116: Brian DeLay, 38


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

116: Brian DeLay, 10-24-10

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Associate Professor, University of California, Berkeley, 2010-Present
Area of Research: US and the World; 19th-century Americas; transnational history; US-Mexico Borderlands; native peoples; the international arms trade
Education: Ph.D., Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March, 2004
Major Publications: DeLay is the author of War of a Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the U.S.-Mexican War. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008 [paperback, 2009].Brian Delay JPG

Delay is the co-author with James West Davidson, William E. Gienapp, Christine Leigh Heyrman, Mark H. Lytle, and Michael B. Stoff, Experience History: Interpreting America’s Past [Formerly Nation of Nations: A Narrative History of the American Republic], McGraw-Hill (2010). Concise Edition: US/A History (2009).
DeLay is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others: “Independent Indians and the U.S.-Mexican War,” American Historical Review 112 (Feb., 2007), 35-68; “The Wider World of the Handsome Man: Southern Plains Indians Invade Mexico, 1830-1846,” Journal of the Early Republic 27 (March, 2007), 83-113.
Delay is currently working on the following projects: “Shoot the State: The Arms Trade and the Re-creation of the Americas, 1750-1900,” Book-length study in early development; “Blood Talk: The Structure of Violence in Borderland New Mexico,” chapter in revision for Edward Countryman and Juliana Barr, eds., Contested Spaces of Early America, edited collection in progress;
“Comanches in the Cast: Remembering Mexico’s ‘Eminently National War,’” essay accepted for Charles Faulhaber, ed., The Bancroft Library at 150: A Sesquicentennial Symposium, edited collection in progress;
“Barbarians and Dearer Enemies: Frontier Wars and Federalist Uprisings in Northern Mexico, 1837-1840,” chapter accepted by Erick D. Langer, ed., for “Indians, the State, and the Frontier in Nineteenth-Century Latin America,” edited collection in progress;
“Opportunity Costs: Comanches between Texas and Mexico, 1836-1846,” chapter accepted by Andrew Frank and Glen Crothers for edited collection on North American borderlands, in progress.
Awards: DeLay is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Bryce Wood Book Award for the outstanding book on Latin America in the social sciences and humanities published in English, Latin American Studies Association, 2010;
W. Turrentine Jackson (biennial) Award for best first book on any aspect of the history of the American West, Western History Association, 2009;
Robert M. Utley Award for best book published on the military history of the frontier and western North America, Western History Association, 2009;
Southwest Book Award, sponsored by the Border Regional Library Association, 2009;
James Broussard Best 1st book prize, Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, 2008;
Norris and Carol Hundley Best Book Award, Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association, 2008;
The Sons of the Republic of Texas Summerfield G. Roberts Best Book Award, 2008;
Finalist, Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians, 2008;
Finalist for the Clements Prize for the Best Nonfiction Book on Southwestern Americana, 2008;
Honorable Mention, Texas State Historical Association’s Kate Broocks Bates Award for Historical Research, 2008;
Finalist for the PROSE Award in the U.S. History and Biography/Autobiography category, sponsored by the Association of American Publishers, 2008;
Appointed an Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer, 2008-2011;
Bolton-Cutter Award for best borderlands article, Western History Association, 2008;
Robert F. Heizer Prize for the best article in the field of ethnohistory, 2008;
CLAH Article Prize, Conference on Latin American History, 2008;
Stuart Bernath Article Prize, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, 2008;
Phi Alpha Theta/Westerners International Prize for Best Dissertation, 2005;
Harold K. Gross Prize from Harvard University for the dissertation “demonstrating the greatest promise of a distinguished career in historical research,” 2004;
University of Colorado Residence Life Academic Teaching Award, 2005.
Additional Info:
Formerly Assistant Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley, Fall 2009 – Spring 2010; Assistant Professor of History, University of Colorado, Boulder, Fall 2004 – Spring 2009.
DeLay’s articles have appeared in The American Historical Review, The Journal of American History, The Journal of the Early Republic, Diplomatic History, New Mexico Historical Review, Southwestern Historical Quarterly, and The Chronicle Review.

Personal Anecdote

I would’ve been more cooperative if I’d realized that the guy in the front of the bus had a gun. But bemused cluelessness had served me fairly well during other hairy moments in Mexico City, so when a skinny, nervous teenager strode up and told me to take off my seatbelt I just sat there. “No hablo español” I muttered, hoping he’d leave me alone. He shook his head and kept going, working his way up the aisle and talking quickly to each passenger in turn. Clicking noises followed his progress like a chorus. Everyone else on the still-speeding Mexico City-Puebla bus took off their seatbelts. Weird. Don’t look interested, I told myself. Maybe it’s some sort of perverse anti-safety campaign? Then I noticed that the burly guy in the front of the bus was waving something small and black in the air. He shouted incomprehensibly, but everyone else must have understood because all at once they bent down and buried their faces in their hands. Okay, bad sign. The teenager began making his way back down the aisle, holding something (a bag?). I kept staring at my book, determined to stay in clueless character. He paused for a moment when he reached my seat and then hit me across the face, sending my glasses skittering across the floorboards. “Take your [colorful Spanish adjective] seatbelt off and cover your eyes, you stupid [colorful Spanish noun].” Oh, I thought. That’s what’s happening.

In retrospect getting robbed that day was a pretty tame brush with danger, especially compared to some of my friends’ stories. Whenever I’ve recounted it, it’s always come out as (light) dark comedy. But the truth is that those guys scared the hell out of me and most everyone else on the bus. I vividly remember the sound of my heart beating in my ears; the older lady across from me whose hands shook as she removed her earrings, and the relief, tears, and outrage on board once the thieves jumped off.

That experience, along with a handful of other frightening but ultimately harmless situations on this and later research trips, left me with a valuable gift: a little taste of fear, helplessness, and vulnerability. I’d come to Mexico to study interethnic violence in the north of the country in the decades before the U.S.-Mexican War. Sometimes this violence unfolded in matched battles between groups of fighters. More often it involved armed, mounted men launching surprise attacks on isolated groups of families. Thousands of children, women, and men died in these attacks, and thousands more lost their daughters and sons, their parents, their siblings and neighbors, and some or all of their meager possessions. The grief, terror, desperation, and heartbreak these thousands of people experienced, what did I know about that? Virtually nothing. But that seemed just slightly better than absolutely nothing. I don’t know if my own miniscule brushes with danger helped me write about these people with more sensitivity, empathy, or nuance. But they definitely made me want to.


By Brian DeLay

  • In miniature, the story goes like this. In the early 1830s, for a variety of reasons, Comanches, Kiowas, Apaches, Navajos, and others abandoned imperfect but workable peace agreements they had maintained with northern War of a Thousand Deserts Indian Raids and the U.S.-Mexican War  JPG Mexicans since the late eighteenth century. Men from these Indian communities began attacking Mexican ranches and towns, killing and capturing the people they found there and stealing or destroying the Mexicans’ animals and property. When able, Mexicans responded by doing the same to their indigenous enemies. The conflicts intensified through the 1830s and 1840s, until much of the northern third of Mexico had been transformed into a vast theater of hatred, terror, and staggering loss for independent Indians and Mexicans alike. By the eve of the U.S. invasion these varied conflicts spanned all or parts of ten states. They had claimed thousands of Mexican and Indian lives, made tens of thousands more painful and often wretched, ruined northern Mexico’s economy, stalled its demographic growth, and depopulated much of its countryside. The consequences were far-reaching. I argue that the bloody interethnic violence that preceded and continued throughout the U.S.-Mexican War influenced the course and outcome of that war and, by extension, helped precipitate its manifold long-term consequences for all the continent’s peoples — Brian Delay in “War of a Thousand Deserts Indian Raids and the U.S.-Mexican War”
  • KERA radio interview on War of a Thousand Deserts, Dec. 1, 2008 mp3

About Brian DeLay

  • “Action-packed and densely argued.” — Larry McMurtry, New York Review of Books
  • “Brian DeLay is one of the most articulate and original authors writing in the Western Americana field today.” — Howard R. Lamar, author of The New Encyclopedia of the American West
  • “With a good sense of drama and narrative, DeLay tells the story of how the interactions and preconceptions of Mexicans, Americans, and independent Indian tribes shaped the borderland region in ways none of the parties expected. This book will force many readers to rethink their basic assumptions about Indians as nineteenth- century political actors. This is not just the most significant work on the U.S.-Mexico War to appear in a generation, but a study with wide-ranging implications for the history of North America. Brian DeLay shows how enlightening transnational history can be when done well.” — Amy S. Greenberg, The Pennsylvania State University
  • “In supple prose, DeLay analyzes the interactions in the years leading up to the war among three ‘nations’—the struggling new Mexican republic, the confident and opportunistic (but also relatively new) U.S., and the older, highly dynamic peoples of indigenous America—as well as among the compellingly depicted individuals and groups that composed them.” — Margaret Chowning, University of California at Berkeley
  • “DeLay’s War of a Thousand Deserts begins with a long-neglected question: what role did Indian Nations of the Southern Plains—Comanches, Kiowas, Apaches—play in the era of the U.S.-Mexican War? His answers sweep across the borderlands in stories of violence, trauma, and the devastating cultural effects of endemic warfare on indigenous and Mexican peoples alike. A tireless researcher and gifted writer has given us a necessary, if profoundly disturbing, look at the history of our American West.” — James F. Brooks, author of Captives & Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands
  • “Brian DeLay’s compelling and well-documented narrative of a little-known subject—Indian raids into northern Mexico—offers new insights on the impact of those attacks on the affected countries and peoples.” — Pedro Santoni, author of Mexicans at Arms: Puro Federalists and the Politics of War, 1845-1848
  • “In War of a Thousand Deserts, Brian DeLay tells the fascinating—and long-forgotten—story of the savage, interethnic conflict between independent tribes, Mexicans, Texans and norteamericanos. . . . [DeLay] is an imaginative and resourceful researcher. . . . Drawing on contemporary accounts by Mexicans and Texans, DeLay provides a sophisticated, speculative, and controversial account of the motivations of Indians.” — Glenn Altschuler, Tulsa World
  • “[A] masterful exercise in the reading of a broad range of primary sources to which historians have previously paid scant attention. DeLay tells a fascinating story that will reshape how historians understand and explain the coming of the U.S.-Mexican War and its aftermath.” — Jesús F. de la Teja, Great Plains Quarterly
  • “Brian DeLay offers an important reassessment of not only the U.S.-Mexican war but also the history of American expansion more broadly. . . . DeLay’s War of a Thousand Deserts beautifully narrates the under-told tale of how Native Americans powerfully determined the history of U.S. expansion into Mexico.” — Ned Blackhawk, The Journal of Military History
  • Over all, [War of a Thousand Deserts] provides a most satisfying, interesting narrative without sacrificing critical assessment or theoretical considerations.” — F. Arturo Rosales, Montana the Magazine of Western History
  • “Meticulously researched, the book shows that the impact of Native American activities in the region was stronger and had more lasting consequences than did the activities of Spaniards, Mexicans, or Americans.” — J. A. Stuntz, Choice
  • “This insightful and gracefully written study casts fresh light on an important and much studied era in southwestern borderland history.” — Bruce Dinges
  • “In this provocative and ambitious book, DeLay situates southern plains peoples at the very center of the geopolitical transformation of North America in the mid-nineteenth century. . . . Offering dates, locations, and demographic data on participants and victims that he culled from Mexican sources, [War of a Thousand Deserts] is a variable treasure trove for future scholars.” — Amanda Taylor-Montoya, Common-Place
  • “This remarkable work fills an important gap in American historiography. . . . This brilliant work will certainly please the scholarly reader. . . . DeLay’s superb scholarship has culminated in a nuanced yet lucid narrative that will doubtless become a required reference for U.S., Mexico, Native American, and Borderlands scholars for a long time.” — Joaquin Rivaya-Martinez, Southwestern History Quarterly
  • “The author . . . has discovered a significant but overlooked phenomenon in front of and behind the U.S. Mexican War. . . . This is a superb contribution to the history of America’s expansionist era.” — DLW, Roundup Magazine
  • “This innovative political history presents a compelling interpretative framework for the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846-1848.” — Cynthia Radding, American Historical Review

Posted on Sunday, October 24, 2010 at 10:04 AM

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