An Alternate Perspective on the Mythical West

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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.
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