The Cheyenne in Plains Indian Trade Relations, 1795-1840

The Cheyenne in Plains Indian Trade Relations, 1795-1840

The Cheyenne in Plains Indian Trade Relations, 1795-1840

The Cheyenne in Plains Indian Trade Relations, 1795-1840


In this illuminating book, the Plains Indians come to life as shrewd traders. The Cheyennes played a vital role in an intricate and expanding barter system that connected tribes with each other and with whites. Joseph Jablow follows the Cheyennes, who by the beginning of the nineteenth century had migrated westward from their villages in present-day Minnesota into the heart of the Great Plains. Formerly horticulturists, they became nomadic hunters on horseback and, gradually, middlemen for the exchange of commodities between whites and Indian tribes. Jablow shows the effect that trading had on the lives of the Indians and outlines the tribal antagonisms that arose from the trading. He explains why the Cheyennes and the Kiowas, Comanches, and Prairie Apaches made peace among themselves in 1840. The Cheyenne in Plains Indian Trade Relations is a classic study of "the manner in which an individual tribe reacted, in terms of the trade situation, to the changing forces of history".


Scholarly studies have shaped our sense that the Native peoples who lived on the Great Plains shared a common culture and the same general forms of social organization--being more alike than they were different. Scholars have explained these similarities in different ways, but the common strategy of their writing about the Plains has always been the same: to generalize from "tribe" to region and then to use that regional identity as an explanation for tribally-specific features of social and cultural organization. This Euroamerican preference for regional characterizations and explanations of diversity has not been limited to academics.

Beginning with their earliest explorations of North America, Euroamericans have divided up and labeled its outwardly distinctive geographic regions. Some of those places named, such as Cibola, have proven illusory but others, like the Plains, have come to make up the primary conceptual framework through which the continent and the Native peoples who reside on it have been understood by subsequent generations of explorers, colonists, homesteaders, moviegoers, and academics. Anthropologists, for instance, divide the continent and its Native populations into geographically distinct "culture areas" to characterize its indigenous diversity while a movie screen filled with open grassland and bison causes an audience to expect the appearance of Indians on horseback. These expectations are based on the use of ecology and economy to index social and cultural identities. That use is part of a discursive pattern common to both popular and scholarly texts that has made the regional location of a Native people as ineluctable a part of their identity as the name by which they are known.

We readily recognize that the Plains was a physical landscape with ecological and economic consequences for the Native peoples who resided within it--but ignore the fact that it is also a historiographic landscape with consequences for how we understand the Native peoples who lived there before the grasslands were plowed under and the bison slaughtered.

Joseph Jablow monograph, The Cheyenne in Plains Indian Trade Relations 1795-1840, is a significant feature in that historiographic landscape. Along with Bernard Mishkin Rank and Warfare among the Plains Indians (1940) and Oscar Lewis' The Effects of White Contact upon Blackfoot Culture, with Special Reference to the Role of the Fur Trade (1942), Jablow's study furthered the argument that the economic consequences of European activities on the Plains transformed Native communities--so . . .

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