The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado / Edition 1

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Deftly retracing a pivotal chapter in one of America's most dramatic stories, Elliott West chronicles the struggles, triumphs, and defeats of both Indians and whites as they pursued their clashing dreams of greatness in the heart of the continent.

The Contested Plains recounts the rise of the Native American horse culture, white Americans' discovery and pursuit of gold in the Rocky Mountains, and the wrenching changes and bitter conflicts that ensued. After centuries of many peoples fashioning many cultures on the plains, the Cheyennes and other tribes found in the horse the power to create a heroic way of life that dominated one of the world's great grasslands. Then the discovery of gold challenged that way of life and led finally to the infamous massacre at Sand Creek and the Indian Wars of the late 1860s.

Illuminating both the ancient and more recent history of the plains and eastern Rocky Mountains, West weaves together a brilliant tapestry interlaced with environmental, social, and military history. He treats the "frontier" not as a morally loaded term—either in the traditional celebratory sense or the more recent critical sense—but as a powerfully unsettling process that shattered an old world. He shows how Indians, goldseekers, haulers, merchants, ranchers, and farmers all contributed to and in turn were consumed by this process, even as the plains themselves were uttlerly transformed by the clash of cultures and competing visions.

Exciting and enormously engaging, The Contested Plains is the first book to examine the Colorado gold rush as the key event in the modern transformation of the central great plains. It also exemplifies a kind of history that respects more fully our rich and ambiguous past—a past in which there are many actors but no simple lessons.

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Editorial Reviews

Recounts the struggles, triumphs, and defeats of both Indians and whites as they pursued their clashing dreams in Colorado during the mid-1800s. After centuries of many peoples fashioning their own cultures on the plains, the Cheyenne and other tribes found in the horse the power to create a heroic way of life that dominated the grasslands. The discovery of gold by whites challenged that way of life and led finally to the Indian Wars of the 1860s.
Washington Post Book World
West has harnessed, to powerful effect, the diverse and complex story lines that form the history of the Great Plains. His fusion of ecology and history is remarkable
Glenda Riley
In a way, Elliot West tells a familiar tale: that of Indians, goldseekers, and the ensuing conflict. But in this case, West is the first to assess the cataclysmic changes that the Colorado gold rush brought to the Great Plains. In addition, rather than casting the story in the usual terms of heartless aggressors and hapless victims, West supplies a large and insightful interpretation that at once softens and increases our understanding of the Anglo disruption of Plains Indian cultures. To understand where western history is now, and is likely to go in the future, one must read this book.
American Historical Review
William H. Goetzmann
Many books have been written about the Colorado gold rush. This one is different. The virtue of the book, besides its lucid writing, splendid design, extensive research, and the meaning it gives to the frontier concept that has been lambasted for thirty years or more, is the fact that it never scolds or trashes any culture. West's story is a story of cultural revisions -- and thus the imaginations and aspirations of many people.
Journal of American History
Environmental History
An interpretive masterpiece. West tells a colorful story incredibly well, bringing individual actors to life and giving a sense of the sweep of larger cultural events. This is lively, literate, and at times humorous reading, paired with thoughtful historical interpretations.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700610297
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 4/28/1998
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 446
  • Sales rank: 524,089
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations



1. Prologue: A Scrap and a Panic

Part One: Visions

2. The Old World

3. Frontiers and Visions

4. The Called Out People

Part Two: Gold Rush

5. The Gold

6. The Gathering

7. The Rush

Part Three: Power

8. Path of Empire

9. On the Road to a Flourishing Mountain State

10. The People of the Centre

11. The Miseries of Failure

12. Epilogue: Stories in the Teeth of Life




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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2001


    I like this book. Natural resources (described as energy for animals, etc.) along with Indian and settler imaginative uses for them were the driving factors in the development of the plains of Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska. Not at all politically correct, the book takes a serious look at the how and why of this important event in the history of the west. Starting with ancient peoples that lived off the land, the text describes how succeeding cultures utilized the plains for economic and social benefit. The author expertly establishes that conflicts between groups were inevitable given the limited natural resources the plains had to offer. Greed verses nobility with a little environmentalism thrown in for good measure, is a simplistic and fundamentally shortsighted approach to understanding what happened. A thought provoking book and excellent resource for readers wanting an objective account of the settlement of the plains.

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