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Colonial Identities of United States Army Commissioned Officers: The Negotiation of Class and Rank at Fort Yamhill and Fort Hoskins, Oregon, 1856–1866

  • Justin E. EichelbergerEmail author
Original Article
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Abstract

During the 19th century the American West played host to the colonial expansion of the United States. This period saw an attempt by the federal government to balance the westward expansion of White settlement spurred, in part, by ideas of Manifest Destiny, with what was then believed to be a humane solution to the “Indian problem.” What resulted from these attempts was the reservation system, where native peoples were relocated to reservations to be kept separate from White settlement and guarded by a system of U.S. Army forts. These forts became liminal environments in which the army operated both as the oppressors and protectors of indigenous peoples and lifeways, and also as stages for the display and transmission of European American ideas of social class and personal identity. Commissioned officers at these posts played an important role as actors in the drama of colonial westward expansion, holding identities as both frontiersmen and as bastions of 19th-century American sociocultural norms of social inequality and their expression through material culture. This article examines the material expressions of class represented by artifact assemblages recovered from six commissioned officers’ houses at Fort Yamhill and Fort Hoskins. The artifact assemblages from these posts suggest that these army officers not only brought the sociocultural norms of materialism and conspicuous consumption with them to the frontiers, but that they were also highly competitive individuals who were interested in displaying and affirming their identities as colonizers and as members of the sociocultural elite.

Keywords

army status officer class negotiation 

Extracto

Durante el siglo XIX, el oeste americano era anfitrión de la expansión colonial de los Estados Unidos. En ese período se produjo un intento por parte del gobierno federal para equilibrar la expansión hacia el oeste de la colonización blanca que recibía un impulso, en parte, de las ideas del destino manifiesto, y lo que entonces se creía que era una solución humana al "problema indio". El resultado de estos intentos fue el sistema de reservas, donde los pueblos nativos fueron trasladados a las reservas para mantenerlos separados de la colonización blanca y para custodiarlos con un sistema de fuertes del Ejército de Estados Unidos. Estos fuertes se convirtieron en entornos liminales en los que el ejército funcionaba al mismo tiempo como los opresores y como los protectores de los pueblos indígenas y sus modos de vida, además de escenarios para representar y transmitir las ideas europeo-americanas de clase social e identidad personal. Los oficiales en estos puestos desempeñaban un importante papel como actores en el drama de la época colonial de expansión hacia el oeste, manteniendo identidades como hombres de la frontera y también como bastiones de las normas socioculturales estadounidenses del siglo XIX de desigualdad social y su expresión a través de la cultura material. Este artículo examina las expresiones materiales de clase que se expresaban en los conjuntos de artefactos recuperados de seis casas de oficiales en Fort Yamhill y Fort Hoskins. Los conjuntos de artefactos de estos destacamentos sugieren que estos oficiales del ejército no sólo traían las normas socioculturales del materialismo y del consumo ostentoso con ellos a la frontera, sino que también eran individuos altamente competitivos que estaban interesados en mostrar y afirmar su identidad como colonizadores y como miembros de la élite sociocultural.

Résumé

L’Ouest américain fut, durant le 19e siècle, l’hôte de l’expansion coloniale des États-Unis. Ladite période fut témoin des efforts lancés par le gouvernement fédéral pour équilibrer l’expansion, vers l’ouest, des colonies blanches motivées, en partie, par la Manifest Destiny (destinée manifeste en français), une idéologie qui constituait, selon les croyances de l’époque, une solution humaine au « problème indien ». Ces efforts ont donné naissance au système des réserves, où les autochtones furent transportés pour être mis à l’écart des colonies blanches et surveillés par un système de forts de l’armée américaine. Ces forts sont devenus des environnements limitrophes où l’armée jouait à la fois le rôle d’oppresseur et de protecteur des peuples autochtones et de leurs styles de vie, ainsi que la scène de démontration et de transmission de l’idéologie des Européens américains relative aux concepts de classe sociale et d’identité personnelle. Les officiers responsables de ces postes ont joué un important rôle dans l’expansion coloniale en direction de l’ouest, étant à la fois pionniers et bastions des normes socioculturelles américaines d' inégalité sociale du 19e siècle et de leur expression dans la culture matérielle. Le présent article examine les expressions matérielles de classe représentées par les assemblages d’artefacts récupérés de six domiciles d’officiers de Fort Yamhill et Fort Hoskins. Ces assemblages suggèrent que lesdits officiers transportèrent non seulement avec eux des normes socioculturelles de matérialisme et de consommation ostentatoire jusqu’aux fronts pionniers, mais qu’ils étaient également des individus fort compétitifs voulant démontrer et affirmer leur identité de colon et de membre de l’élite socioculturelle.

Notes

Acknowledgments:

I would like to thank David Brauner, professor of anthropology at Oregon State University, for his support, encouragement, and tutelage through the completion of this article and the continued support of my research. Further thanks go to the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation and Benton County Natural Areas and Parks for their funding of the archaeological investigations and for the use of the archaeological materials from these sites, as well as to Oregon State University for the use of its facilities, and to its students for their participation in several archaeological field schools. Special thanks go to the Confederate Tribes of Grand Ronde and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, whose history is intertwined with that of Fort Yamhill and Fort Hoskins. Thanks also to the reviewers, Mark Tveskov, Chelsea Rose, and Christopher Matthews, for their succinct and insightful suggestions and comments on the many drafts, and to my friends and family who make my pursuit and passion for the past possible.

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Copyright information

© Society for Historical Archaeology 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Park ServiceLake Roosevelt National Recreation AreaKettle FallsU.S.A.

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