Historical texts are crucial documents that allow students to examine the history of various cultures and societies. Historical texts tend to occur in various forms, including letters, diaries, and speeches. Collectively, letters and speeches are incredible sources for looking into the past as they give historians an inspiring source of gauging and analyzing history. In addition, these sources are primarily primary sources with a candid quality. Therefore, these texts are neither highly conceptualized nor dominated by self-protective language, which yields quality deductions easily. At its core, this essay aims to analyze two sets of documents to identify the fundamental similarities and differences by analyzing their content on the American West in the 19th century. The essay uses historical texts with a personal appeal since an analysis of historical documents with candid quality is more helpful in developing historical arguments and interpretations.
Summarizing the Source Contents
The first document under scrutiny is Document 17-3, which describes Mattie Oblinger’s life on a Nebraska homestead. The documents begin by providing a shortened form of bibliography that explains how Mattie found herself in the prairie homesteads of Nebraska. The document contents are in a letter written by Oblinger to Thomas’ Wheeler family (Oblinger, 1873). As expected, the letters written by Oblinger have a candid quality that does not exist in formal writings. For instance, the letter has no periods at the end of the sentences, making it increasingly difficult to read (Oblinger, 1873). However, having a candid quality does not prevent the writer from incorporating essential content for examining American West history in the 19th century.
To start with, document 17-3 provides helpful content for understanding the social organizations of the American West in the late 19th century. Social history is essential as it assists in developing an understanding of the experiences of ordinary people in history. Oblinger’s letter does precisely that by identifying various social aspects of homesteaders. For instance, as evidenced in documents 17-3, the letter highlights how ordinary families spent their Sundays in church (Oblinger, 1873). The document further touches on the subject of denomination and religion, suggesting that religion was highly regarded as it was even considered part of being civilized (Oblinger, 1873).
Furthermore, the concept of neighbors also forms the bulk of content in the document. By exploring her neighbors, the letter serves the audience with the essential social and economic organization of the people living in homesteads. For instance, the article suggests that homesteaders reared animals suggesting agriculture was the backbone of the economy (Oblinger, 1873). Moreover, Oblinger (1873) is confident that each family had its farm, which they majorly used to grow wheat, corn, and oats. The documents further identify the typical type of housing and accommodations adopted by people living in homesteads, suggesting equality amongst all homesteaders (Oblinger, 1873). Finally, the letters identify the strengths of society. For instance, Oblinger (1873) notes that the society had friendly neighbors and good housing quality in addition to the absence of being enslaved to a particular force.
The second document under investigation in this essay documents 17-5 that describe the Indians feeling regarding the white encroachment to their land. The document entails a speech done by Joseph to a white audience in the year 1879. In the article, Joseph (1879) is primarily concerned with explaining how the White man was significantly different from the Indian man. To accomplish this, Joseph (1879) starts by proclaiming that an Indian is not a wild animal that the white man should domesticate. Joseph further goes ahead to explain how Indians and the white settlers saw things differently.
Joseph explains the significant differences in the rules that governed the Indians. According to Joseph (1879), Indians were governed by strict rules taught by elders through apprenticeship. The Great Spirit governed the rules and was in charge of saving justice by punishing evildoers. According to Joseph (1879), all Indians earnestly believed in the divine role of the Great Spirit that saw and heard everything. On the other hand, the Whites are portrayed by Joseph (1879) as scrupulous persons who manufacture rules treaties that serve their interests. They are depicted as persons with ulterior motives as they give gifts and later claim gifts were actually payment.
Joseph (1879) further reports that although the Indians had no prior knowledge of the existence of white men, the initial contact was peaceful. The Indians demonstrated peace by awarding the first white men to explore the Indian territory, Lewis and Clark, with a great feast (Joseph, 1879). The Indians, later on, welcomed a white missionary, Mr. Spaulding, who won the hearts of many Indians. However, white men soon started flocking into the Indians territory, and before wrong, conflicts ensured as some Indian leaders had seen through the charade put by the white people. After a long period of living in peace and learning from each other, the Whites’ desire to reign over the Indian’s territory became apparent (Joseph, 1879). The whites used the influential missionary to sweet talk the leaders into signing treaties that gave the whites direct control of the land (Joseph, 1879). When some leaders refused to partake in selling out their land, the Whites declared wars that forced Indian’s eviction out of their land.
Comparing the Two Documents
After analyzing the contents of the two documents, one can safely deduce that the documents are fundamentally different. Oblinger’s letter is concerned more with the reporting on the daily social life of homesteaders residing in Nebraska. Document 17-3 accomplishes this by portraying how the community came together through good neighborliness, religion, and trade (Oblinger, 1873). On the other hand, documents 17-5 are primarily concerned with establishing the significant differences between the Indians and the Whites. In this document, Joseph (1879) capitalizes on how the two segments of the population had different ideologies regarding the laws and the spiritual law. In addition, while Oblinger’s letter reports on equality and peace amongst all residents, Joseph’s speech depicts conflicts surrounding the Indians and the White settlers. The contents in these two texts are different.
Further, analyzing the source context affirms the fundamental differences between the texts. For instance, Oblinger and other people enjoyed peace and prosperity as the society deemed everyone an equal (Oblinger, 1873). However, Joseph affirms that the Whites deemed themselves superior in the contesting texts. This is evident in how the White was concerned about taking control of lands using treaties and unscrupulous behavior. For example, when treaties failed, the Whites relied on missionaries to conduct their bid for power before resolving to force (Oblinger, 1873). In addition, the existence of some context words such as treaties and spirit laws in the second document, which are not present in the first, further accounts for the differences in the two texts.
Consequently, the two texts gave two competing ideologies about the American West in the 19th Century. Oblinger’s letter suggests that the American West was a sanctuary dominated by a civilized community that stood for equality and good neighborliness. On the other hand, Joseph’s speech depicts America’s West as a zone of unmetered conflicts and unscrupulous behavior. Joseph is confident that the natives and the settlers were guided by different morals that prevented the society from knitting together and sharing the limited land resources. As such, war was the only solution to settle their contesting differences, especially where bribes in the form of prizes failed.
Joseph, C. (1879, April). An Indian’s Views of Indian Affairs. North American Review 128, 128(269), 412-433.
Oblinger, M. (1873). Document 17-3: Mattie V. Oblinger Describes Life on a Nebraska Homestead, June 16, 1873. In M. Oblinger, Mattie V. Oblinger to George W. Thomas, Grizzie B. Thomas, and Wheeler Thomas Family, June 16, 1873, Uriah Oblinger Family Letters (manuscript) (pp. 26-29). Library of Congress.