America’s Frontier Forever Changed

The West the Railroads Made

Half a century after engines touched pilot to pilot at Promontory, Utah, to complete the first transcontinental railroad, the imprint of the Iron Road was nearly everywhere in the American West. Some enthusiastic real estate promoters and railway officials even claimed that the railroads invented the West—or at least the national image of the West.Read more »

The Pony Rides Again (and Again)

Although it ran only briefly 150 years ago, the Pony Express still defines our understanding of the Old West

Shortly before last Christmas, a prominent New York auction house put up for bid a collection of 63 postmarked envelopes and stamps that the daring riders of the Pony Express had carried 150 years ago. Experts estimated that the rare collection, owned by Thurston Twigg-Smith, an 88-year-old philanthropist and former publisher of the Honolulu Advertiser, might net $2.5 million. It drew $4 million.Read more »

The Man Who Made Deadwood

The creator of the immensely popular new Western discusses what makes it truly new.

David Milch has taken one of the most convoluted imaginable paths to success in television. Having earned an M.F.A. in fiction at the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, he went on to teach literature at Yale for nine years and became close friends with a man he now regards as one of his mentors, the great novelist and poet Robert Penn Warren. From 1982 to 1987 he wrote for “Hill Street Blues,” proving that if television scripts were not actually literature, they could, at the least, be first-rate drama. With “NYPD Blue” (1993–2005) he took the urban crime drama to new levels of complexity and intensity.

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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 »

Billy The Kid Country

The legend of the most famous of all outlaws belongs to the whole world now. But to find the grinning teen-ager who gave rise to it, you must visit the New Mexico landscape where he lived his short life.

New Mexico is Billy the Kid country. In Santa Fe’s First Presbyterian Church, young Henry McCarty stood by in March 1873 as his mother exchanged vows with William Henry Harrison Antrim. Eight years later, alias Billy Bonney, a.k.a. the Kid, he spent three months in the jail on Water Street. In Silver City he attended elementary school and, not yet fifteen, pulled off a celebrated escape up the chimney of the jail. In Lincoln he fought as a Regulator in the Lincoln County War and, after breaking out of the county lockup, gunned down two deputies.Read more »

Powder River Country

THE MOVIES, THE WARS, AND THE TEAPOT DOME
A journey of a hundred miles on a Wyoming interstate turns up the true stories behind the powerful Western myths

My wife and I are on the inter-state, headed north toward Johnson County, Wyoming. Ten years ago I prowled this country doing research for a novel that used material from the Johnson County War of 1892, when powerful cattlemen—in what is called “the Invasion”—attacked hardscrabble newcomers who were threatening their hegemony. Ten years ago there was no interstate, and Highway 87 was the north-south artery, frequented by pickups with rifle racks in the rear windows, its blacktop notable for the amount of mashed wildlife displayed.Read more »

Traveling With A Sense Of History

From Fort Ticonderoga to the Plaza Hotel, from Appomattox Courthouse to Bugsy Siegel’s weird rose garden in Las Vegas, the present-day scene is enriched by knowledge of the American past

To grow up in New England is to grow up with an inescapable sense of history, a heritage that a New Englander carries with him wherever he goes. Read more »

Texas Faces The Camera

The Lone Star state as it once was—proud, isolated, independent, the undiluted essence of America forever inventing itself out of the hardscrabble reality of the frontier

The Texans on these pages are a vanishing species, born of the vast and varied geography of the toughest frontier. The Republic of Texas was wrested from Mexico one hundred and fifty years ago, and its brief history as a separate nation helped convince Texans that they were a special breed of Americans. Read more »

Boosting The West

The Wyoming photographer Joseph Stimson proudly portrayed his region in the years when it was emerging from rude frontier beginnings

In a career lasting almost sixty years, Joseph Stimson promoted Wyoming and other Western states in strong and spirited photographs. He was not the West’s first photographer, nor its most artistic, but his work perfectly expressed the optimism and belief in progress of this area in the early twentieth century. Read more »

Explosion In The Magic Valley

The Photographic Record of a Western Success Story

The river has its source on the western slopes of the continental divide in Yellowstone National Park, flows south through Grand Teton National Park, curves west in a long arc through southern Idaho, then turns north and west for its meeting with the Columbia River, 1,038 miles from its beginnings. The land along its southern arc is called the Snake River Plains, and at the southernmost point of the arc there is a place called the Magic Valley—unsurprisingly, for a kind of magic was done there more than seventy-five years ago. Read more »