Vanguards of the Frontier: A Social History of the Northern Plains and Rocky Mountains from the Earliest White Contacts to the Coming of the Homemaker

By Everett Dick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXIII
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE FRONTIER

THE FRONTIER holds the key to the interpretation of American history. Other great powers of the world have arisen on the ruins of older civilized states. As a rule these were established by the conquest of a particular people and a subsequent assimilation of the culture of the conquerors by the conquered. In contrast, in America a vast and almost untenanted area was occupied by streams of population flowing from many nations and mingling to form a united front, which over a period of nearly three centuries gradually pushed back the sparse aboriginal inhabitants. The point where civilization met savagery in this sweep of settlement over the continent we call the frontier. The frontier became something of a common denominator of newcomers from Europe and those who had been here one or more generations. The narrow belt where the aborigines and Europeans met was the nation's dawn which moved across the continent with the darkness of savagery before and the full light of civilization behind.1 This frontier area developed certain well-defined characteristics, born of the struggle to overcome the Indians, to subdue the stubborn realities of raw nature, and to adjust to the general environment. The struggle of Europeans against common difficulties produced a common nationality, the American. Not only did the frontier itself have a peculiar state of society, but it became the leaven which leavened the whole lump and has left its effect on American society to-day.

This zone of unfolding dawn in reality was not always regular in its westward progress nor was it constant in width. Like water running across a field, population sought the easiest passage and

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1
This is an adaptation of Dr. E. E. Dale's definition of the cattlemen's frontier.

-509-

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