Anne Hyde, Colorado College professor of history and Southwest studies, recently published “Empires, Nations, and Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860,” part of a five-volume series published by the University of Nebraska Press that reassesses the entire field of Western history.
The book makes clear that the Louisiana Purchase did not involve virgin wilderness discovered by virtuous Anglo entrepreneurs. Rather, the United States was a newcomer in a place already complicated by vying empires.
The period covered in Hyde’s book, 1800-1860, spans the fur trade, Mexican War, gold rushes, and the Overland Trail, usually very male-dominated fields of study. Hyde took a different approach, and, using letters and business records, documented the broad family associations that crossed national and ethnic boundaries. “These folks turned out to be almost entirely people of great wealth and status who loved and married across racial and cultural lines. It turns out that the West of that period is really a mixed race world that made perfect cultural and economic sense until national ideas made that cultural choice impossible in the 1850s,” Hyde said.
“Empires, Nations, and Families” reveals how, in the 1850s, immigrants to the newest region of the United States violently wrested control from Native and other powers, and how conquest and competing demands for land and resources brought about a volatile frontier culture—not at all the peace and prosperity that the new power had promised.