The American Elsewhere

Adventure and Manliness in the Age of Expansion

Jimmy L. Bryan Jr.

As important cultural icons of the early nineteenth-century United States, adventurers energized the mythologies of the West and contributed to the justifications of territorial conquest. They told stories of exhilarating perils, boundless landscapes, and erotic encounters that elevated their chauvinism, avarice, and violence into forms of nobility. As self-proclaimed avatars of American exceptionalism, Jimmy L. Bryan Jr. suggests in The American Elsewhere, adventurers transformed westward expansion into a project of romantic nationalism.

A study of US expansionism from 1815–1848, The American Elsewhere delves into the “adventurelogues” of the era to reveal the emotional world of men who sought escape from the anonymity of the urban East and pressures of the Market Revolution. As volunteers, trappers, traders, or curiosity seekers, they stepped into “elsewheres,” distant and dangerous. With their words and art, they entered these unfamiliar realms that had fostered caution and apprehension, and they reimagined them as regions that awakened romantic and reckless optimism. In doing so, Bryan shows, adventurers created the figure of the remarkable American male that generated a wide appeal and encouraged a personal investment in nationhood among their audiences.

American Elsewhere guides us through the tortuous and often baleful mental landscapes of American adventurers in the time of Jackson. In chasing the chimera of genuine experience, Bryan’s subjects create both a brotherhood of sentiment and geography of racial difference. Bryan’s grasp of emotional topographies is masterful. Saddle up and follow his lead.”

—Daniel Herman, author of Hell on the Range: A Story of Honor, Conscience, and the American West

“This book is a compelling investigation of how stories of Western adventurers (explorers, patriot warriors, and men of enterprise) from the end of the War of 1812 to the end of the U.S.-Mexican War romantically redefined the staid conventions of American manhood and thereby promoted a national ethos of manifest destiny. A unique, pivotal study in the cultural history of American exceptionalism and expansionism, it is well researched and plentifully documented, argued with judicious balance and critical discernment, and quite readable.”

—Michael L. Johnson, author of Hunger for the Wild: America’s Obsession with the Untamed West

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Bryan provides a thorough reading of a wide variety of sources—including correspondence, travel accounts, fiction, poetry, artwork, and material culture—and finds that adventurers told stories and shaped images that beguiled a generation of Americans into believing in their own exceptionality and in their destiny to conquer the continent.

About the Author

Jimmy L. Bryan Jr. is associate professor of history at Lamar University. He is the editor of The Martial Imagination: Cultural Aspects of American Warfare and the author of More Zeal Than Discretion: The Westward Adventures of Walter P. Lane.