Cover: How the Indians Lost Their Land: Law and Power on the Frontier, from Harvard University PressCover: How the Indians Lost Their Land in PAPERBACK

How the Indians Lost Their Land

Law and Power on the Frontier

Product Details


Print on Demand

$31.00 • £26.95 • €28.95

ISBN 9780674023963

Publication Date: 04/30/2007

Academic Trade

352 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

9 halftones

Belknap Press


Add to Cart

Media Requests:

Related Subjects

Stuart Banner has written an intriguing account examining the dynamic and convoluted territorial, legal, political, and economic relationships among indigenous nations and colonial nations, particularly Great Britain, and its principal successor, the United States… Banner provides, especially in the first two-thirds of the book, a fresh perspective—utilizing a variety of high quality original and secondary materials—on one of the most crucial questions that has animated indigenous/nonindigenous relations since the arrival of Europeans: how and why did Native peoples lose ownership of ninety-eight percent of their lands to non-Natives? This powerful question has generally occupied the attention of many people inside and outside the academy, but very few have explored it to the depth that Banner has… This is a text that is quite striking, informative, and one that will be useful to a variety of audiences: historians, legal scholars, political scientists, and sociologists, among others… I hope it enjoys a wide readership as it deftly addresses important questions regarding land and sovereignty that continue to have great legal, property, and moral potency today.—David E. Wilkins, American Historical Review

[An] important new study… Despite the common belief that colonists simply took what they wanted by right of conquest, Banner shows that English colonial policy recognized Indians as legitimate owners of the land. That policy was continued by the American nation-state. If the colonies—or, later, the U.S. federal government—wanted Indian land, it had to be purchased or otherwise obtained by cession through legitimate treaty. This policy, Banner argues, developed not out of respect for Indians but out of concern for settlers. After all, it was far less expensive to purchase land than to expend the blood and treasure required to seize it. And deeds of sale or treaties of cession provided a much firmer legal foundation for a property system than did wars of conquest. Banner acknowledges that raw power was important. As settlers grew stronger in relation to Indians, he argues, fraud and violence became more widespread. Yet the legal formalities were preserved.—John Mack Faragher, Bookforum

Banner’s well-documented history addresses the question of how repeated land sales drove Indians west, with a careful detailing of transactions from the 1600s to the 1900s. Did the Indians think they were agreeing only to ‘share resources,’ and were the English aware of the Indians’ increasing poverty as a result of these one-sided transactions? The author describes how land sales changed from contracts between private parties to treaties between sovereign nations after the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, followed by the convenient perception of Native Americans not as owners of their land but merely as occupants.—Deborah Donovan, Booklist

Banner contributes a major new conceptualization and many fresh insights into how the Indians lost their land…[the] studies compel readers to reconsider many aspects of Indian history, identity, and issues related to removal, migration, and life on reservations… Both specialists and nonspecialists will find these studies interesting and beneficial…they raise important questions and answer them in detail with new discoveries and insights.—Rodger C. Henderson, Canadian Journal of History

Employing an impressive array of the latest Native American scholarship, as well as published primary documents, Banner argues—in opposition to what he claims is a ‘near-consensus among historians and lawyers’—that by the end of the seventeenth century the English normally acknowledged that Indian land had to be obtained by contract, not by force… The valuable work clearly explains the sometimes obtuse legal framework that the English and Americans used to dispossess the Indians of the United States of most of their lands, a subject that has confused many scholars of Native American history, as well as Native Americans themselves, for a very long time.—F. Todd Smith, Historian

Banner’s book, which is well suited for undergraduate use, is a wonderful introduction to a surprisingly complex subject. Banner covers with brevity and style the entire period from the first English settlements through the General Allotment Act of 1887. He discusses the land policies pursued by the English and American governments as well as the intellectual and legal justifications for those policies… Banner skillfully avoids casting this tale as a simple morality play.—Michael Leroy Oberg, New England Quarterly

In deceptively simple prose, Stuart Banner lays out the complexities and contradictions of the long history of how Anglo-Americans justified the dispossession of Native Americans. His even-handed exploration of the moral gymnastics necessary for lawyers, politicians, and writers to make expropriation seem logical and Native participation voluntary breathes new life into the old saying about the pen proving mightier than the sword.—Daniel K. Richter, author of Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America

In a subtle and sometimes startling reinterpretation of 18th and 19th century North American land transfers, Stuart Banner shows how relentlessly expansionary colonial powers met active and savvy Indians who worked to protect their interests as best they could. In the end, it was the English and American power to declare what was lawful that transformed power into right and facilitated increasingly involuntary land transfers at extraordinarily low prices, leaving the Indians worse off than before and bereft of a continent.—Joseph William Singer, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Recent News

Black lives matter. Black voices matter. A statement from HUP »

From Our Blog

Photograph of the book Fearless Women against red/white striped background

A Conversation with Elizabeth Cobbs about Fearless Women

For Women’s History Month, we are highlighting the work of Elizabeth Cobbs, whose new book Fearless Women shows how the movement for women’s rights has been deeply entwined with the history of the United States since its founding. Cobbs traces the lives of pathbreaking women who, inspired by American ideals, fought for the cause in their own ways