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Old West - June 15 - 1846 - Francis Parkman

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  • westernmaker2003
    1846 Francis Parkman arrives at Fort Laramie Francis Parkman, one of the first serious historians to study the American West, arrives at Fort Laramie and
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 14, 2005
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      1846 Francis Parkman arrives at Fort Laramie

      Francis Parkman, one of the first serious historians to study the
      American West, arrives at Fort Laramie and prepares for a summer of
      research with the Sioux.

      Parkman was an unlikely frontiersman. The son of a prominent Boston
      family, he was an impeccably proper gentleman of independent means
      who was more at home among the ivory towers of Harvard than the
      tepees of the Sioux. Yet, after graduating from Harvard in 1846,
      Parkman set out to write the definitive history of the French and
      Indian Wars of 1689 to 1763. To set the stage for the wars, he
      wished to discuss the life of the Northeastern Native Americans
      before the arrival of Europeans, but could find few useful sources
      on the subject. Parkman reasoned that the still relatively untouched
      tribes of the Western plains would provide him with insights into
      pre-Columbian Indian life. In 1846, he headed west to spend a summer
      among the Plains Indians.

      Traveling with an experienced trapper named Henry Chatillon as a
      guide, Parkman followed the Oregon Trail west for three months. On
      this day in 1846, he arrived at Fort Laramie in present-day Wyoming.
      Parkman was overjoyed to learn that a party of Oglala Sioux was
      gathering nearby in preparation for a summer war with their enemies,
      the Snake. Certain that all Indians were bloodthirsty savages eager
      to fight, Parkman viewed the approaching war as an opportunity to
      witness the Indian's true nature. Soon after, though, he heard that
      the Sioux had decided to abandon the warpath for that summer. For
      the first time, Parkman began to question the accuracy of the
      stereotypical white view of the Indians.

      If he was fully to understand the Sioux, Parkman believed, he would
      need to "become, as it were, one of them." Luckily, his guide
      Chatillon was married to a daughter of a Sioux chief, and the
      trapper managed to persuade the chief to allow Parkman to travel
      with the Sioux for a summer. A prominent warrior named Big Crow
      (Kongra-Tonga) agreed to share his tepee with Parkman and watch over
      the inexperienced Bostonian.

      In the months that followed, many of Parkman's preconceived notions
      about Indians melted away. Though Big Crow and other warriors
      proudly described their often-brutal fights with enemy tribes,
      Parkman also discovered the Sioux were a warm and generous
      people. "Both Kongra-Tonga [Big Crow] and his squaw," he
      noted, "like most other Indians, were very fond of their children,
      whom they indulged to excess and never punished except in extreme
      cases." Observing that they would at times give away all of their
      possessions, he concluded that the Sioux, "though often rapacious,
      are devoid of avarice."

      After six months in the West, Parkman returned to Boston and wrote a
      compelling account of his summer with the Sioux. Published in 1849,
      The Oregon Trail was both a fascinating travel book and an important
      work of ethnography. Initially, Parkman thought of his first book as
      little more than a preface to the works of history he subsequently
      produced. Only later in life did he realize it was an important
      work, an "image of an irrevocable past." Indeed, Parkman's portrait
      of the Sioux continues to be a valuable window into Plains Indian
      life before it was changed by the advancing front of Anglo-American

      Best Regards

      Buck Callarhand
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