First Peoples and Warpaths: Comparative Review

As long as humanity exists, people’s minds will always try to unravel the mysteries that History is responsible for. The more controversial this or that historical problem is the more disputable researches appear.

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Most of the present books that are concerned with historical problems throw light on the existing paradigms. A few of them provide the reader with a journey through centuries by means of maps, documents and other supportive materials. A very few can boast of presenting the reader a sufficient overview of the existing problem, formulate it in an appropriate way, suggest new perspectives, new information on it and some innovative approaches to the problem study. The books the current paper is concerned with are just of the kind.

We are going to talk about ‘First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History’ (2007) by Colin G. Calloway and ‘Warpaths: Invasions of North America’ (1994) by Ian K. Steele.

Both of the authors are professors of History: Colin G. Calloway is a professor of History and Samson Occom Professor of Native American Studies at Dartmouth College; Ian K. Steele is a professor of History at the University of Western Ontario. The most prominent works of Colin G. Calloway include ‘The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North America’ (2006); ‘One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West before Lewis and Clark’ (2003); the ‘First Peoples” (2007) we are going to discuss here is also among the most award-winning books of the author.

Ian K. Steele is a professor of History at the University of Western Ontario. His award-winning books include ‘Betrayals: Fort William Henry and the “Massacre” (1993) and ‘The English Atlantic, 1675-1740’ (1986). Though his work ‘Warpath: Invaders of North America’ has never got any awards, its contribution to the study of Native Americans can hardly be overestimated.

The main concern of both books under consideration is American Indian history. In the ‘First Peoples’ the author has taken this wide and complex field and has effectively narrowed it to significant and fascinating events. The book suggests perspectives on the past, overviews American History before Columbus, investigates the existence of The Iroquois Great League of Peace, examines the Laws of the Confederacy, pictures early American towns and cities and gives a deep analysis of the invasions of America during 1492-1680.

Also, the topics covered in the book include: two views on King Philip, the war with the Indians in New England, Indians in Colonial and Revolutionary America, 1680-1786, American Indians and the New Nation, 1783-1838, foundations of Federal Indian Law and a Native Response and other issues that are important in terms of understanding American Indian history.

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Ian K. Steele chooses a more concrete aspect from the American Indian history for investigation: the author tests the hypothesis about the Native Americans defeats to invading Europeans because of the lack of the necessary military technologies. To address the issue of competing technologies the author examines five arenas of French, English, Dutch, and Spanish contact with Indians, during 1513-1763.

The first part of the book describes and compares five different centers of interaction between Amerindians (this term is used throughout the book in reference to American Indians) and Europeans in the crucial initial phase of their interconnection that included “meeting, fighting, tolerating, cooperating, or incorporating each other into their own pre-existing conflicts.” (Steele, 1994, p. 2) In the second part of the book the author investigates the Anglo-French inter-colonial wars, and, what is more important, the consequences of the wars and peace for Amerindians. Steele stresses on the fact that it was the period when flintlocks became the common weapon and mixed up martial values, methods and objectives.

This period is characterized by the “balance of violence between the colonial competitors and an Amerindian interest in perpetuating the contest.” (Steele, 1994, p.2). Part III is considered to be the climax of the story, as it describes the changes that attended the arrival of the European regulars, with these innovations the ways of war were radically changed. The changes in the way of war led to British victory in the European invasion of colonial North America and the peace after the Amerindian War of 1763 to 1765.

Thus, we can see that the subjects of both authors’ inquiries often interrelate and both books under analysis might serve as a sufficient supplement one to another.

But, having similar goals the authors of the books had different approaches as for how to achieve them. This results in the different organization that the two books have. The ‘First Peoples’ appears to be more structuralized than the ‘Warpath’: in Calloway’s book each chapter contains a brief narrative, primary-source documents with headnotes and questions, each chapter goes along with a topical picture essay that is of extreme importance for understanding the problem that is being discussed.

The signature format of the book that combines narrative, written and visual documents becomes even more appropriate because of its ideal balance between primary and secondary source material used and demonstrated throughout the narrative. The documents that the narrator uses often become crucial for the reader’s understanding of his or her message. The book ‘First Peoples’ is just the case. Though, this does not mean that the author of the ‘Warpath’ lacks primary and secondary source material supporting his argument, but his usage of them leaves much to be desired if compared with Calloway’s.

But this book seems to be more interesting while considering the approaches that the author used. Steele blends military History with ethnohistorical analysis. In the preface to his book Steele writes:

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This is an invitation to rethink a major aspect of early North American History by bringing together two scholarly fields that do not usually interact. One is the fashionable, if sometimes shrill and sanctimonious, field of ethnohistory, which is developing so quickly that any attempt at accessible synthesis is bound to be premature and incomplete. Ethnohistory has rightly restored the Amerindian to North American History and “discovered” the invasions of the continent.

The other field is the less fashionable, sometimes case-hardened and myopic, study of “the colonial wars.” Military History can measure the capacity to gather and use allies, warriors, food, weapons, and ideologies in conflicts that make some essential comparisons horribly obvious; cultural relativity offers no comfort to those defeated in battle. Drawing on both military and ethnohistorical perspectives, this brief study tries to reach beyond the racism evident in many accounts about victims, criminals, or heroes–accounts that are either myopic or antidotal. (Steele, 1994, p. 2)

The conclusion that the author reaches after using this approach is that Native Americans, no matter whom they confronted, responded with “martial and diplomatic skill” that contributed to the relative balance between Europeans and Indians (Steele, 1994, p. 12). During the confrontations the sides adapted to each other’s technologies and tactics. The author argues that the emergence of snaphaunce guns in the late 17th century was an influential technological development, but these guns became agents of conquest there where Indians didn’t have social cohesion, sufficient numbers of warriors or access to similar weapons.

We cannot but compare the two books by the criticism the reader is empowered to express. In the case of the ‘First peoples’ the weak point that we observed is that the author constantly uses various stereotypes and assumptions that are more favorable to the myths of the American Indian. As the story runs, American Indians are not considered such the ecological Indians as they are made out to be in History. We believe that the book would have benefited from the author’s not writing in such a conservative manner as he did.

As for the ‘Warpath,’ we suppose that there is a problem of interdisciplinary studies. Military History is studied more proficiently if compared to ethnohistory. Though the author often resorts to the most recent works in the relevant fields, sometimes he fails to use them to the fullest effect.

Still, considering the various arguments in favor of and against the two books, we consider them to be worth of praise and admiration from its users. Both the ‘First Peoples’ and the ‘Warpath’ present an outstanding synthesis of American Indian History and can serve a professional assistant for everyone engaged in Native American History study.


Calloway, C. G. (2007). First Peoples: A documentary survey of American Indian history, 3rd ed. Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Steele, I. K. (1994). Warpaths: Invasions of North America. Oxford University Press.

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