IAS Thursdays | "The Finest Men We Have Ever Seen”: Hemispheric Thoughts on Jefferson, Humboldt, and the Osages
In the summer of 1804, a delegation of Osage men and boys traveled to Washington, DC to meet with President Thomas Jefferson, a meeting that turned out to be an important step toward the Osages signing their first treaty with the United States and dispossession from their vast homelands in what is now Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. After that meeting, Jefferson remarked in a letter that that the Osages were “the finest men we have ever seen.” Starting from this seemingly flattering remark, I seek in my paper to consider new ways of interpreting Jefferson’s remark and the broader history of dispossession and US expansionism that it is part of. Of particular interest is the connection between Jefferson’s meeting with the Osages and his hosting just a few weeks earlier of Alexander von Humboldt, the German naturalist, who made his only visit to the US in 1804 on his way home to Europe from South America.
Robert Warrior is Hall Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Kansas and a member/citizen of the Osage Nation. He is the author of Tribal Secrets: Recovering American Indian Intellectual Traditions (University of Minnesota Press, 1995) and The People and the Word: Reading Native Nonfiction (University of Minnesota Press, 2006). He is past president of the American Studies Association and was the founding president of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. He co-edits Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAISA’s journal) and the Indigenous Americas series at the University of Minnesota Press. Before moving to the University of Kansas, he taught at Stanford, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Illinois.