The West: A Frontier Made Myth

Thoughts are made up of imagery. When thinking of the American West what appears in the mind are shots of an almost mythological landscape: gigantic canyons, the desert, vast open plains, and the wilderness with all living components: wild mustangs, buffalo, coyotes and inevitably, the archenemies that constructed the western myth: cowboys and Indians. 

The last frontier, the old west, the wild wild west, are some of the descriptions of this vast land that changed the way the world viewed humanity and the western hemisphere in only one century. The vastness of history has the capability of making myth. But to acquire the magic of this tag many things are required, both in human and spiritual sacrifice. In the case of the American West many elements came to play including the thirst for discovery, a marvelous human trait we call curiosity. 

The spell of the American west was so powerful it drove the human heart to darkness. An encounter of two mentalities so distinct that they inevitably clashed. On one side, the original inhabitants of the vast lands of the West had a completely different concept of life where they were one with the earth, the animals, and the universe. They hunted game for survival and fought the enemy for the same reason. They were great warriors. Most were nomadic and had this idea of ownership that was different, they didn’t believe they owned the land, but that land owned them. They had a different view made up by honor and respect. 

On the other side, “the white man,” as Natives referred to to the new settlers, came from a different generational mindset, heirs of the old continent’s DNA, they were also great warriors, capable of fight to the bitter end, govern, and ultimately kill for the new lands their ancestors had found in the new continent. Slowly, the new settlers started moving in, many wanted and meant good. Dreams of raising families and working the land were sometimes destroyed by the “savages” as they called the Indians who retaliated when they saw the big threat they represented, for they were not only taking their land but also their way of living, their culture, and ultimately their freedom.

Many things happened in the west in a relatively short time in historic terms starting in the early 1800’s. Some of those were: The Treaty of San Ildefonso, The Lewis and Clark Expedition, The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, The Treaty of Fort Laramie, the finding of gold in California, Colorado and the Black Hills, the homestead act, the railroad; a civil war. Many Indian wars, raids, battles, and massacres took place in between; broken treaties, land seizures, the biggest genocide in human history happened in one century when Indians were killed by musket, disease and starvation after the settlers killed the American buffalo to subdue them. In one hundred years, the ways of the Indians were destroyed. A new era was about to take shape.

The history of the American West is so vast it is impossible to fit it all in 500 words. But this is what happened in short: Centuries-old civilizations were destroyed in the name of “progress”. 

Are we there yet?