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2 / Sharitarish and the Possibility of Treaties On October 9, 1833, Sharitarish—probably the same chief who would draw the dirt map for American dragoons eleven years later—and fifteen other Pawnee leaders signed a treaty with American representatives Edward Ellsworth and John Dougherty. The Indians believed that this treaty would provide them with military protection, diplomatic assistance , and material goods. In exchange, the chiefs agreed to “cede and relinquish to the United States all their right, interest, and title in and to all the land lying south of the Platte River,” an area that twentieth-century Pawnees argued was at least 23 million acres.1 Such was the start of more than a century of broken promises and legal wrangling that came to typify American territorial appropriation in the trans-Mississippi West. This treaty, and dozens like it, represented the most essential process in the mapping of the trans-Missouri West. As the editors of a seminal collection of essays on the American West argue, “Land that belongs to me, lands that belong to you; the history of the West is the story of how the American map came to have the boundaries it shows today.”2 Along with treaties with the Osage and the Kansa in 1825, the 1833 treaty with the Pawnees marked the beginning of land transfer in the trans-Missouri West. This transfer gave the United States the ability to determine where western boundaries would be drawn. And because of the financial inequity of the treaty—the Pawnees received $148,200 for slightly more than half of the 23 million acres they claimed as theirs— the standard historical interpretation posits that American representatives either forced or tricked the Pawnees into signing the agreement. 44 / living in indian country Historians have used words like “scheme” and “persuade” to describe the American government’s participation in the negotiations.3 During the 1950s Indian Claims Commission hearings, Pawnee lawyers argued that it was only through “duress, misrepresentation, undue influence, mistake of the Pawnees, [and] breach of trust by the [United States],” that the treaty was procured at all.4 In this interpretation, the drawing of Indian territorial boundaries appears to consist entirely of what cartographer J. B. Harley calls “ideological arrows.”5 An alternative narrative of American land appropriation in the transMissouri West demonstrates how the Pawnees played a central role in the creation of geopolitical boundaries of the region. Whereas most histories of the Pawnees start with their land dispossession and government dependency in the second half of the nineteenth century and look for the historical patterns that created this structure, this chapter periodizes Pawnee geopolitics without bowing to any presupposition of the inevitability of U.S. colonialism. For nineteenth-century Pawnee leaders, the United States was not their future colonizer but just one of many players in an increasingly violent landscape. The Pawnees saw both problems and opportunities as Americans expanded their presence in the region. Rather than being forced to sign the 1833 treaty, Pawnee leaders saw an opportunity to maintain their sociopolitical standing and to provide security for their people. By the 1820s, violent conflicts with both the central-Siouans to the east and nomadic groups to the west had made life harrowing for the four Pawnee tribes. As Osage-, Comanche-, and Lakota-led alliances pushed into the Great Plains from all directions, the Pawnees looked for new geopolitical alliances to maintain control of their primary hunting grounds, located between the Niobrara and Arkansas Rivers.6 It was at the very moment that the Pawnees were looking for diplomatic and military assistance that the United States’ presence in the region—one previously limited to the remnants of a failed factory system and the skeleton of an Indian Bureau whose agents rarely crossed the Missouri—began to expand. Pawnee leaders saw the potential—and the problems—in the establishment of the Santa Fe Trail, the coming of scientific and military expeditions, and the expansion of the Indian bureau.7 They looked to U.S. representatives not as harbingers of a colonial order but rather 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. Seen in this light, the 1833 treaty exemplifies the ways in sharitarish and the possibility of treaties / 45 which Indian groups—in this case the Pawnees—played an active role in the creation of the geopolitical landscape of the trans-Missouri West. Pawnee leaders...


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