Beyond the West Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The West has been mythologized in many forms of media: tales, songs, novels, film, and television. One of the first, and perhaps most influential, means by which the culture and history of the West was exploited and turned into a media fanfare was the traveling Wild West show. The Wild West show is, as a genre, virtually synonymous with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, but following Buffalo Bill's success in the late nineteenth century, there came a few less well known imitators, such as Pawnee Bill's Wild West show. All of these shows sought to reenact western history (or, rather, reinvent it) for popular audiences in the East and elsewhere (including Europe). The central theme was the “taming” of the West by forthright white cowboys and soldiers as they vanquished unruly Indians and harnessed beasts and other of nature's gifts. We look at such performances today, of course, through a critical lens.

The West has been mythologized in many forms of media: tales, songs, novels, film, and television. One of the first, and perhaps most influential, means by which the culture and history of the West was exploited and turned into a media fanfare was the traveling Wild West show. The Wild West show is, as a genre, virtually synonymous with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, but following Buffalo Bill's success in the late nineteenth century, there came a few less well known imitators, such as Pawnee Bill's Wild West show. All of these shows sought to reenact western history (or, rather, reinvent it) for popular audiences in the East and elsewhere (including Europe). The central theme was the “taming” of the West by forthright white cowboys and soldiers as they vanquished unruly Indians and harnessed beasts and other of nature's gifts. We look at such performances today, of course, through a critical lens.

Also near the end of the nineteenth century, it was said that the frontier era had come to a close. That, at least, was the thesis advanced by historian Frederick Jackson Turner in his seminal 1893 essay “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” Turner noted that US social and political development repeated itself with each new extension of the frontier, as people and institutions advanced toward addressing the problems before them. Through this process, moreover, the American character came to be what it is. We examine Turner's “frontier thesis” in the present section.

Finally, we look at a nationalistic call by another historian (and politician), Albert Beveridge, for the spread of American democracy into the far reaches of the globe. Beveridge's call was issued in the context of the nation's presumed success in having developed the western frontier and the need, therefore, to continue the mission in other parts of the world. Beveridge's message is one of imperialism and Manifest Destiny, announced at a time (1898) when the United States was engaged in the Spanish-American War involving Cuba and Puerto Rico and looking to annex the Philippines, as well.

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