Thundersticks: Firearms and the Violent Transformation of Native America

Belknap: Harvard Univ. Oct. 2016. 400p. illus. maps. notes. index. ISBN 9780674737471. $29.95. HIST
OrangeReviewStarRejecting the paradigm that American Indians were ignorant of the military possibilities provided by firearms, Silverman (history, George Washington Univ.; Red Bretheren) endeavors to demonstrate how native groups utilized access to "thundersticks" to expand their territories and victimize their neighbors. They chose to abandon traditional weaponry in favor of firearms because the latter delivered grievous wounds and could be shot from afar. European traders from England, France, the Netherlands, Russia, and Spain provided the weapons, either as a result of the fur trade or the desire to see them used against European rivals. American Indians came to view their guns as both a symbol of manhood and a religious relic, using trade not only to acquire ammunition but also to deny their enemies access to them. This tactic granted groups such as the Iroquois great power, curtailed only when neighboring peoples became similarly armed. By the 19th century, warriors among tribes such as the Comanche and Sioux were far more effective with rifles while on horseback than American soldiers, yet had become hopelessly outgunned by the U.S. military.
VERDICT This thought-provoking work will appeal to all readers interested in the history of North America.

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