Title Reviewed:
America's Frontier Story: A Documentary History of Westward Expansion

Author Reviewed:
Martin Ridge; Ray Allen Billington

Herman J. Viola


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 67, Issue 1, pp 71-72

Article Type:
Book Review

Download Source:

America's Frontier Story: A Documentary History of Westward Expansion. Edited by Martin Ridge and Ray Allen Billington. (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969. Pp. xxi, 657. Notes, illustrations. Paperbound, $6.95.)

For over two decades Ray Allen Billington's Westward Expansion has been the mainstay of the university western history course. That fine work has now been supplemented by America's Frontier Story, a chronicle of the westward movement as recorded by its participants. The story is important, the editors note, "because it speaks of the frontier spirit, the spirit of daring, of enterprise, of hope, that has become a part of the American tradition–and has not been completely weathered away by the substitution of an industrial-urban environment in the twentieth century" (p. vi).

Although it can stand on its own merits, America's Frontier Story is evidently intended for use as a companion to Westward Expansion and should be welcomed by students and instructors alike. Indeed, the chapters in each work follow a similar pattern, tracing the course of expansion from the arrival of Columbus in the Americas into the twentieth century. The readings, however, are confined almost entirely to the traditional story of the westward movement. Except for photographs, Hawaii and Alaska go unnoticed, and there is almost a total absence of material on minority groups other than the Indian. This is somewhat surprising since the textbook contains a chapter on slavery in the West. To help make the study of western history more relevant in this era of student activism it would have been appropriate to include documents about the role of the Chinese, the Mexican-American, and the Negro in the frontier story.

America's Frontier Story surpasses the textbook in the magnificent portfolio of some fifty photographs which in themselves document the camera's westward movement. The large number of pictures also no doubt accounts for the high cost of this paperbound book. Nevertheless, here Alaska and the minority groups are well represented, with pictures of Negro homesteaders in Nebraska, Negro cowboys in Texas, a Negro prospector in Alaska, and Chinese laborers in a California gold field. These and the other photographs–of immigrant families resting by their covered wagons, a barn raising in Minnesota, cowboys dancing with each other, a lynching in Colorado–are stark and striking evidence of the frontier spirit, daring, enterprise, and hope that has become a part of the American tradition.

National Archives, Washington, D. C. Herman J. Viola

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.