The First Civil War, 1830-1842


The Plains

Real War 
   Grounded Networks 
      The Plains   
      Custom, & the Ports    
      Nat Turner, & Others   
      The Islands   
      The Southern Slopes   
      The Mission Coasts  
  Control Networks 
      Mills & Planters  
      Silver & opium  
      Alamán & Calhoun  
      Rancheros & Pilots  
      The War of the South  
      Siege & Contagion 
A Note on Then and Now 
What They Called "Civil War"  
   Liberal Projects 
   Conservative Demagogues 
   Fight Scenes  
  Grounded Reaction 
Outcomes, and Vision
In 1840, Comanches and Kiowas and Cheyennes met on the Arkansas River, gave each other gifts in order to cement their own kind of  "peace establishment" on the Plains.  Comanches and Kiowas gave great numbers of horses, of which they had raised some themselves, but had raided others from settlements in Texas or Coahuila.  The Cheyennes reciprocated with food for feasting, but also with guns, which they could have obtained from the nearby fur-trading fort, or by trade with other groups, farther to the northeast.  In the middle of all the celebration, it was even possible that some horses from Durango were being exchanged for some guns from Canada. 

The core of life in the continent was a wide-reaching trade network, centered in the Plains, and extending outward to the Great Lakes, the Columbia River Basin, the Mississippi, Mexico, and California.  Through this network, the peoples of the Plains kept up and regulated two kinds of exchange: 

  • that between "western" high-country furs and "eastern" imported manufactures, and
  • that between "northern European" manufactures (especially guns) and "southern European" livestock (especially horses).
Certain peoples, such as the Lakotas west of the Great Lakes and the Osages some hundreds of miles to their south, fought to maintain an intermediary role, dealing with white traders to their east and fur-harvesters to their west, and keeping these two elements apart.  By political and military means, they pushed back the "envelope" of trade, protecting the core.  While these intermediary monopolists were not above exploiting interior peoples, they were themselves vulnerable to being ground down between the core and the white traders. 

Closer to the core, the Cheyennes revealed what was typical in the relation between community and military action, in all the three great popular networks (indigenous, slave, peasant).  Part of the year they lived in river-bottom camps, in the country between the Arkansas and the Platte.  There the women put in crops and the community could observe a settled round of social life.  At other times, the community left the crops to take care of themselves, while the people took off to the prairies and high country to hunt.  Sedentary people who specialized in crop-raising, like the Arikaras of the Missouri River Basin, were more vulnerable to military nomads. 

The power structure of the Cheyennes was divided between peace chiefs and soldiers, whose degrees of leadership varied with what activity the community was pursuing at any particular time.  In periods of stress, the soldier influence grew, as if to transform the whole into a new kind of society.  This fluctuating polarization of social styles, within the body of Cheyennes, had much the same quality as the polarization between village Arikaras and nomadic Lakotas, or between maroons and country slaves in the West Indies, or between broncos and mansos among the peoples of Sonora.  

Much of the detail of relations between indigenous and European was being worked out in the zone between the Rockies and the Mississippi -- that is, the eastern face of the indigenous core.  To people on the periphery of this zone, like the Osages, French and English and even Spanish traders had early brought guns.
On the edges of New Mexico operated markets to which came Comanches and Utes.  To the larger settlements, like Taos and Santa Fe, there came over the Santa Fe trail Anglo and mixed-race traders from the United States, some of whom had also been trading with Cheyennes or other peoples to the north. From New Mexico went out the comancheros, to trade grain and other "civilized" products for buffalo hides and meat.  From the same population went out the ciboleros, buffalo-hunters who in their own persons embodied the whole process of exchange between Santa Fe and the plains. To New Mexico from the west came horses that California Indians had raided from the Hispanic settlements of the Pacific slopes. If the whole network of core societies can be said to have had two "external capitals," and one was the place that would become Winnipeg, the other was Santa Fe.

In this zone, too, other institutions and social patterns offered alternative ways of carrying out this mediation..  All the white fur-trading establishments, from the great Hudson's Bay Company in the north, to the Bent family in the Arkansas River valley, encouraged their members to form marriages or other alliances with local peoples.  In the area between the Lakes and the Canadian Rockies, this pattern produced an essentially new people, the métis (that is, mestizos of the north), who lived in settlements close to those of their indigenous relatives, but who were becoming a mixed-race proletariat in relation to the fur companies. At locations deep within the Rockies, the rendezvous or periodic fur-trade fair, gathered white mountain men and indigenous traders, combined old indigenous trading practices with methods sought by the fur companies.

In the northern Plains, the métis arrangement defined how far adaptation could go -- in either direction -- without threatening the integrity of the core culture.  In other areas, a relation like that between tribes and métis was sometimes maintained between the different branches of one regional indigenous group.  The Lakotas of the upper Missouri valley acted as agents in trade to mountain peoples, but maintained a largely traditional culture.  Their cousins the Dakotas, to the east around the valley of the Minnesota, developed more extensive "adoptive" relations with whites coming into the upper Mississippi valley.  The result, in the first half of the 19th century, was an east-to-west sequence of groups that stepped the process of cultural contact down from interchange toward independence.  There was no isolation, but the buffering provided interior tribes with "defense in depth" or "autonomy in depth."


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