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Defining the Upper Missouri River Regionmedia/lewisclark1805.jpgEdgar S. Paxson, "Lewis and Clark at Three Forks," oil on canvas, 1912, Montana.gov.
https://mhs.mt.gov/education/Capitol/Art/House-Lobby
The United States' acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 marked a new era of westward expansion, commencing with the famous 8,000 mile trek of American explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark under the guidance of Sacagewea (Akaitikka/Lemhi Shoshone). When the group arrived at the Three Forks region (southwestern Montana) in July of 1805, they encountered a long-established presence Indigenous communities, trappers, and traders. Since the late eighteenth century, the British Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), expanded into the southernmost parts of Saskatchewan and Alberta, attracting the business partnerships of several Indigenous communities including the Hóhe (Assiniboine), Niitsítapi (Blackfoot Confederacy), Tsétsêhéstâhese and Só'taeo'o (Cheyenne), Nêhiyaw (Cree), Apsáalooke (Crow), Dakȟóta (Dakota), A'aninin (Gros Ventre), Ktunaxa (Kootenai), Lakȟóta (Lakota), Ql̓ispé (Kalispel/ Pend d'Oreilles), and Séliš (Salish). This northern portion of the great plains and intermountain West, the upper Missouri River region, became one of the most important and final epicenters of the global fur trade. Of all the items that passed between Indigenous and Euro-American traders, however, the exchange of knowledge was the most valuable and fulfilled an important goal of the trade: to expand business and by extension, spheres of influence.4.345.8839286-111.5926214Louisiana Purchase
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Chesterfield Housemedia/chesterfieldhouse.jpgAckomokki and Peter Fidler, Indian Map of the Upper Missouri, 1801, Library of Congress.https://www.loc.gov/item/00556405/Fur companies needed intricate knowledge of Indigenous languages, cultural customs, and kinship traditions to facilitate effective trade. As a result, Indigenous communities often determined the limits and conduct of exchange. In the summer of 1801, a Siksiká Blackfoot chief named Ackomokki negotiated with the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) for the establishment of Chesterfield House in Blackfoot territory. Represented in the map as a humble trading post at the fork of the Red Deer and Saskatchewan Rivers, Chesterfield House was an important feat for the Blackfeet who wanted to enter the trade and maintain peace between their Nêhiyaw (Cree) and Hóhe (Assiniboine) neighbors. This historic map was a product of the collaboration between Ackomokki and HBC trader, Peter Fidler, who worked closely with the Blackfeet for the establishment of Chesterfield House while also garnering detailed geographic information about the Missouri River and its tributaries.6.548.6572947-111.1065775
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A New Middle Ground?media/furtradelog1822.jpgHercules Dousman, "Packing account of goods delivered by Joshua Palen, 1822," Edward E. Ayer Digital Collection, Newberry Library.
http://collections.carli.illinois.edu/cdm/ref/collection/nby_eeayer/id/15087
Until the War of 1812, the Great Lakes basin was the most prosperous setting of the fur trade. For decades, the Great Lakes reinforced the concept of the “Middle Ground” where European (predominantly French) and Indigenous communities engaged in mutually-beneficial trade. With the addition of the Louisiana Purchase, U.S. fur companies like the American Fur Company closed in on the potential of the upper Missouri to compete with Hudson’s Bay and simultaneously oust the British presence in U.S. territory. Although there had always been a colonial underpinning of the fur trade, these new pressures worsened rivalries, environmental threats, and violence. The trade was inseparable from nationalistic aspirations and objectives.5.542.3526257-83.2392911Detroit, Michigan
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Visual Culture and the "Far West"media/stlouis1832.jpgGeorge Catlin, "St. Louis in 1832.From an original painting by Geo. Catlin in possession of the Mercantile Library Association," c.1850, Library of Congresshttps://www.loc.gov/resource/pga.08971/In order to reach the upper Missouri, all traffic travelled northwest bound out of St. Louis, Missouri. At the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, St. Louis quickly became an important center for the flow of commerce, movement, and information to and from the “Far West.” From 1828 until the early 1860s, the upper Missouri fur trade played a significant role in the development of art, travel literature, and political culture which reflected and reinforced popular misperceptions about the West, the Indigenous peoples who lived there, and the prospective future.838.6223112-90.1939137St. Louis, MissouriMatchGoogle
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Fort Union: Landscapesmedia/catlinftunion.jpgGeorge Catlin, "Fort Union, Moutn of the Yellowstone River, 2000 Miles above St. Louis," 1832, oil, Smithsonian American Art Museum
https://americanart.si.edu/artwork/fort-union-mouth-yellowstone-river-2000-miles-above-st-louis-4063
In 1832, renowned American artist George Catlin boarded the steamboat Yellow Stone in St. Louis and travelled 2000 miles northwest until reaching the American Fur Company’s westernmost post, Fort Union (est. 1829). Later that year, Catlin finished one of his memorable works, "Fort union, Mouth of the Yellowstone River, 2000 Miles above St. Louis." Rolling foothills and lush riverbanks encase the quiet prairies surrounding Fort Union, placed at the heart of the canvas. To Catlin’s eye, the lines of exchange are clear: the presence of the trading post reshaped both the modes of negotiation and brought new order to the area’s Indigenous communities, represented by the numerous tipis surrounding the fort. Atop a hilly foreground, an interaction takes place between a Native American individual and a fur trader. This perspective renders the arrival of Fort Union as gentle and guiding, despite the new pressures, threats, and violent consequences placed on Indigenous locals.
11Fort Union Historic Site47.9969146-104.0387947MatchGoogle
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Fort Union: Subjectsmedia/bodmerftunion.jpgKarl Bodmer, "Fort Union on the Missouri," ca. 1840-1845, Fort Union Trading Post Naitonal Historic Site, National Park Service.
https://www.nps.gov/fous/learn/historyculture/western-art-at-fort-union.htm
Swiss painter Karl Bodmer similarly characterized Fort Union when he accompanied renowned German explorer Maximilian Zu Wied on an expedition throughout the upper Missouri from 1832-1834. Like Catlin, Bodmer depicted Fort Union as a focal point of his painting, "Fort Union on the Missouri." However, instead of emphasizing the stationary appearance of tipis and the subdued nature of the landscape, Bodmer accentuates movement to and from the fort. When compared to the humble representation of Chesterfield House in Ackomokki and Peter Fidler’s map (panel two), Catlin and Bodmer illustrated the transformative qualities they believed to be embodied by Fort Union. Far from becoming the new center of local Indigenous communities, Fort Union and subsequent AFC posts throughout the region adapted successfully to the Indigenous socio-economic norms which dictated the pathways of exchange.11Fort Union47.9892426-104.0386227MatchGoogle
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From Trade to Surveillancemedia/afcnp.jpg"The Oregon" The Native American (Washington, D.C.), October 10, 1840, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress.
https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86053569/1840-10-10/ed-1/seq-2/#date1=1789&index=2&rows=20&words=American+company+Fur&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=&date2=1840&proxtext=american+fur+company&y=0&x=0&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1
Since the establishment of Fort Union in 1828, the AFC continued to build trading posts westward along the upper Missouri River and its tributaries. By 1839, the upper Missouri became the most prosperous locale of the AFC, bringing in $250,000 in peltries, furs, and other goods. The gradual growth of these posts began to shift objectives away from the trade and towards the surveillance and ownership of the land. The semi-sedentary nature of both trading posts and their business with partnered Indigenous communities provided a structure to expand U.S. administrative control. Traders stationed at these forts could find personal success by advancing to new leadership roles and becoming official “Indian agents,” serving as stewards on behalf of the government.9west of Fort Union47.6722436-107.6474597MatchGoogle
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Kinship and Powermedia/culbertsonfamily.jpgPortrait of Alexander Culbertson, Natoyist-Siksina' and their son, Joseph Culbertson in1863. Montana Historical Society and the National Park Service.
https://www.nps.gov/fous/learn/historyculture/culbertson-mourning-brooch.htm
Whereas the HBC discouraged marriage between Indigenous women and girls, nearly all traders in the AFC had Native wives and developed close bonds to her family and community. Likewise, as Indigenous communities sought to sustain their involvement in the trade, intermarriage often enabled women to augment their own authority by becoming cultural brokers and business intermediaries. Such was the case for AFC trader Alexander Culbertson who married fifteen-year-old Natoyist-Siksina’, the daughter of a prominent Kainah (Blood) Blackfeet headman named Two Suns. Although their marriage produced clear benefits for Culbertson, Natoyist-Siksina’ held the status as one of the most important diplomats in the upper Missouri. Natoyist-Sikisina’ was in the heart of both the turmoil affecting Native communities like her own as well as the effort to navigate U.S. colonial policy on the northern plains. In 1846, the couple negotiated the establishment of Fort Benton in Blackfoot Territory and marked the pinnacle of personal success for Culbertson, who thereafter turned his attention towards efforts to organize the upper Missouri through a series of land policies.11Fort Benton47.8267696-110.6488537
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The Horse Creek Treaty of 1851media/horsecreektreaty1851.jpg"Horse Creek Treaty, 1851," Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian and the National Archives, digitized by Oklahoma State University.
https://americanindian.si.edu/nationtonation/horse-creek-treaty.html
Most notably, Culbertson became a leading negotiator for the Horse Creek Treaty of 1851 (the First Fort Laramie Treaty), which formally restricted the movement of Northern Plains communities, defined future patterns of property settlement, and regulated the flow of commerce. The treaty was the first sweeping legislation to concern several northern plains nations, including the Arapaho, Arikara, Hóhe (Assiniboine), Tsétsêhéstâhese and Só'taeo'o (Cheyenne), Apsáalooke (Crow), Hidatsa, Mandan, and Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (Seven Council Fires/ Sioux). Additionally, the treaty has been rightfully criticized for its gross geographic inaccuracies (represented in the official 1851 map of reallocation to the right) and failure to deliver on annuity promises to the signed tribal delegations.5Northern Plains41.972447-104.0112319Northern Plains
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Painting Natoyist-Siksina'media/stanley.jpg
John Mix Stanley,"A Family Group (Barter for a Bride)," ca. 1854-1860, Oil, U.S. Department of State.
https://diplomaticrooms.state.gov/Item/?id=0e917e86-0152-e711-8106-1458d04eb810
Two years after the Horse Creek Treaty, Natoyist-Siksina’ and Alexander Culbertson hosted an exploratory party of the Pacific Railroad Survey led by Washington Territory governor Isaac Stevens. The artist John Mix Stanley joined the survey as an illustrator and developed a close friendship with the Culbertson family. Over the next decade, Stanley painted tworepresentations of Natoyist-Siksina’, the earlier of the pair being "A Family Group (Barter for a Bride)." In the painting, Natoyist-Siksina’ dons a bright red shawl and sits among other members of her family. Her father is seated next to her bottom left, reinforcing the authoritative familial presence in this painting. Stanley's choice to color Natoyist-Siksina’s shawl red, her strong posture and engagement with the horseback rider also mark her personal prominence within the family.11Fort Benton47.8126536-110.6996657Fort Benton
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Site of the Lame Bull Treaty of 1855media/1855treatynp.jpgWeekly Indiana State Sentinel, December 27, 1855, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress.
https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82014286/1855-12-27/ed-1/seq-2/#date1=1855&index=3&rows=20&words=Blackfeet+treaties&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=&date2=1856&proxtext=treaty+with+blackfeet&y=0&x=0&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1
In the fall of 1855, Isaac Stevens returned to Fort Benton with plans to host a massive treaty council concerning the Niitsítapi (Blackfoot Confederacy), A'aninin (Gros Ventre), Ql̓ispé (Kalispel/ Pend d'Oreilles), Ktunaxa (Kootenai), and Nimiipuu (Nez Perce). At the mouth of the Judith River on October 17, 1855, the parties negotiated a peace agreement and designation of common hunting grounds in what became known as Lame Bull’s Treaty. The treaty comprised the remainder of northern plains communities who were not included in the Horse Creek Treaty of 1851. Accordingly, Lame Bull’s Treaty appeared to formally complete the spread of federal power into jurisdictions of Indian agencies with the aid and structure of withering fur posts. By the late 1850s, the upper Missouri fur trade was on a path to collapse and the U.S. military assumed control of the posts.1047.7343303-109.6402767Judith River Basin
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Indigenous Space: Adaptations and Continuitiesmedia/1853annotation.jpgAnonymous Assiniboine Warrior and Edwin T. Denig, annotator, “Anonymous Assiniboine Map of North Side of Missouri River from Fort Union to Fort Benton,” December 27, 1853, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
https://sova.si.edu/details/NAA.MS2600B1?s=0&n=10&t=C&q=&i=0#ref19
For the Indigenous communities who experienced these changes, adaptation and continuity became important strategies for survival. For example, maintaining traditional perceptions of the land continued to reinforce the notion that it was an Indigenous space, rather than acknowledge new colonial boundaries and restrictions. Fifty-two years after Ackomokki and Peter Fidler’s map, an anonymous Hóhe (Assiniboine) warrior sketched his view of the Missouri River from Fort Union to Fort Benton. Annotated by the famous trader Edwin Denig, this map shares a striking resemblance to the 1801 rendition and centers the Missouri River, its tributaries, and significant geographic features. A few labeled “trade houses” appear as small boxes in the large swath of space, which also includes the Assiniboine “war path” dashed to Blackfoot Territory. This map does not acknowledge the new colonial boundaries imposed upon the upper Missouri, but rather reinforces an Indigenous vew of the space as it has always been. Despite the efforts of colonial powers to reimagine, redraw, and visualize the space as their own, nation building requires recognition—something that Indigenous peoples continue to resist and challenge today.747.6205706-108.6584197Mid-Missouri Montanahttp://mapwarper.net/maps/tile/45839/{z}/{x}/{y}.png0.7
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