Post 4: A frontier of passion

Steven Lubet’s Murder in Tombstone informed me more about an event that I had only seen in a movie.  Was Wyatt Earp’s and others actions more in self-defense or what it planned murder?  Lubet is a lawyer, and so I suppose he understands the lawyer-speak of the trial, but it sure was confusing to me.  The open ended abstract questions are really confusing.  I could not imagine how some of those local town folk survived the witness stand with the cross examination and the very long trial.  I greatly enjoyed the chapter “Aftermath”, informing the reader of the lives of the participants in the OK Corral after the event.  Usually when you watch movies about a historic event or read a book that discusses just a small part of an event, the later years are not discussed.  Lubet discussed how for many years Wyatt’s reputation was questioned and how others writing about the event had twists and turns.  What if other towns which had a killing of a cowboy by a lawman, or the other way around, had the constant revenge by the one side for as many years as at Tombstone?  How wild the west would’ve been.  As I have not read many western newspapers, I was surprised by the descriptive language of the papers, noting the people as “the most intrepid posse ever to pull a trigger”, and being shot and probably dying referred to as “lead poisoning”.  If other papers picked up the story and published it for people on the East Coast, those readers would think that the west was very wild and dangerous.


Susan Lee Johnson’s Roaring Camp definitely opened my eyes to more of the interconnected life of the West.  Many places in the West, probably more than just the Southern Mines discussed in the book, had frequent multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-national interactions which shaped the people who traveled/immigrated to that area.  Chapter two’s discussion of the daily life and ways of the people within the Southern Mines was very interesting to me.  Maybe because I am an anthropologist or because people usually do not discuss the daily activities of life, but many books about events and areas  of the past do not discuss the smaller details like lifeways and camp life.  Johnson’s look at the change in gender duties seemed obvious; if there are not women around to do most of their gender specific jobs the men will have to do these jobs and activities to survive, but I suppose the gender specific activities of the time were hard to break even in a new frontier land.   She had some interesting stories of the men planting gardens or working together to cook at various weeks.  How great it is that people of this camp area and of this time wrote journals telling of their daily lives…and I am really surprised these journals survived to today.  What a great resource for historians of today!

Post 3: Expanding and Exploring the West (9/20/14)

As I have not done many readings on the southwestern history of the US, I found Brian DeLay’s War of a Thousand Deserts very interesting and informative.  His very detailed and thoroughly researched book helped me understand the complex relations between the Natives of Mexico, America and the new settlers who moved into the area overtime.  As he states in the introduction, the US- Mexico War ended in 1848, changing the borders of the countries, but leaving the people behind to figure out their new rulers and rules.  It must have been very intense for people to deal with this aspect of change, and probably did take a few years to fully adjust.  DeLay’s chapter three: Plunder and Partners reminded me again of the importance of horses and other livestock to the people of the southwest and the plains.  Livestock and horses were important not only to the people of the land but also the US Army and others which moved into the area.  When people moved to a new area they could not just go to the store and rent a car to make their way around town or to the suburbs, they needed horses to move goods and people across great distances.  The possession of horses and livestock were very important to the Comanche, as these possessions showed their power and ability to trade livestock for goods which they needed every day.

The Journals of Lewis and Clark is such a great book to take the reader on travels with these explorers into unknown lands across the new northern section of the US.  By stating their struggles and triumphs in their own words, it brings the reader into a new world as they were discovering it.  It shined light on the breathtaking new sights and encounters as the explorers headed west.  The version I have contains only a few maps; it would have been helpful to have more detailed maps to show their routes.  A few years ago I drove out west to the Rockies, it only took me 3 days with nice overnight stops in hotels, and food from restaurants.  How does one travel for years and keep track of supplies needed and always be prepared?  What of the travelers which had no internet to plan their route and no Google to learn of what to expect along the way?  What an adventure that must have been.    Lewis and Clark had a few trading posts and Natives to trade with, but all other supplies had to be carried for years along the way. They hunted endless game and as Lewis noted on 6 May 1805 “it is now only amusement for Capt. C. and myself to kill as much meat as the party can consum.”  Wonder how sick of meat they got after all that time?  They note with some detail the massive size of the Rockies, and their encounters with various animals and people. As you can tell I really enjoyed this book.

Post #2: Frontier Lands (9/13/14)

When do we stop being fascinated by the west? The Frontier in American History by Frederick Jackson Turner related a lot of presidents and other people of power to when and where they grew up in the west and how it shaped them.  Do we still believe those parameters today?  Does the mid-west, Ohio and Mississippi areas still shape people today different than the east coast?  Like we discussed in class the wide open spaces and more individualistic lifestyles change the attitudes in people over time. But with the modern connected world, does the West have less impact on shaping people?

In the chapter “Contributions to American Democracy” Turner does not mention once James Madison.  I worked at President James Madison’s home in Orange VA for over 5 years, and am kind of shocked to not see him mentioned in this chapter along with the other presidents of the time. His home is about 20 miles from Jefferson’s Monticello, so also on the brink of the frontier land.   He is a much forgotten important president.  Also Turner seems to be very drawn to Lincoln and how he once chopped wood for a living and then was president (the very flower of frontier training and ideals…pg 217).

Turner often talks about free land (244, 259).  But how free was free?  Weren’t these areas occupied by Natives?  Didn’t white people lose their lives attempting to take this “free land”?   Turner sums up his view of Natives by stating that the pioneer must conquest a “…fierce race of savages, all had to be met and defeated.” (pg 269).   That is a harsh, large blanket statement of Natives across all of the lands. Probably some Natives assisted the new settlers by informing them of hunting and farming areas, or traded with them.   He makes the pioneers out to be superheroes that had to battle the land and people and must conquer it all.

While reading David Emmons article “Constructed Province: History and the Making of the Last American West”, I question if we do have to define the west by boundaries so that historians can properly discuss it’s characteristics.  It is so open that we cannot discuss the entire area without subdividing it?  His eight constructed sub-regions do shape various people in these regions, but then again I am looking at it from an eastern point of view.  It would be interesting now, twenty years after this article was written, to see how the vast routes of connections for towns and large cities, with RR and interstates across the west to the areas in the east, if this division has changed or blended more.  Albert Hurtado had a good counter point in which he stated that with the large boundaries and difficulty on drawing lines for all historians, perhaps historians will never agree on regions or subregions and creating western history coherence.

Post #1: Legacy of Conquest? (9/6/14)

Is the legacy of conquest a thing to be remembered or something to forget?  Does the legacy and emotion behind it change with the perspective of history? Patricia N. Limerick’s The Legacy of Conquest discussed various factors of the shaping of the west, and how these actions shaped the conqueror and conquered (p. 18). These factors ranged from race relations to weather to growth and income or failure, all of which when discussed in western history writing must deal with multiple points of view (p. 39).  Shouldn’t all history be written and discussed with various viewpoints as to not be biased?  As I discussed in our first class as to why I took this class (HIST 616), I wanted to know the drive of the peoples who traveled from the east coast to the west.  Limerick’s book answered some of these factors, as she discussed the driving force of western expansion was growth of a region and the complexity of peoples’ passion for new adventure and the gamble with riches.

Limerick’s book was a great introduction to the creation of the identity of the west and the people who moved there or were conquered while there.  The range of topics that she covered opened my eyes to various viewpoints, and I was intrigued to learn more about the victims and villains of the west.  More personal accounts or stories would have made the reader feel more for one or the other, but the section on the back listing books for further reading was very helpful.

While reading Chapter 5 The Meeting Ground of Past and Present, I just kept thinking of the song ‘Just a Little Bit of History Repeating”.  Limerick states over ten issues that continue to show their faces over time across much of the west.  These issues also greatly impact the lives of the people attempting to “make it” in the west as they had to adapt or die trying.  Current events like the drought and the push for fracking underground reiterate these previous dilemmas.  Before irrigation was implemented in the west, there were constant droughts and troubles with the land as people were so dependent on the weather.  The new industry of fracking relates to the previous mineral finds of the nineteenth century, do people own the land under their grass, and if so for how far below?  What of the new boom towns that are created out west now for the fracking and other drilling?  Will those turn into ghost towns like so many other mineral towns of the west…opening as tourist attractions long after the mineral is gone or the earth is unstable for long term living?

As you can see I have many more questions than answers from just this one book…what are the rest of the readings of this semester going to bring?