Beyond the Borders of the Law

Critical Legal Histories of the North American West

Edited by Katrina Jagodinsky and Pablo Mitchell

In the American imagination “the West” denotes a border—between civilization and wilderness, past and future, native and newcomer—and its lawlessness is legendary. In fact, there was an abundance of law in the West, as in all borderland regions of vying and overlapping claims, jurisdictions, and domains. It is this legal borderland that Beyond the Borders of the Law explores. Combining the concepts and insights of critical legal studies and western/borderlands history, this book demonstrates how profoundly the North American West has been, and continues to be, a site of contradictory, overlapping, and overreaching legal structures and practices steeped in articulations of race, gender, and power.

The authors in this volume take up topics and time periods that include Native history, the US-Canada and US-Mexico borders, regions from Texas to Alaska and Montana to California, and a chronology that stretches from the mid-nineteenth century to the near-present. From water rights to women’s rights, from immigrant to indigenous histories, from disputes over coal deposits to child custody, their essays chronicle the ways in which marginalized westerners have leveraged and resisted the law to define their own rights and legacies. For the authors, legal borderlands might be the legal texts that define and regulate geopolitical borders, or they might be the ambiguities or contradictions creating liminal zones within the law. In their essays, and in the volume as a whole, the concept of legal borderlands proves a remarkably useful framework for finally bringing a measure of clarity to a region characterized by lawful disorder and contradiction.

“This rich and eclectic collection of writings by scholars of Native American, African American, Chicana/o, and Latina/o history as well as border and legal studies represents the death knell to the archetype of the ‘wild west.’ Rather than the North American West being a lawless region, Beyond the Borders of the Law demonstrates the varied origins, uses, and interpretations of the law in there and the ways in which even the most disenfranchised peoples used the legal system to advocate for their rights and personal freedoms. Focusing on themes of race and gender, property and citizenship, and justice and reform, the volume delves deeply and widely into the law’s influence in the borderlands across space, place, and time.”

— Miroslava Chávez-Garca, author of Migrant Longing: Letter Writing across the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

“Western legal history is relatively new, and this creative collection of essays defines the field. Within the broad topic of legal borderlands, ten authors offer their engaging ideas about race and gender, property and citizenship, and justice and reform of the law in the American West. This book is most worthy of being described as ‘cutting edge.’”

—John R. Wunder, author of “Retained by The People”: A History of American Indians and the Bill of Rights

Published in Cooperation with the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University

About the Author

Katrina Jagodinsky is associate professor of history at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. She is the author of Legal Codes and Talking Trees: Indigenous Women’s Sovereignty in the Sonoran and Puget Sound Borderlands, 1854–1946.

Pablo Mitchell is professor of history at Oberlin College. He is the author of Coyote Nation: Sexuality, Race, and Conquest in Modernizing New Mexico, 1880–1920, which won the Organization of American Historians’ Ray Allen Billington Prize in 2007.