Review of the Book:

Wilderness Empire
by Allen W. Eckert

Jeff Heller

[July 2013]

Allen Eckert’s book, Wilderness Empire, is an incredible achievement, in my opinion. He describes the lives of English and French settlers in the eastern United States during the mid-1700s, and just as important, he describes the lives and shifting alliances of the various Indian tribes who inhabited the Northeast U.S., from Michigan through lower New England. Apparently, Eckert scoured documents and military journals where meetings of the Indians with white people, and with the Indians among themselves and with other tribes, were carefully written down. His research enabled Eckert to quote, almost verbatim, what people had to say. He explains in a preface that his quotes can only approximate what people said, but I felt like his quotes seemed extremely realistic and true to life. As a result, you get an incredibly close and interesting look at the Indians, how they reacted to the French and English, how they strategized, how they worried for their own futures, and how they responded (often savagely) to the white presence in North America.

Eckert also has chosen a central hero for the book, William Johnson, an Irishman who came to America and allied himself so closely with the Indians that they accepted him as one of them. Throughout the book, Johnson is torn between his loyalty to his new friends and his loyalty to his own people. Using Johnson’s story to frame events is a clever and effective device for pulling the reader through lots of facts, quotes and dates.

Eckert also spends a lot of time examining the French and English officials and generals and discussing how they schemed against each other and how they either succeeded or failed in their military efforts to win the loyalty of the Indians and control territory in the Northeast.

I would have thought that no one could capture all this information accurately. After all, who was taking notes in the American wilderness during the French and Indian War? Apparently, a lot of people were, and Eckert’s research brings their stories to life brilliantly in Wilderness Empire.