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Western American Frontier History, 1550-1900

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About this Collection

Western American Frontier History, 1550-1900


This collection, Western American Frontier History, 1550-1900 (previous title: Western Americana: Frontier History of the Trans-Mississippi, 1550-1990), assembled in cooperation with the Yale University Library and the Newberry Library, makes available on microfilm the basic printed sources for the exploration, settlement and development of the Trans-Mississippi West. It spans the years from 1550 to 1900; that is, from the first explorations down to the end of the frontier. Geographically it covers the region from the Spanish borderlands on the south to the Arctic Ocean on the north; from the Mississippi Valley and Hudsons Bay on the east to the Pacific Ocean and Bering Straits on the west.

The purpose of the project is to provide the materials necessary for instruction ranging from specialized graduate seminars to a general undergraduate survey course on frontier history. Among the major topics covered are: exploration, both governmental and private; contacts between Indians and whites, including missions, trade, governmental relations and Indian wars; the fur trade, both by land and sea; Manifest Destiny, as shown in such events as the Oregon question, the Texas Revolution and the Mexican War; the role of the Hudsons Bay Company in the Canadian West; the mining frontier, not only in the California gold rush of 49 but also Fraser River, Pikes Peak, Nevada and the Klondike; the Mormon experience, the coming of the Pacific railroads; the day of the cattleman, and the farmer from homesteader to big businessman.

Although the westward movement of the American people is today recognized as one of the most important themes in our history, this was not always so. During most of the nineteenth century the attention of American historians and collectors alike was focused on the eastern seaboard, on European origins and colonial conflicts. It was not until the frontier had disappeared that serious efforts were made to assemble the materials for its history. Early in the twentieth century a handful of private collectors ventured into the field of Western Americana. The collections in the Yale and Newberry libraries are the fruits of many years of assiduous effort by such major figures in the book world as Edward E. Ayer, Frederick W. Beinecke, William R. Coe, Everett D. Graff, Thomas W. Streeter and Henry R. Wagner. It is a truism to say that none of their collections could be duplicated today. Many titles are unique, scores exist in less than a dozen copies, and most are so scarce that the originals may be obtained only after long search and at great expense. While more recent editions of some of the titles exist, most have never been reprinted.

These men shared a common interest in the pioneer West, but each of their collections has its own viewpoint and particular strengths. Taken together, they provide this microfilm collection with both depth in specific areas and broad overall scope. The Everett D. Graff collection at Newberry is rich in pioneer narratives of early settlers and first-hand accounts of overland travels in the Plains and Rockies region. The William R. Coe collection at Yale supplements these and adds materials on the Canadian Northwest and Pacific Northwest. Important titles for the Pacific Northwest, including materials assembled by Elwood Evans, first Secretary of Washington Territory, were drawn from the Winlock W. Miller collection. A strong concentration of works on early California and the Southwest through the Mexican War and the gold rush is provided by the Frederick W. Beinecke collection at Yale. The early history of Texas and the Mississippi Valley comes not only from the Henry R. Wagner collection but also from the unrivalled Thomas W. Streeter Texas collection. Finally, the important subject of Indian - White relations is covered by selections from the Newberry Librarys Edward E. Ayer collection, perhaps the finest gathering of material on American Indians in the world.

There is no single bibliography which covers the whole field of Western Americana. The more than 7000 titles in this collection were selected in part from such standard guides as Wright Howes U.S. IANA (New York, 1962), Henry R. Wagners The Spanish Southwest, 1542-1774 (Albuquerque, 1937), his The Plains and the Rockies (Columbus, 1953), Bruce B. Peels A Bibliography of the Prairie Provinces (Toronto, 1956) and Colton Storms A Catalog of the Everett D. Graff Collection of Western Americana (Chicago, 1968). These titles consist primarily of personal narratives by participants in the frontier experience, but other types of material such as local histories and directories, economic materials, and state and federal documents such as early constitutions, Congressional reports and Army general orders are included. To them have been added a substantial body of broadsides, pamphlets, folders and other ephemera not listed in any bibliography but which are also essential primary sources.

This collection on microfilm is not of course complete. Nevertheless I believe it contains not only all the most important basic sources for one of the most exciting periods of American history, but also makes available to all scholars everywhere the resources of the two greatest collections in the field.

Archibald Hanna
Curator, Yale Collection of Western Americana

Guide to Use of Index

Two peculiarities concerning the collection numbering system should be noted. First, decimal numbers (i.e. 1957.1) denote titles included in the collection after the original consecutive numbering was completed. Most titles identified with decimal item numbers were books unavailable at the two main libraries, but located through further searching at other institutions. They appear after the corresponding arabic whole number, so that 1957.1, for example, would be found on the microfilm and in the index directly following 1957.

Secondly, even after extensive research, a few titles originally included in the collection were not available for microfilming. In the index, these items are identified with the item number and "Entry Cancelled" in place of the bibliographic entry. On the microfilm, a target containing the item number, "Entry Cancelled", a short bibliographic citation, and the reason for the omission of the item, has been provided in place of the book.

Research Publications (now Primary Source Microfilm, an imprint of the Gale Group) wishes to thank Archibald Hanna, William Robertson Coe Curator of the Yale Collection of Western Americana, for his guidance at all stages. Our special thanks are also given to the staffs of the Yale and Newberry Libraries for their assistance in completing Western Americana.