Winning the West with Words: Language and Conquest in the Lower Great Lakes

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  1. Westward Expansion Facts
  2. Digitally Analyzing the Uneven Ground – Current Research in Digital History
  3. Books on Indigenous Peoples
  4. About this Item

The benefit of using digital methods to detect text reuse is that it can identify language pattern similarities that would be difficult and time consuming to detect using close reading figure 2.

Westward Expansion Facts

Thus, it is possible to see what early 19th century treaty a negotiator used as a template in the s. As the network graph in figure 3 indicates, there was very limited borrowing across time. Most of these clusters of treaties contain only one or two colors corresponding to decades. The graph also captures, in the form of clusters, the practice of treaty borrowing where a commissioner composed several treaties within a short span of time.

Commissioners rarely veered from their groove in the uneven ground and thus limited borrowing geographically and temporally. Breaking apart the borrowing patterns by decade reinforces this observation see figures 4 and 5. There are only a few examples of treaties that borrowed language from agreements in different geographical regions. While the general trend for language borrowing among treaties was limited by time and geography, there were some exceptions to this rule. The most obvious example is the treaty signed by the Comanche.

As the excerpts in figure 6 show, the Comanche treaty obviously borrowed language from the Fort Harmar treaty written fifty-seven years before. The Comanche treaty also borrowed language from the treaty with the Creek, and the Treaty of Greenville. The network graph in figure 7 shows the sub-group of treaty borrowing containing the treaty the only red dot or treaty from the s.

There are two plausible explanations for the long-term language borrowing of the Comanche treaty. The first possibility is that the language borrowing can be attributed to the background of the commissioners, Pierce Mason Butler and M. Butler was a former governor of South Carolina — who became an Indian agent, a post which he held until his death during the Mexican American War. A more likely explanation is that Butler and Lewis looked to the past because of the specific historical milieu of Comancheria in the s. The economic engine of the powerful Comanche empire was a system of raiding and trading.

Digitally Analyzing the Uneven Ground – Current Research in Digital History

The Comanche raided encroaching American and Mexican settlements and then sold their acquisitions to other Indian nations or non-indigenous traders. It appears that Butler and Lewis saw enough parallels between these two situations that they borrowed language from the Ohio treaties nearly verbatim see figure 8. The two situations were also similar in that the American government needed to suppress violence on its ever expanding frontier without a substantial and stable population of settlers. Butler and Lewis once again looked to an 18th century treaty to address a contemporary problem by adopting a licensing system see figure 9.

The example of the Comanche treaty demonstrates how detecting text reuse can complicate our understanding of historical power dynamics. However, just as language borrowing raises and answers interesting questions, so does its absence. How do we make sense of the large number of treaties that did not borrow language from previous documents and did not become exemplars for subsequent agreements?

For instance, the Chippewa Treaty does not share any borrowed paragraphs; meanwhile, the Chippewa Treaty shares several paragraphs. Nothing in the text of the Chippewa Treaty suggests that it is a unique document. It contains the expected themes and form of any other treaty. The network graph in Figure 10 indicates a different story as the treaty appears as an isolated node without any connections to other treaties.

So why did this document not borrow from other texts?

Part of the answer may lie in the individuals who negotiated the treaty. Henry C. Gilbert and David B.

Herriman negotiated the Chippewa Treaty; but, unlike many other commissioners, they only negotiated a small number of treaties. In contrast, the commissioner of the Chippewa Treaty, George Manypenny, was the signatory on over fifty different treaties. Manypenny had the job of organizing territories on the central plains in order to provide land for white settlement and the construction of railroads.

With a federally directed goal in mind, Manypenny crafted nine treaties signed with different nations in Washington D.

However, they were included in a second wave of treaties signed in Washington D. In a strange twist, Gilbert and Manypenny then teamed up to craft two other agreements with the Ojibwe and Ottawa nations of Michigan in the fall of in Detroit. Better understanding the construction of these documents is extremely important for the modern Ojibwe people who have a large stake in the language of these documents as they depend upon them to protect their fishing and hunting rights.

This provision is absent from the Chippewa Treaty negotiated by Manypenny in Washington; but, it reappears in the Ottawa and Chippewa Treaty negotiated by Manypenny and Gilbert in Michigan. Why were fishing rights included in some agreements and not others?. It is interesting that the guarantees of fishing rights only occurred in treaties where Gilbert was one of the commissioners. Or, is the inclusion of fishing rights connected to the physical location in which the treaties were negotiated and signed? Both treaties that included fishing rights were negotiated in Wisconsin and Michigan respectively.

The treaty negotiated in Washington failed to address fishing rights. Did the location of negotiation affect the amount of agency that indigenous negotiators could exert? In order to test the possibility of indigenous agency accounting for the unconnected treaties, I examined whether or not the treaties granted fishing rights based upon the location of negotiation.


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In theory, the treaties that contained clauses protecting fishing rights would suggest a significant amount of indigenous agency or negotiating skill figures 13, 14, and It appears that there is some connection between the location of negotiation and the inclusion of fishing rights given the absence of blue dots near negotiating hubs; but, the evidence is not conclusive.

Still, this opens an avenue for further inquiry, especially if the trend holds true for hunting, gathering, and other rights as well. Examining the nearly four hundred Indian treaties using digital methods revealed a network of language borrowing. While the practice of borrowing was widespread, it was confined geographically and temporally due to the inconsistency of federal Indian policy. In certain cases such as the Comanche Treaty, borrowing across decades and geographic regions did take place in order to address similar contemporary issues.

While highlighting the presence of borrowing, further investigation is needed to understand why it occurred.

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