Stan Hoig. White Man's Paper Trail: Grand Councils and Treaty-Making on the Central Plains. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2006. xvi + 245 pp. $34.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-87081-829-5.
Reviewed by Peter Jones (BÃƒÂ¤uu Institute)
Published on H-AmIndian (September, 2006)
Books discussing the spurious means by which Euro-Americans colonized the Americas have become popular over the last decade or so, both for young scholars to write and to use in the classroom. Much of this stems from the work of revisionist historians and postcolonial theorists, as well as the work of scholars interested in bringing to light previously ignored or little-heard human experiences. White Man's Paper Trail is a work in the former vein rather than the latter. Stan Hoig, professor emeritus at the University of Central Oklahoma, attempts to give us a revised history of the treaty-making process in the central Plains. Instead of giving us another rendition of how Euro-Americans stole the land, the resources, and the livelihood of American Indian peoples, he presents a narrative account of how American Indian peoples attempted to protect their lifeways through diplomacy and creative means.
In the main, Hoig presents a recounting of the formal relations and points of contact that occurred between officials of the United States and the Republic of Texas with Native American tribal leaders from the early 1800s through the last formal treaty in 1871. The book inevitably reflects upon legalities and ethics of U.S. policy towards Native Americans that leads the reader to even deeper questions concerning ownership, stewardship, and rights of sovereignty. These matters, in turn, go to the basic question of who is the rightful owner (or steward) of a given region, if such a thing is possible, and by what authority. The deeper questions are largely left unanswered, although the groundwork for their proposition is thoroughly established. This latter point highlights the real place of Hoig's book, as a text in a graduate seminar or upper level class where these deeper questions can be posed and discussed.
In order to accomplish his goals, Hoig breaks his argument down into a series of "chapter essays," which follow a chronological praxis, yet switch geographic locations. For example, the first chapter is a general essay on U.S. Indian treaties in which Hoig discusses the history of the treaty system. As Hoig argues, this system began during a time when the military and political posture of Native American tribes were a force to be reckoned with, although by the end of the treaty making process, tribes were no longer a political or military threat. Through the treaty making process, as Hoig correctly points out, the U.S. government was able to break up the tribal system and to relegate Native American people to second-class status.
Following this general essay, Hoig builds on his argument by discussing sixteen different examples, each written in the style of a chapter and not necessarily as a case study. This constitutes the meat of the book, where Hoig covers the treaty making process on the central Plains in erudite detail. For example, Hoig discusses how the treaty of Fort Wise, originally signed in 1861 and amended in October of that year, was "one of the greatest landgrabs of the West" (p. 110). He also reveals that many of the individuals working for the U.S. government had spurious motives in attempting to establish peaceful relations with the tribes. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, A. B. Greenwood, for example, urged that new treaties be made with the Cheyennes and Arapahos after the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, because, as Greenwood noted, "they are disposed to yield up their claims without any reluctance" (p. 109). Other chapters include discussions on the expulsion of the Texas tribes, the Cheyenne resistance, Red Cloud's demand for the withdrawal U.S. troops from the Powder River area, and the ending of the treaty making process in 1871.
Although the book ends its formal discussion in 1871 when the United States terminated the formal treaty-making process, Hoig does not leave the reader wondering what happened next. Instead, Hoig notes that the nullification of the system of treaties with Native American tribes did not end the need for legal arrangements. Instead, a new terminology was adopted whereby the mechanisms through which legal matters, to be negotiated, were termed "agreements" rather than "treaties." Thus, this book establishes the groundwork for future projects, which could be assigned as honor theses, seminar finals, or independent studies. For example, the question arises, under this new "agreement" system, how was the status of tribes as sovereign nations effected, a status that "treaties" guaranteed?
The book concludes with a summary chapter that attempts to bring Hoig's central arguments into a broader context, largely from a historical perspective. The book also contains a very useful appendix that lists Plains Indian treaties with the United States, the Republic of Texas, and the Confederate States of America to 1871. As noted, the scope of this book is limited to those pacts initiated through 1871, when the U.S. Congress abandoned the system of formal treaties. At this point the U.S. government turned to the practice of establishing "agreements," which no longer recognized the concept of tribal autonomy. In relation to U.S. conquest, the Indian claim of sovereignty was based upon prior occupancy and traditional inhabitation. However, many of the tribes had only recently won sovereignty over their particular territory of residence on the Central Plains, a fact tacitly recognized in dealing with the tribes as separate, although dependent, nations in treaty making.
The history of the Great Plains and the American West has been couched all too often in terms of U.S. military conquest and Native American battles. Limited examination has been made of U.S. treaties in the context of the Native Americans' continual loss of land and struggle for self-determination. Hoig's book fills an important gap in the understanding of the Plains region, although much work still needs to be done. In short, Hoig's book is a solid example of the type of scholarship possible when one looks outside of their normal disciplinary boundaries and casts their academic eyes wider. By combining historical scholarship with ethnographic and ethnological data, White Man's Paper Trail demonstrates what is possible in an interdisciplinary field such as Native American studies. Any Native American library would be incomplete without this book, both because of its scholarship on American Indians and Euro-American relationships in the Plains and its discussion of the U.S. treaty making process during the nineteenth century.
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Peter Jones. Review of Hoig, Stan, White Man's Paper Trail: Grand Councils and Treaty-Making on the Central Plains.
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