The Role of the West in the Reunification of the U.S. after the Civil War

Thursday, February 25, 2010
7:00 p.m.–8:30 p.m. (EST)

Buffalo Bill's Wild West program, 1893


Heather Cox Richardson

Professor of History
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

About the Seminar

When we teach Reconstruction, we typically focus on the struggle to reunite the North and the South. But what of the West? What role did it play in national reunification? The late nineteenth century was the zenith of westward expansion. Western images dominated American culture. What did the wide-open spaces of the West represent to the Americans who were crowding into the cities of the Northeast? What did they represent to the ex-Confederates who resented the imposition of federal power in the South? How did the West shape the nation that emerged from the Civil War?

Unidentified man, Colville tribe, 1900

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Assigned Readings

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  1. William Tecumseh Sherman to Senator John Sherman, in Rachel Sherman Thorndike, The Sherman Letters (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1894), 296
  2. “A Traduced Gentleman,” Jesse James letter, New York Times, July 20, 1875
  3. “Well May the ‘Wild West’ Ask, Is This the Civilized East?,” Thomas Nast drawing of Buffalo Bill‘s Wild West Show, December 1886
  4. Owen Wister, The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains, Introduction and Chapters 1–3 in The Gilded and the Gritty

Suggested Reading

Selections from The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870–1912, an online toolbox from the National Humanities Center.
  1. Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” address, 1893, excerpts
  2. Stephen Crane, “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” short story, McClure’s Magazine, February 1898
  3. Simon Pokagon, “The Future of the Red Man,” Forum, August 1897, excerpts, and Studio portraits of Native Americans, 1886–1907
  4. William F. Cody and John M. Burke, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World, program, 1893, excerpt

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