In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

part 1 Living in Indian Country 1 / Constructing Indian Country In the late summer of 1844, Lt. Henry Carleton sat on the floor of a Pawnee lodge, watching an Indian draw a map in the dirt. Sharitarish, a chief of the village, was illustrating the region’s geopolitical and topographical landscape to Carleton; his commander, Maj. Clifton Wharton; and a complement of American dragoons.1 As Carleton described in his journal: [Sharitarish] drew a mark with his finger upon the ground introducing the Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska Rivers. Then he placed a mark for Fort Leavenworth, and then in a manner surprising accurate, located the different tribes in their proper places—cutting them off by names as he went along, at the same time touching the exact spot each one occupied, thus “Shawnee,” “Delaware,” “Kickapoo ,” “ Ioways,” “Otoes,” “Omahas,” “Pawnees.” All this was done in half the time it has taken me to describe it.2 The Pawnee chief was elaborating on an exchange of hand signals, during which he had inquired what route the Americans traveled to his village , in what is now southern Nebraska. “It was curious,” Carleton wrote of the Indian’s response, “to see how readily he understood our explanations .” Perhaps wanting a more complex representation of the region than hand signals allowed, Sharitarish drew his map.3 For Carleton, Sharitarish’s simple but elegant communication in a geographic language compatible with his own was both “curious” and “surprising.” Geographic knowledge was, after all, one of the defining 18 / living in indian country characteristics of Enlightenment thought, a worldview that—to men like Carleton and Wharton—separated civilization from savagery. This Indian was not only able to relay geographic information in a way Carleton understood, but he did so with a talent that was exceptional even among Americans.4 Many twenty-first-century scholars would understand Carleton’s surprise. Like the American dragoon, many researchers have held that indigenous territorial constructs were incompatible with Euro-American cartographic conventions. Such arguments posit that, unlike the measured mathematical space of traverse surveys and Ptolemaic maps, Indians understood and represented their spatial existence in very different ways than Euro-Americans. Barbara Belyea, a leading scholar of Native maps, has written that “the Native sense of space and ground is the complete antithesis of European map construction. . . . There is no ‘common ground.’”5 Similarly, Martin Brückner explains that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark got lost on their famous Louisiana expedition not in spite of their Mandan informants but because of them: “Reading Native American maps with the goal of translating them into the code of European scientific geography inevitably became an exercise in misreading.”6 In this interpretation, the creation of any map of the United States would mean the erasure of indigenous ways of understanding their place— literally—in the geographic creation of the American republic. What, then, should we make of the interaction between the Pawnee and American diplomats on the banks of the Platte in 1844? Cartographic scholars agree that one defining characteristic of Native maps is a lack of internal scale; the distance between two points on a map is irrelevant . In Native maps, the argument goes, there is no spatial connection between a map’s design and the ground it represents.7 Yet, Sharitarish seemed to be literate in the Euro-American convention of establishing a direct correlation between actual distances on the ground and those represented on the map. There was what was called spatial equivalence, when the surface of the map represents a portion of the earth’s surface. Sharitarish’s map was “surprising accurate,” according to Carleton, and even blank spaces had geographical meaning. Further confounding the distinction between Euro-American and Indian mapmaking conventions, the Pawnee depicted Indian groups as having distinct territorial claims. We do not know if Sharitarish drew explicitlines,butCarleton’sdescriptionthattheIndiantouched“theexact spot each one occupied,” and “cut them off by names,” implies an understanding of linear boundaries. Such an acknowledgment contradicts the constructing indian country / 19 standard characterizations of Native maps, which are partially defined by their “absence or weakness of linear boundary concept.”8 The Pawnee’s delineation of discrete geopolitical spaces is particularly interesting because three of the seven groups that Sharitarish named had been living in the region for less than a decade. The Shawnees, Delawares , and Kickapoos had all moved from their lands east of the Mississippi River to new, bounded territories west of the Missouri, under the auspices of an American program...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.