Historian Brian DeLay unearths the forgotten role played by Native Americans in the U.S.–Mexican War.
We’ve been told repeatedly over the past generation — and especially since 9/11 — that the world is more complicated than it used to be. The bipolarity of the Cold War is gone for good, and even a term like “multi-polar” seems naively tidy for an unprecedented and bewildering global era increasingly driven by nongovernmental organizations, multinational corporations, terrorist networks, insurgent groups, tribal councils, warlords, drug cartels and other non-state actors and organizations. Our times may be baffling, but they are hardly unprecedented. States have always shared the international arena with non-state actors. However, abetted by professional historians, states have usually promoted international narratives that leave non-state actors trivialized, distorted, or ignored altogether. Consider the U.S.–Mexican War of 1846 to 1848. Historians on both sides of the border have framed the war as a story about states. They’ve crafted narratives of the conflict with virtually no conceptual space for the people who actually controlled most of the territory that the two counties went to war over: the Navajos, Apaches, Comanches, Kiowas, and other independent Indian peoples who dominated Mexico’s far north. These native polities are invisible, or at best trivial, in history books about the U.S.–Mexican War, Manifest Destiny, and Mexico’s own early national period.