To most people living in the West, the Louisiana Purchase made little difference: the United States was just another imperial overlord to be assessed and manipulated. This was not, as Empires, Nations, and Families makes clear, virgin wilderness discovered by virtuous Anglo entrepreneurs. Rather, the United States was a newcomer in a place already complicated by vying empires. This book documents the broad family associations that crossed national and ethnic lines and that, along with the river systems of the trans-Mississippi West, formed the basis for a global trade in furs that had operated for hundreds of years before the land became part of the United States.
Empires, Nations, and Families shows how the world of river and maritime trade effectively shifted political power away from military and diplomatic circles into the hands of local people. Tracing family stories from the Canadian North to the Spanish and Mexican borderlands and from the Pacific Coast to the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, Anne F. Hyde’s narrative moves from the earliest years of the Indian trade to the Mexican War and the gold rush era. Her work reveals how, in the 1850s, immigrants to these newest regions of the United States violently wrested control from Native and other powers, and how conquest and competing demands for land and resources brought about a volatile frontier culture—not at all the peace and prosperity that the new power had promised.