Killing over Land
Murder and Diplomacy on the Early American Frontier
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
Though sometimes clearly committed to stoke racial animus and incite war, interracial murder also gave both Native and white leaders an opportunity to improve relations, or at least profit from conflict resolution. In the seventeenth century, most Indigenous people held and used enough leverage to dictate the terms on which such conflicts were resolved; but after the mid-eighteenth century, population and material advantages gave white settlers the upper hand. Owens describes the ways settler colonialism, as practiced by Anglo-Americans, put tremendous pressure on Native peoples, culturally, socially, and politically, forcing them to adapt in the face of violence and overwhelming numbers.
By the early nineteenth century, many Native leaders recognized that, with population and power so heavily skewed against them, it was only practical to negotiate for the best possible terms; lex talionis justice—blood for blood—proved an unrealistic goal. Consequently, Indigenous and white leaders alike became all too willing to overlook murder if it led to some kind of gain—if, for instance, justice might be traded for financial compensation or land cessions.
Ultimately, what Owens analyzes in Killing over Land is nothing less than the commodification of human life in return for a sense of order—as defined and accepted, however differently, by both Native and white authorities as the contest for land and resources intensified in the European colonization of North America.
Robert M. Owens is Professor of History at Wichita State University. He specializes in colonial U.S. history and the Early Republic. He is the author of Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer: William Henry Harrison and the Origins of American Indian Policy (OU Press, 2007). His articles have appeared in the Journal of the Early Republic and the Journal of Illinois History.
“Intercultural murders on the early American frontier permeate the historical literature as acts of racial hatred. But Robert M. Owens, having reconstructed and dissected one murder after another, shows that they happened for many reasons, often with far-reaching repercussions. Killing over Land also reveals that justice, when applied, came in different forms and had to be carefully negotiated.”—Colin G. Calloway, author of The Indian World of George Washington: The First President, the First Americans, and the Birth of the Nation
“Killing over Land delves into the murky, sanguinary ground between war and peace, and provides fresh insights on homicide as as an instrument of both Native agency and settler-colonial dispossession.”—John W. Hall, author of Uncommon Defense: Indian Allies in the Black Hawk War
“With his clear and vigorous prose, Robert M. Owens draws his readers into the world of the early American frontier. Those interested in the history of American violence will find Owens’s book eye-opening, while students of Native American and frontier history will find Murder in Indian Country invaluable.”—David A. Nichols, author of Peoples of the Inland Sea: Native Americans and Newcomers in the Great Lakes Region, 1600–1870