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Publisher's Summary

Indian peoples made some 400 treaties with the United States between the American Revolution and 1871, when Congress prohibited them. They signed nine treaties with the Confederacy, as well as countless others over the centuries with Spain, France, Britain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, Canada, and even Russia, not to mention individual colonies and states. In retrospect, the treaties seem like well-ordered steps on the path of dispossession and empire. The reality was far more complicated.

In Pen and Ink Witchcraft, eminent Native American historian Colin G. Calloway narrates the history of diplomacy between North American Indians and their imperial adversaries, particularly the United States. Treaties were cultural encounters and human dramas, each with its cast of characters and conflicting agendas. Many treaties, he notes, involved not land, but trade, friendship, and the resolution of disputes. Far from all being one-sided, they were negotiated on the Indians' cultural and geographical terrain. When the Mohawks welcomed Dutch traders in the early 1600s, they sealed a treaty of friendship with a wampum belt with parallel rows of purple beads, representing the parties traveling side-by-side, as equals, on the same river. But the American republic increasingly turned treaty-making into a tool of encroachment on Indian territory.

Calloway traces this process by focusing on the treaties of Fort Stanwix (1768), New Echota (1835), and Medicine Lodge (1867), in addition to such events as the Peace of Montreal in 1701 and the treaties of Fort Laramie (1851 and 1868). His analysis demonstrates that native leaders were hardly dupes. The records of negotiations, he writes, show that "Indians frequently matched their colonizing counterparts in diplomatic savvy and tried, literally, to hold their ground." Each treaty has its own story, Calloway writes, but together they tell a rich and complicated tale of moments in American history when civilizations collided.

©2013 Oxford University Press (P)2014 Audible Inc.

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Terrific accounting at the core of the deceit

I was very pleasantly surprised by this audiobook. I was a bit hesitant to buy at first, fearing the topic may have been a bit too dry and academically handled. It's anything but. It's a methodical investigation of the history of European, then American, treaty making, and the sketchy adherence that followed.

As the blurb mentions, the native peoples involved are held to account for their own motivations and adherence to treaties, which is quite welcome. It is absolutely objective, not allowing for any shallow listener complaint of bias. But rather, that the native peoples are portrayed more deeply, as not merely victims of unscrupulous encroaching governments, but as complex bands of people, often struggling with internecine squabbles over how to best maintain their ways of life, or at least survive. Ultimately, on all legitimately agreed upon treaties (read: not rigged by Europeans or Americans by unilaterally designating more pliable members of tribes to be signatories), natives never reneged. The deceit was almost entirely one sided, by any standard. Hence, the pen and ink witchcraft.

The only notable point regarding the presentation was speed of the narration, which felt a bit like drowning in molasses. 1.5x, and even 2x, made it seem more natural, so by that standard, the time can be figured as between 7-10 hours, if that's important to anyone.

Even so, a good use of a credit. Highly recommended.