*Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power*

That is the new wonderful and stunning book by Pekka Hämäläinen, here is one excerpt from the opening section:

Two centuries earlier, in the middle years of the seventeenth century, the Lakotas h ad been an obscure tribe of hunters and gatherers at the edge of a bustling new world of Native Americans and European colonists that had emerged in the Eastern Woodlands of North America.  They had no guns and no metal weapons, and they carried little political clout, all of which spelled danger: the odds of survival were slim for people who lacked access to Europeans and their new technologies of killing.  That crisis set off what may be the most improbably expansion in American history.  Lakotas left their ancient homelands and reinvented themselves as horse people in the continental grasslands that stretched seemingly forever into the horizon.  This was the genesis of what I call Lakota America, an expansive, constantly transmuting Indigenous regime that pulled numerous groups into its orbit, marginal and dispossessed its rivals — both Native and colonial — and commanded the political, social, and economic life in the North American interior for generations.  Just as there was Spanish, French, British, and the United States of America, there was Lakota America, the sovereign domain of the Lakota people and their kin and allies, a domain they would protect and, if necessary, expand.  A century later, the Lakotas had shifted the center of their world three hundred miles west into the Missouri Valley, where they began to transform into a dominant power.  Another century later they were the most powerful Indigenous nation in the Americas, controlling a massive domain stretching across the northern Great Plains into the Rocky Mountains and Canada.

…Yet they never numbered more than fifteen thousand people.

I will blog this book a bit more, for now I’ll just say it is very much in the running for very best book of the year.  It brings Native American history to life in a conceptual manner better than any other book I know.  You can buy it here, I found every section gripping and highly instructive and fun to read as well.  Here is a very good and accurate Parul Sehgal NYT review.


I was just talking to somebody about the Sioux's amazing self-transformation into horse warriors and wondered why it never happened in sub-Saharan Africa. Abyssinian highlanders had cavalry, but I guess the tsetse fly sleeping sickness kept horses from spreading south. But I presume the highlands of South Africa are healthy for horses.
Did Arab slave traders introduce horses to Southeast Africa?

Considering how the Zulu transformed themselves into fearsome infantry, they would have been very hard for the Boer and English to beat if they also had cavalry.

This also raises the old Jared Diamond question about domesticating zebra, who I presume are more resistant to African diseases than are horses.

Perhaps the answer is that the Boers filled that ecological niche in southern africa. Like the Lakota they were a mid-19th C grassland horse-and-gun-culture, which pushed out pre-existing powers, until it got flattened by industrial railway-age capitalism.

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The Arab merchants and the slavers never bothered going south beyond Madagascar. The southernmost part of Africa was thinly populated by Khoi and San people and held few obvious natural resources.

Zebras are very nasty critters. You'd have better luck trying to domesticate hippos.

But they have been domesticated. When you have real horses, though, there is little point to it.


Excellent point. Perhaps it is the cost of domesticating them relative to the benefits (discounted by their range and survivability) that is most at issue. So while it can potentially be done it isn't worth doing. As you implied. Don't quote me, but I believe also part of domestication is that young animals will learn from the older animals to neither flee nor attack humans.

North American bison ("buffalos") have domesticated too, but Native Americans didn't do so. They managed the wild herds at a distance instead. Maybe if enough time had passed they would have done so just as Eurasian steppe people eventually domesticated cattle after millennia of hunting them wild.

TC: typo=>"for now I'll just now it is..." Interesting book. Oh, totally unrelated, you see that slashdot is reporting 5 of 11 astronauts (in study) on International Space Station had blood clots while in microgravity?

See latest season of "The Expanse".

If you're talking about season 4 on Amazon is that released? What I've seen in searches is a release date of next month.

I've been thinking a lot about change, or the ability to change (to transform). There's even something called the change quotient. To be consistent in one's life is hard, to change is harder. Why is it that we (I) continue to do things that produce an unsatisfactory result, or even a harmful result? MoDo's column today is about Trump's inability to change, which is his undoing. Trump's White Whale. Business is filled with imitators, aspiring entrepreneuers copying what successful entrepreneueers did in the past, yet successful entrepreneuers don't do what was done in the past, they look to the future and change. Economics is the worst. Most economists are stuck in the past, refusing to change even though their same old advice for a better future simply produces more of the past. Tax cuts for the wealthy is a certain class of economists White Whale. The Lakotas changed and by doing so not only survived the onslaught of Europeans but thrived. Until they didn't.

Travel to a reservation and observe me the thriving Lakotas.

America enjoys the Trump economy precisely because Trump changed the Bushes', Clintons', and Obama's lousy policies.

Trump is unable to change? He came back from bankruptcy, reinvented himself as a TV star, and got himself elected president by finding a political niche that no one else was occupying? The man who casually flips positions on any given issue either for political advantage or just out of personal spite? Who's been targeted by the permanent bureaucracy precisely because he's enormously disruptive?

Dowd is projecting. Trump haters get so locked into this unchanging notion that they have to hate him for every reason possible that they wind up having to defend criticisms that are totally at war with the facts.

+1, there's a lot to criticize about Trump, but the accusation of "Trump's inability to change" is delusional. It doesn't survive 30 seconds of reflection.

Yes the chameleon-like Dowd, as flexible with her gray matter as a master Yogi is with his limbs and spine, ever-changeable, unpredictable! ...Jesus H Keerist you can't even lampoon these people any more.

What if Custer had machine guns?

The great untold story of Custer was that his second in command lacked courage and failed to follow orders. It was that cowardice that caused the defeat.

Untold Stories are sometimes untold because they aren't true. Other times, because they are covered up by the deep state or other malignant conspiratorial groups.
Recommended reading:

From Little BigHorn to Little Big Man: That Changing Image of a Western Hero in Popular Culture, by Paul A. Hutton, The Western Historical Journal, vol. 7, no. 1, 1976, pp. 19-45.

Also, I might add, sometimes Untold stories are not untold. They have been told, but were either ignored or have been forgotten. See the Hutton article cited above for an example.

"What if Custer had machine guns?"

The 7th Cavalry had two Gatling Guns assigned to it. Custer left them back at the fort so they would not hinder mobility.

"...controlling a massive domain...."

How much control, though? With so few people involved, I would have to think that there were no institutions or systems of governance imposed. Was this simply a matter of tribute payments?

No tribute payment.

"Control" to the extent that if the Lakota found, say, a Crow (around the Civil War the Sioux displaced the Crow from their hunting grounds) on "their" land, they were killed and left with a tribal "calling card" - one band may cut the throat another may slash the corpse's thighs. If they took any Crow alive, they would be tortured to death - [one interpretation] to give the Crow brave opportunity to exhibit his fortitude.

They also murder raided each other for hell of it.

Lo the noble savage.

"…Yet they never numbered more than fifteen thousand people."

And controlled a huge amount of land. I never believed the estimates that American Indians numbered over 10 or 20 million.

Is it obvious whether or not the land they controlled contained other people? (For example the Normans only numbered about that many people, but the population of their England was much higher.)

This sounds very similar to the contemporaneous growth of the Commanche, also by mastery of the horse and use of metal-bladed lances. Wikipedia says they peaked at 20-40 k people.

Exactly my thought. Commanche during the mid 1800's pushed back the frontier over 100 miles.

It seems these horse tribes had a very low fertility. Hard to tell if that was more low number of births or rapid deaths, but I believe I have read the constant horse riding reduced the number of births.

Being pressed against the horse all day maybe kept their testicles too warm.

The same author wrote about book called the Comanche Empire. Whic also served as the basis of a very interesting solitaire boardgame called Comancheria

The big step nomad tribes usually topped out in the 20-40 thousand range too. There must be some sort of constraint on how large such societies can get.

Infant mortality rate?

Also European diseases would have continued to cull the numbers.

The glory years of the nomadic plains horse tribes weren't very long. Their brief success was both enabled and destroyed by European diseases.

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