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Wheelboats on the Missouri:
The Journals and Documents of the Atkinson-O'Fallon Expedition, 1824-26.


The Atkinson-O'Fallon expedition was authorized in response to attacks by Indians on American fur traders and trappers in present-day Montana and the Dakotas. The Americans blamed Canadian fur companies for inciting the Indians and for trading with those who lived south of the international boundary, thus usurping a portion of a valuable resource the traders regarded as theirs. Brig. Gen. Henry Atkinson and Indian Agent Benjamin O'Fallon were sent to negotiate peace treaties with tribes along the Missouri River, and also to secure their promise to trade exclusively with American citizens. Approximately 475 soldiers of the First and Sixth Infantry regiments accompanied Atkinson and O'Fallon to impress the Indians with the U.S. Army's ability to enforce the treaties. It was hoped this combination of military power and proffered friendship would put an end to further hostilities and to the suspected foreign meddling.

General Atkinson and Maj. Stephen Watts Kearny kept diaries describing the trip from St. Louis to Fort Atkinson in the fall of 1824, the expedition from the fort to the Yellowstone River and back in 1825, and the return of a portion of the troops to St. Louis in 1826. The daily entries cover a broad range of topics. The councils with the Indian tribes are described in detail. There are notes on landmarks, flora, and fauna, as well as ethnographic observations. The performance of the unusual and experimental man-powered, paddlewheel boats in which they traveled received considerable attention. Occasionally the journalists found time to delve into arcane subjects, such as the relative palatability of black bear meat versus that of the grizzly bear. The orders issued by Atkinson and his staff concerning the management of the expedition are included with the diaries.

-- Richard E. Jensen

 

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