The Deteriorating Community
AFTER THE ICE cleared sufficiently on the rivers,1 the first steamboat arrived.2 Agent Taliaferro arrived alone this time, bringing only his large black dog, Nero. He did not intend to winter over. This was to be his last summer at the St. Peter’s Agency, his final hurrah. He was there simply to see that the treaty was carried out and that justice was done to the Indians who had sold their land by treaty. Mrs. Taliaferro remained in Bedford, and without a lady in the household, there was no need for him to bring servants.
Over the winter, disaster had struck his father-in-law’s famous hotel in Bedford when a fire swept through the town. Harriet must have known that misfortune like this usually meant even greater insecurity for the servants than for their masters. A master’s financial catastrophe usually meant that some servants were not needed. When cash was needed, servants would be sold. Pennsylvania was in the process of gradual emancipation, but Humphrey Dillon, the mistress’s father, still had two black indentured servants.3
Horatio Dillon, the mistress’s brother, who had spent an entire year at the agency without finding his fortune, had only recently taken over the hotel before the fire. He had endeavored to raise its level of culinary specialties,4 advertising a diverse, high class of service. With the hotel now a total loss, he was again without portfolio. And so, Taliaferro planned to bring him west again. Taliaferro’s old friend, the independent trader B. F. Baker, had taken over as sutler with Stambaugh’s departure, but in his declining health, he needed a young man’s help.5 Dillon, who stayed in St. Louis to buy supplies for the trading post, would arrive later.
Arriving without servants of his own meant that the agent had to arrange help for the simple day-to-day matters of housekeeping. After the unpleasant treatment the officers had given him the previous summer about his Métis daughter, the agent no longer felt comfortable dining at the officers’ mess. It is possible that he turned again to Harriet to serve as his housekeeper.6 She was the logical choice.