The frontier, seen this way, is a tale of conquest by successive invaders. But that, too, leaves out important parts of the story. The many societies on the frontier not only clashed but mingled, and out of this meeting ground of different peoples - Native American, Spanish, French, Russian, English, and other European groups - have emerged distinctive ways of life that have helped define a unique American culture.

Frontier peoples learned from one another not only words borrowed from all their languages but also new ways to feed and support themselves. Indians quickly learned to use horses in hunting, warfare, and trade and adopted dozens of other European items, including iron pots, metal fishhooks, woolen blankets, steel scrapers, ax heads, and much more. White pioneers learned to cultivate Indian food plants (corn, squash, pumpkins, many types of beans, sunflowers, and others) and to gather wild plants for food and medicines. White mountain men, dressed in Indian garb and living by native woodlore, bartered with goods that Indians had made their own - coffee mills and beaver traps, razors and flannel shirts, molasses and rifles, and bed ticking used to line tepees.

In hundreds of other ways the frontier's mix of traditions has shaped the land and its inhabitants. French landholding patterns persist in southern Louisiana, Hispanic-Indian architecture in the southwest, and Russian-Indian in Alaska. Late in the 19th century the farming frontier of the Great Plains had the highest portion of foreign-born persons in the nation, more than in immigrant neighborhoods of eastern cities. These Norwegians, Swedes, Germans, Czechs, French, and others founded ethnic communities still viable today. Every region has a rich folklore that draws on its pioneer period of exchange among the cultures - Native American stories influenced by biblical passages, backwoodsmen's bear tales that are close kin to the Indians', and tall lore from French traveling among the frontier's ethnic stew of peoples.

Perhaps the most obvious result of this meeting of cultures has been intermarriage and ethnic mixing. Amalgams of Native American and African American ancestors, originating in frontier contact, can be found in communities as far apart as Florida, southern Louisiana, and Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. The métis, of French and Indian extraction, live in many parts of the Great Lakes region and Minnesota, and mixes of Hispanic, Anglo-American, and native groups in the Southwest. America's patchwork of peoples is one of the frontier's most enduring legacies.