Kathleen eastern Arkansas Valley to the Mississippi River Valley,

Kathleen DuVal’s The
Native Ground examines the relationships between Native American
Indians and Europeans in the Arkansas River Valley.  By shifting our awareness from a European
based view to a Native American Indians centered view, history as we know in
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is dramatically altered.  Her work shifts geographic focus from
European coastal outposts to “the heart of the continent.”  The Arkansas Valley was already an
established center of Native American Indian trade in North America.  The importance of the region for its Native American
Indian and European visitors was the distinct opportunity for natural
progression because of the existing diverse
communities and tribal relationships.  Modern history reflects the settlement of colonial North
America from various European viewpoints. 
However, she shows that the simplistic, mainstream version of American
history is riddled with historical biases.  Recognizing the Arkansas Valley as the center
of colonial North America is a more truthful representation of the evolvement
of the nation. 

DuVal points out that the
Arkansas Valley was a place where Native American Indians and Europeans from
the East and West met, providing a link between the two.  Due to the proximity of the eastern Arkansas
Valley to the Mississippi River Valley, the area was a natural trade route for
Native American Indians.  By proxy, it would
eventually 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.”  

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It is important to understand that
when European scouting expeditions first came to the continent, no one
representing any European empires had any control over the Arkansas Valley.  Despite popular misconception, the Native
American Indians in the mid-continent were not untamed, wild savages waiting
for salvation from a more sophisticated group. 
They had established communities with forms of government, trade
agreements in place with other communities, and advanced agricultural and hunting
techniques, unique to their groups.  Because
of their ability to adapt to the conditions of the land, the initial survival
of European explorers was contingent, largely in part, on the natives.  The failure of sixteenth-century Spanish
explorers in the area to thrive was based largely on their unwillingness to
recognize the incorporations and hierarchies of those groups.  The Spanish were driven by greed, and refused
to participate in the politics of an already established political system.

DuVal argues that unlike Richard
White’s “Middle Ground,” where Native American Indians and Europeans were not
compatible, “the Arkansas Valley was home to a few large and relatively
cohesive tribes from the time the French arrived through the early nineteenth
century.”   The established Native American Indians during
this time were able to survive because of their ability to adapt to the influx
of European peoples and because they recognized their own power.    The situation in the seventeenth century was
very different.  The Quapaws, who were
recent migrants from the Ohio Valley, possibly with depleted numbers to escape the
Iroquois, were meeting resistance from the established populations of the
area.  They realized that by forming an
alliance 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 Dutch
and English.

The relationship that the Quapaws
and French developed, while mutually beneficial, was still more favorable to
the native tribe. The Quapaws still dominated almost every aspect of the
relationship and were resistant to any change that the French might offer, but
the French  realized their own need for local
support and accepted unification with the Quapaws.  Despite their modest population and their
inability to dominate by force, the Quapaws used their new connection with the French
to find their place in the local diplomatic section as valued negotiators
between established tribes and the early European settlers. The French began to
play a vital role in Quapaw politics, by recognizing leaders, and in some cases
altering leadership roles. The Quapaw and French relationship played a vital
role in the settlement of the Louisiana “colony,” although it was understood that
the term was in name only.  The French
recognized that they did not truly control the middle continent, and so did
other European factions.

In the early eighteenth century, the
Osages presented with large numbers and  a reputation of  having one of the largest trading systems in
North America.  Unlike the Quapaw
however, they quickly garnered a reputation for violence.  Because of their threat to other Native
American Indians and Europeans, they established a large, dominant empire by
the late eighteenth century.  While they
were shunned by many neighboring Native American Indian tribes, they cultivated
European connections.  General discord
between other Native American groups furthered the power of the Osages, as the
groups could not unify to defeat them. 
Like the Quapaws, the Osages and French formed alliances, but the French
did not influence the political climate of the Osages, as they did with the
Quapaws.  The French used the Osages to
protect the colony of Lousiana against the British, and in exchange the Osage
gained guns and ammunition.  When the
British 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 the
Osage allies in order to protect them from the British, but they were under the
impression that the French had controlled the Osage and had ruled
Louisiana.  The reality was that the
Quapaw, and later the  Osage had allowed
the French Presence in the Loiusiana Colony in trade for the power that the
alliegance had provided, and the French, and subsequently Spanish, were only
able to maintain their land claims by appeasing the Osages.

Although the land in the Arkansas
Valley changed hands politically several times over the years, France to Spain,
Spain to Great Britian, Great Britain to the newly formed United States, the
Arkansas Valley was still owned by the Native American Indian.  The Climate began to change when the United
States 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 native
lands, came in large numbers, and soon began to take control of the Arkansas
River Valley.  Like the Quapaws and Osage
before them, they saw the benefit in forming an alliance with the white man. By
filling the role that the French and Spanish had held with the Quapaw, the
Cherokee formed alliances with the Quapaw, and were successfully able to wage
war against the Osage, a feat that had never been accomplished.  This however, was not a true alliance, as the
Cherokee had a much more accurate understanding of the Power of the United
States.  By presenting themselves as
civilized agriculturalist, the Cherokee painted a very different picture to the
newly formed United States Government than did their predecessors. The Cherokee
were able to assimilate themselves into the new culture that they were exposed
to, as they were better able to emulate “civilized” behavior.  The Cherokee had plantations, and some owned
slaves, making them seem industrious to white settlers.

In order to further their claim
to the Arkansas River Valley, and futher their relationships with the United
States, the Cherokee offered to help persuade other Native American Indian Groups
to migrate west, which would effectively make the Cherokee the only Native
American Group that was in the Arkansas Valley. 
In reward for their help, the United States began to grant land that the
Osage had claim on, to the Cherokee.  The
Osages reacted with violence, further reiterating what the Cherokee had claimed
about the existing Native American Groups in the area.  The Cherokee labeled them as savages, and
they had reacted as such.   

As more white settlers began to
migrate into the Arkansas River Valley, they quickly outnumbered the Cherokee,
and other Native Groups.  Although they
were “civilized” and the other groups were “savages”, the Cherokee were
indistinguishable to the settlers, and they were seen as one as the same.  White settlers refused to form the same
relationships that earlier immigrants had. 
The United States Government began to push all the Native Tribes further
West, including the Cherokee.  Because
the Cherokee had a better understanding of the politics of the United States,
they were able to make arguments against the migration, with the most notable
being that if the White Man wanted Indians to civilize, it would be counterproductive
to make them leave.  By this time, the
Cherokee had assimilated to the new culture, and had a written language,
churches and school, and had in fact, surpassed the level of civility of all
other Nativc Groups.  The Cherokee did
not believe that they government’s only responsibility was to the white
settlers, but to all the “civilized” inhabitants of the regions. 

 

Although the Cherokee described
themselves as pioneers, and assisted greatly in pushing the pre-existing groups
in the area further west, the Cherokee also eventually succumbed to the
pressure by the United States Government, as were removed from the Arkansas
River Valley.

By the 19th Century
the Native Ground was no longer controlled by indigenous peoples of the
Arkansas River Valley, however, their legacy lived on through the settlement
the area, using original trade routes and relationships that were established
through mediation through the Indian Tribes.