Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Visions of the American West

Visions of the American West

Copyright Date: 1989
Edition: 1
Pages: 320
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Visions of the American West
    Book Description:

    Countless studies of the American West have been written from the viewpoint of history, psychology, sociology, and anthropology. But the West has seldom been written about with the reflective pen of a philosopher.

    Offering more than a fresh retelling, in thoroughly human terms, of the major historical events of the nineteenth-century West, Gerald Kreyche also leads the reader in a search for the spirit of the West itself. That spirit was one with the American Dream, which offered freedom, individualism, and self-sufficiency to those strong enough and gutsy enough to heed the call of Manifest Destiny.

    Although the West was and is the most American part of America itself, its natural wonders, its spacious grandeur, its myths and mystique have captured the hearts and imaginations of people the world over. We have all experienced the quickened pulse at the mention of things indelibly western -- tumbleweed, mountain men, high plains, cowboys and Indians, sod houses, coyotes, and grizzlies. And who doesn't react to such bigger-than-life figures as Jim Bridger, Buffalo Bill, George Armstrong Custer, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse? The personal humdrum of our times rapidly disappears when, through the magic of western films, TV shows, and books, we vicariously lose ourselves and then find ourselves in the American West of a bygone time.

    The West, then, produced a quasi-separate culture. And, as each culture must, it gave birth to its own ethos, its own special character, its own tone and set of guiding beliefs. Kreyche contends that in the process of "westering," the veneer of the sophisticated easterner was sloughed off, leaving in sharp outline the frontiersman and the pioneer. In their own manner, these men and women produced a new species ofhomo americanus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5060-4
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Prologue. The West as History and Myth
    (pp. 1-6)

    Countless studies on the American West have taken the point of view of history, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and various other disciplines. Seldom, however, has the West been written about from the perspective of a philosopher.

    As a philosopher, I want to call attention not only to the history, but more especially to the very spirit of the American West, a spirit which though uniquely American has moved people the world over. I realize that the termspiritmay seem ethereal and vague, but, like ideas themselves, which often suffer equally under that criticism, spirit, ideas, and dreams always have moved...

  6. 1. Lewis and Clark: The Corps of Discovery
    (pp. 7-34)

    Thomas Jefferson, although a believer in an agrarian democracy, also was an exponent of an aristocracy of talent. He himself was interested in virtually everything, and his many talents were equal to those interests. This remarkable president must be understood as a product of the Enlightenment, whose ideas and philosophical principles he adopted and adapted to fit the needs of America. Among those fundamental ideas was an absolute confidence in the sufficiency of mankind, the thought that whatever the odds, man could make it on his own. This fit well with the Deism of the time. Jefferson had equal confidence,...

  7. 2. The Mountain Men: To Risk a Skin for a Skin
    (pp. 35-65)

    Some lived into their late seventies, dying in bed with a roof over their heads; others met their end on the arid and inhospitable high plains in the very bloom of life. They all belonged to the exclusive genre ofvoyageurs,whether they were hunters or explorer-entrepreneurs or boatmen paddling a pirogue or bateau into the unknown wilderness. Yet within this genre of voyageurs, one group knew themselves as the elite. They were the mountain men who plied their trade under the terse mottoPro pelle cutem,to risk one’s skin for a skin! This was the official motto of...

  8. 3. The Plains Indians: As Long as the Grass Grows and the Water Flows
    (pp. 66-104)

    The Indianhead penny was introduced in 1859 and replaced by the Lincoln penny fifty years later. The Native American also was honored on the buffalo-backed nickel, but that too has disappeared. The fate of these coins seems to reflect the fate of Indians themselves. Although elements of the glory days of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries continue to be evident among Indians today, their high culture and distinctive presence are disappearing in North America.

    We are accustomed to speak of “the Indian” whether we mean the Algonquians of the Northeast, the Seminoles of the South, or the Apaches of the...

  9. 4. Gold and Silver: The Quest for El Dorado
    (pp. 105-135)

    Gold and silver may have been the first metals used by humankind, and from the earliest times they have figured in myth and history as symbols of beauty, wealth, and power. Gold was long the prerogative of rulers: it was among the kingly gifts brought to the manger by the three magi (one of the four hundred references to gold in the Bible). In our day, the precious metals are even more important for their roles in science and industry—gold and silver circuits are used in electronics, and the vehicle that landed on the moon was protected by a...

  10. 5. The Missionaries: For God and Country
    (pp. 136-172)

    The opening of the New World was accomplished by a procession of explorers, entrepreneurs—and missionaries. Indeed, the explorers in many cases were themselves missionaries. In the seventeenth century, Louis Hennepin, a Franciscan, and Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit, explored the Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley. As the eighteenth century arrived, the Jesuit Eusebio Francisco Kino was at work in the American Southwest and the Franciscans Juinpero Serra, Silvestre Escalente, and Francisco Dominguez were not far behind.

    The early religious explorers moved through the tribes, preaching their gospel and mapping the land for those who would follow. Later, particularly in the...

  11. 6. Trails West: Santa Fe, Oregon, and Mormon
    (pp. 173-205)

    The early exploration and settlement of the West took place largely along the great rivers that stretched across the region. The Spanish in the Southwest and the Verendryes on the northern plains had made notable forays on foot, but Lewis and Clark were able to carry out their vast commission efficiently by using the waterways. With keelboat at first and then onlybateauxthey hauled their Corps of Discovery up the Missouri and Yellowstone and down the Columbia, taking in a number of tributaries along the way.¹

    The mountain men, in their single-minded pursuit of the beaver, also kept close...

  12. 7. The Military in the West: Glory, Shame, and Pathos
    (pp. 206-244)

    As more and more white Americans pushed westward, Indian resentment of them increased. Game on which the red man depended was killed or scattered, new diseases appeared that decimated the tribes, and the Indians’ already hard lot was turning impossible. Later, when treaties were made and broken and white authorities insisted that Indians stay on reservations that were often located in areas and climates far removed from their ancestral homelands, the red man rebelled. His responses were various and unpredictable but frequently took the form of hit and run guerrilla actions against whites. An occasional clash or uprising here, a...

  13. 8. Settlement in the Interior: Land, Sodbusters, and Cowboys
    (pp. 245-270)

    The interior West—the areas of present—day Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Montana—were leapfrogged over in the early movement westward. California and Oregon were the centers of attention, offering farms or riches or both. Few saw any opportunity in the intervening territory. It appeared on maps as the “great American desert.” Yet the land was there, waiting to play its part in the expansionism that dominated the outlook of the government. The West was a population escape valve for the overpopulated East, and Americans were still on the move.

    The public demand for free land began as...

  14. Epilogue: The Enduring West
    (pp. 271-273)

    Today, the spirit of the American West is evident all around us. The myth of the West gives meaning to our past and color to our present as we constantly relive it in symbol and ceremony.

    On the most superficial level, the clothing of the West has gone beyond fashion to be the everyday apparel of people all over the world. Levi’s and a shirt have been welcomed as the answer to the centuries’ long search for garments that would stay on with a minimum of fuss, wear well, and enhance appearance. The full Western costume, including ten-gallon hats, heavily...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 274-288)
  16. A Short Representative Bibliography
    (pp. 289-292)
  17. Index
    (pp. 293-302)
  18. Trails West
    (pp. 303-304)