Chez Les Canses: Three Centuries At Kawsmouth: The French Foundations Of Metropolitan Kansas City Charles E. Hoffhaus

ISBN: 9780913504918

Published: November 1984

208 pages


Chez Les Canses: Three Centuries At Kawsmouth: The French Foundations Of Metropolitan Kansas City  by  Charles E. Hoffhaus

Chez Les Canses: Three Centuries At Kawsmouth: The French Foundations Of Metropolitan Kansas City by Charles E. Hoffhaus
November 1984 | | PDF, EPUB, FB2, DjVu, talking book, mp3, ZIP | 208 pages | ISBN: 9780913504918 | 10.78 Mb

One quality my father instilled in me from an early age was a love of history.Perhaps because he was a career Army officer I came to see that much of history is the story of military conflict. Marx, on the other hand, maintained history was the story of class struggle.

And there is a well-known axiom that history is written by the victors.The latter concept doubtless accounts for the fact that—excepting the Seven Years War, Quebec, and New Orleans—the Gallic footprint was washed away from the pages of North American history.Charles E. Hoffhaus takes long strides toward rectifying this gap for a geographically small but important area of the United States.

His 1984 volume Chez Les Cansez: Three Centuries at Kawsmouth: The French Foundations of Metropolitan Kansas City focus a lens of historical scrutiny on an area within a 70-mile radius from the point where the Kansas River empties into the Missouri.Being an “Army brat” who has traveled a bit, the history of the regions where I have lived has always held particular interest for me. History is, after all, a story, and the early chapters always impact the later ones in some fashion.The Kawsmouth of the title is that point where the Kaw River enters the Missouri.

The Kaw is otherwise known as the Kansas. Both are variations of the name of a tribe of indigenous people who settled on its banks. So the name of Kansas City (née Kansas Town) comes from the Kanza People, not the state.

Kansas Town was named (1853) before there even was a state of Kansas (1861).The European propensity to plant flags and ”claim” populated lands for their sovereign king and/or deity is, of course, absurd. The peoples of the greater Missouri River basin existed for nearly two centuries after Pope Alexander VI granted their lands to Spain,. Oblivious to that condition.History came to them aboard fragile French pirogues bearing trade goods coureurs de bois hoped to exchange for beaver pelts. Some of these traders operated out of a spot beneath the bluffs on the south bank of Kawsmouth.

Indigenous people had used this easily-recognizable landmark as a trading center for ages. Those bluffs today hold the concrete and brick buildings of Kansas City. The trading center is now the West Bottoms, though for a while people called it the French Bottoms.The author covers early 17th Century French exploration of the Pekistanoui (Muddy River) north and west from where it poured into the Missi Sepe (Great River) past the mouth of the Kansas. He details the construction, in the first half of the following Century, of a stockade near present-day Ft.

Leavenworth, a stockade where traders—over the course of decades—exchanged furs for goods with local villagers. It was the last in a series of outposts going downriver to New Orleans.From Hoffhauss accounts it appears the French—of all the European mercantile powers scrambling for a foothold in North America—were the most fair and humane toward the native peoples they encountered.

Hoffhaus says they recognized “the proprietary rights of the Indians and did not trap on their lands,” choosing, instead, to barter fairly for desirable French trade goods.The book is not without its flaws.Hoffhaus has a tendency to lapse into what I call History Channel Narrative. That is, he sometimes takes documented incidents and either extrapolates on scant substantiation or speculates on what might possibly have occurred. To his credit, Hoffhaus usually acknowledges the lack of specific verification for his conjectures.The author sometimes repeats himself or rehashes material he has previously covered in a different context.Hoffhaus was a lawyer in his professional life, which may account for his fascination for French legal code and how it impacted or was enforced in the upper Louisiana Territory: Haute Louisiana, as it was called.

There is an entire chapter devoted to The Custom of Paris in Mid-America.While some might find the chapter pedantic, it fascinated me. Of particular interest was how the law in France diverged north and south of Loire after the fall of the Roman Empire. The south, he says, held to Roman written law while the north followed Germanic customary law.

This included Paris, and in 1667 Louis XIV extended Parisian customary law to the American colonies.Perhaps the most disturbing flaw in Hoffhauss material are instances where his discussion/description of First Peoples can be perhaps generously described as “racially insensitive”. While he takes self-conscious steps to circumvent that tendency in his discussion of mixed-race Franco-Kansans in Chapter 7, throughout the book there are jarring synonyms for Native Americans and mixed-race individuals.

It is unfortunate that such an informative opus is marred by poor word choice.My final two criticisms of the narrative probably say more about me than Chez Les Cansez.First: Hoffhaus used way too many exclamation points for a history. I understand his enthusiasm for his subject. I appreciate that some of his discoveries either came as a surprise to him or may be so to his readers.

I found it off-putting and unworthy of an historian.Finally, as an adoptive Virginian I was vexed by Hoffmans offhand description of Meriwether Lewis and George Rogers Clark as “Yankee explorers”. Please. Its not that I would prefer them cited as Southerners, but an expedition commissioned and led by Virginians should probably be called “Virginian explorers”.Despite these minor flaws with the book, I found Chez Les Cansez informative, entertaining, and well worth the read.

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