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Crossing the line: Identity, sovereignty, and the Cherokee borderlands, 1839-1907.

Joslin, Michael Paul
After removal to the Indian Territory in 1839, the Cherokee Nation suffered persistent instability and violent disorder centered in the nation’s border districts. “The Line” between the Cherokee Nation and Arkansas and their border with Kansas proved integral to understanding their inability to cohere as a nation. Using a borderlands framework, this study examines the politics, law and order, and society within the border districts to demonstrate how a singular Cherokee identity failed to materialize as competing demands over sovereignty, legal jurisdictional ambiguity on the part of both the U.S. and the Cherokee, differing cultures, and questions over citizenship led to a patchwork of different Cherokee identities. These identities which included such monikers as “mixed-blood,” “full-blood,” “Pin,” “Kee-too-wah,” “Union,” and more emerged because of both internal and external forces centered along the “Line.” There was no single Cherokee identity. Although these various groups clashed often, they were “Red Nationalists” who believed in retaining control of their lands but differed in how best to achieve this. Early on, Cherokee groups claimed competing national sovereignties leading to politically motivated violence. Soon, jurisdictional ambiguity between the U.S. and the Cherokee created a legal grey zone as the Starr Gang led a guerrilla campaign of raids and murders to destabilize the nation. Next, the nation’s border districts was just as complex and confusing as residents either became economically and socially integrated with their white neighbors in Arkansas or refused to abandon traditional notions of medicine or marriage. Finally, citizenship and questions of belonging created more instability as U.S. interference escalated. Groups like the “Cherokee Inhabitant Nation” refused to leave the nation as they insisted upon their rights as citizens despite being rejected by the Cherokee’s National Council. These disparate groups could not provide a united front against increasing demands for territorialization because of either collusion between border residents with white settlers or insistence by some to accept allotment. The Kee-too-wah, or Nighthawk, Revolt was one last effort by mostly “full-bloods” to stave off what seemed an inevitability: Oklahoma.