From the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1803- 6 the Western frontier became the advance line of the expanding American empire, an ever-changing contact zone between white and Native. At first, the trans-Mississippian West was a place of relatively free exchange, but within a generation the influx of whites tipped the balance, as people of the Plains suffered epidemic, alcoholism, and intertribal conflict, as well as the forced migrations of Indian Removal. Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, Indians resisted white incursion in multiple small-scale wars.
In the face of all these stresses, Native men and women sought sustenance and continuity in the act of recording their feats of valor and incorporating new materials into their artistic repertoires, while trying to adapt to the new circumstances with creativity and dignity. In these same decades, images of the frontier West made by white artists gave formal and thematic expression to the belief that the republic would span the land from ocean to ocean, through the movement of families, schools, commerce, and religion into the western "wilderness." These images supplanted the view of a multicultural West with a vision of the inevitable triumph of middle-class values, modes of ownership, and social organization in the new territories. Sentiment and the domestic analogy-nation as family-furnished one means of addressing the national contradictions exposed by slavery and expansion (see Chapter 6). The following chapter considers some of the ways the arts addressed and embodied internal social strains in the urban middle class of the eastern region during the antebellum decades.