An Extant Map as Evidence of Native American Cartography

In the U.S., and indeed more widely in the Anglo-American world, Meriwether Lewis and William Clarke are known for their two-year expedition of the Louisiana territory (purchased from France in 1803) and the land beyond the “great rock mountains” in the west.

Less commonly remembered in cursory mentions is the extent of Lewis and Clarke’s interactions with local Native Americans. (Apart from Sacagawea, who is known at least in the U.S.) The whites didn’t just exchange gifts or talk about trade or clash with the local population; they received invaluable help and information (like when the expedition wintered with the Mandan people in present-day North Dakota).

Now it seems that western historians need to re-evaluate that extent.

According to The Jefferson Watch, cartographers have identified at least ten places in the journals of Lewis and Clarke where the captains talk about the maps by Native American hosts to help them figure out the lay of the land.

Christopher Steinke, at the time a graduate student at the University of New Mexico, found one of those maps at the archives of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) in Paris. It was drawn by Inquidanécharo, a chief of the Arikara (in French, Ricara), who was apparently also known as Too Né.

LudditeLabs on Twitter did some of the heavy lifting and linked to the BnF digital copy of the map:

BnF Gallica Inquidanecharo Map Missouri Valley

An article by Steinke is available at JSTOR, where this abstract comes from:

“The Bibliothèque nationale de France contains a hitherto unnoticed map attributed to Inquidanécharo, a Ricara chief. Lewis and Clark knew him as Too Né, an Arikara village leader who accompanied them upriver to the Mandan and Hidatsa villages in 1804. The map, which Too Né showed to playwright and artist William Dunlap when he visited Washington in 1806, is the most detailed surviving Indian representation of the Great Plains from this period. It invites scholars to reorient early American exploration and cartography from indigenous perspectives. Too Né interpreted his map as a work of history and cartography and situated the American explorers in the historical and religious landscape of the Arikara people.”

In “Here is My Country”, Steinke outlines some of the main features of Inquidanécharo’s map, and recounts some history surrounding it. He also lists a few other Native American maps from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

What most struck me, though, is that Native American maps seem to have contained more information than just geographical details—they also depicted cultural connections and ethnographical information.

I knew Native Americans used symbols and pictograms, and had to have—like people everywhere—a way of talking about and remembering locations outside their immediate surroundings. I had no idea, however, that Native American cartography was as polished or wide-reaching as it was (a hint for the Finnish school system), let alone that their maps might still be extant. Fascinating!

Found via bluecorncomics on Twitter.

This post has been edited to correct a typo.

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

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