Empires, Nations & Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860
Rader, Emily, California History
EMPIRES, NATIONS & FAMILIES: A HISTORY OF THE NORTH AMERICAN WEST, 1800-1860 By Anne F. Hyde (Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2011, 648 pp., $45.00)
Empires, Nations & Families lives up to the promise of its title, placing families firmly in the context of empire and nation building in the American West. And Anne F. Hyde manages to do this in authoritative yet unstuffy writing and command of the broad sweep of relevant historiography. It is the second of six projected books in the "History of the American West" series.
Hyde synthesizes Western historiography to show how "vying empires"--French, Spanish, English, Russian, and American--were built by "family connections across national and ethnic lines" (5), which expanded global trade networks based on the fur trade and Indian nations of the Great Plains and the Pacific Coast. The "family connections" started with white men and American Indian or Mexican women. Hyde examines these mixed-race families by tracing the fur trade in a number of regions and, for each region, one or two families. These include the Chouteau-Laclede family, founders of St. Louis; the Wilson family in Los Angeles; and the Vallejos in Sonoma. But the promise of the West as a place of flourishing "kinship across national and racial borders" (496), ended with the arrival of racist and land-hungry American settlers. They ushered in the "Indian wars" of the 1850s-1870s, along with anti-Mexican laws and attitudes. The 1860s saw "conquest of one people by another" by "extermination and erasure" (496).
Hyde's analysis of California succeeds when focused on the big picture--the interactions of international, national, regional, community and family relations--but is weaker when the focus is local. There are mistakes and misinterpretations, some coming from the secondary sources, but a number of the author's own creation. …