In 1513, only a few years before Cortes conquered the Aztec empire, Juan Ponce de Leon and three shiploads of conquistadores landed just south of what is now St. Augustine, Florida. The Spanish adventurers, however, were quickly driven away by the Timucua people; further landings were similarly defeated by the powerful archery fire of the Calusa, who ultimately took the lives of Hernandez de Cordoba and Ponce de Leon himself. Clearly, the European experience in North America would be a far cry from their swift victories over the Aztecs and Incas.
In Warpaths, Ian K. Steele provides a sweeping history of the numerous European invasions of North America, painting a dramatic new portrait of the centuries of warfare that shook the continent. Steele's fascinating account destroys the old image of technologically advanced Europeans overrunning primitive savages. Instead, he reveals how Amerindians rose to the challenge of each successive invasion with martial and diplomatic skill, from the defeat of Ponce de Leon in 1513 to a negotiated peace with the British in 1765. In war after war, the Amerindians and Europeans battled in a precarious balance, adapting each other's technology and tactics and seeking each other out as supply sources for food and weapons. Steele follows the experience of the Spanish at San Agustín, the English at Jamestown and Plymouth, the French at Québec, and the Dutch at Albany, revealing the vast range of Amerindian strategies for coping with the invaders. For a century and a half, for example, Amerindians repelled the Spanish in Florida; the Powhatan fought the English at Jamestown for just as long. The Algonquin and Huron skillfully drew the French into their wars with the Mohawk, while the Wampanoag reach an accommodation with the Pilgrims that lasted for fifty years. Throughout the era, the Amerindians shrewdly played on European rivalries; indeed, they faced the greatest danger when the European courts declared peace between their colonies. The Five Nations, Creek, and Cherokee confederations in particular used the Europeans to extend their own power. Steele continues the story through the arrival of European regulars in 1755, showing how the Amerindians adapted to the resulting changes in warfare and the ultimate British victory over the French. In the end, the triumphant English were faced with a powerful Amerindian campaign against their outlying posts that forced them to accept a military stalemate on the frontier, leading to a negotiated balance of power in 1765.
The conflicts that erupted with the European arrival have long been encrusted with myth and self-congratulatory folklore. Warpaths offers a startling new look at this pivotal era, combining social, cultural, and military history to provide a more nuanced portrait of the violence that gave birth to modern North America.