Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Volume 28, Number 3, Summer 2008, pp. 236-37.
This slender volume lays out the story of the creation, evolution, and demise of the mid-nineteenth- century region known as "Indian Country." An amorphous and frequently changing area located in the Plains, one might posit that it existed more on paper than on the ground. The author traces four legal actions underlying the creation of such a region: the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, the 1830 Indian Removal Act, and the 1834 Indian Trade and Intercourse Act. The latter guaranteed the tribes' rights to their land beyond the Mississippi forever. As Unrau's analysis demonstrates, the contrast between American ideas for and actions toward the area proved fatal to hopes for the success of an Indian Country.
Several early chapters focus on changing ideas about the region's land quality and potential resources. The discussion demonstrates clearly how the early negative assessments of the Plains by Zebulon Pike and Stephen Long faded quickly during the 1820s as Santa Fe traders and others crossed the region repeatedly. By the 1830s tribal immigrants from the East and pioneer farmers who squatted along the eastern edges of Indian Country all spoke highly of rich farm lands there. As a result, shortly after the 1834 Trade and Intercourse Act passed, Missouri politicians succeeded in extending that state's northwestern corner west to the Missouri River through the Platte Purchase. Only one step in the dismemberment of the Indian Country, it illustrated the inability or unwillingness of the federal government to protect the tribes from being overrun and dispossessed by speculators. The 1854 passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act opened much of the eastern Plains to settlement, resulting in the dispossession of the Indians still there.