Death in the Wild: How Women’s Views on Death Exposed Racial and Colonial Views during American Western Expansion

Summer 2017

Lauren Kelly : History

Mentor: Stephanie Jones-Rogers

My research project reimagines the overland journeys of pioneers in the 19th century United States. In our cultural memory, Western Expansion is often remembered as brave pioneers striking out West for adventure or livelihood; however, this view pushes Native Americans to the margins of the story. As pioneer families traveled and settled in the American West, they instigated settler colonialism, displacing and murdering Native American tribes around them. My research will inspect the colonial ethos carried by white settlers, and investigate how they enacted this destructive colonialism on the Native Americans they encountered. Specifically, I plan to study the letters and diaries of pioneer women, as few other researchers have examined this issue through a gendered lens. How did these women view the Native Americans around them? What characterized these interactions and how did they contribute to colonialism as a whole? How did they differ from male encounters? In this way, I hope to contribute to the growing field of Western Expansion history through both a female and multicultural perspective. 

To the Banatao Fund, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the incredible opportunity you provided me. Doing research on Western Expansion has been a goal of mine since elementary school, and having the chance to actually dive into that this summer has been deeply fulfilling. I loved being able to actually hold documents written by these women that crossed the overland trails in the 19th century. Moreover, after a summer of starting in-depth research, I feel inspired and motivated about my contributions to scholarship on the Native Americans whom these settlers displaced. This summer laid the groundwork for work that I now feel capable of expanding on and seeing through. Also, I am especially excited to have learned that I love research and want to follow this path through grad school.