Early American History Seminar: Rebekah M. Mergenthal, University of Chicago

Thursday, December 16, 2004

5:30 pm to 7:00 pm

Early American History and Culture Seminar

“A ‘Reciprocally Beneficial’ Trade: Economic Exchange on the Lower Missouri River Valley Frontier”
Rebekah M. Mergenthal, University of Chicago
In the 1820s and 1830s, white settlers in the lower Missouri Valley clamored for the removal of Indians from their vicinity. At the same time, however, this vision of separation coexisted with trade that led to frequent interactions between Natives and whites, since in a cash-poor frontier economy, white settlers found that selling goods and alcohol to the nearby Native Americans provided an important source of hard currency, as well as a fairly stable market. Natives’ own actions played a crucial role in shaping the world of the river valley as well, as they appropriated the language of rights and decided the form of their annuity payments. This paper explores this economic accommodation in order to understand the kind of removal sought and the range of local responses to it, both from whites and Natives. By juxtaposing these conflicting views, this paper will illuminate the tensions and tolerance between disparate groups in the area and explore the kinds of cultural frontiers facilitated by the movement of goods and people in the lower Missouri valley in the early nineteenth century.