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This essay traces Cherokee diplomacy in the Arkansas River Valley in the decades before Removal as a window into how Native Americans in the American South shaped the contours of multi-cultural settlement. The Arkansas Cherokees fled social upheaval and diminishing game in their homeland to establish their new settlements. Cherokee leaders solidified their new territory via treaties with the United States by initially depicting themselves as immigrant hunters and, in later negotiations, as farmers. When white settlers challenged the Cherokees' worthiness to agricultural land, Cherokee leaders appropriated American scientific systems to block white settlers from Cherokee-claimed territory. The Cherokees' ability to enforce their geographical claims demonstrates how southeastern Indian nations influenced geopolitical power in the southern borderlands through controlling ecological language and scientific knowledge.
The Arkansas Cherokees' adaptive diplomacy harnessed multiple environmental, spatial, and scientific strategies, most notably the scientific practices often used to support American expansion. The Arkansas Cherokees wielded American science with comfortable dexterity, influencing scientific expeditions, dictating survey procedures, and adopting American cartographic styles. Cherokee men of science protected much of their own sovereign spaces in the southern borderlands and leveraged these key tools of American colonialism to defend their landholding.
Though Indian Removal and the expansion of the Cotton Kingdom demonstrated the weakened position of southeastern Indians, Native South communities persisted as geopolitical powers despite demographic disparities and whites' racist rhetoric. The Arkansas Cherokees' conceptualization and protection of their borders through environmental, rhetorical, and scientific strategies adds to recent scholarship showing how Native Americans marked their territorial boundaries in the face of white settler expansion.