Mapping Indian Land Cessions
In the late 19th century, after the Mexican War and the Civil War, the United States government set to consolidate its territorial and national claims. Against this backdrop, C.C. Royce wrote a report in 1881 entitled “Cessions of Land by Indian Tribes to the United States: Illustrated by Those in the State of Indiana." The passage below is from that report, though the map was drawn five years later.
CHARACTER OF THE INDIAN TITLE.
The social and political relations that have existed and still continue between the Government of the United States and the several Indian tribes occupying territory within its geographical limits are, in many respects, peculiar.
The unprecedentedly rapid increase and expansion of the white population of the country, bringing into action corresponding necessities for the acquisition and subjection of additional territory, have maintained constant struggle between civilization and barbarism. Involved as a factor in this social conflict, was the legal title to the land occupied by Indians. The questions raised were whether in law or equity the Indians were vested with any stronger title than that of mere tenants at will, subject to be dispossessed at the pleasure or convenience of their more civilized white neighbors, and, if so, what was the nature and extent of such stronger title?. . .
The Government of the United States having thus been committed in all of its departments to the recognition of the principle of the Indian right of possession, it becomes not only a subject of interest to the student of history, but of practical value to the official records of the government, that a carefully compiled work should exhibit the boundaries of the several tracts of country which have been acquired from time to time, within the present limits of the United States, by cession or relinquishment from the various Indian tribes, either through the medium of friendly negotiations and just compensation, or as the result of military conquest. . . .
The most difficult and laborious feature of the work is [the creation of a series of maps]. The ordinary reader in following the treaty provisions, in which the boundaries of the various cessions are so specifically and minutely laid down, would anticipate but little difficulty in tracing those boundaries upon the modern map. In this he would find himself sadly at fault. In nearly all of the treaties concluded half a century or more ago, wherein cessions of land were made, occur the names of boundary points which are not to be found on any modern map, and which have never been known to people of the present generation living in the vicinity.
In many of the older treaties this is the case with a large proportion of the boundary points mentioned. The identification and exact location of these points thus becomes at once a source of much laborious research. Not unfrequently weeks and even months of time have been consumed, thousands of old maps and many volumes of books examined, and a voluminous correspondence conducted with local historical societies of old settlers, in the effort to ascertain the location of a single boundary point.
Map of the Former Territorial Limits of the Cherokee “Nation of" Indians Exhibiting the Boundaries of the Various Cessions Of Land Made by Them to the Colonies and to the United States By Treaty Stipulations from the Beginning of Their Relations With the Whites to the Date of Their Removal West of the Mississippi River. By C.C. Royce. 1884.
1. Given Royce’s assertion in the passage about the difficulty of fixing the boundaries stipulated in treaties, how reliable do you find this map?
2. The assumption behind this map is that Native Americans claimed land as neatly as whites. What’s wrong with that assumption?
3. One way to think of a map is that it’s making an argument about who owns what land. What is the argument in the title of the map? Why does Royce put “Nation of” in quotation marks?