Monday, May 4, 2020

Booknotes: Blood in the Borderlands

New Arrival:
Blood in the Borderlands: Conflict, Kinship, and the Bent Family, 1821–1920 by David C. Beyreis (Univ of Neb Press, 2020).

From the description: Though I have to wonder if more than a small percentage of Americans today would be even recognize the name, "(t)he Bents might be the most famous family in the history of the American West. From the 1820s to 1920 they participated in many of the major events that shaped the Rocky Mountains and Southern Plains. They trapped beaver, navigated the Santa Fe Trail, intermarried with powerful Indian tribes, governed territories, became Indian agents, fought against the U.S. government, acquired land grants, and created historical narratives."

Born in St. Louis in 1809, William Bent formed a business partnership with three of his brothers in the 1820s, and the four initially engaged in the fur trade along the upper Arkansas River in today's Colorado. Establishing the famous Bent's (Old) Fort along a branch route of the Sante Fe Trail, the brothers were successful and influential traders. Utilizing a borderlands practice common throughout human history, Bent cemented economic and familial ties with the Cheyenne through intermarriage. More from the description: "The Bent family’s financial and political success through the mid-nineteenth century derived from the marriages of Bent men to women of influential borderland families—New Mexican and Southern Cheyenne. When mineral discoveries, the Civil War, and railroad construction led to territorial expansions that threatened to overwhelm the West’s oldest inhabitants and their relatives, the Bents took up education, diplomacy, violence, entrepreneurialism, and the writing of history to maintain their status and influence."

One lengthy chapter in Blood in the Borderlands: Conflict, Kinship, and the Bent Family, 1821–1920 specifically examines the Civil War years, focusing much of its attention on Sand Creek. Acting in the capacity of a diplomatic go-between, Bent could not avert the tragedy, and family members were present in Black Kettle's Southern Cheyenne village when it was attacked by Col. Chivington's Colorado volunteers in November 1864. After the war, Bent served as one of the U.S. negotiators that secured new treaties between the U.S. government and the Upper Arkansas tribes.

I'm far from knowledgeable enough about the existing Bent family literature to comment on how Blood in the Borderlands complements it, but author David Beyreis "incorporates new material about the women in the family and the “forgotten” Bents and shows how indigenous power shaped the family’s business and political strategies as the family adjusted to American expansion and settler colonist ideologies." Kudos to the person who came up with the title, too, as it is an excellent combination of alliteration and double meaning!

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