A Guide to the Study of the United States of America


L. The Great Plains: General

4151. Brown, Mark H., and William R. Felton. The frontier years; L. A. Huffman, photographer of the plains. New York, Holt, 1955. 272 p. 55–9876 F595.H87B7

Bibliography: p. 259–261.

4152. Brown, Mark H., and William R. Felton. Before barbed wire. L. A. Huffman, photographer on horseback. New York, Holt, 1956. 256 p. 56–10507 F596.B87. Bibliography: p. 237–243.

4153. Smith, Erwin E. Life on the Texas range. Photographs by Erwin E. Smith; text by J. Evetts Haley. Austin, University of Texas Press, 1952. 112 p. 52–13181 SF85.S57

The two finest photographic records of the West of the Open Range seem to have been made at its northern and southern extremes. Laton A. Huffman (1854–1931) learned photography in his father’s shop in Iowa, and in 1878 came to Fort Keogh on the Yellowstone River in southeastern Montana to fill the unofficial position of post photographer, the remuneration being what he could make out of it. Save for a six-year exodus caused by hard times, Huffman spent the rest of his life as a professional photographer in Montana, and after 1905 lived by the sale of prints from his early negatives. Mr. Felton, Huffman’s son-in-law, has drawn upon the family collection of glass plates, letters, and memoranda, and in both volumes the documentation of the photographs is careful and thorough. The Frontier Years illustrates the finale of buffalo hunting, the last Indian wars, Miles City and other frontier towns, and the transition from wagon train to railroad. Before Barbed Wire illustrates sheep as well as cattle herding and has fine pictures of early cow camps and ranch houses. The authors very properly underline Huffman’s achievement in his early pictures taken on horseback with a 50-pound, slow-shutter, wet-plate camera. Erwin E. Smith (1886–1947)was a later comer than Huffman, and never established himself as a professional photographer. But he was a cowboy who knew the work and its problems thoroughly, and while the Open Range was gone by the time he began taking his pictures on Texas ranches in the early years of the present century, "he spent much of his time on the larger outfits because their work with cattle closely approximated that of the open range." The 80 photographs reproduced here were all chosen for permanent display in the Texas Memorial Museum, are nearly all outstanding for composition and contrast, and have the further advantage of better reproduction than Huffman’s. Mr. Haley contributes a 15-page introduction on Smith’s saddeningly unsuccessful life. The American West; the Pictorial Epic of a Continent, by Lucius M. Beebe and Charles Clegg (New York, Dutton, 1955. 511 p.), is a vast collectanea of pictures from private and public collections, which depict "as many aspects of the West in the nineteenth century as its authors could come by." Many of them are wood engravings which appeared in the illustrated weeklies, and the presentation is sensational rather than systematic.

4154. Dale, Edward Everett. Cow country. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1942. 265 p. 42–15483 F596.D25

Professor Dale was himself a cowboy and rancher in his youth at the turn of the century, partner in "our old ranching firm of Dale Brothers" with his brother George, to whom he dedicates this volume. In addition to his well-known study of The Range Cattle Industry (q. v.) he has contributed a number of related articles to periodicals, including the American Hereford Journal and the Cattleman as well as historical journals. These he has assembled here and eliminated repetitive matter so as to form "a fairly consecutive story of ranching in the Great Plains." There are chapters on the antipathy between Texas trail-drivers and "Kansas Jayhawkers," on the contributions of Scots and Scottish capital to the range cattle industry, on cowboy humor, on ranching in Indian reservations, and on "The Passing of the Cow Country" as a distinct entity and way of life.

4155. Dick, Everett N. Vanguards of the frontier, a social history of the northern plains and Rocky Mountains from the earliest white contacts to the coming of the homemaker. New York, Appleton-Century, 1941. xvi, 574 p. 41–6157 F591.D545. Bibliography: p. 519–545.

4156. Dick, Everett N. The sod-house frontier, 1854–1890; a social history of the northern plains from the creation of Kansas & Nebraska to the admission of the Dakotas. New York, Appleton-Century, 1937. xviii, 550 p. 37–19335 F591.D54. Bibliography: p. 519–528.

Of these companion volumes the sequel appeared first by some four years. Vanguards of the Frontier covers much the same ground as a number of other works on the general history of the West, from the fur companies and the mountain men to the cattle ranchers of the Open Range and the migratory sheep herders of the northern Rockies. It obtains its special character from telling the story, so far as possible, from the viewpoint of the ordinary participant in these historic processes: the author is less concerned, for instance, with the organization and economics of the stage-coach companies, than with typical scenes and incidents encountered by stage-coach drivers and passengers. The Sod-House Frontier. on the other hand, was throughout a quite original synthesis, bringing for the first time within one pair of covers a view of the entire process of settlement which was more or less uniform throughout Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. Prof. Dick interviewed seven survivors from the days of settlement, and utilized reminiscences preserved in manuscript by historical societies or printed in local newspapers. The author gives a symbolic quality to the sod house, the expedient devised by pioneer settlers to provide shelter in a largely treeless land. The prairie sod was cut with a spade into bricks about three feet long, which could be built into houses as large as 20 by 16 feet, which usually leaked and might collapse, but could not burn or blow down, and had an average life of six or seven years. The life of these homesteaders is sympathetically and realistically described in all its characteristic aspects, from the use of buffalo chips as fuel to the "play parties" held in communities where dancing was taboo, and there are chapters on the "Beginning of Machine Farming," "The Grange," and the coming of the railroad, regarded in each community as a cause for celebration and sometimes "ardent wide-spread and all prevailing inebriety."

4157. Gard, Wayne, The Chisholm Trail. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1954. 296 p. 54–6204 F596.G3. Bibliography: p. 265–280.

4158. Wellman, Paul I. The trampling herd. New York, Carrick & Evans, 1939. 433 p. 39–24712 F591.W42

At head of title: The story of the cattle range in America.

"Some books to read": p. 417–419.

The most conspicuous events of Open Range days were the great cattle drives, in which herds of thousands of steers were conducted north from Texas by the trail bosses and their cowhands, running the hazards of Indians, rustlers, river crossings, and stampedes. The earliest recorded drive goes back to 1846, but after the Civil War the practice was resumed on a larger scale and received its characteristic organization in 1867, when Joseph G. McCoy, an Illinois cattle dealer, set up a stockyard at Abilene, Kansas, on the Union Pacific Railroad. The most important route followed by the drivers for a dozen years after 1867 got its name from an old Indian trader, Jesse Chisholm (1806–68), who had a post on the Arkansas River and made regular journeys south to the North Canadian—a rather small portion of the whole trail named after him. Mr. Wellman and Mr. Gard tell much the same story but in antithetical manners: the former speaks in general terms and offers a multitude of anecdotes; the latter is concerned to date and document every circumstance. But Mr. Wellman is not inaccurate, and Mr. Gard is anything but dull. Both describe the gunplay which went on in Abilene and the other northern centers of the trade, and which has acquired a whole literature of its own. Dee Brown and Martin F. Schmitt’s Trail Driving Days (New York, Scribner, 1952. xxii, 264 p.) is a picture book containing a good selection of contemporary photographs supplemented by prints of various kinds; the reproductions are often much too dark, and the text is decidedly thin.

4159. Kraenzel, Carl Frederick. The Great Plains in transition. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1955. xiv, 428 p. maps, diagrs., tables. 55–9628 F591.K7. Bibliography: p. 391–418.

By the Great Plains Mr. Kraenzel means the semiarid belt from the 98th meridian to the Rockies, often referred to as the High Plains. His own emphasis is largely sociological, but since most people have at their disposal only fragmentary information about the region, he has attempted to fill in "all other operative factors affecting the Plains—geographical, psychological, economic, historical, technological, and social," in a book "written in the Plains, about them, by one who is a part of them." The region has long been an exploited hinterland, and its people, whether rural or urban, belong to one or another minority group, whose objectives cannot be realized and who exist in a state of chronic frustration and irritation. They must all "adapt or get out": the adaptation to conditions, which has gone some wayin agriculture, must be extended to all phases of life. The only solution lies in a regionalism whereby "the area can become a unity once again," and its keys for survival are the development of three basic traits: "the creation of necessary reserves, the introduction of flexibility into certain social operations, and the acquisition of mobility in still other aspects of the social order." The author goes on to give more concrete meaning to these somewhat abstract conceptions in various realms of living.

4160. Rister, Carl Coke. Southern plainsmen. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1938. xviii, 289 p. 38–32983 F596.R58. Bibliography: p. 263–279.

As here defined, the Southern Plains are divided from the Northern by the South Platte River, which runs through northern Colorado and southern Nebraska. They have a character of their own derived from their higher average temperature, longer growing season, and faster rate of evaporation. Prof. Rister here describes the life lived upon them from the early 19th century, when only a few white hunters ventured into this preserve of the Arapahoes, Cheyennes, Kiowas, and Comanches, down to the opening of the Oklahoma lands to settlement on April 22, 1889. He divides the subject into topical chapters and at times fails to make chronological progressions as clear as could be wished. His concern is with agricultural settlement rather than with grazing use, and he allots only one 15-page chapter to the "Life of the Range Rider," whom he finds neither romantic nor admirable. There are descriptions of the nocturnal raids of the Indians which went on until the mid-70’s, of the great grasshopper plagues of 1868–69 and 1874–75 as well as of less spectacular hindrances to agriculture, and of the "breakdowns" or square dances in which the settlers relaxed from their harsh toil. Many settlers became discouraged and inscribed "Back to God’s Country" on their wagon covers, but the majority held on by patience, cheerfulness, and reserving a surplus in good years to tide them over the lean ones.

4161. Rollins, Philip Ashton. The cowboy; an unconventional history of civilization on the old-time cattle range. Rev. and enl. ed. New York, Scribner, 1936. 402 p. 36–27318 F596.R75 1936

4162. Frantz, Joe B., and Julian Ernest Choate. The American cowboy: the myth & the reality. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1955. 232 p. 55–9629 F596.F75. Bibliography: p. 203–222.

4163. Sonnichsen, Charles L. Cowboys and cattle kings; life on the range today. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1950. xviii, 316 p. 50–14081 F596.S72

Mr. Rollins spent some years on the Open Range, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and became a zealous collector of western Americana, eventually turning his collection over to Princeton University. His aim has been "to recount accurately the every-day life of the old-time Range," confining himself, with certain specified exceptions, to what he actually saw and heard. His book has been accused of taking too idealistic a view of cowboy character, but in matters of dress, equipment, and characteristic operations it receives the compliment of being frequently drawn upon by other writers on the subject. Messrs. Frantz and Choate are especially concerned with the vast proportions and wide range of the cowboy myth in American popular literature, entertainment, folklore, and life in general, and are moved thereby to many a quip. This heroic figure they set against the average cowboy of 1867–85—"merely a unique occupational type who was concerned with ’cow work’ on the range, raising, rounding up, branding, trailing, haying, and mending." They are, however, compelled to concede that there is abundant historical basis for most of the standard ingredients of horse opera—with the exception of the marathon fist fights, for cowboys, untrained to use their fists, did their fighting with knife or revolver. The concluding four chapters review cowboy literature, both fiction and nonfiction. Mr. Sonnichsen’s volume was commissioned by the Rockefeller Committee at the University of Oklahoma in consequence of the debate which broke out in 1947over the cattlemen of today in relation to the conservation of natural resources. During the first half of 1949the author "traveled from end to end of what was once the Cattle Kingdom and is still the heart of the cattle country, learning everything" he could. The result is a miscellaneous reportorial volume that mirrors the variety of enterprise, personnel, and occupation which now characterizes the industry. He finds that "the all-around cowpunchers of the past are becoming victims of specialization," and that, "as the farm has merged with the ranch, the cowboy has merged with the hired man"—but a hired man who still wears the uniform of a horseman of the Plains and thinks of himself as one.

4164. Webb, Walter Prescott. The Great Plains. [Boston] Ginn, 1931. xv, 525 p. illus. 31–20202 F591.W35. Bibliography at end of each chapter except the first.

An epoch-making work of synthesis andinterpretation which has been fundamental to practically all subsequent treatments of the region with which it deals. The Great Plains, and especially the High Plains from the 98th meridian to the Rockies, are a level and treeless region where the rainfall is insufficient for normal agriculture. These characteristics have affected all historic processes involving the human beings who have ventured into the area. The Plains Indians obtained horses from the Spaniards and, as soon as they had done so, became so formidable as raiders that no further expansion of Spanish colonization was possible. The Texans were more successful because they seized upon Samuel Colt’s invention of the six-shooting revolver, which the rest of the country had rejected, and so became able to defeat the Indians from horseback. Once the Indian and the buffalo had been eliminated, the High Plains became a cattle kingdom because the industrial revolution had not yet devised the means whereby the agricultural frontier could expand into them. In the mid-1870’s a satisfactory barbed-wire fence was invented in Illinois and speedily produced a revolution on the Plains, effecting the transition from the open range to enclosed ranches, and permitting the advent of the homesteaders. The survival of both ranch and farm was made possible by the introduction of the windmill, which gave access to ground water and alleviated if it did not cure the dearth of water. This chronic dearth has led, in the eight driest states, to a departure from the common law of water rights in favor of the arid-region doctrine of appropriation, or the Colorado system. In 1940 the Social Science Research Council devoted its Bulletin 46 to an assault upon Prof. Webb’s conclusions by Fred A. Shannon, which has had small influence.


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Chicago: "L. The Great Plains: General," A Guide to the Study of the United States of America in Donald H. Mugridge, Blanche P. McCrum, and Roy P. Basler, a Guide to the Study of the United States of America (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1960), Pp.511-513 512–514. Original Sources, accessed July 14, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CMZARBKJRZB6T5N.

MLA: . "L. The Great Plains: General." A Guide to the Study of the United States of America, in Donald H. Mugridge, Blanche P. McCrum, and Roy P. Basler, a Guide to the Study of the United States of America (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1960), Pp.511-513, pp. 512–514. Original Sources. 14 Jul. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CMZARBKJRZB6T5N.

Harvard: , 'L. The Great Plains: General' in A Guide to the Study of the United States of America. cited in , Donald H. Mugridge, Blanche P. McCrum, and Roy P. Basler, a Guide to the Study of the United States of America (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1960), Pp.511-513, pp.512–514. Original Sources, retrieved 14 July 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CMZARBKJRZB6T5N.