As families across the United States prepare once again for another Thanksgiving Day feast we are reminded of the glorious story of the pilgrims that landed a Plymouth Rock in 1620. Yes, every year we seem to attend some Thanksgiving Day play performed by a local elementary school and witness some young child wearing a black cardboard buckled top hat shaking hands with the natives of America and sharing a meal to remember. That is the knowledge we are given as children in this country. We are taught about that first Thanksgiving and ask almost no questions concerning the entire story. Sure we learn the history of the West and how the United States grew to be such a world power, but what more do we truly understand? Of course many American’s just take no thought that there was an entire complex society present in North America well before any white man stepped foot in this new world. We assume in our own minds that our direct ancestors brought life here.
In truth this side of the earth was already home to some of the most unique and impressive cultures to ever inhabit the planet. However, there is a side of Native American history that to this day is still left out of many history books. That history can most simply be called that of the border lands.
Before the Spanish and French arrived in the new world a vast trade system between native tribes was already in place. We know from archaeological evidence that many tribes from across the continent of North America traded for items that were unavailable in their own geographic regions. It seems that there were major hubs or trading posts throughout the land. We can equate these large cities to modern day New York, Chicago, Denver, and St. Louis. Though much smaller in overall population, these native towns were the crossroads of the Western Hemisphere. One such city was in fact not far from modern day St. Louis. It was called Cahokia. Cahokia was a town of about 40,000 people at it’s peak, the same population as the city of Philadelphia in 1800. The city was the international shipping and cultural home to that of the Mississippian native population. Goods were brought in from around the North American continent and traded back out. It was our version of Memphis, Tennessee, a place where intercontinental trade was conducted.
Much like Cahokia served as an ancient Memphis for Native Americans, other areas also reflected places similar to locations we now know by our english, french, and spanish names.
Many people in the United States live in what we call rural areas, places that have very few people per square mile. Just like today, native North America also had rural areas far away from the hustle and bustle of the hectic lifestyle of the large cities like Cahokia.
Often times small native villages of no more that 200 people existed near river and streams throughout the North America. They of course had contact with outside tribes, but with few ways of fast travel or communication they were much more isolated than rural areas we think of today.
These villages would be occupied for seasonal periods or year round. Women would do the majority of camp upkeep while the men performed duties such as hunting. Amazingly, while many times a male would be the Chief of a village, women would be the only voting force inside the small society. Men would be expected to go on long hunting journey’s deep into untamed territory where only mother nature was the ruling force.
Evidence shows now that these in-between lands were very often claimed but never truly controlled by any one group of people. They were hotly contested lands that entire wars were fought over. The lands of places such as Southern Arkansas were never really controlled by any native tribe. Yes the Quapaw and the Caddo held some influential power over these places, but they never had any large military force capable of covering that much territory at one time. In affect these lands were free to grow wild. Large pine and oak trees were allowed to grow to be 2,000 years old and some even longer. At the time, it was probably likely that if a squirrel wanted to, it could travel from Oklahoma to Virginia without ever touching the ground.
Wildlife boomed in these areas. Wild Buffalo herds roamed from the Great Plains to Arkansas and beyond. It was a natural habitat in which almost no human could interfere. It is possible that there was at one time 50 million deer in Arkansas alone. Today there are just 1 million.
Occasionally hunting parties moved into a land that they believed to be their own but another tribe had claimed to have rights to as well. These types of interactions led to major disputes that lasted over many generations.
The Spanish and French quickly became accustomed to these political rivalries.
The French quickly set up shop in the Great Lakes Region and the Mississippi River Basin. When the United States made the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 life had already drastically changed for not only the Border Lands, but for the rest of Native American society. Soon settlers moved in and began using up the lands resources to build what has become the richest nation on the planet.
Photo 1: Fossil HD Cover
Photo 2: The American Buffalo
Photo 3: An approximate map showing that space in-between tribal lands known as the Border Lands.
Photo 4: White Tailed Deer