Lyceum visiting scholar to share early Great Plains history next month

1:24:57 PM CDT - Thursday, October 06, 2005

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

The Great Plains may have been uncharted land when Lewis and Clark set out on their expedition on Feb. 28, 1803, but a lot of history had already occurred in America's midsection.

American historian Elliott West will shed some light on the early goings-on as part of this year's Robert L. Kindrick Lyceum series.

During a Nov. 1 public lecture, West, a distinguished professor at the University of Arkansas, will tell the stories of three individuals who had fascinating lives that took them through the Plains, including Kansas, long before the Corps of Discovery made its way through the area.

Elliott West
Elliott West
There's the young French teenager who came to the United States with Robert LaSalle, the Frenchman who explored the Mississippi River in 1682. The teen was captured by the Spanish and taken to Mexico. He became a prominent trader in New Mexico, establishing relationships with the American Indians.

There's the Osage Indian who lived in eastern Kansas and was invited to France along with a handful of other Indians to tour the country and meet dignitaries. Upon his return, he told stories of his travels.

Then, finally, West will share the story of a young woman living near Taos, N.M., who was captured by the Comanche, sold to the Pawnee and then met and married a French trader and lived in St. Louis.

"Her story ends about the time Lewis and Clark move into St. Louis," West said.

Sharing those stories is important, said West, who has written six books about the American frontier, because they show the Plains was a vibrant place.

"We tend to think Great Plains history started with Lewis and Clark," said West, whose 1998 book "Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers and the Rush to Colorado" was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

"It's our story," he said, referring to the fact that the expedition was a major project undertaken in America's early years as a new country. "It had wonderful characters, great adventures and left us with wonderful documents, but it shouldn't deceive us that it began the history of the Plains."

In a faculty/student forum Nov. 2, West will show how the Great Plains had an important role in scientific discovery in his talk "Bone-Hunters and Tick-Pickers: The Great Plains in a Golden Age of Science."

In the 19th century, the Plains was known as a hotbed location for paleontologists, who hunted for fossil remains of ancient animals, West pointed out, and the famous cattle drives that wound through the Plains played an important role in the understanding of diseases in the late 19th century.

West was nominated to be this year's Lyceum's distinguished visiting scholar by WSU's distinguished professor Craig Miner, who has written extensively about Wichita and Kansas history. Miner and West were graduate students together at the University of Colorado.

Elliott West will give the public lecture "Three Lives: The Plains before Lewis and Clark" at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1, at the Eugene M. Hughes Metropolitan Complex, 5015 E. 29th St. N. His faculty/student forum, "Bone-Hunters and Tick-Pickers," will be held 10:30-11:20 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2, in the Rhatigan Student Center ballroom.

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