Creating the American West: Boundaries and Borderlands

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Creating the American West: Boundaries and Borderlands
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Creating the American West: Boundaries and Borderlands
Leavitt, Craig
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Denver, CO
Center for Colorado and the West
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Auraria Library
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Creating the American West: Boundaries and Borderlands | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/7/2015 3:22:58 PM] Home Creating the American West: Boundaries and BorderlandsCreating the American West: Boundaries and BorderlandsSubmitted by CLEAVITT on 10-8-2014 11:56 PMAuthor: Derek R. Everett Publishing: Creating the American West: Boundaries and Borderlands. By Derek R. Everett. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. 302 pages. Black-and-white photographs. Maps. 6 x 9. $29.99 hardcover. Reviewer: Craig Leavitt Reviewer Affiliation: University of Colorado Denver Derek R. Everetts Creating the American West: Boundaries and Borderlands explores the fascinating convergence of social, political, economic, and geographic factors that went into the creation of the boundaries that mark western territories and states. Though we may give them little thought today, our internal borders played an important role in determining our present-day social and political realities. As the early United States expanded its territorial holdings through purchase, negotiation, and conquest, thorny problems arose. Dilemmas regarding how to delineate and govern new lands burdened the new American government even before the War of Independence concluded. Everetts well-written and carefully researched book illuminates these issues and their implications for the nations growth through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Early debates about demarcating new territories and states hinged on the question of geography vs. geometry. Should natural boundaries such as rivers, mountain ranges or drainage basins divide new polities in Americas western holdings, or should a rectilinear scheme of arbitrary borders following lines of latitude and longitude prevail? The need for precise divisions of property combined with the inherent difficulties of surveying geographic features meant that the latter method prevailed. Embracing mountain ranges and rivers within political communities, and insisting upon geometry over geography overall, writes Everett, reflected a stereotypically American attitudethat humans could master the landscape (14). The horizontal nature of overland immigration routes helped to foster the tendency toward the long rectangular shape of many western states. Everetts thorough introductory discussion of the precedents that determined the criteria for western state boundaries and early partitions of the trans-Mississippi West is followed by two chapters considering the division of the Louisiana Purchase. This sprawling purchase doubled the size of the United States and added the complication of large Native American populations as well as French and Spanish colonists. Focusing on areas of conflict and controversy, Everett examines contentious struggles between white settlers and Native Americans that shaped the western border of Arkansas as well as strife between Anglo-Americans on the Iowa-Missouri frontier. EXPLORE BY MEDIABook Reviews Photographs Video Biographies New Publications Resource Guides County Newspaper HistoriesEXPLORE BY TOPICLand & Natural Resources Government & Law Agriculture Mining Commerce & Industry Transportation People & Places Communication Healthcare & Medicine Education & Libraries Cultural Communities Recreation & Entertainment Tourism ReligionEXPLORE BY CULTUREHispanic Native AmericanWe were most agreeably surprised to find him a polished gentleman. Description of James P. Beckwourth, African American mountain man, fur trader and explorer.


Creating the American West: Boundaries and Borderlands | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/7/2015 3:22:58 PM] In the 1820s, Native American tribesincluding Choctaws, relocated from Missisippi under the Treaty of Doaks Standdrew the ire of American settlers who coveted their preserves and railed against the federal government for transforming Arkansas into a national dumping ground for displaced cultures (74). Everett masterfully unwinds the complex story of how the patchwork of conflicting land claims between whites and natives drove the evolution of Arkansass western boundary. Native cultures, according to the author, proved adept at manipulating the boundary-making process to their own ends, much to the frustration of those who hoped to contain such cultures through the same means (92 93). Demarcation of boundaries between American and native lands also figured into the creation of Missouris border with Iowa, and into the controversy between the states that developed from it. In 1813, famous explorer William Clark, in his role as territorial governor of Missouri, made peace with the Osage tribe. A line separating American from Osage territory drawn by surveyor John C. Sullivan followed magnetic north, rather than true north, causing his line to veer slightly northeastan error, Everett notes, that came to haunt later generations. When Wisconsin began administering the area north of Missouri that would become Iowa, Sullivans crooked border became the source of tension. An 1837 re-survey, proceeding from a series of rapids at the Great Bend of the River Des Moines as specified in the Missouri constitution, traced a border that extended as far as fifteen miles north of Sullivans. An influx of settlers to the region after further native concessions boosted Iowas population, leading to territorial status in 1838. The following year, overlapping claims led to harsh words between the newspapers and governors of the respective political entities. Each side asserted rights of taxation in the disputed strip. An incident in which Missourians cut down hollow trees housing beehives belonging to settlers loyal to Iowa gave the conflict its name: The Honey War. While many newspapers and most citizens saw the disputes as a comic farce, hundreds of men were called up for militia duty on both sides, and the phony war showed real potential for bloodshed. Unwanted expenses and poor conditions endured by the conscripts turned public opinion against the bellicose governors, and cooler heads prevailed. The Missouri legislature lost its taste for warfare and passed a resolution in which it pledged itself collectively and individually to endeavor by every means in our power to allay the horrors and calamities of the civil war(112). The Supreme Court sided with Iowas claim to govern to Sullivans line in an 1849 decision. Other chapters consider the borders between the Dakotas and between California and Nevada. Another chapter in Creating the West looks at how arbitrary territorial frontiers divided a distinct cultural group, when Colorados border at the 37th parallel cut off Hispanic settlements in the San Luis Valley from their brethren in New Mexico. The land thus severed from New Mexico, said territorial delegate Francisco Perea in 1865, was a fair and fertile part of her domain, and its inhabitants were her own people, bound to her by every tie of ancestry, nativity and association (176). Joined in the late 1870s by Anglo miners who also resented the dominance of Denver and the north in the territorys affairs, southern Colorados Hispanic communities agitated for the creation of a new state to be called San Juan. The arrival of the Denver & Rio Grande Railway in the San Luis Valley, along with the electoral success of several southern Colorado candidates for state office, however, eased southern Colorados sense of isolation, and the campaign to secede and create a new state petered out. Though the geometric lines creating states on the map may seem arbitrary, they in fact have given identity and meaning to the landscape and the people who dwell in it. Our western borders continue to define water rights, taxation, political representation, and immigration issues. Everett expresses a hope that intra-national boundaries will draw greater interest and scrutiny from historians. By making them a


Creating the American West: Boundaries and Borderlands | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/7/2015 3:22:58 PM] Auraria Library 303-556-4587 1100 Lawrence Street Denver, Colorado 80204 In the News Partners & Donations About Us Contact Us focus, he writes, historians can transform borderlands into a theoretical structure commanding just as much attention as the holy trinity of class, gender, and ethnicity. Reviewer Info: Craig Leavitt is a graduate student in public history at the University of Colorado Denver, a former Koch Fellow at History Colorado, and the current Center for Colorado & the West Fellow. He has published in Colorado Heritage and co-authored a book chronicling the history of the Hilltop Heritage Association. His publications include an essay on Denver native Neal Cassady, included in the Routledge Press anthology Across the Great Divide: Cultures of Manhood in the American West, and an analysis of folk singer Woody Guthries place in Western U.S. history, published in the University of Colorado Denvers Historical Studies Journal Craig is also the coauthor of a book on western artist Herndon Davis to be published by CC&W in 2015.