The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 100, July 1996 - April, 1997

Book Reviews

West particularly shines when he uses science to explain the impact of human-
ity on the Great Plains. Closely reading the documents of the time, he posits
that, during the 1840s, Indian people contributed to the decline of bison, which
was exacerbated by disease and other factors. In the first half of the nineteenth
century, a number of Indian peoples migrated onto the plains. This made an
area that had long been marginally used more contested, more trafficked, more
crowded, and less resource heavy. In the western portion of the central plains,
western Kansas and eastern Colorado especially, West shows that reports of buf-
falo diminished greatly after 1840; by 1850, almost no reports of these fine ani-
mals in this region exist. Finding a detente among Indian peoples that
demolished the border areas between different native peoples, West posits that
whereas peace was good for the Indian people, it was hard on the animals they
needed to sustain their way of life. As Richard White and Dan Flores have
shown, those edge areas were essential to maintaining animal populations that
sustained Indian people.
Although it is possible to regard such an argument as Malthusian, West's abili-
ty to sustain it with records from the time, scientific data, and other kinds of pri-
mary sources make his work compelling. His chapter on family structure is
intricate and sharp, showing the ways in which personal relationships changed
with the cultural climate of different times. Using the Sand Creek story as one
fulcrum of a stunning argument, West shows how closely interrelated whites and
Indian people in the Sand Creek area were. This addendum to the story takes a
situation easily regarded as clear and distinct and accomplishes the goal of all
good history: it takes what the reader knows is coming and forces a rethinking of
the way the situation is understood. Discussions of the concept of family and its
significance, of cross-cultural contact, sexual mores and practices help con-
tribute to a fuller picture of the Plains than has existed. The four-chapter
arrangement, following the format of the Calvin Horn lectures at the University
of New Mexico from which this volume is derived, allows West to sustain his ar-
guments over time and distance. Ranging widely, from views of land to the ani-
mals that inhabit it, to the relationships between and among people, and finally
to an attempt to put the Plains in broader context, West has produced a fine vol-
ume that deserves acclaim.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas HAL ROTHMAN
Backwoodsmen: Stockmen and Hunters Along the Big Thicket River Valley. By Thad Sit-
ton. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995. Pp. 310o. Preface, intro-
duction, notes, bibliography, index. ISBN o-8o61-2724-2.)
Thad Sitton has written an extremely good book. The Austin-based author
draws from boyhood experiences in East Texas to explore the historical roots of
woodland life along the Neches River Valley. Through interviews, census data,
historical and regional accounts, and other sources, the author reveals the daily
activities and seasonal routines of the so-called "backwoodsmen." His 31o-page

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 100, July 1996 - April, 1997. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101218/. Accessed July 31, 2014.