The Role Of The United States Army In The Colonization Of The Trans-Missouri West: Kansas, 1804-1861

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Donald W. Meinig



Subject Categories

Human Geography


While the military campaigns of the United States Army in "conquering the Indian" have been the subject of many books and articles, the Army's role as the coercive instrument, yet colonizing agent of an imperial state in the pre-Civil War American West has received only scant attention from historians and historical geographers. This study examines, in a historical geographic context, the Army's involvement in the exploration, clearing, organizing, evaluation, settlement, and domestication of the Kansas area of the trans-Missouri West during the period 1804-1861, its impress on the cultural landscape, and its effect on the evolving historical cultural geography of the area.

To analyze and assess the role of the United States Army, both as a coercive instrument of the federal government and as a cultural agent in the sequential colonization of the Kansas area--first by the pre-nineteenth century indigenous Indians, then by displaced eastern emigrant Indian tribes and somewhat later by Anglo-Americans--a working model of colonization as a set of cultural geographic processes and patterns is established. The six essential geographic elements of colonization as a process consist of: (1) implantation of precursor imperial state institutions, (2) imposition of spatial order upon the land, (3) creation of spatial networks and circulations, (4) assessment of resources and development of new economic systems, (5) alteration of landscapes, and (6) establishment of society. In addition, the results of this examination of the colonization process are expressed in part by a series of maps which relate the military spatial system and colonization patterns to geographic continuity and change in the Kansas area's cultural landscape.

It is concluded that the Army was one of the most influential frontier institutions in the full process and pattern of Anglo-American conquest and colonization of the Kansas area. Its effect was felt among the Plains, idigenous village, and eastern emigrant Indian tribes as well as among Anglo-American frontier institutions--Indian traders, missionaries, and agents, territorial officials, land speculators, pioneer farmers/squatters, and townspeople. The military spatial system was a dynamic, strategic system, extensive in reach and ordered in arrangement for control of gateways, junctions, critical sites, major trans-area routes and interconnections, and important noncontiguous areas of contact, confrontation, and at times, conflict between Indian and Anglo-American culture groups and frontier institutions, all with varying perceptions, objectives, strategies, and technologies for use of the land and its resources. Throughout the period 1804-1861, the United States Army, by its active role in the six geographic elements of colonization as a process, contributed significantly to the transformation and shaping of the Kansas area landscape and to the region's evolving cultural geography.


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