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

By Anne F. Hyde | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
The State and Its Handmaidens
Imposing Order

Frederick Chouteau, age six, and his cousin Charles Pierre, nine, sat on a riverbank behind the store that their two fathers, Cyprien and Frederick Chouteau, had built in Westport, Missouri. They sat there that early summer morning of 1858, freed from the obligation of school or chores, because the school building and the family stores had been occupied by federal soldiers garrisoned there while keeping proslavery men and antislavery men apart. As the boys watched teams of Shawnee, Kansa, and Delaware men move earth as part of a military and state project to lower the great bluffs of the Missouri, they commented on the activity in the French and English patois of their fathers’ family. Both boys could also understand every word spoken by the Native workers because they had learned Shawnee and Delaware from their mothers and from the Native children at the mission school that they and all of their Chouteau cousins had attended. The young boys and the workers all expressed doubt that anyone could take down those bluffs, even with the array of steam shovels and human power the army now had its service. The boys had heard their parents’ discussions of the great docks and roads their newly named “City of Kanzas” would have after the mountains of dirt had miraculously moved, but the Native shovelers wondered what would rein in the great Missouri River once the bluffs came down.1

As federal officials, long-term residents, and recent immigrants surveyed the situation in Texas, New Mexico, or Oregon at the end of 1850s, nobody could feel terribly optimistic about conditions after a decade of Indian war. Disorder and then violence came to bloody many relationships in the West as the decade ground on. Certain periods in the history of the United States make its residents appear to be downright nasty. Moments when powerful Americans felt threatened by too much change or too much power sharing

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