I’m a writer, author, historian, and a university History professor at UNC Wilmington. I mainly write books and articles that deal with American Indian history, though that is also a branch of American History (or North Carolina history, Texas History, Oklahoma history and such). When I meet people, they often ask me questions and usually they’re asking the same questions. So I thought I’d give some answers here.
“How did you get interested in American Indian History?” I was a copywriter at a Dallas advertising agency and I soon realized that the Mad Men life was not for me. But I did enjoy reading history and my colleagues often asked me to tell them history stories. So when I got a chance to get my Master’s in History back in Natchitoches, Louisiana, I decided to take the chance. I found myself drawn to Natchitoches’ French colonial history – it’s the oldest town in the Louisiana Purchase, built around 1714. But it didn’t take me long to see how important the Caddo, Wichita, and Comanche Indians were to French colonial and Natchitoches history. It was Indian horses, deer hides, and friendship that made French and then Spanish Natchitoches prosper. While the French and Spanish may have talked about how they were in charge, in reality, they usually danced to an Indian tune.
The next question is similar: “Why Indian history?” The simple answer is: because it is fascinating! Here you have all these different Indian peoples, as diverse as the different peoples of Europe, and then in the early 1500s they are invaded by an alien, technologically-superior people. And for the next 500 years, Indian people develop all sorts of strategies and agendas for coping with these alien people. They engage in trade. They try to adopt the new technology and often the new beliefs the Europeans bring with them. They make alliances with them. They go to war against them. They try to manipulate the Europeans as much as the Europeans try to manipulate them. And through it all the Native Americans have to deal with new diseases they’ve never experience and so don’t have any immunities. Sometimes these American Indian strategies work. Often times they don’t. Still, what amazes me all the more is not that Indian peoples had horrible things happen to them, but that after 500 years and despite all the European and American attempts to wipe out them and their “Indianness, that Indian peoples survived and are still here today.
Maybe it’s that I’m a sucker for the underdogs. Or maybe it’s that I’m fascinated by the clash of cultures. I like to imagine American History from an Indian’s point of view. Once you do that, everything shifts, and it become a different story. And that’s the stories I like to tell. I hope you’ll enjoy reading them.
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