The Protestant Mission to the Oregon Territory V
Bill Long 7/29/06
Discussing and Interpreting the 1833 Article
The purpose of these three final essay is to raise discussion issues arising from the 1833 letters/article in the Christian Advocate presented in the previous essays. When patiently studied and questioned, primary texts yield precious insights into their "worlds." Here are 10 "discussion" issues.
1. Note the description of US Government policy towards the Native Americans. This would be a good document to ease into that most complex issue. The Disoway letter is a "snapshot" of the reality in the early 1830s, where White Americans were overunning Indian territory in the East and, therefore, were wanting to push them out to the less hospitable Plains states in order to make room for the Whites. What is interesting to me is Disoway's statement of the American Government's stated intention:
"To all of the Indians residing within the jurisdiction of the states or territories the United States propose to purchase their present possessions and improvements, and in return to pay them acre for acre with lands west of the Mississippi river. Among the inducements to make this exhcange are the following: perpetuity in their new abodes, as the faith of the government is pledged never to sanction another removal; the organization of a territorial government for their use like those in Florida, Arkansas, and Michigan, and the privilege to send delegates to congress, as is now enjoyed by the other territories."
Was the US Government fooling itself and its people or was the "feeling" or "intention" genuine? The phrase "perpetuity in their new abodes" strikes the 21st century reader as laughable. The Indians had as much "perpetuity" in their new homes as the Whites wanted them to have. How can Native Americans ever trust the US Government again when such statements are made? Is it the nature of White Americans to be land-grabbers--just to keep taking and taking until our desires are satiated? Will we stop at nothing to provoke national and international struggles in order to maintain our standard of living? And, how is it that after all this is done, we continue to think of ourselves as a righteous or morally good nation? What is it about our ability to forget the bad things we do that enables us only to focus on our intentions at the moment (give you lands in perpetuity) and then congratulate ourselves for our benificence? What is it we should learn about ourselves through our dealings with the Native Americans in the 1830s, as evidenced in this letter?
2. How did the Wyandotes react? Instead of simply acquiescing in the request of the US Government (or, in fact, was the request a demand which ultimately would be backed up by the force of the US military?), the Wyandotes decided to send agents to the field in order to check out the land. They found the land unsuitable. What to do, then? What do you think is Disoway's attitude towards the Wyandotes and the US Government? On the one hand, he is very proud of the successful mission to the Wyandote, and you can sense his sympathy with them. On the other hand, leading Methodists were generally in support of the policies of the national government on Indian removal. How does Disoway tread this tightrope?
3. Moving to the Walker letter, we have many questions. The first arises from our delight at reading primary documents. Can't you just imagine Walker's situation as he writes, with Indians interrupting him, with his son breaking into his work to ask dad about how to pronounce or spell a word? I love this part about history--a part that is almost universally ignored by (mostly male) historians of earlier generations. In their rush to get to the "important" issues, such as politics, policy, wars and "power" issues, they ignore the human stories presented by the documents. For example, I have shown elsewhere how the Whitman Mission to Waiilatpu in the late 1830s was dogged by infighting among the missionaries, and that the primary reason for this was that one of them had asked Narcissa Whitman to marry him and was earlier rejected. Boy/girl stuff lies at the base of it, rather than simply "doctrines" such as "manifest destiny." Walker named his son "Henry Clay Walker." Why would he have done that? Notice the fullness of his description of the Missouri Territory. You can tell he has been there, and that he concludes that the country is far inferior to the country the Indians enjoyed in Ohio. Is that the nature of the American Government, that it calls and exchange "like kind," but, in fact, it is really a one-sided exchange, working solely to the advantage of the US Government? To what extent are we, 175 years later, not simply the heirs of this policy but actually the promoters of it? We benefit from the oppressive and aggressive acts of US Governments in previous times. Why not use the theological doctrine of "corporate responsibility" to implicate ourselves in this land grab?
I am especially drawn to the following sentence. Walker says: "As a country for agricultural pursuits, it is far inferior to what it has been represented to be." The thing that interests me about this quotation is the word "represented." Who has represented what to whom? It probably was the case that agents of the US Government, as an inducement to get the Indians to leave, falsely claimed, probably without even checking out the land, that it was an "equal" exchange. One of the biggest cases I worked on as an attorney had to do with a misrepresentation by the US Government of the hardness of the rock that our clients needed to crush in order to help make concrete for a federal dam in Utah. Because of this representation, our client had to sue the government for 20 years until the feds finally coughed up $40 million because of their representation that the rock was sandstone (easily crushed) when, in fact, it was quartzite (no comment necessary). They didn't let our client or other bidder on the property to "check in out" before bidding.
The next essay continues our discussion points.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long