American Trinity
Jefferson, Custer, and the Spirit of the West

by Larry Len Peterson

published by Larry Len Peterson

produced by Sweetgrass Books

  • American Trinity is for everyone who loves the American West and wants to learn more about the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is a sprawling story with a scholarly approach in method but accessible in manner. In this innovative examination, Dr. Larry Len Peterson explores the origins, development, and consequences of hatred and racism from the time modern humans left Africa 100,000 years ago to the forced placement of Indian children on off-reservation schools far from home in the late 1800s. Along the way, dozens of notable individuals and cultures are profiled. Many historical events turned on the lives of legendary Americans like the "Father of the West," Thomas Jefferson, and the "Son of the West," George Armstrong Custer - two strange companions who shared an unshakable sense of their own skills - as their interpretation of truths motivated them in the winning of the West.

    Dr. Peterson reveals how anti-Indian sentiments were always only obliquely about them. They were victims but not the cause. The Indian was a symbol, not a real person. The politics of hate and racism directed toward them was also experienced in prior centuries by Jews, enslaved Africans, and other Christians. Hatred and racism, when taken into the public domain, are singularly difficult to justify, which is why Europeans and Americans have always sought vindication from the highest sources of authority in their cultures. In the Middle Ages it was religion supplemented later by the philosophy of the Enlightenment. In nineteenth-century Europe and America, religion and philosophy were joined by science and medicine to support Manifest Destiny, scientific racism, and social Darwinism, all of which had profound consequences on Native Americans and the Spirit of the West.

    Presenting research in anthropology, archaeology, biology, history, law, medicine, religion, philosophy, and psychology, Dr. Peterson provides the latest observations that delineate why the Native American's life was destroyed. American Trinity is a stunning portrait, a view at once unique, panoramic, and intimate. It is a fascinating book that will make you think about the differences between belief and knowledge; about the self-skepticism of science and medicine; and about what aspects of the world we take on faith.

728 pages, 6" x 9", appendix, 8 softcovers per case, smythe-sewn

ISBN 10: 1591521882
ISBN 13: 9781591521884


Montana Battlefields, 1806-1877: Native Americans and the U.S. Army at War

Meeting Natives with Lewis and Clark





American Trinity
Jefferson, Custer, and the Spirit of the West

But Jefferson had more in mind than just discovery of a new passage to the Pacific. He envisioned the Louisiana Territory filled with white settlers who would farm the land and keep it secure for the United States. The final solution for the Indian problem was in the future, but for now if the Indians resisted they would be pushed farther west and into the ocean if needed. In a forceful letter in 1803 to William Henry Harrison, the governor of the Indiana Territory, the president wrote that the Indians "will in time either incorporate with us as citizens of the United States or be removed beyond the Mississippi." If they resisted removal, the United States would retaliate by "seizing... the whole country of that tribe, and driving them across the Mississippi, his only condition of peace."

Jefferson and Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) shared much in common. Lewis was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains to wealthy parents who owned slaves and large plantations. In time, at age thirteen, he inherited Locust Hill, a Virginia plantation of nearly 2,000 acres, 520 pounds in cash, 24 slaves, and 147 gallons of whiskey. Since there were no public schools, Lewis, like Jefferson, obtained a private education by boarding with several preachers who taught him Latin, mathematics, natural science, and English grammar.

At age eighteen, he considered seminary at William and Mary, but the responsibilities of the plantation required him to tend to his land. He added to Locust Hill by acquiring an 1,800-acre tract on the Red River in Montgomery County along with several other parcels. Low-lying lands were planted in corn to provide food for slaves and animals. More fertile land was planted with tobacco. It was very common to try to acquire more land. George Washington owned tens of thousands of acres in the Tidewater and Piedmont areas and over 63,000 acres of trans-Appalachian land. Jefferson owned 5,000 acres in the Piedmont that was given to him by his father, and his land holdings increased by 11,000 acres when he married his wife.

But Meriwether Lewis was restless and desired adventure. In May 1792, American sea captain Robert Gray had sailed his ship Columbia along the Pacific Northwest coast into a river that would take the boat's name. This inspired Jefferson to raise funds to send explorers on an expedition to the Pacific. Lewis contacted Jefferson, who was a family friend, to volunteer. Jefferson recalled that Lewis "warmly solicited me to obtain for him the execution of that object. I told him it was proposed that the person engaged should be attended by a single companion only, to avoid exciting alarm among the Indians. This did not deter him." However, Lewis was just a teenager at the time, and Jefferson chose another man, Frenchman Andre Michaux, whose expedition foundered before reaching the Mississippi River.

At the time of Jefferson's first inauguration on March 4, 1801, there were a little over 5.3 million people in the United States. Twenty percent were slaves. The boundaries of the country stretched from the Atlantic to the Mississippi River and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. The land was sparsely inhabited, with only four roads that spanned the country. The majority of people lived within fifty miles of tidewater. Only ten percent of Americans, about a half million people, lived west of the Appalachian Mountains.

Virginians like Jefferson, Lewis, and Clark viewed the Indian as being a virtuous heathen who was pure and ready to be civilized. In contrast, slaves were seen as sub-humans on the level of an animal....

-from Chapter Sixteen: Father of the American West: Thomas Jefferson and the Corps of Discovery

Larry Len Peterson align= Larry Len Peterson is the recipient of the 2016 C. M. Russell Heritage Award, which recognizes significant contributions in interpreting and documenting the legacy, culture, life, and country of Charles M. Russell's West. He is an award winning scientist, physician, cultural historian, and author. Above all, he is a searcher. Peterson grew up in Plentywood on the Great Plains of northeastern Montana north of Fort Union and next to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

He graduated from the Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU) in Portland and completed an internal medicine internship, a residency in the visual field of dermatology, and a NIH research fellowship. He has published in numerous scientific and medical periodicals, including the prestigious The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Molecular and Cellular Biology, and The Journal of Clinical Investigation. Peterson is the recipient of The Henry W. Stelwagon Award (College of Physicians of Philadelphia) and The Sommers Research Award (OHSU) for outstanding scientific research, among many others.

His distinguished biographies include Philip R. Goodwin: America's Sporting and Wildlife Artist; The Call of the Mountains: The Artists of Glacier National Park; L. A. Huffman: Photographer of the American West; Charles M. Russell: Photographing the Legend, A Biography in Words and Pictures; and John Fery: Artist of Glacier National Park & The American West. He is a member of the Western Writers of America, Western History Association, and Little Big Horn Associates.

He is the recipient of two Western Heritage Awards, the Scriver Award, The High Plains Book Award, and the Will Rogers Gold Medallion Award. Stuart Rosebrook, in True West magazine, selected Dr. Peterson and his Charles M. Russell: Photographing the Legend, A Biography in Words and Pictures in his top five authors and books for 2014 and the best photographic and graphic art book. Dr. Peterson lives with his wife, LeAnne; two Vizsla dogs, Beau and Abby; and two horses, Big Sky and Sunny, on their Spirit of Winter Ranch near Sisters, Oregon, in the shadow of the Three Sisters Mountains—Faith, Hope, and Charity. The aroma of sweetgrass makes him homesick.

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