Monday, January 06, 2014

Warde: "WHEN THE WOLF CAME: The Civil War and the Indian Territory"

[When the Wolf Came: The Civil War and the Indian Territory by Mary Jane Warde (University of Arkansas Press, 2013). Hardcover, 2 maps, photos, notes, biblio essay, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:312/404. ISBN:978-1-55728-642-0 $34.95]

Prospective students of the Civil War in the Indian Territory (a vast area roughly bounded by Oklahoma's present state borders) will not find the kind of well established secondary literature common to other areas of study. There isn't even a truly good survey history available. Though all were published by reputable presses, Annie Abel's classic early twentieth century trilogy is a bit dated at this point and more recent volumes by Wilfred Knight and Lary & Donald Rampp are both unsatisfactory. The need for a broad introductory volume of scholarly merit has never been greater and Mary Jane Warde's When the Wolf Came: The Civil War and the Indian Territory is a notable improvement.

Beginning her examination long before the beginning of the Civil War years and ending it decades after the final surrender, Warde scrutinizes the subject through a wide lens. Centering her narrative on the so-called Five Civilized Tribes (the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee/Creek, and Seminole peoples), the author chronicles antebellum threats from within, mainly over removal treaties, and from without. Forcing the tribes to choose sides in what often seemed like a lose-lose situation, the American Civil War created new internal schisms as well as exacerbated the old feuds spawned by the violent removal debates.  The large amount of space devoted to the above pays dividends later on, helping readers to better understand how the Civil War between North and South also became a intra- and inter-tribal Civil War, one that spilled over from Indian Territory into neighboring Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas. 

A lengthy section at the end of the book charts the slow, decades long erosion of tribal sovereignty and resource control in Indian Territory, the associated influx of white settlement and economic development culminating in the creation of the state of Oklahoma in 1907. Warde does an able job of rendering these complicated events into digestible form. She also gamely attempts to quantify the human and material losses incurred by the tribes during the war, while additionally demonstrating how little loyalty to the Union shielded tribes from postwar land dispossession.

Much of the book's middle space traces military events, with all the significant campaigns and battles at least briefly recounted. These include the flight of the pro-Union Creek faction under Opothleyahola to Kansas in 1861, Confederate Indian participation at Pea Ridge, and the Union army's 1862 Indian Expeditions. Back and forth skirmishes and raids continued over the next two years. The book duly notes these smaller scale happenings and also provides brief accounts of the battles of First and Second Cabin Creek, Honey Springs, and Middle Boggy among others. A great deal of ground is covered in all this and details limited, but the overall record is a comprehensive one. However, one wishes more light had been shed on the guerrilla warfare aspects of the fighting in Indian Territory, as distinct from the more formalized aspects of the irregular conflict. The impression is given that large areas were rife with bushwhacking on a scale similar to that experienced in Missouri, but Warde does not specify any individual leaders or groups involved. More maps also would have helped guide the reader over Indian Territory's vast unfamiliar ground. The two area maps commissioned for the book offer only a general sense of place.

Recognizing that existing histories do little to address the western half of Indian Territory in any substantive manner, Warde goes some way toward integrating the 1864-65 plains conflicts with those associated with the Five Tribes. Confederates hoped to exploit existing tribal relationships to forge new ties with the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, Comanche, and Plains Apaches enraged by U.S. western expansion in general and Sand Creek in particular. On the other side, Union authorities sought to subdue the plains tribes and confine them eventually to reservations in the western reaches of Indian Territory.

In conducting her primary source research, Warde mined federal records and Oklahoma archives. The author is a proponent of oral history, quoting extensively from tribal and slave narratives recorded in 1930s interviews. The value of these is controversial for obvious reasons.  Warde uses them with the recognition that the memories of old men and women going back to when they were small children can be very unreliable, but, as they are the only sources available in many instances, she deems them worthy of at least judicious consideration.  In addition to a formal bibliography, Warde also includes a bibliographical essay, one that's pretty comprehensive if rather thin in critical commentary.

With general history projects as ambitiously broad in scope as this one, synthetic elements necessarily abound.  Unfortunately, as mentioned before, the secondary literature for the Indian Territory is one of the more underdeveloped in the Civil War literature. This lack of solidly dependable antecedents can lead to problems when overly relied upon, and some sections lean too much on secondary sources.  As an example, rather than critically evaluating the work of previous scholars and writers, the book's account of Middle Boggy essentially parrots that of one of its source articles, even to the point of providing the same erroneous date for the battle.  A cursory look into the relevant sections of the O.R. (it took me only seconds online) supplies the correct information.

It's flaws aren't devastating, though. With its unprecedentedly full ranging and capable integration of the economic, military, political, and social aspects of the Indian Territory inhabitants's collective Civil War experiences, When the Wolf Came can be comfortably regarded as the best subject overview to date. As with most books of this type, specialists will find large blocks of familiar content and can quibble with details, but new readers and those with a more diffuse interest in the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi West finally have a useful general treatment at their disposal. It may not be an ideally realized update, but it is a forward step in the right direction and highly recommended reading.



More CWBA reviews of UAP titles:
* Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Alabama in the Civil War
* Worthy of the Cause for Which They Fight: The Civil War Diary of Brigadier General Daniel Harris Reynolds, 1861-1865
* The Die Is Cast: Arkansas Goes to War, 1861 (Butler Center)
* Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Missouri in the Civil War
* Army Life: From a Soldier’s Journal
* The Fate of Texas: The Civil War and the Lone Star State
* A Rough Introduction to this Sunny Land (Butler Center)
* Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861-1865
* A Thrilling Narrative
* Confederate Guerrilla
* Guerrillas, Unionists, and Violence on the Confederate Home Front
* Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Tennessee in the Civil War
* Civil War Arkansas: Beyond Battles and Leaders
* "I Acted From Principle": The Civil War Diary Of Dr. William M. McPheeters, Confederate Surgeon In The Trans-Mississippi
* Autobiography of Samuel S. Hildebrand

4 comments:

  1. This book sounds interesting.

    We are working up a pair of lengthy manuscripts, one directly related to this particular book. It is tentatively titled "BETWEEN KANSAS AND TEXAS: THE INDIAN NATIONS IN THE CIVIL WAR," by Dr. Clint Crowe.

    The second is an in-depth evaluation of Confederate forces in the Trans-Mississippi Theater.

    I think (hope) both will be well received as they offer substantial unique information and observations.

    Ted Savas

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    Replies
    1. Is the first one Crowe's Master's thesis reworked for publication, or is it an entirely new work? There are many TM theses and dissertations that may be worthy of publication. I would like to see Jason Harris's "Combat, Supply, and the Influence of Logistics during the Civil War in Indian Territory" get released in book form. Would have to change the title..Ha.

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    2. Hi Drew, Yes, it is his Master's Thesis (actually I think his dissertation), reworked with loads of new maps, photos, etc. It is quite interesting. I have not seen Harris' work. Do you have a copy handy?

      PS. You need a year-end photographic award category. We had a winner for you this year. :)

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    3. No, but much of it is available on Google books.

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