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Countless studies of the American West have been written from the viewpoint of history, psychology, sociology, and anthropology. But the West has seldom been written about with the reflective pen of a philosopher.
Offering more than a fresh retelling, in thoroughly human terms, of the major historical events of the nineteenth-century West, Gerald Kreyche also leads the reader in a search for the spirit of the West itself. That spirit was one with the American Dream, which offered freedom, individualism, and self-sufficiency to those strong enough and gutsy enough to heed the call of Manifest Destiny.
Although the West was and is the most American part of America itself, its natural wonders, its spacious grandeur, its myths and mystique have captured the hearts and imaginations of people the world over. We have all experienced the quickened pulse at the mention of things indelibly western—tumbleweed, mountain men, high plains, cowboys and Indians, sod houses, coyotes, and grizzlies. And who doesn’t react to such bigger-than-life figures as Jim Bridger, Buffalo Bill, George Armstrong Custer, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse? The personal humdrum of our times rapidly disappears when, through the magic of western films, TV shows, and books, we vicariously lose ourselves and then find ourselves in the American West of a bygone time.
The West, then, produced a quasi-separate culture. And, as each culture must, it gave birth to its own ethos, its own special character, its own tone and set of guiding beliefs. Kreyche contends that in the process of “westering,the veneer of the sophisticated easterner was sloughed off, leaving in sharp outline the frontiersman and the pioneer. In their own manner, these men and women produced a new species of homo americanus.
Gerald F. Kreyche, professor of philosophy at DePaul University, is the editor of Listening.
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
United States History
Kreyche, Gerald F., "Visions of the American West" (1989). United States History. 38.