The Essential West: Collected Essays

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Overview

Scholars and enthusiasts of western American history have praised Elliott West as a distinguished historian and an accomplished writer, and this book proves them right on both counts. Capitalizing on West’s wide array of interests, this collection of his essays touches on topics ranging from viruses and the telegraph to children, bison, and Larry McMurtry. Drawing from the past three centuries, West weaves the western story into that of the nation and the world beyond, from Kansas and Montana to Haiti, Africa, and the court of Louis XV.

Divided into three sections, the volume begins with conquest. West is not the first historian to write about Lewis and Clark, but he is the first to contrast their expedition with Mungo Park’s contemporaneous journey in Africa. “The Lewis and Clark expedition,” West begins, “is one of the most overrated events in American history—and one of the most revealing.” The humor of this insightful essay is a chief characteristic of the whole book, which comprises ten chapters previously published in major journals and magazines—but revised for this edition—and four brand-new ones.

West is well known for his writings about frontier family life, especially the experiences of children at work and play. Fans of his earlier books on these subjects will not be disappointed. In a final section, he looks at the West of myth and imagination, in part to show that our fantasies about the West are worth studying precisely because they have been so at odds with the real West. In essays on buffalo, Jesse James and the McMurtry novel Lonesome Dove, West directs his formidable powers to subjects that continue to shape our understanding—and often our misunderstanding—of the American West, past and present.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Calling this book a collection of essays makes as much sense as calling the Rocky Mountains a collection of rocks. On the contrary, The Essential West is a collection of riveting stories, original reflections, witty aphorisms, innovative perspectives, and insights that go straight to the heart—of the West and of the reader.”—Patricia Nelson Limerick, author of The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West

“No one has written about western history with more insight, compassion, wisdom, and wit than Elliott West.  Everything he writes is worth reading, and these essays are West at his best.”—Virginia Scharff co-author of Home Lands: How Women Made the West

“Elliott West is the best historian of the American West writing today.”—Richard White

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780806142968
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Publication date: 10/2/2012
  • Pages: 344
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Elliott West, Alumni Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, is the award-winning author of numerous articles and books, including Growing Up with the Country: Childhood on the Far-Western Frontier; The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado; and The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Foreword Richard White xi

Introduction 1

Part I Conquest

1 Lewis and Park; Or, Why It Matters That the West's Most Famous Explorers Didn't Get Sick (or at Least Not Really Sick) 15

2 Golden Dreams: Colorado, California, and the Reimagining of America 44

3 Called-Out People: The Cheyennes and the Central Plains 57

4 Wired to the World: The Telegraph and the Making of the West 78

5 Reconstructing Race 100

Part II Families

6 The West before Lewis and Clark: Three Lives 129

7 Child's Play: Tradition and Adaptation on the Frontier 154

8 Becoming Mormon 176

9 Listen Up: Hearing the Unheard in Western History 194

Part III Myth

10 Bison R Us: The Buffalo as Cultural Icon 213

11 Jesse James, Borderman 230

12 American Pathways 258

13 On the Trail with Gus and Call: Lonesome Dove and the Western Myth 277

14 Stories 290

Index 313

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