The West

Americans have always envisioned a West. When they won independence from England in 1783, the West lay just beyond the Appalachian Mountains, a West celebrated in the adventures of Daniel Boone. Then people began to thread through the Cumberland Gap to make new homes there. Boone felt crowded, so in 1799 he moved across the Mississippi River to take up residence in Missouri. Read more »

Little Big Man’s Man

Thomas Berger, the author of a classic novel of the American West, speaks about its long-awaited sequel—and about what is to be learned in the challenging territory that lies between history and fiction

In 1992 American Heritage asked various historians, artists, and writers to name their candidate for best historical novel. Several of them, including the writer Charles McCarry, the artist Edward Sorel, and myself, nominated Little Big Man , Thomas Berger’s masterly 1964 epic of the Old West.Read more »

Who Was Wyatt Earp?

From law officer to murderer to Hollywood consultant: the strange career of a man who became myth

Late in his life Henry Fonda, at dinner with a producer named Melvin Shestack, recalled meeting an old man who said he had firsthand knowledge of a memorable Fonda character, Wyatt Earp, the legendary frontier lawman of John Ford’s classic My Darling Clementine .Read more »

Among The Cowboys

 

The biggest roadside attraction along I-40 is the row of ten classic Cadillacs half buried, at the angle of the Great Pyramid, with tail fins upthrust, at Stanley Marsh’s Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. The models range from 1946 to 1964. Marsh told me he wanted them to look as if they had been planted by members of some high civilization. Read more »

Butte, America

POISONED, RUINED, AND self-cannibalized, this city is still the grandest of all boomtowns

It’s spooky up here on the top floor of the Metals Bank & Trust Building. Shards of glass and crumbled plaster crunch underfoot, obscuring the elegant tile pattern of the corridor floor. Heavy oak doors with pebbled windows and missing knobs stand open to the hallway. Inside what used to be plush offices, the hardwood floors are buckling under porcelain washstands flecked with pigeon droppings. At one time this was some of the most exclusive real estate within a thousand miles. Now it gives me the creeps. Read more »

The Padre’s House

It belonged to Taos’s most influential family until well into the twentieth century, but this unadorned adobe hacienda speaks of the earliest days of Spanish occupation of the Southwest

In 1804 a Pueblo Indian sold his four-room adobe house in the farming community of Taos, New Mexico, to Don Severino Martínez, a Spanish trader. No other details of this transaction are recorded, although the dwelling was to become famous—both for the family who lived in it and for its survival as the best example of a Spanish hacienda in the American Southwest. Read more »

A Tent On The Porch

First heard just a century ago at the Chicago fair, Frederick Jackson Turner’s epochal essay on the Western frontier expressed a conflict in the American psyche that tears at us still

This country’s long, acrimonious observance of the Columbian quincentenary is finally over, but it won’t be soon forgotten. during it, the much-abused figure of Christopher Columbus seemed to offer an irresistible target at which all sorts of present-minded concerns could be hurled. His case should remind us of how forcefully the shifting needs of the present affect our visions of the past, just as when a moving automobile changes direction, it transforms the vista in its rearview mirror.Read more »

Lost Horizon

A hundred and fifty years ago, a sea of grass spread from the Ohio to the Rockies; now only bits and pieces of that awesome wilderness remain for the traveler to discover.

Behind my grandparents’ house, the house in which I was born, rose a high pasture, little used in my boyhood and then only for grazing a few head of cattle. Crowned by tall weeds and scarred by runoff gullies, it was my first prairie, the one that still drifts behind all my images and notions of that phenomenon even though it was only forty or fifty acres bounded by timber and bean fields.Read more »

Who Are The Westerners?

“Why hasn't the stereotype faded away as real cowboys become less and less typical of Western life? Because we can't or won't do without it, obviously.”

Being a Westerner is not simple. If you live, say, in Los Angeles, you live in the second-largest city in the nation, urban as far as the eye can see in every direction except west. There is (or was in 1980—the chances would be somewhat greater now) a 6.9 percent chance that you are Asian, a 16.9 percent chance that you are black, and a 27 percent chance that you are Hispanic. You have only a 48 percent chance of being a non-Hispanic white. Read more »

The Power Of Homely Detail

Much has changed in Utah since World War II, but outside of the metropolitan center in the Salt Lake Valley, the addiction to rural simplicity and the idea of home is still strong.

 

If the West is an oasis civilization, as the historian Walter Webb once wrote, then Utah is the oasis civilization par excellence. It has a few more oases than Nevada, the only state that is more arid overall, but it also has more civilization, hard-won. Read more »