Review: Volume 55 - American West

Review: Volume 55 - American West

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This book details the growth of the European Fur trade in North America and how it drew the Native Americans who lived in the Great Lakes region, notably the Huron, Dakota, Sauk and Fox, Miami and Shawnee tribes into the colonial European Wars. During the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812, these tribes took sides and became important allies of the warring nations. However, slowly the Indians were pushed westward by the encroachment of more settlers. This tension finally culminated in the 1832 Black Hawk's War, which ended with the deportation of many tribes to distant reservations.

With the violent separation between the United States and Britain which began in 1776, the new ‘Americans’ set off to fulfill their manifest destiny and rule their new land from coast to coast. As they pushed westward, they came into conflict with both natives and other European settlers, and began to build fortresses to defend their newly claimed land. This book charts the development and variation of the fortresses of the American Frontier, covering both American defenses and those of the Spanish in the west. It also examines the little-known forts of early Russian settlers on the Pacific coast.


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WHQ presents original articles dealing with the North American West—expansion and colonization, indigenous histories, regional studies, and transnational, comparative, and borderland histories.

2019: Bert M. Fireman and Janet Fireman Award. Western History Association.

2019: Oscar O. Winther Award. Western History Association.

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Mr. Ward recalled on “Fresh Air” in 1988 that he was in either second or third grade when he first heard records by Elvis Presley (who sounded to him like an “amphibian singing at the bottom of a well”) and Black harmony groups, like the Moonglows and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, which he preferred. His tastes shifted as he grew up, first to classical and folk music and then back to rock.

A few weeks into his freshman year at Antioch in 1965, he began writing music and book reviews for Broadside, a folk music magazine. That led to work for Crawdaddy in 1967 and to his first published work at Rolling Stone two years later, all done while he was still studying at Antioch, which his sister said he left one gym course short of graduating.

Following his years in Austin, Mr. Ward went to Berlin in the mid-1990s to work for a planned magazine that died before its publication, and then to Montpellier, France. During his years in Europe he wrote freelance articles, continued to contribute to “Fresh Air” (where he had been since 1987) and worked as a bartender.

He returned to Austin in 2013 and set to work on “The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1: 1920-1963,” which was published in 2016. A second volume, taking the music’s history up to 1977, was published in 2019. But his publisher declined to publish a third one because the second book’s sales had not been as good the first one's.

Although familiar names like Elvis and the Beatles are in the first book, so are those of Black artists like Earl Palmer, the drummer on Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” and many other classic New Orleans records, and Lowman Pauling, the guitarist and principal songwriter of the R&B group the “5” Royales.

“There is this misconception that on some day in 1954, Elvis invented everything all at once, and not only is that wrong, it’s really simplistic and unfair,” he told The American-Statesman in 2016. “There’s almost no knowledge of the Black music of the ’30s, ’40s and early ’50s and the degree to which that shaped the sound out of which Elvis came.”

The book was, in a way, an outgrowth of Mr. Ward’s “Fresh Air” work. In segments lasting just seven or eight minutes, he would tell compelling, detailed stories about musicians and groups, both famous and obscure.

“I think that’s Ed’s most distinguished work,” Mr. Marcus said in a phone interview. “They were so interesting and well produced and so sharp. I’m not ignorant in this field, but every so often he’d present a segment about something I’d never heard of. He was a great explorer, a great excavator.”

But in 2017, when “Fresh Air” declined to interview him about his book, he quit.

“To leave ‘Fresh Air’ was a dangerous thing to do,” Mr. Patoski said, “and it hurt him because that’s how people knew him.”

Mr. Ward found another outlet for his storytelling: a podcast called “Let It Roll” on which, in 24 lengthy episodes between 2018 and 2020, he unspooled his history of rock.

The Pioneers review: David McCullough on Ohio and a road less travelled

A map used by the British for the 1783 Treaty of Paris, at which the future president John Adams insisted on the cession of the lands north-west of the Ohio River, the ‘Northwest Territory’. Photograph: Provided by British Library

A map used by the British for the 1783 Treaty of Paris, at which the future president John Adams insisted on the cession of the lands north-west of the Ohio River, the ‘Northwest Territory’. Photograph: Provided by British Library

Last modified on Thu 4 Jul 2019 07.02 BST

F or many Europeans (and Americans as well), the term “pioneers” probably evokes images of covered wagons and homesteaders on the vast prairie, of emigrants settling the west, amber waves of grain, perhaps even an anachronistic bit of John Ford. That is not this book.

David McCullough puts the story much earlier, with the founding of what became the state of Ohio, and ends it during the civil war.

At the Treaty of Paris in 1783, ending the American revolution, the Americans led by future president John Adams insisted on the cession of the lands north-west of the Ohio River to the Mississippi, the “Northwest Territory”. Settlement began in 1788.

Those first settlers were the “foremost pioneers” in both the literal and figurative sense, facing hard work clearing land for agriculture, the threats of disease and war with Native Americans, among other dangers.

It’s an important story. Ohio has always been a pivotal state and the founding of Marietta marks the beginning of organized settlement in the successive western frontiers. (Daniel Boone’s first emigrants to Kentucky left in 1773 but did so illegally, thanks to the Proclamation of 1763 limiting settlement to east of the Appalachian mountains.)

The characters involved, including the Rev Manasseh Cutler (among the first and most successful lobbyists as well as a noted divine) Revolutionary war general Rufus Putnam and the Irish-born Harman Blennerhasset, who schemed with former vice-president Aaron Burr to split the republic, hold the reader’s interest.

Equally, the settlement of the Northwest defined several important themes in American history. Notably, in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 Congress banned slavery in the territory and set aside land for public schools. As McCullough notes, this began what he terms “the American ideal” – a future in which free, educated people would form towns and bring order to the frontier. In 1802, Ephraim Cutler, the Rev Cutler’s son, arose from his sickbed to cast the deciding vote in the Ohio state constitutional convention, preventing slavery there – surely one of the most consequential legislative votes in American history.

McCullough’s story of Campus Martius, the first settlement at what is now Marietta, offers a tantalizing glimpse of a road not taken, of a future more defined by communitarianism than individualism:

They were united in bonds of friendship like one great family, bound and held together in a common brotherhood by the perils which surrounded them. In after years, when each household lived separate in their own domicil, they looked back on these days with satisfaction and pleasure, as a period in their lives when the best affections of the heart were called forth and practiced towards each other.

If this harkens back to similar remembrances of Plymouth or 17th-century Boston, many of the first settlers of Ohio were the descendants of Puritans who wanted to build a town “on the New England type”.

Perhaps it was inevitable that an expansive frontier and a restless people would lead to individualism becoming the dominant American ideology. But it is among the frustrations of this book that McCullough does not tease out the contrast more, instead simply passing along to the next events.

David McCullough, pictured in his library in West Tisbury, Massachusetts. Photograph: Steven Senne/AP

The book resulted from the delivery of an address at the bicentennial of Ohio University and McCullough’s own research at Marietta College, in the town founded by the settlers along the “beautiful river”. It’s a superb regional history, with well-painted glimpses of the hardships and joys of frontier life and portraits of important early settlers. But overall it misses the chance to expand on broader themes hinted at throughout the book.

There is a place for regional history – among other things, it would help Americans understand some of the roots of our enduring differences – but placing this narrative within a broader context, even of the settlement of the other states that became the midwest, would have made a stronger, more enduring work. The book should have been called Ohio! or something similar. One senses the title was dictated more by a publisher’s marketing department than the book’s contents.

McCullough is among the most thoughtful and thorough historians of the past two generations. Read 1776, John Adams or the magisterial (and highly relevant) Truman to get the true measure of this great American mind.

The American West, 1865-1900

The completion of the railroads to the West following the Civil War opened up vast areas of the region to settlement and economic development. White settlers from the East poured across the Mississippi to mine, farm, and ranch. African-American settlers also came West from the Deep South, convinced by promoters of all-black Western towns that prosperity could be found there. Chinese railroad workers further added to the diversity of the region's population.

Settlement from the East transformed the Great Plains. The huge herds of American bison that roamed the plains were almost wiped out, and farmers plowed the natural grasses to plant wheat and other crops. The cattle industry rose in importance as the railroad provided a practical means for getting the cattle to market.

The loss of the bison and growth of white settlement drastically affected the lives of the Native Americans living in the West. In the conflicts that resulted, the American Indians, despite occasional victories, seemed doomed to defeat by the greater numbers of settlers and the military force of the U.S. government. By the 1880s, most American Indians had been confined to reservations, often in areas of the West that appeared least desirable to white settlers.

The cowboy became the symbol for the West of the late 19th century, often depicted in popular culture as a glamorous or heroic figure. The stereotype of the heroic white cowboy is far from true, however. The first cowboys were Spanish vaqueros, who had introduced cattle to Mexico centuries earlier. Black cowboys also rode the range. Furthermore, the life of the cowboy was far from glamorous, involving long, hard hours of labor, poor living conditions, and economic hardship.

The myth of the cowboy is only one of many myths that have shaped our views of the West in the late 19th century. Recently, some historians have turned away from the traditional view of the West as a frontier, a "meeting point between civilization and savagery" in the words of historian Frederick Jackson Turner. They have begun writing about the West as a crossroads of cultures, where various groups struggled for property, profit, and cultural dominance. Think about these differing views of the history of the West as you examine the documents in this collection.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry review – a lyrical love letter to the American west

S ome novels sing from the first line, with every word carrying the score to a searing climax, and Days Without End is such a book. It has the majestic inevitability of the best fiction, at once historical but also contemporary in its concerns.

The story opens in 1851 Missouri with the laying out of the dead after battle, then settles into Thomas McNulty’s tale of his early life with bosom buddy John Cole, through the Indian wars, the Lincoln presidency, and the tragedy of the civil war to the safe haven of Tennessee in the 1870s. McNulty is a Sligo-born Irish American. His story becomes Sebastian Barry’s salute to the socio-cultural marriage between Ireland and the New World, expressed in prose that contrives to be both Irish and American, a remarkable sleight of hand.

Barry is an acclaimed playwright. He knows how to put his audience on the hook, but he’s more than just the dramatist of young men’s lives. His inner ear is tuned to a frequency that makes music with every sentence. A lyrical novel is a risky proposition, but he gives it breath in describing a very dark subject: how America came into its own on the frontier.

The American west of McNulty’s superb narration owes something to Twain, Whitman, Crane, and even Cormac McCarthy, but Barry is not content merely to pay homage to these masters. He transforms the blood-red landscape of middle America into the embodiment of the American myth – violent, transgressive, passionate, timeless and a little bit mad – a place that becomes both the subject of song and the song itself.

You could say that this is a western, but like the best of the genre, its vision fuses old and new: warfare, homecoming, gender politics, coming of age and romance. Days Without End is at once an affecting love story, and a nostalgic celebration of a long life. McNulty is writing in old age, looking back over 50 years, “and wondering where the years went”. There is nothing he needs to hold back. While he compiles his recollections, he’s also celebrating his discreet passion for another man, Cole. Barry’s achievement is to do this, in the first person, in a way that’s neither implausible nor mawkish.

A Union infantryman in uniform, carrying a large rifle and bayonet, during the American civil war. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

There’s contemporary politics, too. Below the waterline, the novelist also wants to explore the way in which the dispossessed Irish who settled out west visited upon the Native American all the cruelties they had suffered at the hands of the British. Another parallel: the driving of the Native American tribes into internal exile mirrors the fate of many Irish during the famine.

Appropriately for a playwright, Barry begins with McNulty and Cole on stage, performing a cross-dressing routine for the miners of Daggsville. Both are just boys in search of some excitement and a living wage. Soon they enlist in the US army together and find themselves in a vicious war against the Sioux, in particular the ferocious chief, Caught-His-Horse-First. The boys’ unit gets caught up in war crimes. The upshot of savage retribution on both sides is that Cole and McNulty acquire a native American “daughter” named Winona. Their strange life as a threesome on the prairie becomes the emotional heart of Days Without End. Barry’s answer to those who might challenge its verisimilitude is simple: “I guess love laughs at history a little.”

His account of the civil war is impressionistic and brilliantly executed. In the fog of war McNulty gets captured by some Confederate rebels. When he is freed, his past catches up with him and he faces execution for desertion. But his sentence is commuted and he gets hard labour, noting ironically that “in the time of the hunger in Sligo a lot of men did that work, to feed their families”.

Barry has rarely written more affectingly than in these closing pages. When McNulty, released from all his sufferings, walks home, his route “sparkles with the beauty of woods and fields” and he traverses “the pleasing state of Missouri and Tennessee”. Days Without End is pitch-perfect, the outstanding novel of the year so far.

Preaching to the Choir

June 19, 2021 - By Jim Hicks

(Photo: "Because I have company." Carl Hancock Rux, in an interview about activism, conducted by Carrie Mae Weems)

The poet, playwright, director, musician, actor, and activist Carl Hancock Rux grew up in foster care. His older brother Ralph owned a restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and Ralph managed to locate Carl, who was still living with his foster parents. And then, as Rux puts it, they “had a brief, wonderful, beautiful time together.” One day, though, Ralph disappeared when Carl chanced upon him, months later, he was almost unrecognizable, suffering from dementia, and dying of AIDS.

The younger brother cared for the older, at a time when AIDS patients were feared and shunned even by the hospital workers entrusted with their care. On the day.


Robert Redford’s “The American West” docudrama walks the line on AMC

Jonathan C. Stewart plays Wyatt Earp in the AMC series “The American West.” Photo provided by AMC

Most documentaries about the American West have used archival photos and letters, with historians and authors providing commentary, to convey the bloody history. Among the best are PBS’s “American Experience” series “The Wild West,” Ric Burns’ “The Way West,” Ken Burns’ “The West,” using actors to voice the historical characters’ parts, and the Discovery Channel’s “How the West Was Lost,” using contemporary American Indians to tell the story.

On the pop cultural side, a number of documentaries, such as “How the West Was Done,” have tracked Hollywood’s interpretation of the mythic West, using vintage film clips. “Reel Injun,” a fine example, follows Hollywood’s depiction of American Indians through a century of cinema.

Now comes a hybrid. A new effort seems to fall somewhere between these genres, with well-known Western film actors such as Kiefer Sutherland, Tom Selleck, James Caan, Danny Glover and Ed Harris teaching history lessons.

“The American West” is a docudrama — warning lights should flash behind your eyes — in which well-known actors deliver sage observations about a period in American history that they know from having played the roles. “The West,” spanning from 1865 to 1890, is proudly chock-full of violence — and Hollywood celebrities — as it tracks the aftermath of the Civil War when the frontier beckoned. The series from Stephen David Entertainment (“The World Wars,” “The Men Who Built America”) is produced in association with Robert Redford’s Sundance Productions. Redford, of course, shows up onscreen as well.

“The American West” premiered June 11 on AMC, with new episodes airing at 8 p.m. on Saturdays. Episodes are also available on video on demand the day after airing, as well as on

Legends like Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Crazy House and Sitting Bull are described and illustrated in the eight-part series. It all feels a bit gimmicky on AMC’s part. The series is scheduled to run alongside the final seven episodes of “Hell on Wheels” to fuel the audience’s interest in Westerns in general, a format the network prides itself on carrying.

The cinematography is admirable, and the accounts from historians and academics are sound. But the sight of Burt Reynolds in rose-tinted glasses explaining that George Armstrong Custer “was a hell of a soldier” does little to inform the project. Kiefer Sutherland’s observation that Jesse James had political motivations for robbing banks might better come from a biographer of the man.

VIII. The West as History: the Turner Thesis

American anthropologist and ethnographer Frances Densmore records the Blackfoot chief Mountain Chief in 1916 for the Bureau of American Ethnology. Library of Congress.

In 1893, the American Historical Association met during that year’s World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The young Wisconsin historian Frederick Jackson Turner presented his “frontier thesis,” one of the most influential theories of American history, in his essay “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.”

Turner looked back at the historical changes in the West and saw, instead of a tsunami of war and plunder and industry, waves of “civilization” that washed across the continent. A frontier line “between savagery and civilization” had moved west from the earliest English settlements in Massachusetts and Virginia across the Appalachians to the Mississippi and finally across the Plains to California and Oregon. Turner invited his audience to “stand at Cumberland Gap [the famous pass through the Appalachian Mountains], and watch the procession of civilization, marching single file—the buffalo following the trail to the salt springs, the Indian, the fur trader and hunter, the cattle-raiser, the pioneer farmer—and the frontier has passed by.” 28

Americans, Turner said, had been forced by necessity to build a rough-hewn civilization out of the frontier, giving the nation its exceptional hustle and its democratic spirit and distinguishing North America from the stale monarchies of Europe. Moreover, the style of history Turner called for was democratic as well, arguing that the work of ordinary people (in this case, pioneers) deserved the same study as that of great statesmen. Such was a novel approach in 1893.

But Turner looked ominously to the future. The Census Bureau in 1890 had declared the frontier closed. There was no longer a discernible line running north to south that, Turner said, any longer divided civilization from savagery. Turner worried for the United States’ future: what would become of the nation without the safety valve of the frontier? It was a common sentiment. Theodore Roosevelt wrote to Turner that his essay “put into shape a good deal of thought that has been floating around rather loosely.” 29

The history of the West was made by many persons and peoples. Turner’s thesis was rife with faults, not only in its bald Anglo-Saxon chauvinism—in which nonwhites fell before the march of “civilization” and Chinese and Mexican immigrants were invisible—but in its utter inability to appreciate the impact of technology and government subsidies and large-scale economic enterprises alongside the work of hardy pioneers. Still, Turner’s thesis held an almost canonical position among historians for much of the twentieth century and, more importantly, captured Americans’ enduring romanticization of the West and the simplification of a long and complicated story into a march of progress.

Review: Robert Redford explores ‘American West’ on AMC

“The American West,” which premieres Saturday on AMC, is an eight-part docudrama, officially styled as “a limited series,” about America between the Missouri River and Pacific Ocean from the end of the Civil War to 1890. – the year of the Wounded Knee Massacre, and the year the Census Bureau declared the frontier settled.

It is not a new story, of course: Ken Burns already put his lavish, quasi-final documentary stamp on it in the 1996, nine-part “The West.” And the characters highlighted in its opening credits – Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Gen. George Custer, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull – have been stars or bit players in countless other documentaries and dramas. They are stuff of national legendlword missing?, the warring gods of our homegrown mythology.

What’s fresh in this retelling, produced by Robert Redford, is the degree to which it has gone in for re-creation as opposed to documentation, and the fact that it has drafted a pack of movie cowboys, including Tom Selleck, Kiefer Sutherland, Danny Glover, Mark Harmon, Burt Reynolds and Redford himself, as talking-head commentators alongside the customary scholars. There is a smattering, to put it generously, of period ephemera, but we never see a photograph of James or Custer or Sitting Bull, only the actors made up to play them.

With dialogue that might have been whipped together for a middle-school project, it’s more dress-up than drama, more reenactment than documentary – “America’s Most Western.” General (later President) Ulysses S. Grant, though often seen, has so little to say I thought perhaps the actor playing him didn’t speak English he’s represented mostly in a state of tired contemplation, staring ruefully into the middle distance., usually with a cigar and/or a glass of something meant to be alcoholic at hand. Others have more to do, but not that much more.

If the series’ knit-brow seriousness sometimes reads as a parody of seriousness, it also gives it a sense of play of dress-up of boys, which is to say men, – in the two hours available for review, it is almost all men, talking about men – running around the forest with guns. (I don’t mean that in its disfavor it’s what makes it fun, even if fun was not the point.) And it does tease out and knit together themes that can get jumbled up in our fuzzy, fantasy-fed view of history – the way that the story of the West was in part a hangover from the Civil War. or that the coming of the railroad links the career of Jesse James, the Monetary Panic of 1873, the Dakota gold rush, the end of Grant’s peace with the Indians, and so on.

Some will derive pleasure merely from vetting the authenticity of the clothes and materiel, the accuracy of the action, the appropriateness of the locations. (West Virginia and Utah seem to be where most of it was filmed.) There are many old trains to admire, puffing prettily along mountain riverbeds.

The American West infobox 6/11/16

When: 10:10 p.m. Saturday

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language and violence)

Saturday 10 p.m. AMC (10:10 pm) The American West (cc) America Divided (Series Premiere) In order to ensure the survival of his family, Jesse James forms a gang Custer seeks glory in the Indian Wars Crazy Horse fights against the U.S. (N) ---------------------

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