Making Indian Law - McMillen, Christian W. - Yale University Press
Social Science

Series Information
The Lamar Series in Western History

Making Indian Law

The Hualapai Land Case and the Birth of Ethnohistory

  • Christian W. McMillen
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Selected as a finalist for the 2008 Carolyn Bancroft Prize given by the Denver Public Library.

Winner of the 2008 William Nelson Cromwell Book Award, given by the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation

Winner of the 2008 John Phillip Reid Book Award, given by the American Society for Legal History.

Winner of the 2008 Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin Prize, given by the American Society for Ethnohistory.

In 1941, after decades of struggling to hold on to the remainder of their aboriginal home, the Hualapai Indians finally took their case to the Supreme Court—and won. The Hualapai case was the culminating event in a legal and intellectual revolution that transformed Indian law and ushered in a new way of writing Indian history that provided legal grounds for native land claims. But Making Indian Law is about more than a legal decision.  It’s the story of Hualapai activists, and eventually sympathetic lawyers, who challenged both the Santa Fe Railroad and the U.S. government to a courtroom showdown over the meaning of Indian property rights—and the Indian past.

At the heart of the Hualapai campaign to save the reservation was documenting the history of Hualapai land use. Making Indian Law showcases the central role that the Hualapai and their lawyers played in formulating new understandings of native people, their property, and their past. To this day, the impact of the Hualapai decision is felt wherever and whenever indigenous land claims are litigated throughout the world.

Christian W. McMillen is assistant professor of history and American studies, University of Virginia.