- Making the White Man's West: Whiteness and the Creation of the American West by Jason E. Pierce
By Jason E. Pierce. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2016. 312 pp. Figures, maps, bibliography, index. $45.00 hardcover.
Jason Pierce traces the process by which whites first feared the American West as an untamed place and later viewed it as an edenic space where they exercised authority over nonwhite peoples. For Pierce, the nexus of creating a white man's West began with the Louisiana Purchase, but the railroad was the engine that turned that mythic West into reality. Through-out the nineteenth century, white men controlled American Indians, Chinese, and Hispanics through violence. And because the work concerns itself with whiteness, the book pulls from intermountain West archival sources paired with national and regional newspapers. Making the White Man's West also relies on archives from Northern Pacific Railway Company to make a very crucial claim: railroads participated in social engineering throughout the Great Plains. They did so by recruiting and working with immigration agents that they felt best suited—both in musculature and moral terms—the needs of the railroads. This fact, along with how Pierce charts the shift from the wildness of the West to a white civilization, is what makes his book so persuasive.
Disease, immigration, and contradictions shaped the West. As rates of tuberculosis rose, Colorado, California, and New Mexico actively competed by building sanitariums for the wealthy. The West transformed from a savage space to a safe haven from the "diseased East." Some characterized this not only in epidemiological terms, but also racially. The agreeable climate and the vision of a space where white masculinity and stamina could reimagine itself turned the American West from an expendable space into a white sanctuary from the sullied eastern seaboard. And yet, whites always knew that American Indians were there and that Hispanics and Chinese provided the necessary labor for the railroads and mining. Social critics like Frank Law Olmsted detailed how immigrant white farmers tilled their fields, while Charles Fletcher Lummis, a noted champion for American Indians, sought to ensure that white Anglo-Saxons remained secure in their dominant position. Mormons, who largely came from European stock, and Armenians also sought to stake their claims of whiteness in the West, albeit with mixed results.
Pierce does a fine job unpacking the various ways in which whiteness operates in the American West. As he points out, debates over immigration and the control over who inhabits the West have not stopped, making his argument all the more important to the present. [End Page 154]
University of Nebraska–Lincoln