Empires, Nations, and Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860

Empires, Nations, and Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860

Empires, Nations, and Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860

Empires, Nations, and Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860

Synopsis

To most people living in the West, The Louisiana Purchase made little difference: The United States was just another imperial overlord to be assessed and manipulated. This was not, As Empires, Nations, and Families makes clear, virgin wilderness discovered by virtuous Anglo entrepreneurs. Rather, The United States was a newcomer in a place already complicated by vying empires. This book documents the broad family associations that crossed national and ethnic lines and that, along with the river systems of the trans-Mississippi West, formed the basis for a global trade in furs that had operated for hundreds of years before the land became part of the United States. Empires, Nations, and Families shows how the world of river and maritime trade effectively shifted political power away from military and diplomatic circles into the hands of local people. Tracing family stories from the Canadian North To The Spanish and Mexican borderlands and from the Pacific Coast To The Missouri and Mississippi rivers, Anne F. Hyde's narrative moves from the earliest years of the Indian trade To The Mexican War And The gold rush era. Her work reveals how, In the 1850s, immigrants to these newest regions of the United States violently wrested control from Native and other powers, and how conquest and competing demands for land and resources brought about a volatile frontier culture- not at all the peace and prosperity that the new power had promised.

Excerpt

Wearing a fur-trimmed cloak imported from Paris, Thérèse Cerré Chouteau watched as Lieutenant Amos Stoddard and Colonel Carlos Delassus exchanged control of Louisiana Territory. She looked considerably more elegant than either Stoddard, who had scrounged up a poorly fitting uniform, or Delassus, who was suitably dressed but so short and pudgy that his sword dragged on the ground. Along with nearly everyone living in St. Louis, Madame Chouteau cheered as the French tricolore went up first. More reserved as the U.S. Stars and Stripes replaced it, she clapped politely on that cold March afternoon in 1804.

Having lived in St. Louis for her entire adult life and having married one of the leading men in the region, Auguste Chouteau, Thérèse knew far more about the world into which the United States was stepping than did Amos Stoddard, the young lieutenant who suddenly found himself governor of five hundred million acres. She knew, for example, who was important in the crowd. Her own husband and his brother, Pierre Chouteau, had wealth because they shared power and kinship with Osage people. The Osage headman Pawhuska watched the ceremony as well, along with Auguste Chouteau’s own Osage son, Antoine Chouteau. How much Madame Chouteau admitted knowing about her husband’s other families we don’t know, but she had much wisdom about how life worked on the Missouri River. Broad family networks underlay the trade relationships that allowed St. Louis to prosper as a French, then Spanish, then U.S. city, but always as part of the mosaic of Native communities.

Euro-American contemporaries often ignored the human complexity of these communities. Even though this pattern of settlement was common, it represented an intermingled racial past that many Americans found uncomfortable. At least three worlds had come together here, sometimes clashing but often building new ways of co-existing. George Caleb Bingham . . .

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