David J. Silverman
Firearms and the Violent Transformation of Native America
Harvard University Press 2016
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Native American StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books in Science, Technology, and SocietyNew Books in the American WestNew Books Network April 24, 2018 Stephen Hausmann
In Thundersticks: Firearms and the Violent Transformation of Native America (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016), David J. Silverman argues that Indian societies adopted firearm technology not because they were visually impressive or culturally significant (though they were both), but simply because they killed more efficiently. Using his concept of the “gun frontier,” Silverman, a professor of history at George Washington University, shows how contact between Natives and those Europeans willing to trade weapons for furs and other goods fundamentally altered the politics and power dynamics of a given region. Thundersticks draws on case studies from a broad sweep of time from the seventeenth to the mid-twentieth century, including the consolidation of Iroquois power, King Philip’s War, the otter fur trade in the Pacific Northwest, and the ascendency of the Blackfeet in the mountain west. Each story underscores the point that guns could both undermine colonial power as well as cause catastrophic conflict between Indian societies. Firearms changed Indian societies in innumerable ways, but when the gun trade lagged, so too did an individual polity’s power. Silverman’s book is a complicated, nuanced, look at how post-contact North America has long been a wildly interconnected place, and how it became a continent filled with blood and smoke.
Stephen Hausmann is a doctoral candidate at Temple University and Visiting Instructor of history at the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently writing his dissertation, a history of race and the environment in the Black Hills and surrounding northern plains region of South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana.