Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




James Axtell


The European exploration of America has traditionally conjured up images of Europeans intrepidly scanning horizons, meticulously detailing maps, and graciously offering curious natives access to God and goods. More than two decades of anthropological, historical, and ethnohistorical scholarship have tempered this heroic image and shown in great detail the complex and often contradictory role Indians played in this grand drama. Consequently, one can no longer picture colonial-era European explorers or travelers without also envisioning their Indian companions, both men and women, guiding the way, carrying the baggage, gathering the food, and providing needed information. This dissertation examines the character of the personal relationships that Indians and Europeans formed together while on North American expeditions of conquest, trade, and Christianizing between 1520 and 1800.;Travel entailed confrontations with the elements that could literally wipe out a party that made a wrong turn, ignored or misread the weather, or misjudged the current of a given rapid. Furthermore, poor provision planning or diplomatic bungling could also bring the grandest plans to grand disaster. But while battling the elements, Indian and European travel partners often battled each other. They played a subtle game of tug-of-war for control over the course, pace, and timing of travel. They fumed and connived over whose leadership, strategies, and values should hold sway. They wrestled over whose deities should be honored, and they derided each other's individual and collective abilities when one failed to live up to the other's visions of the ideal traveler. Tensions ranged from the subtlest forms of petty one-upmanship to physical coercion, and even occasional fisticuffs. It was the trail's defining conditions, its dangers, unfamiliarity, and isolation from comfortable and reassuring trappings of social prestige that exacerbated these tensions. The resulting contests reveal how different cultural meanings could swirl around trips and travel events often seen by historians as relatively straightforward moments in Europe's colonial expansion. They also demonstrate how individuals of different backgrounds constructed themselves and their fellow travelers while on the trail.



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