A Review of Daniel Marshall’s Claiming the Land

I invite you to have a look at my review for Daniel Marshall’s vital new book of British Columbia history, Claiming the Land.


I say it is a vital new book, because, first, any book about the virtually unknown and bitterly deadly Fraser Canyon War of 1858, is welcome. Secondly, Claiming the Land lays out clearly how two months of unopposed Californian vigilantism and populism transformed the culture of the Northern half of the Pacific Northwest forever, leading to the culture we have today, which pays for governance by levying fees for claims to land, which exclude claims by indigenous peoples, whose claims are not linked by fees, and governs by administering this system of paying, end of story. In addition, peoples were sorted into racial categories… which remain. It’s brilliant. So much that has been unclear is suddenly in clear light.


You can find the review online at The Ormsby Review, complete with a rich series of illustrations gently folded in by editor Richard Mackie. Here it is:



One warning: this is not the kind of review that praises a book in the way a carny huckster might try to get you to win a teddy bear on your way to bury your face in some cotton candy. It is not 1963.



Claiming the Land might be brilliant, but it is flawed. In his enthusiasm to make his point, Marshall overlooks the context in which the fateful spring and summer of 1858 took place, with some serious consequences. My review lays out Marshall’s argument (which he himself fails to make succinctly), and places it in the context of the history of California, Oregon, Idaho and Washington, the other parts (along with British Columbia) of Old Oregon.

For nine years, I have been exploring this history. This blog is one result of those explorations. This review is one example of how this blog can be put to use. I hope you read it. It’s important that we get this story right, for the consequences it has for young Indigenous people, in particular, and in general young people of any kind. It’s a choice between hope and hopelessness. Have a look:

I spent the first half of August trying to get this one right. I hope it makes you want to read Marshall’s book and many other books beside it. It is a highly-rewarding journey.

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