COMMERCE OF THE ELSEWHERE: Traders and Trappers in the Antebellum West
The mountain man penetrating the Rockies and the Santa Fe trader wrestling caravans across the high Cimarron represent popular images that have contributed to the lore of the American west. Scholars, however, have spent the last forty years deflating the myths that surround these trappers and traders. They point out that the frontier was neither an empty nor a separate space. Instead, frontiers were regions where a variety of cultures encountered one another and where the marketplace established intricate networks of trade. Many historians also dismiss the notion that trappers and traders were rugged individualists who quelled the wilderness with little or no aide from their community or nation. Not only did these adventurers operate within corporate organizations, scholars argue, they also benefited from the active support of the U.S. government. Trappers and traders of the early nineteenth century, however, did not perceive these tensions. To them, frontiers represented adventurous expanses--the elsewhere--in which they sought their fortunes. To them, the elsewhere lay apart from the metropolis and from the domestic spheres in the east, but trappers and traders also recognized and exploited the connections with the marketplace. They embraced corporate action and led the vanguard of expansion, drawing a reactionary government in their wake.
Benjamin H. Johnson, ed., Making of the American West: People and Perspectives (New York: ABC-CLIO, 2007), pp. 71-91