William Clark and the Shaping of the West, By Landon Y. Jones, Hill & Wang, 394 pp., illustrated, $25
The Plains Sioux and U.S. Colonialism From Lewis and Clark to Wounded Knee, By Jeffrey Ostler, Cambridge University Press, 387 pp., illustrated, $21.99
As a young Army lieutenant, William Clark was present at events in 1794 and 1795 which were arguably as significant in the nation's westward expansion as his celebrated expedition with Meriwether Lewis in 1803.
On Aug. 20, 1794, Clark led a unit of riflemen at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. On Aug. 3, 1795, he was present when the Treaty of Greenville was signed.
Fallen Timbers, writes Landon Y. Jones, "forever extinguished the Indians' dream of confining" settlers east of the Ohio River. And Greenville not only ended a brutal 30-year frontier war, but "established. . . the endgame for all future relations" in which "white encroachment" on Indian lands would spark retaliation that would lead to military response.
And it was Clark who would be the architect of this endgame. Today, Jones writes, the process would be called ethnic cleansing. Jones, a former writer and editor for Life, Time, and People, is on the board of the National Council of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial. His richly detailed biography of Clark, while never losing its focus on that endgame, presents a fully-rounded portrait of a complex and intriguing figure.
Clark was a younger brother of George Rogers Clark, a "galvanizing" leader on the frontier during the American Revolution.
The elder Clark was a friend of Thomas Jefferson who, in 1783, asked if he would be interested in leading an expedition westward to California. The "almost offhand question," Jones writes, "introduced the pattern of military exploration that would prevail in the West for the next century" -- most notably with that of Lewis and Clark. .
Jones provides a good account of the Lewis and Clark expedition, but his main focus is on the endgame, the removal of the Indian tribes.
In 1808, while leading one such military expedition, Clark summoned Osage leaders to a council where he produced a treaty under which they gave up some 82,000 square miles of land, including "the empire of furs that was the economic base of their culture." Then, 17 years later, came a second treaty to acquire the western land onto which the Osage had moved -- before the resettled Indians began farming on it.
Jones writes that Clark, as superintendent of Indian Affairs, should be viewed as "a moderate," believing "that once the Indians were no longer a military threat and were no longer obstacles to American economic interest, then justice and humaneness could govern their treatment." Clark held the position of Indian Affairs from 1821 until his death in September 1838.
In all, Clark "personally signed" 37 treaties with Indian tribes, helping the United States "extinguish Indian titles" to 419 million acres of land, and leading to the removal of more than 81,000 Indians from the eastern United States.
That process of removal continued, as Jeffrey Ostler, a professor of history at the University of Oregon, details in his fine study, which carries the story forward. Ostler's major contribution is to provide vivid accounts of the councils and conferences that took place between more dramatic events -- the killing of Crazy Horse, the battle at Little Big Horn, the Ghost Dance movement, the Wounded Knee massacre -- and often precipitated them.
In 1877, for instance, some 15 months after Custer's defeat at Little Big Horn, a large delegation of Sioux leaders traveled to Washington to meet with President Rutherford B. Hayes.
In both Chicago, where they had stopped over, and in Washington, they gave interviews to newspaper reporters explaining they had come to stop the government from putting them on a reservation on the Missouri River "that did not suit them." They saw the interviews, Ostler writes, "as an opportunity to shape American opinion."
But they were unsuccessful, and as their people were being moved -- during an early winter storm -- several thousand militants took the opportunity to split off and head for Canada where Sitting Bull, the leader at Little Big Horn, "had had some success in creating a new base for Sioux autonomy."
Not conclusively cause and effect, but within three years, the apocalyptic Ghost Dance movement -- an "anticolonial movement," as Ostler describes it -- began. It was in quashing the movement that the most shameful event among many, the massacre at Wounded Knee on Dec. 29, 1890, occurred.
Alexis de Tocqueville, that astute observer, witnessed the removal of the Choctaw across the Mississippi in December 1831.
Shaken, he wrote that "in the midst of this American society, so well policed, so sententious, so charitable, a cold selfishness and complete insensibility prevails when it is a question of the natives of the country." This, writes Jones, "was the dilemma Clark confronted -- but was never able to solve." And, it should be added, remains largely unsolved to this day.