Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

Parisian Dog Count

The cultural differences between the Indians and white trappers and traders was immense.  In spite of differing values, perspectives and priorities, it is amazing that the two groups got along as well as they did. Below is shown one example of the cultural gap between the two cultures.

Anglo-Americans and Europeans viewed Native Americans as “uncivilized.”  The natives didn’t wear European style clothing, use chairs or tables or live in proper houses.  They lacked “manners” had no written history or great literature or music and lived nomadic lives.  They couldn’t possibly be civilized.

George Catlin traveled through Europe in the early 1840’s with a group of American Indians.  Ostensibly, the purpose of the trip was to give Europeans a chance to see in person some of the “exotic” peoples from the new world.  But being the observer that he was, Catlin was as interested in the reactions of the Indians to the “civilized” people in Europe.  A group of Iowa Indians, while in Paris were puzzled by the numbers of women accompanied by dogs.  One day, two of the Iowas decided to record their observations of these women just as they had been doing with other aspects of European life.  Below is what they observed:

The Iowa were perplexed as to why these dogs received so much attention, while at the same time orphanages were filled with unwanted children.  And when they attempted to purchase a dog for a traditional feast why was the salesperson horrified.  The Parisians possessed much wonderful technology, but treated their dogs better than their children.  Both cultures valued dogs, but for very different reasons.  

From this perspective it seems questionable as to which culture was more” civilized.”