The West has been a theme in the national consciousness since we began our existence. The West, too, has had a varied geography since the nation began. To the Revolutionary hero, The West was Ohio and Kentucky; to the Mexican War soldier it was Texas and California; to the Civil War veteran it was Kansas and Nebraska and the region beyond. But in the half century beginning in 1850, the West had its most rapid growth and some of its most dramatic episodes.
The story of these five decades has been told from many points of view. In this book there have been retold the actual experiences of a number of artists and illustrators, most of whom personally witnessed some part of the marvelous transformation of the region beyond the Mississippi--chiefly the Plains and the Rockies--in the half century extending from 1850 until 1900. Together with the pictures of these pictorial reporters this volume will serve, it is hoped, to give glimpses of this aspect of our past life not ordinarily found in conventional histories. Our story will not be strictly chronological for it has seemed best to consider each individual and his entire contribution to Western illustration before introducing new characters on the scene. The original efforts of these artists and illustrators have been introduced usually as the individuals themselves first made their appearance on the Western scene and this method thus serves to carry through some continuity in the development of our Western story.
The pictures selected as representative for our purpose vary greatly in quality--from the finished production of artists of recognized merit to the crude sketches of untrained amateurs. Many times, too, much of the original work of the artists has long been lost and we are dependent solely upon reproduction of originals in the illustrated press, where again quality of reproduction varies greatly. From a historical standpoint also the pictures themselves are of varying quality; my own suggested standards of judgment upon their historical worth I have elaborated at various points in the chapters which follow and especially in the notes at the end of this volume.
Although not every artist or illustrator who traveled beyond the Mississippi and who recorded the life of the West from 1850 to 1900--with some minor excursions in both directions from these dates--will be found in this volume, a very considerable number--many virtually unknown--have found a place in these pages. On the other hand, some of the best known names . . .