Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 2018, ISBN: 9780803249301; 324pp.; Price: £50.00
Sam Houston State University
Date accessed: 2 December, 2023
How the West Was Drawn analyzes the relationship between Native Americans and the creation of maps of the western United States. To set the stage, Bernstein opens with a discussion of a modern controversy about maps, specifically Aaron Carapella’s Map of our Tribal Nations: Our Own Names and Original Locations. The impulse to create this map came from Carapella’s dissatisfaction with cartographic descriptions of North America. His inability to find a proper map of Indian homelands led him to spend 14 years conducting research and creating his own. The results proved impressive. Carapella’s map depicts 600 tribal nations, sold 4,000 copies, and received favorable press coverage. Moreover, a textbook company bought the rights to two of his maps. However, if people praised Carapella’s achievement, some commentators questioned the map’s validity, others argued that it contained incorrect and misspelled names, and the map provoked heated debates about territoriality, colonialism, and Indian identity politics. In sum, ‘the conflict over Carapella’s map is — at its heart — a disagreement over how Native people should narrate their past. The conflict centers on how much to privilege culturally-specific ways of understanding the world in the Indians’ stories about themselves and their relationship to the nation-state’ (pp. 2–3).
How the West Was Drawn argues that Native Americans ‘were central to the cartographic creation of the trans-Mississippi United States’ (p. 3). The Pawnees, Iowas, and Lakotas of the Great Plains are the central characters of the book. Their actions, which included providing information to surveying expeditions, signing treaties, raiding, and calling on the US government to live up to its promises, ‘left lasting cartographic legacies that shaped the futures of Natives and non-Natives alike’ (p. 3). Here, Bernstein reveals one of the laudable goals of this book: incorporating into the narrative of antebellum US history the voices of people often left out or on the margins. Throughout the volume, Bernstein makes and sustains his argument that Native Americans played an important role in the drawing of the West and, in so doing, demonstrates that they were pivotal actors in state-building during the first half of the 19th century. Moreover, he cautions scholars about assuming that Native Americans had no agency in this process. Indeed, ‘although Native motivation was different from that of the Euro-Americans, we should not assume that Indians were duped into participating in a process they could not understand’ (p. 10). Native Americans understood the mapping process and the negotiations involved and behaved in strategic ways. The geographical region analyzed in this volume falls largely within the modern-day boundaries of Kansas and Nebraska.
The first chapter focuses on the Caddoan and Siouan peoples of the eastern Plains and Prairies and how they understood their world. Bernstein strongly refutes the idea that Native American concepts were incompatible with Euro-American constructs and chides scholars for advancing this perspective. He opens with a striking meeting between Lieutenant Henry Carleton, a US dragoon, and Sharitarish, a Pawnee village chief. Carleton discovered, to his surprise, that Sharitarish could ‘relay geographic information in a way Carleton understood’ and ‘do so with a talent that was exceptional even among Americans’ (p. 18). This was particularly important because Carleton, like many of his contemporaries, understood the possession of geographic knowledge as something separating civilization and savagery. Needless to say, Carleton and his Euro-American contemporaries put themselves on the civilization side of that ledger, but Sharitarish’s actions demonstrate how people challenged this dichotomy. Nevertheless, as Bernstein wryly observes, ‘like the American dragoon, many researchers have held that indigenous territorial constructs were incompatible with Euro-American cartographic conventions’ (p. 18). Therefore, the goal of this chapter is to ‘show that the way Native and Euro-Americans spatially imagined their lived environment left room for the same negotiation in the mapping process that historians have elucidated in other cultural, social, economic, and political settings in the trans-Mississippi West’ (p. 21). Native American groups used natural markers, some groups constructed boundaries where natural markers could not be found, and both Indians and non-Indians understood and accepted the concept of boundaries. Treaty sessions – attempts to establish permanent boundaries – did not really feature clashes between different territorial systems, so much as struggles over the specifics of boundary-making; and thus featured compatibility of spatial understandings. Indian groups ‘used many of the same spatial practices as the Euro-American explorers, traders, and Indian agents with whom they came in contact’ (p. 41).
Chapter two reconsiders an 1833 treaty made between the United States and the Pawnees in which the Pawnees conceded to the US millions of acres of territory below the Platte River. Viewing this treaty as part of the tempestuous history of relations between the US and Native Americans, one would be tempted to see it as yet another example of a colonial power exercising coercive force to dispossess a subaltern group. However, Bernstein understands the 1833 treaty as part of a Pawnee geopolitical strategy. This is an unconventional view, to be sure, but, as he asserts, this ‘alternative narrative of American land appropriations in the trans-Missouri West demonstrates how the Pawnees played a central role in the creation of geopolitical boundaries in the region’ (p. 44). Rather than foregrounding dispossession and dependence, he offers a fine-grained study of Pawnee geopolitics and contends that the Pawnees saw US representatives as ‘tools for them to maintain power within their group, to feed and clothe their people, and to secure themselves against the threats from other Indian groups’ (p. 44). That the Pawnees came to view the US as a potential ally was partially attributable to Pawnee relations with other Native American groups. The Pawnees suffered dramatically increased violence from other Native Americans, not to mention a loss of population, which left them vulnerable. They met the treaty commissioners with enthusiasm because of the possibility of military protection. They were not tricked into signing the treaty and, moreover, ‘the years immediately following the treaty seemed to validate Pawnee participation as an astute political tactic’ (p. 74).
Unsurprisingly, the US government did not fulfill the promises of protection it made in the 1833 treaty. Consequently, Pawnees stepped up their raiding. Chapter three argues that US failure to live up to their promises sparked warfare between the US and the Pawnees and allowed the architects of the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie to exclude the Pawnees. In the immediate aftermath of the 1833 treaty, it was not immediately apparent that this would be the result, because ‘for most of the 1830s, little was asked of the Pawnees in exchange for diplomatic assistance, military protection, and regular annuities’ (p. 79). Tribal leaders, moreover, considered the US a proven ally. However, increased attacks by other tribes began to make the Pawnees question promises of US protection and increased their skepticism about sedentary agriculture. Because the US consistently failed to uphold its promises, an opportunity for a meaningful Pawnee-US political alliance disappeared. Furthermore, Pawnees adopted an anti-US stance and changed their geopolitical strategy, all of which resulted in an increase in raiding and violence. Ultimately, people came to see the Pawnee as impediments to overland migration, which also helps explain their absence at Fort Laramie in 1851.
Chapter four examines how a political movement to create a separate Indian state — ‘Indian Country’ — combined with the cultural desire of the US population to create an authentic past. ‘By inscribing Indians in territory claimed by the United States – but not yet threatened by Euro-American settlement — Americans could safely lament Indians’ passing while also appropriating their past’ (p. 126). In other words, creating ‘Indian Country’ allowed Euro-Americans to embrace a flawed view of free and simple Indians. Major Stephen Long’s expedition ‘began the process of fixing Indians to the landscape of the Great Plains, which initiated the cultural creation of Indian Country’ (p. 138). However, as they mapped this territory, Euro-American surveyors, explorers, and conquerors were indebted, in many respects, to Native Americans. Long, for example, received assistance and information from the Pawnees. This proved problematic for Euro-Americans, especially as they faced the challenge of differentiating themselves from Native Americans. In sum, ‘as Americans searched for ways to deal with the contradiction between real and imagined Indians, Long’s map and report tied Native people to the landscape and helped to usher in the cultural creation of Indian Territory’ (p. 157).
The work of men like Stephen Long, which resulted in the cartographic creation of Indian Country, ‘allowed Americans to appropriate Native history while still keeping Indians at a safe distance as they waited for them to be civilized’ (p. 161). However, as scholars of this period know, the ideology of Manifest Destiny ran strong and many people wanted to see the US become an ocean-bound republic. Thus, a stream of people moved westward and, as they did, they encountered Native Americans and could no longer keep them at arm’s length as some people are seen attempting to do in the previous chapter. In an effort to differentiate between the two groups, people turned to science. John C. Frémont — most famous for being the Republican presidential candidate in 1856 and for his controversial proclamation of emancipation in Missouri in 1861— played an important role in developing the dichotomy between civilization and savagery, which centered around people’s use of science. Euro-Americans like Frémont deployed the language of the scientific Enlightenment in order to distinguish themselves from ‘savage’ Native Americans. In doing so, Frémont and others were tuned into broader discussion of civilization and savagery that raged throughout the Atlantic World. Bernstein might have done a bit more to place Frémont and others into these larger conversations. Nevertheless, he correctly notes a very important irony: for all their talk of science and the superiority of Euro-American knowledge gathering, Frémont ‘could not have survived — let alone have brought back any information — without Native assistance’ (p. 168). Although he used Native Americans as a foil, Frémont, like many other explorers, travelers, and conquerors, proved that he was dependent on their help and assistance. Thus, ‘from giving direct cartographic information to providing necessary supplies, Indians helped to determine the success or failure of American exploring parties, and they had profound impacts on the way the West was drawn’ (p. 192).
Chapter six concludes the volume by examining Gouverneur Kemble Warren’s 1857 Map of the Territory of the United States from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean. Here Bernstein continues his analysis of the relationship between mapping and state building and explores how Warren’s map fused Native American and Euro-American naming traditions. Indeed, ‘the cartographic creation of the trans-Missouri West was dependent upon, and a result of, both Native and Euro-American practices’ (p. 199). Bernstein challenges the view that the cartographic creation of the west was simply ‘a spurious Euro-American landscape being drawn over a more authentic Indian one’ (p. 218). Warren’s inclusion of incident names, for example — something many scholars understand as an indigenous phenomena — illustrates the difficulty of separating Native American and Euro-American naming practices. ‘The story of how the West was drawn,’ Bernstein correctly asserts, ‘is not a singular narrative’ (p. 228). Many people have a tendency to see it as a relentless march by colonisers who subdued helpless subalterns and imposed their own cultural practices. However, as Bernstein successfully argues, Native Americans played critical roles in this process and ‘the distinction between ‘Indian’ and ‘American’ mapping in the middle of the 19th century existed — however powerfully — only discursively’ (p. 230).
Throughout the volume, Bernstein not only makes a convincing argument, but he also corrects some of the problematic ideas scholars have advanced or embraced over the years. This is a well-researched book. The author draws from manuscript sources at the Kansas Historical Society, the Missouri History Museum, the National Archives, and the Newberry Library, among other repositories, not to mention newspapers, additional government documents, Native American records, and other published primary sources. He is also attuned to the secondary literature. In addition, it would be a mistake not to mention and commend the book’s excellent selection of 46 map images. Some of these images highlight specific details; other images are printed on multiple pages of the book. Bernstein does an excellent job of integrating these maps into his analysis and the University of Nebraska Press should be commended for their investment in this incredible level of illustration. This is a book that will work well in graduate seminars on Native American history, the history of the antebellum US, the history of cartography, and of colonialism. Anyone interested in space and place in North America would do well to read this book.
The author is happy to accept this review and does not wish to comment further.
Image: Pawnees in a parley with Major Stephen Long's expedition at Council Bluffs, Iowa, in 1819. From an original painting (watercolor) by Samuel Seymour (1775 - 1823).