Though he is best known as one-half of the legendary Lewis and Clark expedition, William Clark contributed even more to the opening of the West in his public career as the U.S. government's most important representative to western Indians, according to a Brigham Young University historian.
In his book “William Clark: Indian Diplomat,” BYU history professor Jay H. Buckley examines the long and influential public career of the famed explorer, focusing on Clark's tenure as Indian agent, territorial governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs at St. Louis.
The book was recently released by the University of Oklahoma Press and is available at the BYU Bookstore.
For three decades following his famed expedition with Lewis, Clark forged a meritorious public career and had immense influence on federal Indian policy and Indian-White relations in the trans-Mississippi region, specifically.
“From 1807 to 1838 Clark served as a federal Indian agent and Superintendent of Indian Affairs in St. Louis, responsible for all Indian relations west of the Mississippi as well of the removal of the tribes from the Old Northwest,” said Buckley. “[Clark ] represented antebellum America’s most important liaison between the federal government and western tribes.”
Clark actively favored trade and friendship over military conflict, and was responsible for one-tenth of all Indian treaties ratified by the U.S. Senate —beginning with the 1808 treaty authorizing Indian removal from what became the Missouri Territory and ending in 1836 with a treaty that completed the process, divesting Indians of the northwestern corner of Missouri.
Although he sympathized with the Indians' fate and felt compassion for native peoples, Clark was ultimately responsible for dispossessing more Indians than perhaps any other American.
“Clark felt the angst and incongruity of protecting Indian rights and culture while simultaneously promoting official policies,” Buckley said. “Clark usually placed federal policies over native interests and supported the removal and cultural assimilation of Indians. Yet, Clark assisted Indians on many occasions, felt for their causes and occasionally championed them, even when it was not popular to do so.”
Drawing on treaty documents and Clark's voluminous papers, Buckley analyzes apparent contradictions in Clark's relationship with Indians, fellow bureaucrats and frontier entrepreneurs. He examines the choices Clark and his contemporaries made in formulating and implementing Indian policies and explores how Clark's paternalism as a slaveholder influenced his approach to dealing with Indians. Buckley also reveals the ambiguities and cross-purposes of Clark's policy making and his responses to such hostilities as the Black Hawk War.
“William Clark: Indian Diplomat” is the complex story of a sometimes sentimental, yet always pragmatic, imperialist. Buckley portrays Clark as a flawed but human hero who had few equals among American diplomats in the realm of Indian affairs.
For more information, contact Jay Buckley at (801) 422- 5327.
Writer: Marissa Ballantyne