The American West


The Western frontier of the United States looms large in American history. The 19th century saw the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and the First Transcontinental Railroad (1869) greatly extend the reach of American settlement, access to natural resources, and lines of commerce. Far beyond its economic implications, however, the American West was a national mythology—a site of wilderness, exploration, and lawless freedom that for many represented the path to the American dream and a belief in Manifest Destiny. While this collective history brings national pride for many, westward expansion also saw its most brutal forms in the massive displacement and killing of Native Americans. Since the early 19th century artists have documented the exploration of frontier lands, as in Carleton Emmons Watkins’ iconic views of Yosemite National Park or William Henry Jackson’s framing of the transcontinental railroad tunneling through mountains. Others, like Frederic Remington, romanticized its inhabitants through loose renderings of horsemen, cavalrymen, Native Americans, or cowboys—from Andy Warhol’s depiction of John Wayne to Richard Prince’s appropriation of the iconic cowboy from Marlboro cigarette advertisements.

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