The missional ground : Indians, missionaries, and the forging of the antebellum frontiers
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] When historians search for Native agency, they often look in places where indigenous and colonial forces were evenly matched, as in Richard White's "middle ground." Implicitly, Indian agency mostly disappeared after colonial power triumphed. Critically, this model omits one faction from the antebellum frontier story: missionaries. In building their stations on the frontier, missionaries opened new zones for indigenous action, and often resisted or tempered the colonial forces bearing down on their Indian charges. This space that missionaries created was under American hegemony, but preceded the arrival of white settlement or US forces en masse. Hence, missionaries made a place that was not quite as open as the middle ground, but nonetheless hosted a wide range of social, cultural, linguistic, ethnic, and religious diversity. I call this zone the missional ground because the fluidity and Native agency in this space was squelched once the missionaries left, and troops and settlers arrived. The missional ground was consequently fragile, and required a precise balancing of missionaries, settlers, agents, diverse Indian groups, and all their interrelations. This means that the missional ground was also deeply contextual: the personality, theology, assumptions about gender and race, denomination, and class background of a missionary could make or break his mission. Hence, the missional ground not only supported Indian agency, but served as a crucible where American culture, religion, politics, and internal conflicts all boiled over.
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