Walter Nugent, Into the West: The Story of Its People (New York: Alfred Knopf a Division of Random House, 1999).
INTRODUCTION: Nugent’s sweeping narrative argues that the West includes many more people and events than allowed for by popular conceptions. His book discusses the inhabitants of the West, with a focus on the period after American settlement. He argues that defining the West requires a close study of all the region’s inhabitants.
SUMMARY: Nugent’s first chapter defines his West as the Great Plains, the Mountain states, and the Pacific states including Alaska and Hawaii. By taking the broadest possible definition of the region, Nugent sets the course for his book. He intends not to omit any place or anyone in the West. The second chapter “From Time Immemorial to 1848” examines archaeological evidence and postulations about the migrations of paleo-Indians into the North American Continent, then lays out the story of Spanish settlement in New Mexico and California, and finishes with a discussion the French, British, and Russian Empires that America finally pushed out in 1848. The discussion of a wide variety of nations leads to a great diversity of names. Here, we learn of Pio Pico, the Sepulveda family, Aleksandr Baranov, La Salle, George Vancouver, and Johann Sutter, people that never met each other in life but in history share the same pages because of their roles as frontrunners in the various European ventures in the pre-1848 West.
In the years leading up to 1848, America took full territorial control of the West, using military power to back up population conquest that began well before that time. Initially, Americans focused on Texas as the main prize to be gained in the Mexican American War, but the California Gold Rush changed all that. The onset of mass migration to California via the Overland Trail, trans-Pacific sailing ships from China, and various other routes quickly established an ethnically diverse population on the West...