How the West was Drawn

How the west was drawn Bernstein, David. How the West was Drawn: Mapping, Indians, and the Construction of the Trans-Mississippi West. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2018. xvi, 303 p. $65.00. ISBN-13: 978-0-8032-4930-1.

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Bernstein’s How the West was Drawn surveys the ethnohistorical andgeopolitical contexts in which the Trans-Mississippi West was cartographically documented and created. This book is less a history of cartography and more a history based in cartography. Bernstein shows how the participation of Native Americans was necessary to the Euro-American mapping enterprise through discussions of specific events and some noteworthy publications, “[exploring] the mapping of America as processes of geopolitical negotiation rather than simply as clashes of culture” (p. 10).

After a lengthy introduction which clearly lays out his thesis, acknowledges the work of others including Carl Wheat, and situates his own work in the academic realm of “new Indian history” while acknowledging the problems of discussing concepts of Native American territoriality, Bernstein takes the reader to the nineteenth century when Euro-American explorers and government officials were trying to make geographical sense of a large expanse of, to them, unknown territory. Bernstein often uses experiences of the Pawnee as his lens through which he explores the broader story. In the three chapters of the first part, “Living in Indian Country,” using the Pawnee as examples, he focuses on the concepts that indigenous mapping was not incompatible with Euro-American practices, treaties and the maps that accompanied them were viable geopolitical options for tribal survival, and conflicts over territory were not solely driven by forces working between different tribes. Cartographic understanding in this section is a shared or negotiated process.

The next two chapters, forming part two “The Rise and Fall of ‘Indian Country,’” explore the cultural and political construction and scientific deconstruction of “Indian County.” Creating a separate “Indian state,” and representing it as such on maps, created a sense of distance from the situation while demonstrating to the world that the United States was an enlightened nation with both honor and power. But then, it became apparent that the West needed to be “prepared” for Euro-American expansion. This was done through surveying and the external (not created by Native Americans) creation and imposition of tribal territorial boundaries. Mapping during this period was a clash of cultures rather than a negotiation. The final chapter, the sole chapter in the third part titled “Reclaiming Indian Country,” primarily focuses on Warren’s 1857 Map of the Territory of the United States from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, giving Bernstein an opportunity to bring his work back to where it started, the idea that cartographically creating the Trans-Mississippi West required the knowledge and practices of both the Native and the Euro-Americans.

This is not the work to turn to if looking for a work focusing specifically on pre-twentieth century maps of the Trans-Mississippi West. Better choices might be titles such as Paul Cohen’s Mapping the West, Exploration and Mapping of the American West edited by Donna Koepp, or Carl Wheat’s classic Mapping the Transmississippi West, 1540-1861.

To fully appreciate the first three chapters, readers might need an elementary level of knowledge of Pawnee history. The other three chapters are broader geographically and ethnologically. Chapter 5, “Science and the Destruction of “Indian Country,’” is an engaging synopsis of John Charles Frémont’s expeditions with highlights showing how inept Frémont was in using or caring for the scientific equipment of the day. Chapter 6, “The Metaphysics of Indian Naming,” is the only chapter that focuses specifically on a cartographic work.

The prose in How the West was Drawn has enough flow and substance that readers will not feel that they need to consult the endnotes to understand the text. The maps used as illustrations are appropriate and are sufficiently captioned so that readers can locate their sources. Especially nice are the paired maps where the first map is a simple map by the author showing his study area and the second map is a period-produced map with the study area highlighted, helping to geographically ground those unfamiliar with the historical story.

How the West was Drawn should be considered for acquisition by college and university libraries supporting research and instruction in Native American studies, the history of the Trans-Mississippi West, and the history of pre-Civil War, nineteenth century America as well as inclusive collections on the history of cartography. Because of the focus on the Pawnee, it may also be of great interest to some state and local historical societies.

This work is a revision of the author’s 2011 doctoral dissertation of the same title, and a portion of the final chapter appeared as “Negotiating nation: Native participation in the cartographic construction of the Trans-Mississippi West” in the November 2015 “Knowledge and the Politics of the Land” themed issue of Environment and Planning A (volume 48, number 4, pages 626-647).

Includes endnotes, bibliography, and 54 black-and-white figures and maps.

Works Cited

  • Cohen, Paul. Mapping the West: America’s Westward Movement 1524-1890. New York: Rizzoli, 2002.
  • Koepp, Donna, ed. Exploring and Mapping the American West: Selected Essays. Chicago: Map and Geography Round Table of the American Library Association; Speculum Orbis Press, 1986.
  • Wheat, Carl. Mapping the Transmississippi West, 1540-1861. San Francisco: Institute of Historical Cartography, 1957-1963.

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Jenny Marie Johnson
Map and Geography Librarian and
Associate Professor of Library Administration
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign