Bloomberg News

Toff in West Demanded Indian’s Scalp: Lewis Lapham

July 21, 2012

Captain William Stewart wanted to see the prairie, the Rockies and American Indians. As the second son of a rich Scots nobleman, he was free to do as he pleased, so in 1833 he set off from St. Louis to join a fur-trading pack train.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

In what is now Montana, Stewart’s party was overtaken by Crows, who outnumbered them four to one. They stole guns, watches, furs, trade goods and horses, but, after negotiations, gave back enough equipment to get the white men out of Crow territory.

A few months later, Stewart was robbed again -- an inside job by an Iowa Indian who’d been hired as a camp helper. He soon ran off with Stewart’s favorite rifle and two horses.

“I’d give $500 for his scalp!” raged the captain.

An old trapper brought back the horses and the rifle --with the Indian’s scalp displayed on the barrel.

I spoke with Peter Pagnamenta, author of “Prairie Fever: British Aristocrats in the American West 1830-1890,” on the following topics:

1. Hooked on Wilderness

2. Native Americans

3. Captain Stewart

4. Romance Novels

5. Little England

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

Muse highlights include movie and book reviews

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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