Books Tell Little-Explored Histories of American West

By Bross, Tim | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), December 23, 2012 | Go to article overview

Books Tell Little-Explored Histories of American West


Bross, Tim, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


It's been said that history is written by the winning side.

The six Robidoux brothers, all born in St. Louis just before the end of the 18th century, certainly played a big part in the winning of the American West. But unfortunately for history, and their legacy, they rarely put pen to paper.

What stories they could have told. Starting out as fur traders, the brothers ranged from the upper Missouri River, to what is now New Mexico, to the western slope of the Rocky Mountains and to California. The oldest brother, Joseph Robidoux III, was the founder of St. Joseph, Mo. The No. 3 son, Antoine, accompanied Gen. Stephen W. Kearny as his interpreter on Kearny's 1846 California campaign during the Mexican-American War. And in some measure, Taos and Santa Fe, N.M.; Riverside, Calif., and Scottsbluff, Neb., are what they are today because of the Robidoux brothers.

Robert J. Willoughby, a history professor at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, acknowledges in the preface to his new book, "The Brothers Robidoux and the Opening of the American West," that others have shied from writing about the brothers because of the paucity of personal material about them.

Willoughby does an excellent job with what he has.

Joseph Robidoux comes to life in his letters from the Upper Missouri to Pierre Chouteau Jr. in St. Louis. The correspondence illustrates the power wielded by the Chouteau family, showing Pierre Chouteau in a godfather-like relationship with Robidoux, not only financing his operations but acting as a buffer from antagonists. One enemy was J.P. Cabanne. He and Robidoux worked the same Indian tribes near what is now Council Bluffs, Iowa. Cabanne also reported to Chouteau, and in one letter to him said of Robidoux: "This man is truly wicked, cunning, cheating and a rogue..."

Nor was Antoine Robidoux a saint. He was active in the Indian slave market in the Southwest, Willoughby writes.

The story of Antoine's survival at the Battle of San Pasqual in California earned him a spot in many history books. Grievously wounded by an enemy lancer, Antoine seemingly lapsed into delirium, calling out that he smelled coffee, and that a cup of it would save his life. As no one had coffee, Antoine was thought to be hallucinating. But on investigating, a cook was found to be heating coffee nearby. Antoine got some, and survived.

The Robidoux brothers generally rate only passing mention in the major histories of St. Louis. The men, though in some cases retaining property and business interests here, preferred the rawer civilization out West. In addition to families in St. Louis, the brothers, like many of the French traders, took Indian women as "country wives." Willoughby writes: "The moral questions that might attend to such an affair in the confines of white civilization seemingly vanished in the wilderness as nature called."

Willoughby uses legal documents, newspaper accounts and the written correspondence to guide his story, and the book is a worthwhile addition to the literature of the opening of the West. At times, though, Willoughby stays too long with the verbatim accounts of lawsuits and newspaper stories, to the detriment of his narrative.

The major obstacle to story-telling, though, is the lack of raw material from the subjects. If only one of them had been like the redoubtable Kit Carson, who, though illiterate, dictated a valuable memoir.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Books Tell Little-Explored Histories of American West
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.