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5 / Science and the Destruction of “Indian Country” The cultural and cartographic creation of “Indian Country” in the first half of the nineteenth century allowed Americans to appropriate Native history while still keeping Indians at a safe distance as they waited for them to be civilized. Yet as Euro-Americans began crossing Missouri in unprecedented numbers, this rhetorical balancing act became harder to maintain. As it became clear that Indians were not vanishing nearly as quickly as many desired, the question became how to draw new distinctions between “Indian” and “American” spaces. Otherwise, what separated American expansion from previous, unenlightened imperial conquests? For John Charles Frémont and his supporters, the answer was science. One of the most telling episodes about the creation of space and mapping in the trans-Mississippi West involved the literary use of a bumblebee. In his journal, published in 1843, John Charles Frémont described ascending to what he believed to be the highest point in the Rocky Mountains. After unfurling an American flag at the summit, “a solitary bee (bromus, the bumble bee) . . . lit on the knee of one of the men.” According to Frémont, this small creature was “a solitary pioneer to foretell the advance of civilization.” The explorer ended his description of his summit by incorporating the bee into his scientific readings: “The barometer stood at 18.293, the attached thermometer at 44˚, giving for the elevation of this summit 13,570 feet above the Gulf of Mexico, which may be called the highest flight of the bee.”1 162 / the rise and fall of “indian country” It was incidental that the peak Frémont and the other members of the Corps of Topographical Engineers climbed in 1842 was actually three hundred feet shorter than the peak just north of his vantage point and seven hundred feet shorter than the highest peak in the Rockies.2 It was also not important that the entire encounter with the bee was most likely fabricated by either Frémont or his wife, Jessie, who actually penned much of the journal. What was important to the American public and what Frémont readily understood was that sounding exacting was more important than being exacting, and nothing was more important than a good story.3 The story of Frémont’s explorations across the Great Plains—through the Rocky Mountains to Oregon and California in 1842, 1843, and 1844—captured the public’s attention. After ten thousand copies of the reports were printed, the Senate contracted with the Congressional Globe and Daily National Intelligencer to publish a commercial version of the story, which quickly became a best seller.4 Frémont’s technical language proved to be an important factor in the book’s success. A writer for the U.S. Magazine and Democratic Review, seemingly unaware that the book figure 5. Planting the American Flag upon the Summit of the Rocky Mountains (1856). Woodcut from Samuel M. Smucker, The Life of Col. John Charles Fremont. Notice the bee flying above the seated figure on the left. science and the destruction of “indian country” / 163 was an extrapolation of Frémont’s journal, declared that its scientific tone was evidence that it was “transcripts of notes made in the field.” As such, the author continued, the Pathfinder’s greatness surpassed even Lewis and Clark’s, who “lack[ed] the science which Capt. Frémont carried into his expeditions.”5 This science—taken together with the sublime Romantic imagery so prevalent in nineteenth-century travel writing—caught the public’s attention.6 Reminiscing on the impact of reading Frémont’s mise-en-scène with the bee during his childhood, poet Joaquin Miller wrote: “I fancied I could see Fremont’s men, hauling the cannon up the savage battlements of the Rocky Mountains, flags in the air, Fremont at the head, waving his sword, his horse neighing wildly in the mountain wind, with unknown and unnamed empires at every hand. It touched my heart when he told how a weary little brown bee tried to make its way from a valley of flowers far below across a spur of snow, where he sat resting for a moment with his men.”7 Frémont’s use of a bee was very deliberate. By 1843, the “bee as advanced scout” had become a familiar trope in American literature.8 Frémont’s figure 6. Col. Fremont Planting the American Standard on the Rocky Mountains (1856). Wood engraving used...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781496208019
Related ISBN
9780803249301
MARC Record
OCLC
1038068511
Pages
402
Launched on MUSE
2018-06-13
Language
English
Open Access
No
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