Lesson Five: Stability and Change in Early Colonization

European colonization of the Louisiana Territory (which includes present-day Arkansas) during the 17th and 18th centuries affected southeastern Indian tribes in many ways. New diseases, technologies, and social and religious institutions brought changes–small and large–to many of the hundreds of Indian communities living in what is now Arkansas. Indian foodways, on the other hand, remained comparatively stable. New crops and domesticated animals including poultry and livestock were transplanted onto native lands, but took hold slowly. During the early period of colonization, Europeans adopted native foodways more than the other way around. When Indians accepted new foods, such as watermelons or chickens, it was because planting or tending requirements were similar to native species (like squash or turkeys). Archeologists learn about colonial era foodways from two sources: plant and animal remains preserved at archeological sites dating to that period and written records (such as ship manifests or merchant inventories) produced by Europeans. Studies that use both sources of information require a combination of archeological and historical methods.

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Lesson Background Information

When we think about early European exploration of North America, the year 1492 usually comes to mind. Columbus was on a quest for gold and spices. Like other informed people of his time, he knew the world was round and he anticipated sailing west to reach Asia. Since Marco Polo and others had brought back marvelous things from their overland expeditions centuries before, and Portuguese sailors were seeking a route around the southern tip of Africa, the Spanish attempted to sail across the Atlantic Ocean. On this voyage, Columbus came upon the Americas—a continent between Europe and Asia that Native Americans had inhabited for thousands of years, building civilizations in many regions that astounded early European explorers with their size, sophistication, and grandeur.

In the early 16th century, Italian, English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese sailors charted the eastern coast of the continent, setting up missions and colonies such as the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine in 1565 (in modern Florida), the French settlement Charlesfort (in present day South Carolina) in 1562, or the English settlement in Jamestown (in Virginia) in 1607. Within several decades, European adventurers headed into the interior. The explorers faced intense cold and exhausting heat, vast plains and unfordable rivers, antagonized Indians and cunning guides, hunger and thirst, and disease and death. Yet they learned about the peoples and landscapes of this New World.

The region that became Arkansas was unknown to Europeans until the 1540s. On June 18, 1541, Hernando de Soto’s Spanish expedition, which began on the gulf coast of Florida, crossed the Mississippi River and they became the first Europeans to enter Arkansas. For the next two years, the Spaniards explored Arkansas in the hope of finding the kinds of riches—especially ornaments crafted of gold—that they had seized from indigenous populations in Mexico and Peru. Many southeastern Indian communities did, indeed, produce exquisite artworks, but these were crafted from other materials, including copper, marine shell, colorful stone, fired clay ceramics, or woven fabric. Though de Soto’s chroniclers described Indian settlements in Arkansas as “the best towns [in all of La Florida] they had seen up to then, and better palisaded and fortified, and the people of more beauty,” they eventually departed when it became clear that these people valued a different form of wealth than that after which the Spaniards sought.

When the de Soto expedition ended in 1543, the explorers were the last Europeans to see Arkansas for 130 years. In 1673, Father Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit missionary, and Louis Joliet, a coureur de bois (a trader who lived in Indian country), led a French expedition to explore the Mississippi River Valley and find the mouth of the river. They hoped the river flowed west and might be a route to the Pacific. It was the first step to extend French influence into the middle of the continent in order to convert the native peoples and set up a French-Indian trade network. Near the mouth of the Arkansas River, the Frenchmen encountered the Quapaw, whom they called the Arkansas, and named the river and the region after the tribe. At this time, Arkansas was sparsely populated with isolated villages and tribes but with an abundance of wild game and other resources.

Marquette’s expedition was followed by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle’s 1682 expedition. In return for serving in LaSalle’s 1682 expedition, Henri de Tonti, a French officer born of Italian parents, received land and a trading concession at the juncture of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers. In the summer of 1686, he arranged with the local Quapaw to establish a trading post, where they would exchange French goods for beaver and deer furs. They founded Arkansas Post near the Quapaw town of Osotouy in present-day Arkansas County.

In Arkansas, the focus of the colonial era was not on the promotion of immigration but on the exploitation of wild game for trade. Vast settlement did not begin until the 1840s. But by the end of the colonial era, individuals and families of French, Spanish, German, Dutch, Anglo-American, and African descent joined the Indian peoples and a myriad of tribes from across the continent in Arkansas.

As students learned in Lesson Four, Native Americans did not produce written records (though artistic images, like rock art, can be examined). European explorers, who began to visit North America in the 16th century, produced written accounts of their own activities and their observations of and encounters with Native Americans. Europeans introduced new plants and animals, diseases, and customs. Their written accounts often include information on how Native Americans incorporated these new plants, animals, and customs into their daily lives and how disease and change affected them. Because these accounts are generally based on eye-witness testimony, historians regard them as primary sources.

Similar to artifacts, every piece of paper that people left behind is full of clues to learn about the past. Historians spend a lot of time in archives studying documentary evidence to learn about the circumstances of everyday life and about significant events. These first-hand, original accounts and records about a person, place, object, or an event are known as primary sources.

Oral histories, objects, photographs, and documents such as newspapers, ledgers, census records, diaries, journals, and inventories, are primary sources. Primary sources differ from secondary sources in that a secondary source is an account, record, or evidence derived from an original or primary source. A textbook is an example.

To be useful, documents must be studied carefully and critically. Who is the author? What was the author’s relationship or observational vantage point relative to the circumstances or event described? What was the author’s intention in putting his or her observations into writing? For example, a male missionary living among Indians in the 17th century might provide very useful information about the town in which he resided, but his characterization of native religious ceremonies might be influenced, or biased, by his own religious beliefs. In addition, he probably had little to no access to activities performed by women and the children in their care, so his descriptions of daily activities might overemphasize the male sphere of work.

Researchers, both students and professionals, must look beyond the intended meaning to consider hidden agendas, unintended meanings, and bias, or the point of view of the creator of the document. Other elements to analyze include tone, grammar, word choice, and style. For example, 17th century French and Spanish as spoken and written in Arkansas are both very different from modern usages. Document type and purpose are also significant considerations: population census records, trading post record books, maps, diaries, formal reports by government officials, and ship passenger logs all contain different kinds of information organized and presented in very different ways. Primary sources have strengths and limitations. The “Primary Sources Strengths and Limitations Table” includes a summary for discussion.

Primary Sources Strengths and Limitations
Strengths Limitations
Provide information on the who, what, where,
when, why, and how of an event;
Are not thoroughly objective sources;
Provide written, printed, or graphic information; Bias and agenda of the author to be considered;
Can clarify the purpose of the communication or
Often more to the story than what is presented;
Can be a clue to the level of education of the
The identity of the author is often unclear (especially in the case of government documents);
Sometimes offer evidence of emotion, or the mood
of an event;
Author is often no longer living and therefore unavailable to consult or verify;
Can stimulate the personal involvement of the
Possibly difficult to read: handwriting difficult to
decipher; words or phrases that are unfamiliar, or
their meaning changed over time.

All primary sources should be evaluated in conjunction with other evidence to determine whether the
document presents information that is exceptional or conforming with previously established patterns

Class Materials

For each student: “Arkansas Indians, 1541 – Present: A Case Study”, the “Every Map Tells a Story”, “The Early Explorers, Plants, and Primary Sources”, and the “Indians of Arkansas Timeline” worksheets; and the “Hoe Cake Recipe.

For the teacher: The map of “New France” attributed to Louis Jolliet and “World Maps” to project; examples of primary and secondary documents, like photographs, census records, maps, and a text book.

Key Terms

Bias: Interpreting a situation according to standards of one’s culture or worldview.

Colonization: The phenomenon of one group or society taking control of a territory beyond its homeland, whether or not it was already inhabited by others.

Cross-cultural encounters: The contact and interactions of various types, whether peaceful or violent, between people from different backgrounds.

Exploration: The action of traveling in or through an unfamiliar area in order to learn about it.

Primary sources: Any document (written description, photo, map, etc.) produced at the same time and place as the events described; an eye-witness account.

Secondary sources: An account sometimes based on an original or primary source, but produced at another time and/or place

Activities for Lesson

1. Show students a photograph and an Arkansas history text book. Ask students to identify which is a primary source and which is a secondary source. Discuss why the photograph is a primary source and why the book is a secondary source.

2. Project the map of “New France” attributed to Louis Jolliet. Ask students: What stand out as the most prominent features of the maps? (The Great Lakes and the Mississippi River and its major tributaries.) Discuss the fact that maps produced during the age of French exploration of eastern North America emphasized major bodies of water, because most exploration involved travel by watercraft following lake and river travel routes. (A form of bias.)

3. Have students take a closer look at the borders of the Mississippi River and its tributaries. What do they see? The riverbanks are marked with symbols (tiny triangles) that are labeled with place names. It’s not necessary to read the names, but these are the locations
of Indian villages that French explorers visited or heard about on their travels.

4. Discuss why Indian villages locations are shown on maps like this one. French explorers and colonists wanted to establish trade relations with Indians, and created alliances with Indian tribes to provide assistance and safety for colonial settlers. (Another form of bias).

5. Discuss maps as primary sources. Tell students that maps are valuable documents that provide information about how people view the world.

1. Tell students: People get to know the places where they live so well, having traveled its streets and paths hundreds of times, that they can see its map in their minds. Ask students to draw a map of where they live, placing their home in its neighborhood and showing nearby
houses, buildings, roads, what’s in their yards (gardens, a swing set, etc.), parks, lakes, or rivers, etc. Instruct students not to show their map to anyone else.

2. Have the students write a few short notes about what they think the maps says about them (for example: they live in the city (or the country); they live in a house, duplex, or apartment; their family grows some of its own food or grows flowers in their back yard).

3. Create teams of two and distribute the “Every Map Tells a Story” worksheet to each student. Have students exchange maps, but not discuss them yet.

4. Have each student complete the worksheet using their partner’s map. When finished, ask each to share their worksheet answers with their partners.

5. Based on discussion with their partners, each student should add new information or correct inaccurate information on their worksheets.

6. Ask students to refer back to what they wrote down when asked what their map says about them, and ask: Did your classmates see the same things in the map? Ask each team to share what they learned by discussing the maps and worksheet answers with their partners.

7. Note that experience and familiarity shape the ways people see and remember a place. This is also a form of bias.

1. Using information provided in the Background text and the “Primary Sources Strengths and Limitations” table, review how the exercises show how bias shape the information contained in any primary source. Note that more biases occur in secondary sources.

2. Help students define bias, primary sources and distinguish them from secondary sources for their Key Terms.

1. Project the 1492 map of the world. Explain to students that this is the way Europeans viewed the world prior to the age of exploration (late 15th and early 16th centuries). Remind students that Columbus and other early explorers expected to sail east, across the Atlantic Ocean, to reach Asia. They knew the earth was a globe, but they did not realize that it was much larger than they thought. Two continents inhabited by millions of American Indians, who had lived there for many thousands of years existed between Europe and Asia.

2. Project the modern world map and have students identify the continents and bodies of water. Ask students: What would it be like to encounter another continent with people with long histories? Ask students to imagine how this might influence the way Europeans
viewed Native Americans.

3. Separate the class into groups of two or three and hand out the “Early Explorers, Plants, and Primary Sources” worksheet. Review the instructions and explain that the worksheet contains excerpts from primary sources about early European explorations of Arkansas, where writers included observations of Indian uses of plant foods. These sources show how Europeans introduced changes to Native
American foodways.

4. Have the students report back on their work. Ask students to look back at how Native Americans are portrayed in these accounts. Define cross-cultural encounters and explain that people often describe others in terms of their own standards, which may not apply to people with different cultures.

5. Explain that primary sources, like maps and journal accounts must be studied with other evidence. Discuss the ways the information in primary sources could be verified. (Additional primary sources, such as photographs, other documents, and oral histories, can be helpful. Archeology is an especially useful way to critically analyze or verify and correct information found in historical sources.)

6. Help students define cross-cultural encounter, colonization, exploration and add the terms to their Key Terms.

7. Pass out the “Early Colonization Timeline.” This timeline is set up differently to account for the different tribes in Arkansas, rather than an emphasis on a single site. Have students complete the sheet by using information from the “Arkansas Indians, 1541 – Present: A Case
Study” and the primary sources to identify key dates, the artifacts, foodways, and social organization. For instance, add the foods discussed by the Gentleman of Elvas from his visit in 1541. This assignment could be completed as a class, as a group, or as individual homework/assessment.

8. Early Colonization begins with the age of discovery and the cross-cultural encounters that resulted from American Indians encountering European explorers and traders. It is marked by the introduction of trade goods, new crops and animals, disease, and new social and religious institutions. Looking at the timeline, ask students: How did Native Arkansans foodways change during the 16th and 17th centuries? Review the long-term changes that can be seen in the timeline. Use the “Early Colonization: Evidence-based Answer Key” as a guide for discussion.