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In Wilderness Empire, Allen W. Eckert has given a sweeping and thorough look into the lives of key decision makers and the pivotal events leading up to and including the French and Indian War. Through Eckert’s educated insight, the reader is able to enjoy a look into a distant way of life made edifying through his portrayal of historical figures. Following the lives of William Johnson and his friend Tiyanoga, a powerful leader of The Six Nations, the reader is able to better understand a way of life that has long since been eradicated. Eckert provides portraits of the Ottawa warrior Pontiac and various French and English political leaders of this period. The reader recognizes and enjoys the appearance of a young George Washington and Ben Franklin.
Eckert records the early life of the characters William Johnson and Pontiac. Through this glimpse of such different and simple beginnings, the reader has a better understanding of the scale of change that took place during this time in history. Johnson, born a poor Irish Catholic, is given the opportunity to come to the colonies where he became a wealthy land owner and a successful businessman. Johnson, who was known among the Indian tribes as a man of clear sight and honesty, developed a deep relationship with Tiyanoga, a principal chief among the Mohawks. Through this bond with Tiyanoga, Johnson gained knowledge of native culture that gave him strong political influence with the Indian League of Nations, also called the Iroquois League or The Six Nations. As Pontiac grew to manhood in a culture that is foreign to most modern readers, he became a formidable leader among his people as the Ottawa war chief.
Wilderness Empire chronicles the relationship of the Iroquois League with the French and the English. As the tensions between the European powers grew, the Indians were courted by
emissaries from both countries. The reader is provided with an astute portrayal of the corrupt political systems that were used to both influence and prejudice the Native Americans, even to the extent of conversion of the Indian tribes by the French to a bastardized version of the Catholic faith. With this perspective, readers are offered an understanding of the strength of the Native American people as a warring force in this conflict. The English and the French both knew that they would be defeated if their political opponents could win the support of the tribes.
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In this novel Allen Eckert has given a glimpse into the political structure and lifestyle of the American Indian. Readers are able to gain a new awareness of the savagery of these people and the trepidation with which the European settlers viewed them. As the French and Indian war progressed, English families living along the edge of the settled regions were subjected to unspeakable brutalities from attacks by Indian tribes that had been encouraged by the French. This book provides the reader with a sense of the determination and perseverance which was necessary for the pioneers during this period of history.
Wilderness Empire gives a realistic and sometimes disturbing look at the way of life for English and French settlers in North America from 1715 through 1760. Through the many character portraits that have been provided by Allen W. Eckert, the reader is able to better ascertain the true events leading up to and during the French and Indian War. In his portrayal of William Johnson, Eckert makes this historical figure both real and affable. Johnson shines in this novel as a champion for the Native American and a leader for the American pioneer. Although so many people in power at this time were corrupt and dissolute, the author shows that by no means were all of them degenerate. Eckert also presents humane and likable characters such as the French General Louis Montcalm, his aide-de-camp Captain Louis Antoine Bougainville, English Commanding General William Shirley and Shirley’s sons.
In Wilderness Empire Eckert shows the fraudulent political maneuvering that was being undertaken by both the French and the English governments. This maneuvering made the conflict tedious for the already ineffective officers and more deadly for the soldiers and settlers. The almost unbelievable inability to compromise and lack of leadership among the English is equaled only by the self-serving incompetence and callousness of the French Canadian controlling elite that led to their waning and eventual defeat.
Although the Iroquois League was still intact at the end of this conflict, their power and numbers had been weakened and their strength would never be regained. Their policy of neutrality which was meant to keep the League intact had instead separated the tribes and robbed them of their power. Their inability to commit to one side or the other at the start of the war divided their strength and alienated them from one another. They found themselves in the midst of a civil war with the end result being that many Indian lives were lost in battles for both the French and the English.
Allan Eckert’s historical novel Wilderness Empire is well written, entertaining and educational. He succeeds in presenting a look at the political leaders of the French, the English and the Indians. The reader is offered a better understanding of the historical events leading up to and the outcome of the French and Indian War.