The Contested Plains
Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado
Winner: Caroline Bancroft Prize
Winner: Caughey Award
“West has harnessed, to powerful effect, the diverse and complex story lines that form the history of the Great Plains. His fusion of ecology and history is remarkable.”
—Washington Post Book World
“An interpretive masterpiece. West tells a colorful story incredibly well, bringing individual actors to life and giving a sense of the sweep of larger cultural events. This is lively, literate, and at times humorous reading, paired with thoughtful historical interpretations.”
—Environmental HistorySee all reviews...
“This book will change the way the history of the West is taught and understood forever.”
“In a way, Elliot West tells a familiar tale: that of Indians, goldseekers, and the ensuing conflict. But in this case, West is the first to assess the cataclysmic changes that the Colorado gold rush brought to the Great Plains. In addition, rather than casting the story in the usual terms of heartless aggressors and hapless victims, West supplies a large and insightful interpretation that at once softens and increases our understanding of the Anglo disruption of Plains Indian cultures. To understand where western history is now, and is likely to go in the future, one must read this book.”
—Glenda Riley, American Historical Review
“An interpretive triumph, full of fresh insights into well-worn topics. For all-round excellence in the full sweep of the western story, West occupies the pinnacle. A truly fine book.”
—Robert M. Utley, author of The Lance and the Shield: The Life and Times of Sitting Bull
“Many books have been written about the Colorado gold rush. This one is different. The virtue of the book, besides its lucid writing, splendid design, extensive research, and the meaning it gives to the frontier concept that has been lambasted for thirty years or more, is the fact that it never scolds or trashes any culture. West’s story is a story of cultural revisions—and thus the imaginations and aspirations of many people.—”
—William H. Goetzmann, Journal of American History
“In Elliott West’s company, the exploration of history becomes an adventure, a journey with surprises and unexpected insights sufficient to shake the most comfortable and settled of assumptions.”
—Patricia Nelson Limerick, author of Legacy of Conquest
“A haunting history and a wonderful piece of storytelling. Rarely have historical figures been so deeply human, so funny and tragic, as they are in this stunning, clear-eyed and yet deeply empathetic book.”
—Richard White, author of It’s Your Misfortune and None of My OwnSee fewer reviews...
Winner: PEN Center USA West Literary Award in Research Nonfiction
Winner: Francis Parkman Prize
Winner: Ray Allen Billington Prize
Choice Outstanding Title
Deftly retracing a pivotal chapter in one of America's most dramatic stories, Elliott West chronicles the struggles, triumphs, and defeats of both Indians and whites as they pursued their clashing dreams of greatness in the heart of the continent.
The Contested Plains recounts the rise of the Native American horse culture, white Americans' discovery and pursuit of gold in the Rocky Mountains, and the wrenching changes and bitter conflicts that ensued. After centuries of many peoples fashioning many cultures on the plains, the Cheyennes and other tribes found in the horse the power to create a heroic way of life that dominated one of the world's great grasslands. Then the discovery of gold challenged that way of life and led finally to the infamous massacre at Sand Creek and the Indian Wars of the late 1860s.
Illuminating both the ancient and more recent history of the plains and eastern Rocky Mountains, West weaves together a brilliant tapestry interlaced with environmental, social, and military history. He treats the "frontier" not as a morally loaded term—either in the traditional celebratory sense or the more recent critical sense—but as a powerfully unsettling process that shattered an old world. He shows how Indians, goldseekers, haulers, merchants, ranchers, and farmers all contributed to and in turn were consumed by this process, even as the plains themselves were utterly transformed by the clash of cultures and competing visions.
Exciting and enormously engaging, The Contested Plains is the first book to examine the Colorado gold rush as the key event in the modern transformation of the central great plains. It also exemplifies a kind of history that respects more fully our rich and ambiguous past—a past in which there are many actors but no simple lessons.