Contested Plains by Elliot West

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There are many ways in which we can view the history of the American West. One view is the popular story of Cowboys and Indians. It is a grand story filled with adventure, excitement and gold. Another perspective is one of the Native Plains Indians and the rich histories that spanned thousands of years before white discovery and settlement. Elliot West’s book, Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers and the Rush to Colorado, offers a view into both of these worlds. West shows how the histories of both nations intertwine, relate and clash all while dealing with complex geological and environmental challenges. West argues that an understanding of the settling of the Great Plains must come from a deeper understanding, a more thorough knowledge of what came before the white settlers; “I came to believe that the dramatic, amusing, appalling, wondrous, despicable and heroic years of the mid-nineteenth century have to be seen to some degree in the context of the 120 centuries before them” .

There are three parts in West’s book; the first part focuses on the sociological, ecological and economic relationships of the plains Indians, starting with the first establish culture of North America, the Clovis peoples. Going into extensive detail pertaining to early geology and ecology, West gives us a glimpse into what life on the early plains must have looked to early peoples. With vastly differing flora and fauna to what we know today, the early plains at the end of the first ice age, were a different place and lent itself to a diverse way of life. The Clovis peoples were accomplished hunters, focusing on the abundance of Pleistocene megafauna such as earlier, larger forms of bison. Though, little human remains were found, evidence of their s...

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...aries and government reports. Many parts of this book affected me, changed my attitudes and enlightened me. However, one passage stuck out to me as a powerful synopsis of Elliot West’s main argument, “But after all, Indians and whites were masters of change. Their performances were so impressive precisely because they could envision other ways and then muster the will to make them happen” . That is the human will, the powerful driving force behind everything we see and learn. It is also a lesson, a cautionary tale of the destruction that is possible when two powerful wills collide.

Works Cited

West, Elliott, Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers and the Rush to Colorado, (University Press of Kansas,

1988), pg xviii

West, Contested Plains, pg 21

West, Contested Plains, pg 99

West, Contested Plains, pg 336

West, Contested Plains, pg 337

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