As Big as the West: The Pioneer Life of Granville Stuart

As Big as the West: The Pioneer Life of Granville Stuart

As Big as the West: The Pioneer Life of Granville Stuart

As Big as the West: The Pioneer Life of Granville Stuart

Synopsis

Granville Stuart (1834-1918) is a quintessential Western figure, a man whose adventures rival those of Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill, or Sitting Bull, and who embodied many of the contradictions of America's westward expansion. Stuart collected guns, herded cattle, mined for gold, and killed men he thought outlaws. But he also taught himself Shoshone, French, and Spanish, denounced formal religion, married a Shoshone woman, and eventually became a United States diplomat. In this fascinating biography, Clyde Milner and Carol O'Connor, co-editors of the acclaimed Oxford History of the American West, trace Stuart's remarkable trajectory from his youth in an Iowa agricultural settlement to a mining camp in Gold Rush California to his rough-and-tumble life in Montana and his rise to prominence as a public figure. Along the way, we see Granville and his brother James battling bandits and horse thieves and becoming leaders of the new Montana territory. The authors explore Granville's life as a cattleman, including his role as the leader of a vigilante force responsible for several hangings in 1884, his abandonment of his Shoshone children after his second marriage, his government service in offices ranging from the head of the Butte Public Library to U.S. Minister to Paraguay and Uruguay, and his final years, during which he composed a memoir, Forty Years on the Frontier, still widely read for its dramatic account of the era. Written with narrative flair and a lively awareness of current issues in Western history, As Big as the West fully illuminates the conflicting realities of the frontier, where a man could speak of wiping out "half-breeds" while fathering 11 mixed-race children, and go from vigilante to diplomat in the space of a few years.

Excerpt

Granville Stuart believed the dream and lived the reality of the American West. From a prairie farm in Iowa, he hurtled into the 1850s gold rush in California and began a personal journey that connected him to this vast and complicated region. Stuart desired social prominence and financial success and imagined, as did many others, that wealth awaited him out west. In California’s Sierra Nevada mountains and then in the magnificent setting of Montana’s Beaverhead and Deer Lodge valleys, he found adventure and opportunity as a young man new to a distant country. He traded livestock, prospected for gold, and hunted wild game. An expert marksman, Stuart collected guns, but he also collected books. He rode horses, herded cattle, and even killed men whom he considered outlaws. Yet, in a life that stretched from 1834 to 1918, he did much more. He taught himself Shoshone, French, and Spanish. He made meticulous pencil sketches of Montana scenes and kept extensive notes about weather, vegetation, and landscape. A freethinker, Stuart denounced formal religion, especially Christianity, but he remained a staunch member of the Democratic Party. His political loyalty led to his appointment from 1894 to 1898 as the U.S. minister to Paraguay and Uruguay. He had two marriages. The first, to Awbonnie Tookanka, a Shoshone woman, lasted twenty-six years and produced eleven children. His second marriage, to Allis Isabelle Brown, a young white schoolteacher, thrived for twenty-eight years but was childless.

Granville Stuart’s role as a vigilante leader in the 1880s and his shortcomings as a father to his half-Shoshone children raise troubling questions.

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