Traders in the West

Historical content: 
Slavery and Westward Expansion
Historical skills: 
Contextualization, Sourcing, Use of evidence



Use the account and background information to answer the question that follows.


The following excerpt describes events leading up to a battle between American traders and a Native American tribe near Fort Bent, in what is now Colorado. The account is from Travels in the Great Western Prairies, the Anahuac and Rocky Mountains, and in the Oregon Territory by Thomas Farnham. It was published in London in 1843.

Travels in the Great Western Prairies, Thomas Farnham.
Source text: 

“The traders encamped upon a small swell of land that overlooked the smoking wigwams, and sent a deputation to the chiefs to parley for the privilege of opening a trade with the tribe. They were received with great haughtiness by those monarchs of the wilderness, and were asked ‘why they had dared to enter the Eutaw mountains without their permission.’ Being answered that they ‘had travelled from the fort to that place, in order to ask their highnesses' permission to trade with the Eutaws,’ the principal chief replied, that no permission had been given to them to come there, nor to remain. The interview ended, and the traders returned to their camp with no very pleasant anticipations as to the result of their expedition.”

Additional facts related to Farnham’s account:
1.    From 1833 to 1849, Bent’s Fort was a fur trading post on the Santa Fe Trail where traders, trappers, travelers, and Indian tribes came together to trade. 
2.    Farnham starts the above account by saying it was “an anecdote” that “was related to me.”
3.    The publishers of Farnham’s account describe him as a “Vermont lawyer” with an “avowed patriotic purpose to take possession of this fair territory of Oregon for the American flag, and to aid in resisting the British fur-trade monopoly.”
4.    The “Sioux Wars” between the U.S. and various groups of Sioux Indians on the Plains began in 1854 with a clash at Fort Laramie in Wyoming. 

Question: Which 2 of the 4 facts above might cause you to question the reliability of Farnham’s account?  Explain your reasoning.

About the Assessment

Like the Unions in Paterson, New Jersey assessment, this question gauges whether students can source and contextualize a document.  Students must first examine an account of the interactions between American traders and Native Americans, then determine which facts can help them evaluate the account's reliability.  Strong students will be able to explain how Farnham's vested interest in the event (Fact 2) and in gaining territory for the American flag (Fact 3) may have shaped his telling of the incident.