THE DISPUTED LANDS: A History of the American West by Alexander B. Adams

THE DISPUTED LANDS: A History of the American West

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KIRKUS REVIEW

How the lands west of the Rockies were won, from the first white penetration (1536) to the end of the Indian Wars (1886)--a companion volume to Adams' 1977 Sunlight and Storm, about the domestication of the Great Plains. These were ""disputed lands,"" per the title, because they were claimed variously by the Spanish, the Mexicans, the British, and the Russians; the Indians are not so much rival claimants as impediments. This, of course, is old-fashioned, weren't-we-energetic history--largely told, also, in an old-fashioned way: what happened here, there and everywhere, with some attention to relevant political developments but only passing notice of economic or social factors. And because it is organized chronologically, not regionally, the focus constantly shifts--not only from one moving frontier to another, but oftentimes from one fracas to another. What the reader will find are all the participants, better and lesser known--Fray Junipero Serra, Lewis & Clark, John Jacob Astor, Jedediah Smith, Fremont, Greeley. . . and Asa Morse, who recruited Eastern women to become Seattle brides; missionary Sue McBeth who, ""whatever they thought of her. . . made personal sacrifices to benefit the Indians."" Considerable is told en route about the mountain men and fur-trading, about the gold- and silver-strikes and the mining industry, about ""murder, robbery, burglary, and mayhem"" in San Francisco (and elsewhere), about the overland treks, the Pony Express, and, inevitably, conflict with the Indians. A chronology at the start helps keep events in order; the chapter notes specify and weigh major sources; the bibliography comprises pages of (chiefly) monographs and personal narratives. One book not listed, however, Rue Allen Billington's Far Western Frontier, 1830-1860, makes exciting sense of all this for the crucial period covered--which Adams' choppy text does not. But as a roundup of hardships-and-hostilities (and as a guide to specialized sources) it's reliable enough.

Pub Date: March 19th, 1981
Publisher: Putnam