The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, and also the Hurry to Colorado. By Elliott West. (Lawrence, College Press of Kansas, 1998) 422 pp. $34.95.
Within this compelling work of historic imagination, West uses the late antebellum Colorado gold hurry as a focus to re-picture a brief history of human occupation from the Great Plains. People from the Plains have attempted to “improve their condition by redreaming it” (xxi). Always, however, their dreams have clashed using the harsh realities from the Plains. Indians and non-Indians alike happen to be made to discover the lesson of Francis Bacon’s dictum: “‘We cannot command nature except by obeying her’” (xxiii).
Contested Plains focuses on two competing dreams. The very first was thanks to the horse. West focuses particularly around the Cheyennes, who, before the late 1700s, were a settled, horticultural people. Their encounter using the horse enabled these to picture the potential of gaining wealth and power via a mobile existence of bison hunting and trade. Selecting this dream, the Cheyennes saw themselves as “Tsistsistas, the Known as Out People” (76). The 2nd dream was the greater familiar American certainly one of gold and it is attendant empires of cattle, grain, and commerce.
West’s book challenges individuals searching to verify an easy story from the first dream being a nightmare underneath the heels from the second. Though not ignoring the American conquest from the Cheyennes, West gives just as much analytical weight to problems natural within the Cheyennes’ original vision. West concludes that Cheyennes overhunted bison in search of trade goods their horse herds consumed an excessive amount of forage as well as their mobility pulled them apart. West notes these problems were irritated through the incursions of whites, but he stresses that they are from the Cheyennes’ own making.
When Cheyennes protested against white-colored overlanders, these were just participating in the most popular frontier practice of “blam[ing] others for his or her problems” (92).
West uses insights from disciplines within the social and natural sciences (the archaeology of gortyn, anthropology, ethnohistory, ecosystem, geology, and climatology) as helpful tips for interpret a remarkable variety of historic sources. He pays less attention, however, towards the intellectual and cultural size of American expansionism. West’s approach is surest when analyzing [Finish Page 537] the economical, social, political, and ecological facets of the Colorado gold hurry as well as in describing the economical and environmental systems that structured Cheyenne methods for existence. His overall interpretation from the Cheyenne experience and U . s . States-Cheyenne relations, however, is less firmly grounded.
Although West’s account from the Cheyennes imagining themselves like a “called out people” is plausible, there’s hardly any evidence to aid this, or any version, of methods the Cheyennes made the decision to maneuver to the Plains and just what it designed to them at that time. Indeed, this is from the word “Tsistsistas” is obscure and susceptible to various translations. In evaluating the standards behind the destruction from the Cheyennes’ dream, West’s theme from the universal human failure to acknowledge ecological limitations gives an excessive amount of analytical weight towards the Cheyennes’ own ecological problems and never enough towards the American conquest.
West’s argument for any fundamental equivalence from the Cheyenne and American visions—an assessment that overlooks how ideologies of race and manifest future mark an important improvement in the American vision—also diminishes the U . s . States’ responsibility.
Contested Plains provides a complicated and nuanced vision of effective Plains background and achieves this with wit and a lot of knowledge. Even individuals who’d highlight different training in Great Plains history will discover it an interesting and important book.
College of Or