These days we are so connected with the world that we receive news updates as they are happening. Tweets, posts, and internet news sites spew out an unending amount of information. Can you imagine how out of touch you would have been in the early 1800s? We stopped by the St. Charles County Heritage Museum to learn about frontier fighting around that time period. During our visit, they were featuring an exhibit named “The American Revolutionary War in the West”. This is a part of our regional history that we were unfamiliar with, so we were excited to check out this new gallery.
The war for independence was not yet four decades old, when the nation was once again thrust into conflict. In the colonies, trade embargoes and forced service to the British navy were two of the major causes of the war of 1812. Far away, on the edge of the frontier, settlers were facing conflict with many of the Native American tribes. They were already on edge with the unending infringement on their lands, and the British incited them to pillage and slaughter. Out on the frontier, settlers were far outnumbered by the native peoples. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 had set the stage for increased contact, as a land grab escalated north of the Missouri River. Fort Osage, the westernmost outpost, was abandoned at the start of the war leaving St. Charles on the edge of the frontier.
Back to War
American forces were not alone in this battle for new lands. While Britain built tenuous alliances with some native tribes, others formed treaties with America and Spain, who sided against the British. Back in the East it was referred to as a “Second War for Independence”, but on the frontier it would be known as the “Indian War”. With the government encouraging citizens to settle in new areas, without consideration for the rights of the local inhabitants, the natives had plenty of reasons to mistrust the intentions of the settlers. The displays at the St. Charles Heritage Museum contain lots of historical information that had remained unknown to us. In fact, back home I found myself heading down a rabbit hole when I began researching for this article, and I loved it!
The British and American troops found their alliances with the natives brought unique attributes. For the British, it bolstered their numbers, which were far less than American forces. The American troops found that the natives provided them with effective light troops that chose guerilla warfare tactics over pitched battles. It was noted that the native tribes would avoid most conflicts that would result in high losses of life. While this would frustrate British and American leaders, the tribe leaders were doing what they felt was best for their people.
Native American’s Perspective
In 1815, the Treaties of Portage de Sioux were designed to signify the end of hostilities between Native Americans and the United States. The treaties were supposed to return all of the lands and rights that the native tribes had prior to 1811. The reality is that many of the treaties, prior to 1811, had not been signed by all of the appropriate tribe representatives. This new set of treaties allowed the United States to legalize their land grab, which had been put in place with earlier agreements. Many of the tribes involved in these new treaties had already lost most, if not all, of the lands they inhabited when Europeans first arrived.
Frontier Fighting Fallout
From the earliest formation of the United States, the treatment of Native tribes has been inconsistent. In 1787, the Northwest Ordinance called for the protection of Native American rights and property. Within a few years, the push for expansion had created an atmosphere that allowed the idea of land exchange. This proposed that the tribes would give up their lands east of the Mississippi River in exchange for similar territory further west. A couple of decades later, President Andrew Jackson would sign the Indian Removal Act, which would forever change the relationship between the government and Native tribes. Our visit to the St. Charles County Heritage Museum answered some lingering questions, while creating the need for a lot more research.
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