A Spanish Peace Medal

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After France ceded Louisiana to Spain in 1762, the Spanish government began using medals to consolidate their interests among Indians throughout the territory. They made their medals especially meaningful by distributing them sparingly, through their official agents, who were licensed traders.

The distribution of medals was not without risks, even with the best of intentions. For instance, the Lieutenant Governor of Spanish Illinois wrote to the Governor at New Orleans in 1776 that he had incurred the displeasure of some Little Osage Indians, who had expected to be given medals.

According to the custom already established, it is more usual to give the medal to the first in rank and there is really no reason why he should be denied it. In giving it to both of them there would arise the inconvenience of the second chiefs of the other nations having reason to expect the same. Depriving the second of the medal and giving it only to the first, I would have as a result of his displeasure, censure, and jealousy, the stealing of horses from the inhabitants of the neighboring towns, and the insulting of the traders. That is why I have refrained from offending either of them.1

As a step toward combatting the inroads made with the Indians in the northern part of Upper Louisiana, the Spanish established the Company of Explorers of the Upper Missouri, known as the Missouri Company, in 1794-95. But whereas Lewis and Clark were at liberty to hand out peace medals at their own discretion, and were not obliged to account for them, only a territorial governor had the power to authorize the awarding of a medal to any Indian, and even Lieutenant Governor Zenon Trudeau, in St. Louis, had difficulty getting enough medals from Governor Carondelet for the agents of the Missouri Company such as Jean Baptiste Truteau, James Mackay (a Scotsman who took up Spanish citizenship), and the Welshman John Evans. They would have distributed Charles III medals, of course.


Francis Paul Prucha, Indian Peace Medals in American History (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1971), 11-16.

1. Joseph Kinard, ed., Spain in the Mississippi Valley, 1765-1794. Annual Report of the American Historical Association (Washington, D.C., 1945), I, 229-230. Cited in Prucha, Indian Peace Medals, p. 13.