Into the American Woods

James Merrell, Author
James Merrell, Author W. W. Norton & Company $27.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-393-04676-2
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Northwestern University history professor Merrell (The Indians of the New World) delivers a stunningly original and exceedingly well-written account of diplomacy on the edge of the Pennsylvania wilderness in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Readers of James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales will remember characters like the Deerslayer--whites who lived on the edge of civilization, who adopted many ways of the Native Americans and thus were able to build bridges and negotiate peace across vast rivers of cultural difference. Merrell gives us portraits of the real-life Deerslayers. He also profiles their Delaware and Iroquois counterparts and shows how these early de facto diplomats were indispensable in constructing the ""long peace"" that reigned between Native Americans and colonists on the Pennsylvania frontier from the early 1680s through 1750. Merrell is at his best, though, when he shreds the myth--promulgated in Cooper's fiction and more recently in Kevin Costner's film Dances with Wolves--of the white wilderness men as advocates for Native Americans. As Merrell shows, these pioneers never lost their European prejudices. For them, getting along with the Delawares and Iroquois was only ""a necessary step on the road to a brighter future, a time when those Indians would follow the forest into oblivion."" Illustrations not seen by PW. (Jan.)
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