Westward expansion led to broken promises over ‘Indian Country’

3:29:56 PM CDT - Tuesday, June 12, 2007

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

When Congress enacted the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act of 1834, many considered it to be a benevolent gesture from the U.S. government toward Native Americans that would provide refuge for displaced Indians and protect them from exploitation by white men.

Others, however, came to see it as a legally sanctioned way to swindle Native Americans out of their land.

William E. Unrau, distinguished professor emeritus of history at Wichita State University, has written a book-length study of “Indian Country” that reveals the act as little more than a deceptive stopgap that encouraged white settlement and development of an area known as trans-Missouri West.

Unrau’s book, “The Rise and Fall of Indian Country, 1825-1855,” was released this month by the University of Kansas Press.

Indian Country encompassed more than half the Louisiana Purchase and stretched from the Red River to the headwaters of the Missouri. It was designated as a place for Native American survival and improvement. Unrau tells in the book how the protection of Indian Country lasted only until the needs of westward expansion outweighed those associated with the presumed solution of the “Indian problem.”

When thousands of settlers began entering the Kansas Territory  in 1854, the government appeared powerless to protect Indians, according to the book.

Historians have high praise for the book. “An important and illuminating work that vividly reveals the true nature of the U.S. government’s policy toward the Indians,” said Joseph B. Herring, author of “Kenekuk, the Kickapoo Prophet.” L.G. Moses, author of “The Indian Man: A Biography of James Mooney,” said: “An indispensable history of the creation and lamentable destruction of Indian Country.”

Unrau, a scholar on Native Americans, particularly tribes in Kansas, has published numerous books, including “The End of Indian Kansas: A History of Cultural Revolution 1854-1971,” which he wrote with another WSU distinguished history professor, Craig Miner; and “White Man’s Wicked Water: The Alcohol Trade and Prohibition in Indian Country, 1802-1855.”

Unrau, a Goessel, Kan., native, retired from WSU in 1996, after more than 30 years on the WSU faculty. He and his wife, Millie, who also retired from WSU after years of teaching piano, live in Louisville, Colo.

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