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  • The Native Ground: Indians and Colonists in the Heart of the Continent
  • Mark A. Nicholas (bio)
The Native Ground: Indians and Colonists in the Heart of the Continent. By Kathleen DuVal. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006. Pp. 320. Illustrations, maps. Cloth, $45.00; Paper, $22.50.)

The Native Ground rightly takes a spot alongside the groundbreaking works of James F. Brooks, Colin G. Calloway, Steven W. Hackel, Ned Blackhawk, and Juliana Barr.1 Slavery, the chaotic movement and displacement [End Page 477] of native peoples, missionary activities, gendered cultural encounters, and the ferocious power dynamics of colonization and colonialism are but a few of the topics of interest to these creative scholars. In the process, they have brought the lands west of the Mississippi into the fold of early American historiography. Innovative perspectives and methods built off their studies will only continue to expand the spatial boundaries of early America.

Examining the Arkansas River Valley, an understudied yet sizable territory, Kathleen DuVal introduces the concept of the “native ground.” Her new framework warrants comparison to the “middle ground,” a seminal model of both place and process that Richard White introduced to make sense of the cultural encounters in the Great Lakes region. Given the profound influence of White’s work, a recent forum in the William and Mary Quarterly revisited the “middle ground,” concluding that it had lost some of its interpretive strength.2 Overshadowed by the seductive power of Native American agency, some of White’s original emphasis on localized cross-cultural misunderstandings and miscommunications has been lost. Only after prolonged uncertainty and confusion did Indians and the French accommodate, adapt, and eventually co-opt one another’s social practices and cultural forms. The end result was the “middle ground,” consisting of new cultural patterns and an equilibrium between French and Indian power and authority. Anticipating comparisons to White’s study, DuVal insists there was no room for a “middle ground” in the Arkansas River Valley where “[Indians] called the shots” (12). To give conceptual and analytic value to the “native ground,” DuVal, like White, covers a tremendous span of time and terrain, and she writes with vision and clarity, drawing startling conclusions from multilingual sources. Foregrounding a long series of relationships between and among native peoples with Euro-Americans as unequal players, DuVal’s book, at least to this reader, presents a strong challenge to long-held beliefs about who were the colonized and the colonizers. Her study not only takes its place with the best of recent ethnohistorical works but also integrates a region within colonial and early national American social and cultural history. [End Page 478]

The core of the text is flanked by two shorter sections, the first of which explores the Mississipian chiefdoms’ hierarchical landscape. DuVal smoothly integrates Spanish- and French-language materials with anthropological sources. Like Greg O’Brien and James Taylor Carson, who posit the Mississippian chiefdoms as starting points for valuable interpretations of southeastern Indian history, DuVal rightly sets the native ground’s origins with the chiefdoms.3 This connection allows DuVal to draw some important conclusions about initial colonialism in the Deep South. Remnant Mississippi chiefdoms’ introductions to Spaniards and French were just another shift in the history of the native ground. Euro-American arrivers had to prove adaptable to an existing world of social ritual and cultural practice. In short, Spanish and French colonizers were the native ground’s colonized. Working with a small evidentiary record, DuVal convinces that the French succeeded where the Spanish could not. Hernando de Soto and Francisco Vázquez de Coronado tried to exert dominance, take land, and control trade: chiefdoms wanted nothing of the Spanish and fended them off. The French, in contrast, learned Indian gift-giving protocol and diplomatic ceremonialism. Chiefdoms welcomed them to trade and share land, because the French followed Indian dictates.

DuVal’s central chapters follow two groups who jostled for their own native grounds: the migrant Siouan-speaking Quapaws and Osages who positioned themselves near the Choctaws, Chickasaws, and other emerging groups. Employing differing strategies, Quapaws and Osages both aimed for native-ground dominance. The Quapaws mostly used diplomacy, whereas the Osages resorted to military...


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