This essay examines the ecology of the mid-nineteenth-century Arkansas River Valley and how white settlers adopted indigenous understandings of this landscape. One of the main foci of this ecology was its ability to produce berries and potentially other fruits. Although unpotable, water flowed from the Arkansas River to hydrate these berry plants and fill bison wallows. Plains Indians, such as the Cheyenne and Arapaho, had utilized the dynamic interplay of water, horses, bison, and berries in this region. As white settlers colonized the West, cartographers crafted a vision of the western landscape making it appear more hospitable to Euro-American agriculture. Furthermore, boosters and travelers promoted fruit agriculture in the West. Part of this vision was rooted in boosterism, but a major component of this vision was planted in reality. Throughout the nineteenth century, explorers’ diaries and travelogues explicated the importance of berries to supplement their diets on the Arkansas River trail. Consequently, many boosters encouraged settlers to grow vineyards and orchards in the arid and saline portion of the Arkansas River. Overall, many boosters looked at the physical landscape to understand how white settlers could thrive in what explorers had called the “Great American Desert.”


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pp. 39-58
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