The Bourgeois Frontier: French Towns, French Traders, and American Expansion (The Lamar Series in Western History)
Histories tend to emphasize conquest by Anglo-Americans as the driving force behind the development of the American West. In this fresh interpretation, Jay Gitlin argues that the activities of the French are crucial to understanding the phenomenon of westward expansion.
The Seven Years War brought an end to the French colonial enterprise in North America, but the French in towns such as New Orleans, St. Louis, and Detroit survived the transition to American rule. French traders from Mid-America such as the Chouteaus and Robidouxs of St. Louis then became agents of change in the West, perfecting a strategy of “middle grounding” by pursuing alliances within Indian and Mexican communities in advance of American settlement and re-investing fur trade profits in land, town sites, banks, and transportation. The Bourgeois Frontier provides the missing French connection between the urban Midwest and western expansion.
with the deeply engaging essay by Hubert Aquin, which explores, among other things, the theme of exile: “The Cultural Fatigue of French Canada” (1962), in Anthony Purdy, ed., Writing Quebec: Selected Essays by Hubert Aquin (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1988). 77. Elliott West, “Reconstructing Race,” Western Historical Quarterly, 34:1 (Spring 2003), 1, 35. 78. A fuller story of racial prejudice and even violence directed against the French could be told. Such a history would find much
liquor banned from Indian country, 104; St. Louis business model and, 138 Alice of Old Vincennes (Thompson), 38, 192n10 Alvord, C. W., 3 American Fur Company, 6, 53, 65, 71, 84; bought by Pierre Chouteau, 21, 68, 72, 130-31, 178; Chouteau family and, 116; Civil War and, 156; department store model and, 196n28; failure of, 73; government factory system and, 90; in Minnesota, 175, 176; size and scope of operations, 72; Western Department, 125, 131, 178, 218n32 The American Fur Trade of the Far
trade was now “not for pelts ... but for specie.” The Potawatomis had received fifty dollars per capita in gold in exchange for a land cession. It quickly fell into the traders’ hands.87 Sarpy, as his cousins had done downriver, began to profit from the transition. He laid out new towns for settlement at Bellevue, Tekamah, and Decatur in Nebraska and St. Mary across the river in Iowa.88 At the latter, he founded a newspaper, the St. Mary Gazette. He also began a highly profitable ferry service
ventures and divided the profits in thirds—two-thirds for Bent, St. Vrain and one-third for the Chouteau company. The two companies, for example, purchased a farm in Kansas City to use for pasturage for the livestock being transported between St. Louis and New Mexico. Other Santa Fe traders used the property, and it became a lucrative investment141 In New Mexico as in the Upper Missouri country, capital was obviously in short supply. The American Fur Company of the 1830s and 1840s (the
difficulty of finding an appropriate framework in which to place the activities of these Creole merchants is nowhere more evident than in the historiography of the fur trade. When I first began to study the fur trade, I was somewhat mystified by the application of the label “mountain man” to the likes of Pierre Chouteau Jr. and his son-in-law John F. A. Sanford. The former lived in St. Louis his entire life; the latter spent the last sixteen years of his life living on Fifth Avenue in New York