Here’s something worth pondering: Of the four primary points on a compass—North, South, East, West—only the last one begins with a pronoun: We.
“We” as in “ourselves.” “We” as in “us.”
It is through action—whether we act, or whether we are acted upon—that the word “we” becomes “us.”
The quintessential story of the American West is the quest for the American Dream. Millions made their way here, pursuing opportunity and the promise of a better life. Some of the people who sought the American Dream in the American West were well-known individuals; others were obscure. Some succeeded; many others did not. Either way, in striving to live, to work, to survive in the West, they were transformed by their experiences.
And each of them had a story to tell. Some of their stories were poignant; some were humorous; some were simply bizarre. Regardless, each person’s story forms part of the warp and weft through which the history of the American West has been crafted.
Perhaps that’s why the American West still beckons to us today, just as it has to countless millions of people over the course of time. It’s still seen as a “Land of Opportunity”; its big skies and vast landscapes still offer hope and the promise of better things to come—even if, for many, those hopes and promises remain unfulfilled.
In the process of being transformed by their experiences, the people of the American West changed their nation, also. Their experiences, and the experiences of people encountering the American West today, have shaped and continue to shape who we are as a country.
The history of the American West is the history of how “we” became “us”—as in U.S., the United States.
Over the next few weeks and months, I’ll be highlighting individuals and their stories, drawn from the incomparable collections of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. And I invite you to share your own story of your western experiences—gained either from living here, or from visiting the American West from elsewhere.
In the West, we find ourselves.