Aside from slavery, the driving concept of 19th Century America was manifest destiny. Given the vastness of the western United States, especially for anyone who has driven cross-country, and the imagery of the small, primitive wagon trains and cowboys on horses, it is amazing how quickly the thousands of miles were settled and transformed.
The decades leading up the Civil War resulted in acquiring more land from Mexico and Britain, and moving Native Americans to lands west of the Mississippi. Then coming out of the war, with technology advancements in transportation and economic shifts, the stage was set for a sudden expansion into an apparent void.
The American West is more or less a collection of short histories of various events and topics related to the settling of the states between the Mississippi and California in the second half of the century. Dee Brown is the author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee so his stories of the major "Indian Wars" are well documented and, naturally, very sad. Each one seems to further reduce ways of life along with territories. While George Washington and other early presidents may have struggled with the issue of Native Americans, the lack of national concern after the Civil War to the situation versus the speed of, essentially, annihilation over the course of just a few decades is astounding.
The other chapters in the book are quite secondary, providing a good overview of the development of the cattle industry, stories of colorful characters and events. But the narratives do not tie together as well as they could and much fell flat. 2/5 stars.
(Read July 2010)