Blue Jacket: War Chief of the Shawnees

Book: Blue Jacket: War Chief of the Shawnees
Author: Allan W. Eckert
Cover Illustrator: Lorence Bjorklund
Publisher: Jesse Stuart Foundation, republished in 2003
ISBN-13: 978-1931672184 (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1931672180 (Hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-1931672207 (Paperback)
ISBN-10: 1931672202 (Paperback)
Related website: (publisher)
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 13 and up
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
Disclosure: Any books donated for review purposes are in turn donated to a library. No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.
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Eckert, Allan W. Blue Jacket: War Chief of the Shawnees (originally published in 1983 by Landfall Press; republished in 2003 by Jesse Stuart Foundation, P. O. Box 669, Ashland, KY 41105). It is 1771, and seventeen-year-old Marmaduke Van Swearingen, called Marmee or Duke by his family, lives with his parents, six brothers, and a sister near what is now Richwood, WV, but was then the edge of the American frontier. However, from the time he was nine, he wanted to be like Indians, so when he and his twelve-year-old brother Charley are captured by a party of Shawnees, he agrees to go with them in exchange for Charley’s life. He is given a name based on the light blue hunting shirt made of linsey-woolsey that he is wearing—Blue Jacket, and became one of the Shawnees greatest war chiefs, a mentor to Tecumseh. Will Blue Jacket ever see his white family again? Or so went the legend which was almost universally accepted as true when author Allan W. Eckert, whose Incident at Hawk’s Hill won a Newbery Honor Award, wrote the book.

However, more recently, historian Helen Hornbeck Tanner began arguing that it is unlikely that Blue Jacket and Van Swearingen were the same person based on historical records indicating that Blue Jacket was much older than Marmaduke Van Swearingen and on DNA testing. According to Blue Jacket biographer John Sugden, Blue Jacket was undoubtedly a Shawnee by birth. Some critics seem to argue that Eckert’s novel is almost somehow evil because it is based on evidence which may (and the operative word here is may) be questionable. Yet, whether the underlying story is based on fact or not, and there may never be absolute proof one way or the other, the book is still an interesting read and a good explanation of the legend. We were familiar with Blue Jacket because when we lived in Dayton, OH, we attended an outdoor drama based on the Van Swearingen legend that was performed at nearby Xenia, OH. It had begun in 1981, but evidently because of the controversy, performances of the play ended in 2007.

The book contains the usual Native American instances of smoking tobacco. There are also references to Shawnee religious beliefs and practices. A few common euphemisms such as “gosh” occur—e.g., Duke is called a “Dang Injen-lover” by his older brothers, and the name of God is used at least once as an interjection. Some of the descriptions of massacres and scalping, including that by Blue Jacket of his own brother Charley in a later battle, might not be appropriate for especially sensitive young people. That is why I have listed it for ages 13 and up. And, of course, the book is presented primarily from an Indian point of view, so it always seems to emphasize only the mistreatment of Indians by whites. Certainly the way many whites treated Indians is shameful, and we need to remember that, but it is always good to look at both sides of such issues. At the same time, the book, which I picked up at the Ohio Historical Society Museum in Columbus, OH, is well written, and I enjoyed reading it.

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