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Week Nine: Making the West American

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October 28: Railroads, Homesteads, and Ranching






Study Questions 


Helena Daily Herald


1. Using the Daily Herald articles, can you reconstruct the events that led to the killing of Ah Chow? Having read Frederick Allen and Robert Swartouth's journal articles, how would you describe the social context in which these killings occurred? 

2. What do these newspaper articles and letters tell you about how citizens thought about the legality of lynching and the role of the Montana Vigilantes? What arguments are made for and against the role of the vigilantes? 


The Banditti of the Plains


3. Asa Shinn Mercer's "Banditti of the Plains" was published in 1894. Mercer favored small settler-ranchers and took a stance against the large ranchers organized under the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. What is the legal, economic, and political background to the 1892 conflicts, according to Mercer? 

4. How, according the Mercer, did the WSGA manage to characterize settlers as outlaws? 



5. "Shane" turns the history of the Johnson County War into an archetypal western story: what does its depiction in the film tell us about general U.S. conceptions of the American West?


6. Discuss the character of Shane as a “western hero.” Does he seem like the archetype of the gunfighter? Do you sense a change in the way he is presented throughout the film? 


7. Try to keep track of different characters’ accents, backgrounds, and their family situation. Of what kind of people is this community in Wyoming composed? And what do you make of the confrontation between Wilson and “Stonewall”?


8. In a confrontation with Ryker, Joe tells him that trappers and Indian traders “tamed” the country long before Ryker did. In this short dialogue, what is Joe implying? What cultural ideas about cultivating the land shine through in Joe’s dialogue? How does this argument link to other writings and ideas about the west that have shaped American popular culture, western expansion, and political ideology?


9. What is the turning point in the film at which the homesteaders determine to fight back against Ryker? Why do you think it is at just this moment?


10. The film ends on a rather ambiguous note: why is the hero made to ride away?


11. How would you compare Shane with other texts that you have been asked to read about the west.  What is the intersection between Shane as a movie, piece of cultural production, and the primary source documents that you have examined?  


Railroaded Website


11. What do the photographs in the Alfred Hart collection tell you about the immediate environmental impact of building the railroads? 


14. What do the interactive visualizations suggest was the long-term impact of the railroads in terms of labor and social and economic change in the American West? 



Readings and questions on the Montana vigilantes largely inspired by teacher Mark Johnson's class and his students' research at Concordia International School in Shanghai, China. See, Mark Johnson, "‘His Death Avenged!’ : Empowering Students as Historians on a Global Scale,”OAH Magazine of History, 26:  3, History Day (July 2012), pp. 25-29.


October 30: Labor, Immigration, and Populism




Study Questions 


The traditional view of the "creation" of the American West is often imagined as a narrative of westward expansion. A more informed historical approach, however, recognizes how the history of the American West is also one of continuous travel and migration from West to East, across the Pacific. Although the west was supposedly made "American" in the course of the 19th century, when we look at labor and immigration the west reveals that its borders are less clearly defined. Consider the following questions:


1. The Wasp was a San Francisco satirical magazine that became known for its cartoons -- including a score which stereotype immigrants. Besides their anti-immigration message, what do these cartoons try to convey about Chinese immigrants? What are some recurring visual elements that strike you? 


2. The cartoon "The Chinese Must Go: But Who Keeps Them?" poses a provocative question. What, according to the visuals, is the intended answer to this question? What does the donkey in the middle of the cartoon signify?


3. In the "Adress from the Working Men," how is the tariff linked to the labor force and how are labor, the tariff and "the trusts" linked to Chinese immigration?


4.How does Chinese immigration compare with the issue of slavery in American politics?  How did sectional rivalry effect both of these issues?  What is the relationship between sectional politics and labor with regards to immigration and slavery and how are both linked to America's western expansion?  Be specific.


5. Who was Dennis Kearney, and what was the Workingmen's Party? Try to find some outside information on both. In his "Appeal from California," how does Kearney legitimize his anti-Chinese message? What rhetorical moves does he make?



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