FOR AMERICANS, the history of the Trans-Mississippi West dawned with the nineteenth century. The Louisiana Purchase opened fresh vistas beyond a western boundary that traced the course of the mighty river bisecting most of the North American continent. President Thomas Jefferson knew not what he had bought from Napoleon, but he had long been interested in lifting the veil from the western reaches of the continent. Spaniards, Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Russians knew some of the geography, but mainly around the fringes. Indian tribes, their cultures reflecting the immense geographical diversity, knew the heartland. All, in their respective regions, had imprinted human history on the landscape, the Europeans for three centuries, the natives for millennia. For the first half of the nineteenth century, much of the young American republic s energies concentrated on discovering and recording the contours of this immense land.
Not alone on revealing the contours. In the fertile mind of Thomas Jefferson himself stirred nebulous visions of a continental destiny for the American people if not for the United States itself. In less than two decades, in the ambitions of an influential segment of national leadership, such musings had hardened into doctrine. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams best expressed it in 1819: "The world shall be familiarized with the idea of considering our proper dominion to be the continent of North America," he wrote. "Europe shall find it a settled geographic element that the United States and North America are identical."1 Even more than