce a panoramic overview of 15,000 years of human existence is western America. His narrative ends at the point where coventional school textbooks begin -- with Lewis and Clark. This book has expanded my understanding by showing me that "The West is not a land of empty spaces with a short history..." Calloway wants us to see western history as a "long and unbroken continuum" that stretches backward in a vast spiral of years and forward beyond our own lifetimes.
Most of us have a static view of Native American culture in the West; a 19th century snapshot with tribal characteristics and territories frozen in place. Calloway gives the reader a motion picture full of swirling migrations and altered identitites -- the result of altered climate, technology, as well as of European intervention. He integrates important events in native history into the timeline of world history in a way I have not previously encountered. As the Revolutionary War raged east of the Appalachians, a great smallpox epidemic that reduced native populations by 50-75% was raging to the west. The land Lewis and Clark explored was far emptier than it had been just a generation earlier.
The diffusion of corn-growing into cooler regions of North America, starting in the sixth century C.E. initiated a revolution in Native American life. At the time the Normans invaded England, the Cahokias were building monumental earthworks and plazas amid fields of corn at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi.
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Format: Paperback
This is an excellent survey of the history of the American West up to about 1800. For several good reasons, Calloway construes the American West as including much of Canada, the Old West of the early 19th and late 18th centuries - the trans-appalachian areas, and northern Mexico. Calloway begins with a nice precis of prehistory and covers major phases of North American native cultures such as the Missippian societies and events such as the spread of maize agriculture. Since much of the historical record per se comes from the accounts of early European explorers and settlers, the majority of the book is an excellent history of the interactions of native cultures with European invaders and the resulting effects on native societies. Calloway devotes ample space not only to oft discussed topics like the Seven Years War but also to excellent coverage of the Spanish and French Empires in North America, the coming of the horse, and the impact of European based trade networks. The emphasis throughout is the life and history of native societies. The quality of writing is excellent and the bibliography and footnotes are first rate.
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Format: Hardcover
Don't get me wrong. I learned a lot from this book. But I would not have learned nearly as much if I did not come to the book with quite a bit of knowledge. I suggest that you read the excellent "Atlas of the North American Indian" before you read this book, or at least that you have the "Atlas" by your side as you read this book.

The book has several very good features. One is the depiction of the adaptation of Native American cultures to changing circumstances, particularly climate change, the introduction of corn, the return of the horse and the acquisition of firearms. Another is the very valuable narrative thread throughout the book about trade with Europeans and the impact it had on Native Americans and on the relations of tribes to each other. Another is the section on the impact of the late 18th century smallpox epidemic. The book would be valuable for these alone.

If you would like to read more about trade with Europeans and the related impacts, I recommend "Before Lewis and Clark" by Shirley Christian.

But there are serious problems with the book. Where to begin? There are so many deficiencies that it is hard to pick a starting point.

Maps are few and late. Rivers are important to Native American history, but the first map showing a comprehensive view of the rivers of what is now the United States does not appear until page 127 and on that map the rivers are not named. The first map naming the rivers of what is now the northeast United States does not appear until page 229. Another map without river names appears on page 271. The Arkansas, Red, and Sabine Rivers are mentioned on page 105, but are not named on a map until page 329. The Angelina and Neches Rivers are also mentioned on page 105, but I cannot find them on any map in the book.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a page turner of breathtaking clarity filled with knowledge and wisdom not often found in such work. The scholar who can mesmerize, the story teller who can make it all work out, the scribe whose language is more than the sum of its parts, Calloway hits a high note up front and never falters. The best history is the greatest of knowledge and this book ranks with Churchill's history of World War II and Weir's chronicles of Europe's monarchs for its ability to take the impossibly complex and weave from it a cloth of rich and interesting and finally explanatory gold well within the reach of even the most casual reader.

Calloway has walked the trails of a continent in the fury of discovery and come away with the Golden Fleece, the Grail of getting the story right from everyone's perspective. Tall words but I think the author lives up to the billing. Based on the historical account and the points of view of the primary characters, including the oral historians of generations, Calloway weaves an unmistakably great work of art and wonder, nothing less that the tale of how we all got here to this moment, frozen in time, living on recerved lands, living on trust lands, living on conquered lands that now define all of us together as Americans.

This is the book Mann cited as the reason he did not include a chapter on the Western US in his seminal work, 1491. A few chapters in you know the reason why. Mann simply could not have bettered the effort. If history rocks, this history rocks much of what you ever thought you knew about the story of America. This book is bed rock knowledge and should be required reading in any institute of higher education.
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