Published on October 28, 2012 by Carol
Author: William R. Nester
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The well known poem, starting with the line “For the Want of a Shoe, the Horse was Lost,”serves to describe the talents of William R. Nester. In this information packed book we see a wide range of individual and collective actions of Native Americans, Fur Trappers, Explorers and Financiers in the development of the American West. Then Nester carries these inter-related actions to a higher plain to show how they would impact on the larger, international scene down the historical path.
Many of us are all familiar with the Arikara War when there would be armed conflict against elements of Ashley’s and Henry’s party as they ascended the Missouri River. Nester applies more than enough information to ground his readers in these series of episodes. But he also shows in the larger picture how the Arikara, Hidatsa and Mandan would eventually emerge as middlemen in both commerce and trade over a truly wide geographical range, such as Santa Fe, British operations and St. Louis trade. The Arikara War would become the harbinger of things to unfold in both commercial and political developments and their impact upon America’s Western regions.
Some would clamor that such conflicts were evidence that Hudson’s Bay Company, British agents and others were out to incite Native Americans against American interests in the middle Missouri trade.. While such charges might have been unfounded, they would be useful in attempts to gain governmental support and motivate public opinion.
An added dimension for this book is Nester’s analysis of the evolution and shifts of power among different Native American tribes. A good example of this are the results of the 1837 small pox epidemic that would shift the balance of power on the so-called middle Missouri region. The Lakota Sioux, apparently less severely affected in this epidemic, would emerge as the most powerful tribe. This would be a far more important factor in the decline of Arikara influence than the expedition of General Henry Leavenworth and a military detachment and a group of Sioux Indians against the Arikara nation. A peace without complete victory would cause the Arikara to continue to be potential adversaries. With the shift of power the Sioux Indians would come to the front to be a considerable threat in later years until the Battle of Wounded Knee in 1891 would close that chapter.
A number of us (including me) attribute the loss of the beaver trade primarily to the change in fashion to silk top hats. Nester shows that the beaver supply had begun to run out a considerable time before the last rendezvous held at Green River in 1840. Resulting efforts to find new beaver regions would also have their impact upon both local and international relations. The resulting shift to the buffalo trade would continue until those animals practically disappeared in the 1880s.
It would not be trappers or explorers but the constant avalanche of American settlers who moved into the Northwest regions that sealed the fate of those areas, which British authorities ceded to the United States in 1846. Here we see a wide range of causes and resulting effects on the American West in a finely crafted, well researched book. Rounding out this presentation are the appendices, which include a well done index, chapter end notes and an extensive bibliography of titles for additional research.