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174 Pastures of Plenty When William L. Lovely joined several thousand migrant Cherokee homesteading along the banks of the White and Arkansas Rivers in what is now the state of Arkansas, the newly appointed agent complained about the wasteful habits of white hunters who’d followed the Indians west. Lovely told his supervisors back in Washington, D.C., that the whites were destroying the resources the Cherokee needed to survive. They were killing buffalo in great numbers just for the tallow and leaving the carcasses to rot. He complained that the spoiled meat alone could have sustained the Indians,adding that bears in the region were also slaughtered with the meat and hides left behind,as the white hunters wanted only the oil the animals yielded. Within a few years, the Cherokee were petitioning for more hunting land farther west, as the game in the area had been depleted. Land along the Arkansas and White Rivers had been Osage hunting territory , yielded to the Cherokee newcomers via treaty. Now the Cherokee wanted hunting rights farther up the Arkansas, the Verdigris, and Neosho Rivers in what is now Oklahoma. They also wanted the Osages pushed farther north and west, away from this fecund region. By this time, the Osages were resolved to fight the Cherokee due to the latter’s incursions into country the Osages claimed as their own. 175 Pastures of Plenty Therefore in 1824, in an effort to keep the peace, the army constructed Fort Gibson where the Neosho and Verdigris Rivers joined the Arkansas . The place was known throughout the frontier as Three Forks, due to the proximity of the rivers. Three Forks soon became the commercial capital of the new West, with several companies operating trading posts where the rivers merged. There was still wild game in the Osage country in 1824, evidenced in orders given to soldiers stationed at Fort Gibson. If they wanted meat in their diet, they were to kill a buffalo. At the same time, traders operating out of Three Forks, where they mainly dealt with Osage trappers and hunters, were shipping numerous hides down the Arkansas to the Mississippi River and then to New Orleans. In his book Pioneer Days in the Early Southwest, historian Grant Foreman wrote that in April 1824, employees of Auguste Chouteau, a successful Three Forks trader, loaded a barge bound downriver. When they finished, the boat held 38,757 pounds of furs and skins. On board were some 300 female bear skins, 160 skins taken from bear cubs, 387 beaver pelts, 67 otter pelts, 720 cat hides including bobcats and cougars , 95 fox pelts, and 364 bales of deer hides. Separate from the deerskins Chouteau had traded for were 726 hides shipped to market by another French trader, Pierre Menard. Other traders in the area shipped similar numbers of furs and hides to market, keeping the Osages busy due to the tribe’s desire for arms, powder,and lead to defend their territory from the Cherokee and other tribes moving west to escape white settlers overrunning their original homelands east of the Mississippi. One notable absence from Chouteau ’s shipment was buffalo hides. The influx of subsistence hunters and their desire for buffalo meat and robes had pushed these animals farther west at a pace dictated by the mushrooming numbers of hunters and settlers flowing into the region. In 1832, writer Washington Irving kept a journal of his adventures while exploring unmapped territory in what is now the state of Oklahoma . Later he wrote a book about his travels called A Tour on the Prairies , and in it he describes meeting with several Osage hunters near modern Oklahoma City. The Indians told Irving’s group that their hunger for buffalo meat would soon be sated when they arrived at the “prairies on the banks of the Grand Canadian,” where they’d find plenty of game. That same year Commissioner of Indian Settlement Henry Ellsworth complained that “a few years since, buffalo were seen 176 Pastures of Plenty around the garrison of Fort Gibson—now they never approach within 100 miles of it, and we found them 170 miles distant” while traveling west with Irving’s exploratory party. Two years later, when artist George Catlin joined an expedition of U.S. Army Dragoons headed west from Fort Gibson to make contact with the Plains Indians, the soldiers didn’t discover bison in quantity until they reached a point along the Canadian River where Norman, Oklahoma, stands today, near...


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MARC Record
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