Kathleen DuVal’s TheNative Ground examines the relationships between Native AmericanIndians and Europeans in the Arkansas River Valley.
By shifting our awareness from a Europeanbased view to a Native American Indians centered view, history as we know inthe seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is dramatically altered. Her work shifts geographic focus fromEuropean coastal outposts to “the heart of the continent.” The Arkansas Valley was already anestablished center of Native American Indian trade in North America.
The importance of the region for its Native AmericanIndian and European visitors was the distinct opportunity for naturalprogression because of the existing diversecommunities and tribal relationships. Modern history reflects the settlement of colonial NorthAmerica from various European viewpoints. However, she shows that the simplistic, mainstream version of Americanhistory is riddled with historical biases. Recognizing the Arkansas Valley as the centerof colonial North America is a more truthful representation of the evolvementof the nation.
DuVal points out that theArkansas Valley was a place where Native American Indians and Europeans fromthe East and West met, providing a link between the two. Due to the proximity of the eastern ArkansasValley to the Mississippi River Valley, the area was a natural trade route forNative American Indians. By proxy, it wouldeventually be the same for Indian and European explorers, traders, and ultimately,immigrants. Not some European empire’s mission,it was, indeed, “the heart of the continent.
” It is important to understand thatwhen European scouting expeditions first came to the continent, no onerepresenting any European empires had any control over the Arkansas Valley. Despite popular misconception, the NativeAmerican Indians in the mid-continent were not untamed, wild savages waitingfor salvation from a more sophisticated group. They had established communities with forms of government, tradeagreements in place with other communities, and advanced agricultural and huntingtechniques, unique to their groups.
Becauseof their ability to adapt to the conditions of the land, the initial survivalof European explorers was contingent, largely in part, on the natives. The failure of sixteenth-century Spanishexplorers in the area to thrive was based largely on their unwillingness torecognize the incorporations and hierarchies of those groups. The Spanish were driven by greed, and refusedto participate in the politics of an already established political system. DuVal argues that unlike RichardWhite’s “Middle Ground,” where Native American Indians and Europeans were notcompatible, “the Arkansas Valley was home to a few large and relativelycohesive tribes from the time the French arrived through the early nineteenthcentury.” The established Native American Indians duringthis time were able to survive because of their ability to adapt to the influxof European peoples and because they recognized their own power.
The situation in the seventeenth century wasvery different. The Quapaws, who wererecent migrants from the Ohio Valley, possibly with depleted numbers to escape theIroquois, were meeting resistance from the established populations of thearea. They realized that by forming analliance with the French that they were able to bolster their political authority,as other Native American Indian groups in the area were aligned with the Dutchand English. The relationship that the Quapawsand French developed, while mutually beneficial, was still more favorable tothe native tribe. The Quapaws still dominated almost every aspect of therelationship and were resistant to any change that the French might offer, butthe French realized their own need for localsupport and accepted unification with the Quapaws. Despite their modest population and theirinability to dominate by force, the Quapaws used their new connection with the Frenchto find their place in the local diplomatic section as valued negotiatorsbetween established tribes and the early European settlers.
The French began toplay a vital role in Quapaw politics, by recognizing leaders, and in some casesaltering leadership roles. The Quapaw and French relationship played a vitalrole in the settlement of the Louisiana “colony,” although it was understood thatthe term was in name only. The Frenchrecognized that they did not truly control the middle continent, and so didother European factions.
In the early eighteenth century, theOsages presented with large numbers and a reputation of having one of the largest trading systems inNorth America. Unlike the Quapawhowever, they quickly garnered a reputation for violence. Because of their threat to other NativeAmerican Indians and Europeans, they established a large, dominant empire bythe late eighteenth century.
While theywere shunned by many neighboring Native American Indian tribes, they cultivatedEuropean connections. General discordbetween other Native American groups furthered the power of the Osages, as thegroups could not unify to defeat them. Like the Quapaws, the Osages and French formed alliances, but the Frenchdid not influence the political climate of the Osages, as they did with theQuapaws.
The French used the Osages toprotect the colony of Lousiana against the British, and in exchange the Osagegained guns and ammunition. When theBritish won the Seven Year’s War, the climate, although subtly began to change,as France ceded the Western half of Lousiana to Spain. Spain realized that they would need make theOsage allies in order to protect them from the British, but they were under theimpression that the French had controlled the Osage and had ruledLouisiana. The reality was that theQuapaw, and later the Osage had allowedthe French Presence in the Loiusiana Colony in trade for the power that thealliegance had provided, and the French, and subsequently Spanish, were onlyable to maintain their land claims by appeasing the Osages. Although the land in the ArkansasValley changed hands politically several times over the years, France to Spain,Spain to Great Britian, Great Britain to the newly formed United States, theArkansas Valley was still owned by the Native American Indian. The Climate began to change when the UnitedStates looked to expand westward. As the white man began to claim more land,other Native American Indian tribes began to be pushed westward. The Cherokee, displaced from their nativelands, came in large numbers, and soon began to take control of the ArkansasRiver Valley.
Like the Quapaws and Osagebefore them, they saw the benefit in forming an alliance with the white man. Byfilling the role that the French and Spanish had held with the Quapaw, theCherokee formed alliances with the Quapaw, and were successfully able to wagewar against the Osage, a feat that had never been accomplished. This however, was not a true alliance, as theCherokee had a much more accurate understanding of the Power of the UnitedStates. By presenting themselves ascivilized agriculturalist, the Cherokee painted a very different picture to thenewly formed United States Government than did their predecessors.
The Cherokeewere able to assimilate themselves into the new culture that they were exposedto, as they were better able to emulate “civilized” behavior. The Cherokee had plantations, and some ownedslaves, making them seem industrious to white settlers. In order to further their claimto the Arkansas River Valley, and futher their relationships with the UnitedStates, the Cherokee offered to help persuade other Native American Indian Groupsto migrate west, which would effectively make the Cherokee the only NativeAmerican Group that was in the Arkansas Valley. In reward for their help, the United States began to grant land that theOsage had claim on, to the Cherokee. TheOsages reacted with violence, further reiterating what the Cherokee had claimedabout the existing Native American Groups in the area. The Cherokee labeled them as savages, andthey had reacted as such. As more white settlers began tomigrate into the Arkansas River Valley, they quickly outnumbered the Cherokee,and other Native Groups. Although theywere “civilized” and the other groups were “savages”, the Cherokee wereindistinguishable to the settlers, and they were seen as one as the same.
White settlers refused to form the samerelationships that earlier immigrants had. The United States Government began to push all the Native Tribes furtherWest, including the Cherokee. Becausethe Cherokee had a better understanding of the politics of the United States,they were able to make arguments against the migration, with the most notablebeing that if the White Man wanted Indians to civilize, it would be counterproductiveto make them leave. By this time, theCherokee had assimilated to the new culture, and had a written language,churches and school, and had in fact, surpassed the level of civility of allother Nativc Groups. The Cherokee didnot believe that they government’s only responsibility was to the whitesettlers, but to all the “civilized” inhabitants of the regions. Although the Cherokee describedthemselves as pioneers, and assisted greatly in pushing the pre-existing groupsin the area further west, the Cherokee also eventually succumbed to thepressure by the United States Government, as were removed from the ArkansasRiver Valley. By the 19th Centurythe Native Ground was no longer controlled by indigenous peoples of theArkansas River Valley, however, their legacy lived on through the settlementthe area, using original trade routes and relationships that were establishedthrough mediation through the Indian Tribes.