Richard Grimes teaches history at La Roche College. This interview is based on his new book, The Western Delaware Indian Nation, 1730–1795: Warriors and Diplomats (Lehigh University Press, 2017).
JF: What led you to write The Western Delaware Indian Nation?
RG: My study of the western Delawares came about when I read Michael N. McConnell, A Country Between: The Upper Ohio Valley and Its Peoples, 1724-1774. He mentions that during the eighteenth century, the three divisions or phratries (Turtle, Turkey, Wolf) of Delawares came together in an ethnic sense. McConnell only hinted on this but did not elaborate. This planted the seeds of a potential doctoral dissertation for me as a student and teacher at West Virginia University. However, I wanted to explore this further with regard to a new social order and cultural identity of the people who became the western Delawares of the Ohio Country. I wanted to examine whether they became a distinct nation of Indians.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Western Delaware Indian Nation?
RG: The main argument of my book centers on how certain bands of eastern Delawares migrated west across the Alleghenies throughout the first half of the eighteenth century and re-invented themselves as a people in the Ohio west. I focus on how Delaware people altered their society and developed a political structure to meet the challenges of the Ohio Country with its imperial struggles between France and England and an eventual emerging American nation.
JF: Why do we need to read The Western Delaware Indian Nation?
RG: I think my book offers a different perspective on how American Indians took initiatives to survive in a changing world. The Delawares were not helpless victims but proactive in their response to a European invasion and in determining their own historical trajectory. They also adapted to a changed world. As an example I demonstrate that the western Delawares developed a central governing council to put them on a diplomatic footing with the British and French and later with the United States.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
RG: I always loved history. As a young child, I read history books, Classics Illustrated comics, and was a big fan of Hollywood films that dealt with historical epics such as Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk, The Charge of the Light Brigade, and They Died With Their Boots On and John Wayne in The Searchers and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. But I did not enter college until the age of 35–when I decided to change careers and learn to study , research, and write history. I was deeply inspired by my professors at the University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, and West Virginia University. I did not enter a classroom as a teacher until the age of 44. I had a lot of catching up to do.
JF: What is your next project?
RG: I have two things in mind. I would like to continue my studies involving Native Americans in colonial America. I am interested in American Indian relationships with George Washington and to explore how these early experiences shaped his American Indian policies as president.
I have also written articles on the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers of the American West. My Master’s thesis focused on the Cheyennes, so I will eventually focus my research and writing on the Cheyenne Indians of the Great Plains. I plan to do a scholarly study of the Dog Soldiers– I am very excited to begin this.
JF: Thanks, Richard!