Forge, destroy, and preserve the bonds of empire: Euro-Americans, Native Americans, and metis on the Wisconsin frontier, 1634-1856

Patrick Joseph Jung, Marquette University


This study seeks to resolve the historiographical controversy concerning the nature of the American frontier experience by applying anthropological theories of domination and resistance to a limited geographical area, namely present-day Wisconsin, to examine the interaction between Euro-Americans, Native Americans, and mixed-blood metis. When applied to this region, these theories reveal a process whereby colonial powers such as the French, British, and Americans attempted to gain control over the Indian and metis inhabitants, but these groups always maintained enough cultural and political autonomy to be able to resist complete domination. In most cases, this resistance was subtle and did not threaten the sovereignty of the colonial powers, but at times it was violent and sought to upset their rule. This was particularly true of the Fox Wars during the French regime, Pontiac's Rebellion under the British, and the 1827 Winnebago Uprising and the 1832 Black Hawk War under the United States. When the colonial powers encountered such resistance, they always used coercive power to force recalcitrant communities back into their empires, but they also used persuasive techniques that the Italian social theorist Antonio Gramsci has described as hegemony. This study focuses upon the American phase of colonial rule in the region of present-day Wisconsin since the Americans ultimately gained final sovereignty. An analysis of the federal government's program for gaining domination over the region further indicates that two distinct processes occurred. From about 1815 to 1832, the United States was not able to exert much more control over the region than the French or British had, and the Indian and metis inhabitants retained a large measure of autonomy. This phenomenon has been described by Richard White as the "middle ground," and in this study it is labeled the "frontier phase." After the Black Hawk War, the United States was able to bring much more coercive and hegemonic power to bear over the region, and the power shifted inalterably to the side of the federal government. This was the "pioneer phase," and it led to a destruction of the cultural and political autonomy of the Indian and metis communities of Wisconsin.

Recommended Citation

Jung, Patrick Joseph, "Forge, destroy, and preserve the bonds of empire: Euro-Americans, Native Americans, and metis on the Wisconsin frontier, 1634-1856" (1997). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9823983.