red-dreamsReviewed by Karl Hele

Robert Owens’ Red Dreams, White Nightmares adeptly examines Euro-American fears of an Indigenous to create a Pan-Indian alliance to oppose American territorial expansion.  Additionally, Anglo-Americans especially believed that Indians were incapable of forming such forming such unions without foreign – French, British, or Spanish – influence and control. Yet, Red Dreams, White Nightmares does not undertake an in-depth analysis of Indigenous leaders and politics working for or against Pan-Indian movements. Owens does, however, briefly describe that various Pan-Indian movements were self-starting and aimed at protecting our sovereignties and territories. Nonetheless, this book is truly about how early Americans (a.k.a. Settlers) feared foreign influences threatening their peace, prosperity, and expansion by engaging and utilizing Indians and slaves. The monograph is about how these fears, mythical or actual, between 1763 and 1815, helped to create and shape the identity of the United States. According to Owens, this fear of Pan-Indian alliances that included slaves created and led by foreign – British – powers by 1815 had become part of the American national myth used “to unite and motivate the nation to fuel and rationalize territorial expansion” while allowing “Americans [to] continually re-embrace…their self-fashioned exceptionalism.”(pp.242-3). Simply, Americans saw Pan-Indianism (and its possible encouragement of slave revolts) as a threat to the Republic, its people (white), and its imperial ambitions on the continent.

Overall, Red Dreams, White Nightmares is a dense interesting read of American racial fears at their very origins. This is not a book about Indigenous ambitions, but it is a worthy read to understand the origin of American fears that continue to haunt the nation. As Owens notes, in the early 1800s it was far more likely that an Indian would die at the hands of a White than the reverse…(185).

Robert M. Owens, Red Dreams, White Nightmares: Pan-Indian Alliances in the Anglo-American Mind, 1763-1815.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015.