Kathleen DuVal’s TheNative Ground focuses on the relationships between Native AmericanIndians and Europeans in the Arkansas River Valley. By shifting our perceptions from a Europeanbased view to a Native American Indians centered view, history as we know inthe seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is dramatically altered.
Her work shifts geographic focus fromEuropean coastal outposts to “the heart of the continent.” The Arkansas Valley was already anestablished center of Native American Indian trade in North America. The importance of the region for its Native AmericanIndian and European players was the distinct opportunity for naturalprogression because of the existing diversecommunities and tribal relationships. Modern history reflects the settlement of colonial NorthAmerica from the European viewpoint or another.
However, she shows that the simplistic, mainstream version of Americanhistory is riddled with historical biases. Recognizing the Arkansas Valley as the centerof colonial North America is a more truthful representation of the evolvementof the nation. DuVal points out that theArkansas Valley was a place where Native American Indians and Europeans fromthe East and West met, providing a link between the two. Due to the proximity of the eastern ArkansasValley to the Mississippi River Valley, the area was a natural trade route forNative Americans Indians.
By proxy, it wouldeventually be the same for Indian and European explorers, traders, and ultimately,immigrants. Not some European empire’s mission,it was, indeed, “the heart of the continent.” It’s important to understand thatwhen European scouting expeditions first came to the continent, no onerepresenting any European empires had any control over the Arkansas Valley. Despite popular misconception, the NativeAmerican Indians in the mid-continent were not untamed, wild savages waitingfor salvation from a more sophisticated group. They had established communities with forms of government, tradeagreements in place with other communities, and advanced agricultural and huntingtechniques, unique to their groups. Becauseof their ability to adapt to the conditions of the land, the initial survivalof European explorers was contingent, largely in part, on them. The failure of sixteenth-century Spanishexplorers in the area to thrive was based largely on their unwillingness torecognize the incorporations and hierarchies of those groups.
DuVal argues that unlike RichardWhite’s “Middle Ground,” where Native American Indians and Europeans were notcompatible, “the Arkansas Valley was home to a few large and relativelycohesive tribes from the time the French arrived through the early nineteenthcentury.” They were able to maintain their power throughthe colonial period because they were able to maintain their self-governing characteristicsand adapted quickly to integrate newcomers. The situation in the seventeenthcentury was very different. The Quapaws,who had recently migrated to Arkansas from the Ohio Valley to escape theIroquois, were meeting resistance from the established populations of the regionand saw a political opportunity with the French. The Quapaws recognized that theFrench had the numbers that they did not have and were in need of assistance toacclimate to their new surroundings. TheFrench quickly realized their own need for local support and accepted unificationwith the Quapaws. Despite their modestpopulation and their inability to dominate by force, the Quapaws used their newconnection with the French to find their place in the local diplomatic sectionas valued negotiators between established tribes and the early Europeansettlers. During the early eighteenthcentury, the Osage, also recently migrated from Ohio Valley, emerged as aregional power, but used drastically different measures to exert theirinfluence.
TheOsage presented with larger numbers and quickly garnered a reputation forviolence. Because of their threat toother Native American Indians and Europeans, they established a large, dominantempire by the late eighteenth century. Through these strategies, according toDuVal, they established an empire by the late eighteenth century. At this time,although Europeans were attempting to establish sovereignty in the area, theunderstanding was that Native American Indians still held power. During that era, the Quapaws and Osage heldcomplete political and military control over the area.