Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Champion in every sense

Johnson County, Wyoming, April 1892 and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association "Regulators" and their hired hit-men from Texas were about to run into a force of nature named Nate Champion.
Nate Champion--by most accounts a good hand, cowboy, and gunman

Champion was the working-class hero in contrast to the cattle barons in Wyoming. He’d been a top hand at several ranches, was good with a gun, said to be a good cowboy, and generally was well respected by most everyone—UNTIL he organized the Northwest Wyoming Farm and Stock Growers Association for the smaller ranches struggling to survive against the cattle barons who composed the WSGA. He helped create a competing spring roundup after the large ranchers wouldn’t allow the small ranchers to join their annual roundup. Champion further incurred the wrath of the WSGA when he grazed his cows on the public range claiming he had as much right as the big ranchers did.

The barons didn’t appreciate his defiance. The newspapers in Cheyenne branded him “King of the Cattle Thieves” and leader of the “Red Sash Gang”, presumably at the behest of the WSGA, as the papers in Cheyenne were controlled/owned/told what to print by the cattle barons. This marked him for death even though WSGA attorney Willis VanDementer told them there was no evidence Champion was a rustler. You can assume VanDementer wasn’t popular for a while with the cattle barons. And there was no Red Sash Gang. Didn’t matter a bit to the cattle barons as they made out their hit list and then recruited more than twenty hired guns out of Paris, Texas to help rid them of their “rustlers.”

The morning of April 9th was cold, with the wind howling down out of the north and bringing snow with it. In the snow, fifty of the most trusted men employed by the barons, as well as the twenty-two Texans, attacked Champion’s ranch. Nick Ray, Champion’s friend, was mortally wounded in the first volley of shots.

Under withering gunfire, Champion pulled his friend to safety, though Ray died shortly afterward. For several hours, Champion held off the hired guns of the WSGA until the gunmen set fire to his cabin. His journal--which miraculously survived the fire--reveals that Champion knew his time was up. He wrote that the gunmen were planning to fire the cabin and they aimed "to see me dead this time." Armed with a knife and his revolver, Champion charged out the door. More than 20 bullets were found in his body when he was finally allowed to be buried several days later. He was only thirty-five years old.

That Champion survived on April 9th as long as he did ranks this gunfight as one of the most amazing fights imaginable. That the cattle barons of the WSGA didn’t realize by killing Champion they’d be creating a hero for the smaller ranchers to rally around was another amazement, or it goes to their arrogance. I never can decide which it is—or if it was both.
Bronze of  Champion outside the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum, Buffalo, WY--in Johnson County

The Johnson County war was the stuff that created larger than life heroes, revealed just how villainous greed, money, and power can make people and has provided fodder for Western writers for generations.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Have Gun-Will Travel by Kaye Spencer #classictelevision #Sweetheartsofthewest #westerns

During my growing-up years, I watched reruns or as-they-aired episodes of what are now classic television westerns: Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Lone Ranger, The Big Valley, High Chaparral, Rawhide, Laredo, The Virginian, Sugarfoot, Cheyenne, Maverick, Wagon Trail, Tales of Wells Fargo, Branded, Wyatt Earp, Johnny Yuma, Laramie, Broken Arrow, Guns of Will Sonnet, Zorro, Lancer, Cimarron Strip, Yancy Derringer... The list goes on and, no doubt, you each have your favorites.

It just so happens that one of my favorite classic western television shows is celebrates its premiere date this month.

 Have Gun-Will Travel
The adventures of a gentlemanly gunfighter for hire.
 IMDb website: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050025/
Sixty-one years ago (September 14, 1957), the television-watching population enjoyed the premiere of the thirty-minute, Saturday night western show, Have Gun - Will Travel, starring Richard Boone as the somewhat mysterious soldier of fortune, but always a gentleman, Paladin. The premise of the show was Paladin worked as a gunfighter-for-hire who traveled the west c. 1875 offering his special kind of problem-solving skills. He was a high-dollar gunman—$1000 per job wasn’t unusual—but he also provided his services for free to those with a worthy cause who couldn’t afford him otherwise. However, violence by gunplay wasn’t his only weapon. He was a pugilist and dueling champion of some renown in his former life.

General Trivia

  • The word ‘paladin’ derives from the knights in Charlemagne’s Court, who were champions of worthy causes.
  • Paladin was a Union cavalry officer and graduate of West Point.
  • His residence is the luxury Carlton Hotel in San Francisco.
  • When not riding about the countryside doing good deeds—dressed as the original “Man in Black”—he lives the life of a cultured businessman who wears custom-made suits, consumes fine wine, plays the piano, and attends the opera. He also has a weakness for women.
  • With just a sip, he can determine a particular bourbon’s distillery.
  • Paladin is an expert chess and poker player, an accomplished swordsman, and possesses skill in Chinese martial arts having studied under a Kung Fu master.
  • His level of education is such that he quotes classical literature, philosophy, case law, and he speaks several languages.
Richard Boone as Paladin
Link to source: HERE
  • Paladin’s weapons: 1) custom-made, single action .45 Colt (Army cavalry model) that he carries in a black leather holster adorned with a platinum chess knight symbol, 2) lever action Marlin rifle, and 3) concealed derringer.
  • He has a signature calling card/business card. In Paladin’s words:  “It's a chess piece, the most versatile on the board. It can move in eight different directions, over obstacles, and it's always unexpected.”
CBS Publicity image
Link to source HERE

The show’s four note opening motif was done purposely to create a musical memory akin to other popular television shows at the time: Highway Patrol, Dragnet, Twilight Zone, and Perry Mason.

The show closes with the song, “The Ballad of Paladin”, which was written by Johnny Western, Richard Boone, and Sam Rolfe. Johnny Western sings the ballad.

The show ran from September 14, 1957 to April 20, 1963 with 225 episodes.

From 1974 to 1991, a trademark lawsuit against the concept of the show moved in and out of court culminating with a substantial settlement. You can read the details here: HGWT Website

A radio version began on November 23, 1958 and ended November 22, 1960 with actor John Dehner portraying Paladin. John Dehner is one of those Hollywood character actors whose name rings a bell, but you can't put a face to the name until you see him.

John Dehner
image credit below**

Hollywood Trivia

Notable Episode Writers:
  • Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek)
  • Bruce Geller (Mission Impossible)
  • Harry Julian Fink (Dirty Harry)
  • Sam Peckinpah (directed a plethora of western movies)
  • Unusual for the era, many episodes were filmed outdoors and not on the Old West film lots – Bishop and Lone Pine, California – Paladin Estates between Bend and Sisters, Oregon – the Abbott Ranch near Prineville, Oregon
Notable Guest Stars:
  • Angie Dickinson
  • Ben Johnson
  • Buddy Ebsen
  • Charles Bronson
  • Dan Blocker
  • DeForest Kelley
  • Denver Pyle
  • Dyan Cannon
  • George Kennedy
  • Jack Elam
  • Jack Lord
  • James Coburn
  • Johnny Crawford 
  • June Lockhart (Lassie)
  • Ken Curtis 
  • Lee Van Cleef
  • Lon Chaney, Jr.
  • Pernell Roberts 
  • Robert Blake
  • Suzanne Pleshette
  • Vincent Price
  • Werner Klemperer
Who was Paladin?

Paladin was a West Point graduate, a Civil War cavalry officer, and his base of operations was the Hotel Carlton in San Francisco, California. While it's been too many years since I've watched these episodes, I've read that in the episode entitled "Fandango", Paladin encounters a sheriff who knew him from their Civil War days. The sheriff calls Paladin 'Bobby' and goes on to say, "It's been a long time since Bull Run." Maybe Paladin's real first name was Robert.

Generally, though, the consensus is his real name is never revealed. However, Paladin’s backstory is shown in flashback sequence in the first episode of the last (6th) season, “Genesis”, which aired September 15, 1962. This episode explains how Paladin came by his pseudonym and his subsequent mission to champion the causes of the less fortunate. It isn't his shining moment. Through his actions, another man dies, and Paladin takes on the dead man's identity and mission as a type of penitence to atone for his own actions.

Read the episode details at the HGWT Website.

Until next time,

Kaye Spencer

Writing through history one romance upon a time

Other Sources:
  • HWWT (Have Gun, Will Travel) website: http://www.hgwt.com/
  • Have Gun-Will Travel. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikipedia.org.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Have_Gun_–_Will_Travel. Creative Commons Share-Alike Attribution License.
  • Image: Paladin - By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33548427
  • Radio Show episodes: https://archive.org/details/HaveGunWillTravel_543
  • **Image: John Dehner - http://blogs.pjstar.com/mindingbiz/2013/12/23/before-he-was-mr-wilson-he-was-mr-radio-10-tv-stars-who-made-it-big-on-radio/

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Modern West

by Rain Trueax
There are those who think the Old West ceased existing with modern living. They think cowboys are a thing of the past or maybe only in movies or rodeos. I suspect not many of them read Sweethearts of the West where it's more likely known that the cowboy way of life still exists. 

Today, cowboy grit is how it gets done on big and small ranches, wherever people raise herds and live on the land, facing the elements, often not working for much material gain, struggling with economics, and against an encroaching modern world. It still exists in both fiction and non-fiction.

Monday, September 10, 2018

WHAT IF? E. Ayers

I'm sitting here on the computer and watching weather reports. Nothing much has changed in the last few hours. We've got a CAT 4 hurricane barreling down on us. I've ridden out plenty of storms over the years, but this one bears watching closely. I'm trying to decide if I should evacuate or stay put.

That's made me wonder about years ago when there was no early warning system for these storms. Today we figure if we've lost power for a few hours that it's terrible. The last hurricane through here took my power out for 13+ days. UGH!

But we know it's coming. We can watch the radar and get constant updates. What happened a hundred years ago?  We know what happened to Galveston, Texas in 1900. Way back in time,
Galveston TX 1900
there was the Great Hurricane of 1780. They didn't name them back then as they do now. And there were no storm trackers, but we do know that as many as 27,000 people lost their lives. It destroyed many of the islands before wandering up the east coast to Canada.

Yes, Florence worries me. I'm a chicken. I don't care if I don't have electricity, well actually I do care, but I know I can manage. I've done it before and I can do it again. I'm a pretty good camper. But I'm not fond of real damage. I don't want my roof ripped off or that tree in my neighbor's yard to fall on my house. But in a way, I'm lucky. I know what is coming and what I must do.

Can you imagine Texans being hit with a hurricane that they weren't expecting? Or living on the Plains and seeing a funnel cloud bearing down on your barn? Or even living in what is now California and having the earth move under your feet? What about those folks who crossed the ocean in tall-masted sailing ships. Did those captains have any idea what was on the horizon and headed to them? It must have been very scary.

Can you imagine not knowing what was happening? It's not that we have learned to control nature, but in so many cases, we have warnings. We know and we understand. I have a friend who has a son and daughter-in-law living in the Caribbean. Their island got hit hard last year. They are still cleaning up! Maybe it doesn't look like it to the average visitor but repairs are still being made. Houston and New Orleans didn't return to normal a week later.

I wonder what our local Indians once thought when a hurricane descended on them. What did those first settlers at Jamestown, Virginia think? It must have been scary. Did they think that the world was ending?  They weren't worried about losing electricity because it didn't exist. 

Knowing what is coming helps, but it won't stop the destruction. Mother Nature is not very nice. She never was nor will she ever be. I doubt we'll ever learn to tame her. But as I begin to prepare for this storm, I wonder what the people who lived in my house, so very long ago, did when the high winds and rain pounded down on the small town built by the river.

I'm not going to take unnecessary chances. I'm a super-sized chicken with a big yellow stripe down my back.  When it comes to fight or flight, I'm flight. This house has withstood so very many storms in its 170 or more years. A Cat 3 or a Cat 4? This old house might be facing this storm without me.    

Maybe the weirdest thing about this storm is that I just finished writing a contemporary romance that deals with a beach home and a Category 3 hurricane that is upgraded to a 4. In the story, the hero loses his house. Maybe that's why I'm a bit freaked this time. Not really. I've lived in the area for years and never have I seen a really bad hit, other than Floyd, and that was flooding. Isabel sent a tree down on my car and totaled it. Aside from that, all damage has been minor. But I've not seen a Cat 4 or Cat 3 rumble over my house. I don't think I want to see it.

What if we didn't know? What if we weren't prepared? What if the family had to climb on the buckboard in the pouring rain with hopes of reaching higher ground?  What if...?

Saturday, September 8, 2018


By Caroline Clemmons
Subbing for Christi Corbett

Although I’m a Texan, my father's and mother's family were Oklahoma pioneers. Daddy's family moved from Georgia to Texas and then to Oklahoma. Mom's family moved from Tennessee to Oklahoma. The following is part of an account by a member of my paternal step-grandmother's Garton line regarding their move from Hill County, Texas to Old Greer County (now Harmon County), Oklahoma in 1899. The entire account is too long to include here, but I hope you find this portion interesting. It's from an oral history recorded in 1978.
"...We camped at Mr. Brim’s because he had water. There was an empty dugout nearby. We moved into it because it was so There was an empty dugout nearby. We moved into it because it was so cold in the tent. We had a sheet-iron stove, but there wasn’t any wood. Willy had pneumonia. The gyp dust of the dugout turned out to be worse on him than the cold, and so we had to move back into the tent. 

It didn’t take long for us to get initiated to the hazards of living on the prairie. Rain was our chief concern. Everyday we searched the skies for rain clouds. When we saw a rain cloud approaching, we always remembered what a settler’s wife had told Papa when we camped out on Turkey Creek. He had gone to try to buy food for the animals. He asked if it ever rained in Greer County. In a long drawn out tone she replied, "It don’t never rain in Greer County, but when it does, it don’t never stop."

Dust storm

About two or three weeks after we arrived in Martin, we experienced our first sandstorm. Murray and Papa were digging the dugout, and the rest of us were working around the tent. We had spread all the bedclothes outside on the grass so they could air the damp out. We saw the black cloud coming from the north. We thought it was a bad rain cloud. It hit with all the fury of a spring rainstorm, but it was only wind and dust. Mama struggled to get the bedclothes off the grass while we kids fought to keep the tent from falling. Even Willy, who still had pneumonia, was trying to help. But the tent collapsed in spite of all our efforts. After it was over, Papa and Murray came running to us. Papa said that he had never been so frightened—he had thought the world was coming to an end! Later we found our pillows a half-mile away hanging on a barbed wire fence.

After that experience, we watched the skies for rain, those ominous black clouds, and another cloud of a different color. This was a gray cloud that meant an approaching prairie fire. All of the settlers feared these fires. Everyone plowed his fields to make a fire guard; but if the wind was strong, nothing could stop the fires. We were never burned out, but we lived in fear that we might be.

You can understand how
cattle could be on the roof.

Murray and Papa finally finished the new dugout. There we were—seven kids and Mama and Papa—and we didn’t own one dollar in cash. Mr. Brim helped Papa get groceries "on account" in Quanah. He had a fenced garden spot that he said we could use. Mr. Payne let us milk two of his cows. 

Sod house interior

Then we started breaking land with our horses and that old mule. We didn’t make any crop that first year, but we did get all of the land broken. The second year we planted maize and cotton. Papa would dig the holes and I would place the seeds in the holes. The maize was the old goose-necked variety that grew as high as a man’s head and then curved back toward the ground. We had to cut each head separately with a knife. It was difficult for us to reach. Our hands would get cut by the sharp blades of the leaves and, once in a while, by the knife.

We had to go to Quanah, Texas for everything. It had the 
closest railroad. Four or five families would sometimes get together and go over there because we had to ford the Red River. If the river was up, all of the horses would be hitched together in order to pull the wagons across one by one. We had to tie everything down in the wagons or we might see our supplies floating down the river. We would never know whether or not the river would be high. There might have been thunderstorms further west we knew nothing about.

It seemed like we were always in debt to that man at Quanah. I remember one of the first years when we made a good crop. Papa went to Quanah to pay off our bills. When he came home, he said, "Well, Susan, I didn’t tell you, but now I’ve paid it off I guess it can’t hurt to tell you. I mortgaged the mule last spring." 

Mama was shocked. She fretted the remainder of the day. She said over and over, "Just think, if we hadn’t made this crop, we’d lost that mule, and then how would we have broken the land for next year’s crop?"

We made pretty good crops when we first came to Martin. The land was fresh and would grow anything if we could just get enough rain. Our biggest problem was getting water. We had to haul it from Quanah or catch it in rain barrels. When it rained, we filled every available container with water.

The year after Papa mortgaged the mule, he traded it for the price of digging a well. The man had to dig 115 feet before he hit water. We had to draw all our water—even for the stock. Whose job do you think that was? Talk about "the good old days!" If I didn’t think Mama or Papa were watching, I would drive the cattle away—they would drink too much.

Our next biggest worry was the damage caused by the open range policy. Before the Herd Law was passed, the cattle would eat our maize crop and trample our cotton. There weren’t any trees around for fence posts. All the lumber had to be freighted in from Quanah. Besides that, barbed wire cost money, and we were always short of money. 

Willy got a job in Texas. That $10 a month he made sure helped us. One of most vivid memories relating to that open range policy was the day two bulls got into a fight on the top of our flat topped dugout. We were afraid to go outside because they might attack us, and we were afraid to stay inside because it sounded as if any second they could come crashing through the roof. Finally, they gave up and went away.

I was just nine years old when we moved from Hill County, Texas. Oh, how homesick I would get for all those beautiful trees I used to climb (I was the tomboy of the family) and the creeks I used to wade in. I missed our big house too. Everything got so dirty in the dugout. My brother-in- law Ed, who had said this country wouldn’t sprout black-eyed peas, brought my sister Attie to see us. They decided to homestead north of us. We were all together then, and I knew there wasn’t much hope of going back. 

All of us children had to work in the fields planting and harvesting. In the winter we went to school. I loved school and secretly dreamed of going back to Texas to high school. My aunt offered to take my older sister Lucinda and send her to high school so that she could become a teacher. When my sister refused, I asked Mama if I could take her place, but she shrugged it off by saying that I was too young and should stay at home..."

Readers, don't look for Martin on the Oklahoma map. When the railroad passed the town in favor of Hollis, Martin Township died. Even Hollis' population has dwindled now that the railroad no longer goes there. 

And if you are wondering why--if Willy couldn't breathe in the dugout--his father and older brother built another one, it's the gypsum. Gypsum deposits run through some areas of Old Greer County, now Harmon County. Since the gypsum-filled dugout was on Mr. Brim's land, one can only guess that the Brim's had either built the dugout in a gypsum deposit or used limestone/gypsum wash to paint the inside of the dugout. I have no idea, but know that I prefer a brick home with a nice firm (cleanable) floor. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018


          Many old forts and military camps have been covered here at Sweethearts of the West, in books, films and campfire stories. My fascination with Fort Huachuca began nearly forty years ago. The Huachuca Mountains are Sky Islands stretching from just short of the Mexican border, fifteen miles north in westernmost Cochise County, Arizona. Over the years we dry camped atop the mountains, RV’d close by, stayed in cabins, motels and the Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee to the east  I  had become obsessed 

Related image

with the area, its scenery, people, museums and fascinating history.
On July 8, 2015 Celia Yeary posted an article here entitled "BUFFALO SOLDIERS."

Image result for Fort Huachuca, AZ
Fort Huachuca Museum

          I returned again and again even after my husband’s death in 2008 at least yearly for extended stays. I poured my energies into research and absorbing the sense of the terrain and atmosphere. A brother-in-law’s stories of his grandmother led to the book’s heroine, Josephine. Though she carried the same name as the original, she was very different and, so, HUACHUCA WOMAN evolved as the first book in THE HUACHUCA TRILOGY. BY GRACE and ROSE OF SHARON came later

          In 1952, Josephine’s young adult grandchildren have returned to the four generational family homestead in the Huachucas to record their 75 year old grandmother’s stories of her life. In Josephine’s words, here is her tale of the origins of the famed fort:

“Fort Huachuca and her soldiers have been a part of my life since memory began. After all, we shared our birth year of 1877. That’s when the camp was to deal with raiding Apaches. Before the fort, the government had set up special units of black soldiers and white officers for the Indian campaign in the north. Those first soldiers were something of a ragtag bunch with tattered uniforms, mostly left over from the Civil War, and whatever they cobbled together. Many wore the blue wool in stifling hot weather and cold winter. But none wore the ‘uniform’ more proudly.
          Negro soldiers fought in the Revolutionary War and Civil War, always with white officers in command. Later, Plains Indians gave ‘em the name ‘Buffalo Soldiers,’ for the dark of their skin, the nappy pelt of their hair that felt of buffalo hide, and for their fierce fighting ways, despite their raggedy appearance and their dependence on the worst of army nags. The soldiers took to the name with pride, not insult.         

      Most Buffalo Soldiers fought for the Union and made their way west after the War Between the States. Others were wandering freedmen, looking to make their way. Some made a life of the army, some moved on. They came in all ages and stages. Some still wet behind the ears and some with the bowed legs and grizzled look of a long life on back of a horse. Some with useful skills left from plantation days and some seeking the security of a regimented way of life.
          With a goodly amount of water and these old mountains jutting up sharply out of the desert in all their greenery, the fort was pure oasis for the weary or desert bound.
          White officers tended to come for a spell and move on. Some saw the assignment to Fort Huachuca as punishment and some took p0ride in it.  Others bided their time. By 1886, the officers had their storied houses lined up along one side of the parade grounds, just as in eastern forts. Wives and Families followed and social life of balls, picnics and good deeds came, too. For the whites.
          For the enlisted men, barracks lined the opposite side of the parade grounds. Parlors and barracks alike filled with the dust from hooves of parading horses and the boots of marching men. By this time, regulation uniforms and decent horses were the order of the day for they had been earned in the Indian Wars. At first, few recruits married or took up with squaws. They evolved their own social life in hunting, horse racing and rodeo stunts, gaming and music making. Off grounds, a few cantinas offered drinks and lady companions for a buck or two.

Image result for Buffalo Soldiers At Ft. HuachucaRelated image
When not fighting Apaches, usually relying on Apache scouts to locate the rascals, or searching for first Cochise and then Geronimo, the soldiers were kept busy: laying telegraph wires, surveying the fort and mountains, building roads and the various buildings needed at the fort. They looked to the safety of settlers in patrolling the surrounding area regularly and stopping at ranches. Their officers might take a cup of coffee or a meal with a rancher or his family but the regulars kept to themselves.
Nearing the turn of the century, things got hot busy along the Mexican border and much of the soldiers’ time was spent patrolling against renegade Mexicans, as well as Sierra Madre or other Apaches from across the way. Others tended the orchards and fields in Garden Canyon or doing whatever work was needed to keep the fort running.”
Fort Huachuca has continued in service to the country ever since. Two excellent museums, designation as a National Historic landmark, many changes in the operation of surveillance and communications systems have flourished. Yearly re-enactments of the 10th Calvary’s Buffalo Soldiers continue to bring attention to its traditions. Historical events include: Ancient petroglyphs in Garden Canyon;Image result for Fort Huachuca, AZ

Geronimo’s surrender to post Commander General Nelson A. Miles in 1886; Pershing’s doomed “Punitive Expedition” into Mexico (1916-1917) to search out Pancho Villa; the 1917 appointment to post commander of Col Charles Young, West Point graduate and first Black army colonel; Singer Dorothy Dandridge and WACs arrived around WWII; and visitors and trainees now come from the world over. 

Over the years I have found a multitude of books, magazines and periodicals about Fort Huachuca helpful. Unfortunately, I cannot provide you with ready references for my library is in disarray due to downsizing. Two books of some merit are:
          The Buffalo Soldiers by William H. Leckie, U of Oklahoma Press, 1967
Fort Huachuca: The Story of a Frontier Post, by Cornelius C. Smith Jr, sold by Huachuca Museum Society, 1976  
Photos: Google Images, Armyand Wikipedia

 Arletta Dawdy lives and writes in Northern California but her literary heart lives in the Southeast Arizona.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018


John Gast, American Progress, 1872

I first saw this painting while researching Trail to Destiny, Book 1 of my Wheels of Destiny Trilogy. I found the painting both an inspirational and fascinating piece of historical western art. Not only did I admire its rich and detailed symbolism and the powerful meaning it gave to America’s westward expansion, but I understood the controversy it provoked as well. Although the original artwork is only 12 ¾ x 16 ¾, the painting viewed by most is a much larger reproduction.

Crofutt's Trans-Continental Tourist's Guide, 1872

John Gast, a Brooklyn based painter and lithographer, was commissioned by George Crofutt, the publisher of a popular series of western travel guides. With so many images of the western landscape already in circulation, Crofutt collaborated with Gast to create a new design. Crofutt included an engraving of Gast’s painting in his guidebooks.

In order to appreciate the images depicted in Gast’s painting, one has to realize the connection it had to the concept of “Manifest Destiny,” which was first authored by newspaper editor, John O’Sullivan in 1845, who claimed America had been chosen to carry out the duty of expanding the country all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Gast used his painting to tell the message that the United States was destined to migrate West and to encourage interest in Americans to forge their way across the western frontier. This manifest destiny ideology was common among many early Americans who viewed it as an economic opportunity to start anew.

American Progress conveys a dynamic story. First, let’s take a look at the landscape. The right side represents eastern America with what is assumed to be the Mississippi River and the left side represents western America with the distant Pacific Ocean. Notice the eastern side is much brighter than the western side which grows darker with storm clouds above the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. Reading into that, some viewers might interpret the east as safe and civilized and the west as a dark, uncivilized and untamed wilderness.

Second, take notice of the large, ethereal feminine figure in the middle of the painting. With the “star of the empire” on her forehead, she seems to be leading and lighting the way for the travelers from East to West. In her right hand she carries what most often is interpreted as a book of knowledge and she suspends a length of telegraph cable, depicting educational advancements and technological improvements and inventions.

Next look below her; men follow her on foot and by various methods of transportation – pony express rider on horseback, covered wagon, stagecoach, and steam engine. In the lower right, farmers work the land, a stone house, trees and a split rail fence nearby. On the road in the foreground, three men walk beside a horseman. One carries a shotgun and another holds a miner’s shovel on his shoulder.

As sequential waves of Americans move forward across the plains towards the Rockies and beyond, their images tell a story about the importance of the frontier in American life and of the progress achieved through communication, development, transportation and expansion.

But when we look closely to the left side of the painting, we can see quite another dark and controversial meaning to that story. Bison, wild horses and a bear are seen retreating into the darkness. Several Native Americans look back, one bare-chested male raises a tomahawk and another carries a bow and arrow. A horse drawn travois carries a mother and child. Another woman walks beside it and looking over her shoulder.

In the nineteenth century, the new nation of the United States had great ambitions for its future and westward expansion was a common mindset among most Americans. Looking at “American Progress” today, one can appreciate the bright, positive side of Americans’ enthusiasm and energy for forging a bold path across the West, yet also understand the darker, negative side and sympathize with Native Americans being forced from their native land and way of life they were accustomed to.

Gast’s painting at the time he created it effectively conveyed a history of the past, the innovations of the present and a vision of the future. The original painting is now held by the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles, California.

Inspired by 19th Century Americans traveling across the western frontier, I wrote the first two books published in the Wheels of Destiny trilogy, Trail to Destiny with the heroine traveling on a wagon train & Destiny's Journey with the heroine traveling by stagecoach.