Distant Horizon: Documents from the Nineteenth-Century American West

Distant Horizon: Documents from the Nineteenth-Century American West

Distant Horizon: Documents from the Nineteenth-Century American West

Distant Horizon: Documents from the Nineteenth-Century American West


From Thomas Hart Benton's famous speech in the Senate when he argued that nonwhite civilizations must fall before the western expansion of white Americans to Black Elk's story of a way of life lost on the frozen ground at Wounded Knee, Gary Noy offers a representative sampling of the many Wests that historians have struggled to define for over a century. Distant Horizon chronicles the dusty world of the cowboy, the hardscrabble existence of the farmer and the settler, and the miner's vision of golden glory. It examines the independent nature of the explorer and mountain man and the sometimes heroic, sometimes cruel existence of the soldier. We hear the voices of those outside the mainstream of power - women and westerners of color - and explore the most tragic element of western history: the confinement, subjugation, and extermination of Native Americans. No other single volume provides as many readings on as many topics in the history of the American West.


Imagine. Driving down a Nevada desert highway in the middle of the night, your headlights provide the only glimmer of illumination, and the sweet smell of sagebrush filters through your open window. It is quiet, lonely, and a little frightening. Suddenly, you crest a rise in the road, and, far in the distance, you spy the inviting lights of a desert town. Their warm glow beckons to you as a refuge, an oasis. Their gleam may be far away but brings a feeling of security, of safety, of recognition. the lights may be on the horizon, but they indicate an attainable goal.

The history of the nineteenth-century American West is much like those lights in the Nevada desert. While the events occurred in relatively recent times—the blink of an eye historically—they are still distant enough that you require significant travel to reach your destination. the history of the American West is on a distant horizon, but it is seemingly within touch nonetheless. the purpose of this book, Distant Horizon, is to provide a roadmap for a journey back in time by using the documents, accounts, and reminiscences of those who led the way many years before.

And what a journey it was. the history of the nineteenth-century American West has been dissected, glorified, criticized, denigrated, and romanticized. Its contrasts and contradictions, its successes and faults, have all been grist for the historian's mill. From its earliest inhabitants and immigrants to its present dynamic society, it has been the subject of often microscopic examination.

For the historian, the American West is myth, a hope, a promise, a dream, the rainbow's end—and brutal reality. It is gentility and crudeness, high aspirations and base instincts, a family's faith and a loner's last chance. the American West is the rattle of whiskey glasses, the glimmer of hard-earned mineral riches, a gambler's eyeshades, fortunes gained, fortunes lost. It is fulfilled prophecies, shattered empires, the laughter of success, the quiet tears of failure, and bitter resignation. It is the clatter of wagon wheels, the whine of the railroad whistle, the hiss of a steamboat, and the sharp report . . .

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