We have been in the St Louis area for the past three days visiting friends in Edwardsville on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. The company has been fun and gracious as we caught up and spent time doing some good sightseeing and dining, and yes, some good refreshment times. Yesterday we took a drive into St Louis and though I have been there countless times, we took in the newly redone St Louis Arch Memorial. Where one had to try to navigate an insane highway crossing to get to the Arch, it has been replaced with a much larger park area running over the top of the busy highways running underneath.
That is just the beginning of the refurbishing. The museum entrance has been relocated to the middle of the Arch and leads down to a very expanded museum with far more history to offer. But that is not necessarily my point. What surprised us, no shocked us, was the detail in the exhibits. In the past the history of the western expansion was pretty much told from the American perspective. We needed space, no one really seemed to be there and after all, we had discovered it and manifest destiny ruled. The exhibit on the Mexican War, the US name for it versus the Mexican version, Yankee Invasion, told a different story of how we had for the only time in our history, declared a war to seize land. I do not mean to disparage the memory of those great American heroes of the Alamo, or Louis and Clark setting out from St Louis to survey our new territories west of the Mississippi, but it really shed a different light on our motivation. With Texas, it turns out slavery played a big role since the South needed more slave holding territories for their cause and then consider that neither Spanish or French law allowed for slave ownership. There was also a display that counted, through a moving time line, the number of acres the US has seized since it’s birth in 1776, roughly 1,600,000,000 acres. Most of this taken from the Native Americans through 510 treaties, all broken in time.
As surprising as these revelations were, none impacted me more than this one. Prior to 1804, when the western lands held by the French and Spanish came under US ownership and thus US laws, women were allowed full rights to ownership, representation, and legal status in all counts and courts. In one day, as the US flag was raised over the new territories, women lost all of those rights as they came under US law. Not until the 1900’s, over one hundred years later, would we begin to acknowledge those rights. I’ll leave that for you to chew on.
All of this is food for thought. I am not trying to burn the American Flag for heaven knows, we have for the most part apologized and in some small way recompensed many of our past deeds, but it was shocking to have it put into perspective. It is of course a testament to our country that a National Monument has put these exhibits there for all who would seize the opportunity to truly discover the history of our western expansion.
I feel a need to end on a positive note. Deb and I are having a great time on this road trip adventure, visiting old friends and new ones and discovering little things that we would never see from the air.