An Alternate Perspective On The Mythical West

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An Alternate Perspective On The Mythical West Essay, Research Paper An Alternate Perspective on the Mythical West The topic of the American West has intrigued me throughout my life. The tales of cowboys and Indians, of the rugged individual and nature, has always sparked my interest. A land with such quixotic stories of adventure, the West has instilled itself in American history. The yarns and movies of the mythical frontier provide a perception to which I among many others have chosen to adopt at one time or another. This perception has been embedded in many youths, providing a nationalistic view of America using the West as a symbol of the individualism to which our forefathers fought for. Yet it is human nature to be inquisitive, and so I delved into this topic in the

hopes of developing a better understanding of the history of the great American frontier. The myth of the American West has been intertwined throughout United States history. It is often perceived as a romantic story, a legacy that has ingrained itself in American culture and society. The 1890 census announced the end of the frontier, closing a chapter in American history. In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner argued the importance of the frontier in shaping American politics, economy, and culture. Turner’s nationalistic view of the West created a problem, providing a mythical notion of a realistically rough arena filled with conflict and frustration. Furthermore, the thesis proposed by Turner proved to be futile for the present and future. The firmness of Turner’s thesis left it

susceptible to challenges, creating a revolution of historical study of the Old West in the mid-twentieth century. Historians dedicated to the American West have branched off from Turner and have created a field that hinges on this complex area. These historians have challenged the old myths of a quaint West, seeking to expose the true nature of Western expansion. Among these historians, Patricia Nelson Limerick has developed a perception of the West based on the stories of the men and women who actually lived there. In her book, The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West, Limerick maintains that Westward expansion was not a romantic saga of cowboys and Indians, but instead was a gradual conquest based on economics and politics. In a sense, the West was not

founded by rugged individualists, but rather by competition and profit. By interpreting the stories of those who lived through it, Limerick effectively argues that business shaped and continues to shape the American frontier. As Limerick contends, to understand Turner’s thesis one must merely “stand in the East and look to the West,” but to examine the true nature of the West one must examine the characters that make up its history (p 26). Limerick’s thesis hinges on the stories of various people that roughed it out on the frontier. Yet in reading her book, one must first note the dependence on secondary sources in obtaining the letters and testimonies of the people. She details many stories of persons seeking fortune and adventure. In these various accounts, Limerick

highlights many key aspects that have come to define the West. The concept of “injured innocence” is introduced, reviewing the authentic sense of Western people being victims of nature or rich entrepreneurs (p 48). This concept helped to shape Westerners view of the federal government by using the bureaucracy as a scapegoat for the problems they encountered. Limerick identifies Western dissatisfaction with the government due to its handling of the Native Americans and Mexicans that populated the area as well, taking much time and resource away from whom the Westerners thought deserved it the most: themselves. Yet the Westerners relied on the government and regulation, resulting in them becoming contingent on the same government to which they ridiculed. Limerick fervently