The American West: A Modern History, 1900 to the Present

By Richard W. Etulain; Michael P. Malone | Go to book overview

UNCLE SAM'S WEST

With the end of the war in 1945, many feared and predicted that the nation would abruptly fall back into an economic depression. To the contrary, the postwar years witnessed instead the greatest sustained prosperity that any nation has ever seen, and the West shared fully in that prosperity. During the fifteen years after war's end, the population of the entire region beyond the Mississippi grew from thirty-two million to forty-five million people. All subregions of the West shared in this growth, but very unevenly. None could match the incredible boom in Arizona and southern California, as mobile Americans headed for the hot, dry climates now made livable by air conditioning. Arizona's population grew by a remarkable 163 percent during these fifteen years. and California surged from a populace of nine million to one of nineteen million. By 1996z, California had surpassed New York to become the most populous American state; and architect Frank Lloyd Wright quipped that all of the country seemed tilted westward, so that everything not nailed down was sliding toward California.

Beyond dispute, the federal government played a major part in the West's takeoff and in its escape from its colonial past. The U.S. government was rapidly emerging by this time not only as the region's chief landlord but also as its chief financier. In the eight states of the sparsely populated Great Basin and Rocky Mountains, Uncle Sam now owned more than half the land, from a low of 30 percent in Montana to a high of 86 percent in Nevada. By 1958, in the eleven states of the Far West, federal expenditures exceeded tax revenues in all but three. To a large extent, the federal government both subsidized the West's developing economy and, through custodial agencies like the Bureau of Land Management (newly created in 1946) and the U.S. Forest Service, managed its resources. Such reliance, as we shall see, bred more antagonism than affection. But when confronted with criticisms of such federal subsidies, western spokesmen often replied that since the centers of national

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