Date of Award

Fall 2019

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Woody Holton


Between 1500 and 1850, Native Americans, Europeans, and enslaved African Americans competed for territory within the landscape of the lower Arkansas Valley. The complex transitional environment between delta bottomlands, interior highlands, and Great Plains fostered the co-existence of competing Native and Euro-American claims to regional sovereignty and settlement well into the nineteenth century. The geopolitical divides often hinged on debates over environmental resources and scientific practices. Indigenous polities from the Mississippians to the Quapaws and Osages adapted to environmental changes to establish and maintain their borders in the face of European colonial presence. In the nineteenth century, Cherokees and white planters alike used scientific expeditions, surveys, and maps to validate their respective farming territories and the Cherokees even reversed white settlers' expansion into coveted farmland. White legislators later promoted the federal protection of the thermal waters at Hot Springs near the border of Indian territory as a beachhead for white settlement and a destination for Lower Mississippi Valley health seekers. Within the contested geography, enslaved African Americans carved out an informal area of relative autonomy by harnessing the environmental changes on the edges of cotton plantations. Indian nations and runaway slaves contributed to the contours of regional inhabitation throughout the early nineteenth century, despite the demographic dominance of the Cotton Kingdom, by adapting to environmental change and turning the practices of early American science into tools of anti-colonialism.


© 2019, William Cane West