Indians, Settlers, and the Law in Washington Territory, 1853-1889
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A solid, specialized contribution to American Indian legal history. Independent scholar Asher argues that standard histories of the 19th-century American West regard Indian policy, and particularly the workings of the reservation system, as monolithic and inflexible; in that view, Indians, once consigned to a reservation, became ciphers who no longer counted in the great narrative of the nation’s westward movement. In fact, Asher maintains, Indian policy was much more fluid than all that; Indians may have moved to reservations, but many more remained outside them, becoming part of the Anglo economy without ever quite becoming assimilated. This fact was generally met without objection, especially in Washington State, the case area of Asher’s study. “Having obtained Indian lands through warfare, treaties, and statutes of dubious legality,” he writes, “many settlers in Washington found that they could not dispense with the Indians. To wrest profit from the land, the settlers needed Indian labor—to cut the trees, harvest the fish, clear the land, and provide transportation—and they needed Indian goods—horses, foodstuffs, furs, and other items.” Despite this reliance, the settlers sought legal ways to separate themselves from the conquered Indians, by, for instance, enacting various segregation laws like the Marriage Act of 1866, which forbade intermarriage between members of different ethnic groups, equating such marriages with polygamy and other crimes against society. Even so, notes Asher, those marriages continued, and so did many other kinds of commerce between the dominant society and the displaced one, even in the face of the draconian summary punishments meted out to Indians who did not “know their place.” As time went on, Asher shows, the Indians of Washington came to use the law, especially where federal measures promised relief from harsher state ordinances, to better their situation. Asher’s well-written account of this evolution of understanding makes for a useful contribution to the small but growing body of work on Anglo-Native American legal interaction. (2 maps)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8061-3107-1
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Univ. of Oklahoma
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1999


IndiePICTURE THIS by Susan Enns Stans
by Susan Enns Stans