Vividly describes the activities of fur traders but largely overlooks the effect on Native Americans.



Two authors team up for an exhaustive survey of the North American fur trade that focuses on how European explorers and entrepreneurs depended on Native Americans.

For three centuries, the fur trade dominated the New World’s economy as Europeans penetrated the remote corners of North America in search of pelts. But according to the authors, most historical works about this vital industry have portrayed Native Americans as a “hindrance to be managed, overcome and exploited” by Europeans. In this exhaustively researched book, the authors instead show that the fur trade actually “rested in the cradle of Indian culture”; the trade prospered only as it adapted to the lifestyles and traditions of aboriginals. With chapters devoted to different fur-trading regions across the continent, the book describes how white men borrowed freely from the natives, such as using their birch-bark canoes to navigate waterways. In present-day Wyoming, it was Crow Indians who told explorers Jedediah Smith and John H. Weber of “a country with streams so rich in beaver a man did not require traps to take them.” The book vividly documents white men’s interactions with such memorable characters as Chief Kwah of the Carrier tribe in British Columbia, who once held a knife to the throat of a British official who had hanged a Native American murderer. (Kwah’s wife successfully begged for the official’s life.) However, the book could have benefited from a more streamlined narrative, since the level of detail tends to obscure the authors’ theme. Some chapters take the European viewpoint the authors were trying to avoid. More importantly, the book largely overlooks how the fur trade affected Native Americans. The trade opened up North America to the white man but at a terrible price to its indigenous inhabitants. The authors describe how one trader bribed some Indians “with a barrel of whiskey made into two hundred gallons of Blackfoot rum,” but diseases, such as smallpox, that the white men brought with them are only briefly mentioned.

Vividly describes the activities of fur traders but largely overlooks the effect on Native Americans.

Pub Date: March 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-1466262027

Page Count: 510

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2012

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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