tv H.W. Brands Dreams of El Dorado CSPAN November 9, 2019 8:01am-8:58am EST
smithsonian institution lonnie lunch chronicling the museum of african american history and culture. rand paul of kentucky discusses socialism. washington times national security columnist bill gertz reports on china's efforts to become a superpower and journalist naomi klein talks about consumerism and climate change. for more information about the authors you will see on booktv this 3 day weekend, booktv.org or check your program guide. we now kick off the weekend with h.w. brands's history of the american west. >> can everybody hear me okay? thanks for coming up, we appreciate you supporting our event. a couple quick housekeeping announcements first. please silence your cell phones. if you would like to keep those on and take pictures that would be fine but please turn off the flash. if you have not been to one of our events before welcome. we have 300 of these eventss
every year. the speaking portion is almost always free and open to the public and we are able to do that because you come here and you buy your books and you buy your stocks and your greeting cards and we really appreciate it. our guests will be speaking tonight. the event will be recorded by c-span. extra special reminder to silence your cell phones. after our guest is done speaking about the book there will be an opportunity to ask questions and we will have mike's available so that your questions can be picked up as well. if you would like to stick around afterwords and get a book signed we can accommodate that. we just ask you first purchased the book downstairs. they are available when you walk into the store at the information desk so tonight we are excited to welcome back to the store h.w. brands.
he is a professor, who holds the senior chair in history. he is new york times best-selling author of 30 books on us history. if you can keep history that interesting that you can write 30 books that tells you something about how fantastic his work is. two of his books were finalists for the pulitzer prize in biography and tonight he's here to talk about "dreams of el dorado: a history of the american west". so please join me in welcoming h.w. brands. [applause] >> thank you all for coming out. i'm delighted to be here and to see some old friends and some new faces. i will tell you a little bit about how it is i came to write this book and i can tell you
that i have been preparing to write this book, i have been researching this book for as long as i can remember. i mean that quite literally. the earliest memory i have from childhood is a mental image, a visual image and my head of my grandmother and i can still see her because she especially favored very bright purple and blue scarf that she would wear. she is wearing one of these scarves and we are in a small cabin in the forest on the western slopes of mount hood. i can date this because i know what she was doing. i heard later that she was looking for a summer house to buy so that she and her husband could host me and my siblings and our cousin and we could spend summers there and this
occurred when i was 21/2 years old and i can remember her, i can remember the cabin, i can remember the dark shadows, the trees are just dripping wet. that's not unusual because this is oregon and these are the force and the mountains and so it rains a lot. she didn't -- and her husband, my grandfather did not by that particular cabin, she didn't like houses deep in the forest, she had to look around for a while to find one that was out in a clearing, the only reason was out in a clearing, the place they bought was just outside the national forest and it had been logged over some years previous to there's an opening in the forest and they bought this house and it seemed like the largest house, sort of looked at least in my young eyes like a swiss chalet or
something like that. it seemed that way to me. i didn't have much to compare with. i and my three siblings spent most of our summers up there. i didn't know it when i was 21/2 years old with my grandmother but i discovered soon enough that the cabin she was looking at then and the one that they bought a right on the last western stretch of the oregon trail and it was part of the oregon trail called the barlow road and in order for immigrants of oregon to avoid the rapids and falls of the lower columbia river they would turn south from the river and they would go up over the cascades and go around the south side of mount hood and they would come down on the zigzag river and there is still a state park called tollgate park. i didn't know what tollgate was. i associated it with cookies or
something like that but in fact it was a gate on the toll rd. sam barlow built the road with his own money and he charged the immigrants to go passed through the gate and the gate was strategically located. it was where one of the mountain ridges came down right next to the greg river so you couldn't get around, you couldn't dodge into the woods or something, you had to go right through there. i didn't have any idea the significance of all this but i was aware there was something historical going on because right across the highway, us 26 ran in front of the property and right across highway 26 with something called the barlow trail in and it was built with these ancient logs that looked like they had probably been growing at the time the western wagon trains were coming. there were still places on the oregon trail and the steepest
part of that pitch where the road was so steep that in order to keep the wagons from running out of control they would hitch a rope to the rear axle of the wagon and twist the rope a couple times around a big tree and they would slowly let out the rope as the wagon went down and this in the late 1950s you could still see the grooves in the bark of the tree from where the ropes and gone. so i and my siblings would spend the summer there and we would hike through the forest and there was one hike my grandmother was especially partial to. it wasn't a long hike. she was happy to walk a mile or two and we would walk off of the highway down this road and it looked like it really could
have been the actual barlow road itself. most of it was buried under the highway that was built. there weren't any wagon tracks but in this stretch you could see what might have been wagon tracks but at the end of the trail there was a pile of rocks and the pile of rocks didn't mean anything to me at first. it didn't mean anything to anybody for a while when i was young but somebody, i don't know who it was, maybe somebody associated with the highway crew where they were widening the road supposed and then confirmed that this was actually a grave. this was a rock can put over the shallow grave.
and they exhumed this skeleton. at the time they weren't able to identify who this person was. they could tell it was a woman, a relatively young woman, perhaps in her late teens or early 20s. a sign was put up, this is the pioneer woman's grave. at the time, when you're 8 or 9 years old, what does that mean to you? gradually i was able to put a couple things together to realize that for this woman to die at that point in the trail was especially heartbreaking because the hardest part of the journey from the missouri river was over. it was literally downhill from there and an easy stretch. she was almost within sight of the valley. if she had stayed healthy another two days she would have been there. what did she die of? who knows? probably some illness and it
was a measure of, i think, the hurry that the immigrants were in rather than lack of concern for her final resting place for the grave is so shallow. by this time quite likely they were getting near the autumn rains and the immigrants had to put up cabins to spend the winter, figure out a way to get through the winter. getting across the great plains, across the rocky mountains and the mountain desert and down the snake river to the columbia river took them all summer. they had to wait in the spring until the grass greened up on the prairies but if they waited too long they would get caught in the snow going over the mountains. i don't know, nobody knows exactly what year this woman died. if she died after the donner
party met its disastrous end in california in the snows of the sierra then they would have had that in front of them, this is why we had to hurry on but even if they didn't they knew time was of the essence. there she was and there she remains and i always wondered what her story was. and when i started writing this book i kind of i wonder if i could figure out what her story was. it turned out to be a vein hope except i don't know her precise story but i can reconstruct her general story which was probably like the story of just about everybody else. most of the immigrants didn't die but those who did typically didn't die violently. the idea that immigrants traveling to oregon or california were much threatened by native americans, by indians
was vastly overblown and rarely did that -- it is only because the indians knew, they could tell these immigrants were simply passing through. the indians were troublesome in the sense that they would scatter the cattle and then re-gather the cattle for a price as a way of making a living. the most common cause of death was illness of one form or another. people got kicked by horses and there were accidents like that but almost certainly this woman became ill. it was unusual for her to die at that stage of the journey. when people got sick on their way to oregon or california, they typically did in one of the river town's on the missouri river. these were towns built for
small populations and had the rudimentary sanitary facilities for small populations and all of a sudden they were inundated by tens of thousands of people so they would come down -- cholera had landed in america ten years before and it was the scourge of the travelers. they knew if they could get past the missouri and on the planes they were probably okay. that was part of the story. this is something i was thinking about. somewhat later. in fact in my first year out of college i went to college in california, the bay area and moved back to portland and worked for a year for a family business and i was a traveling salesman and i had a territory that spanned from portland to denver and this was my first
chance on a regular basis to travel across the west and i was kind of curious and i enjoyed the geography and the year was 1976 and for those of you who are readers of james mitch and her you might remember that in 1976 james mitch and her published a historical novel called centennial. centennial was about the centennial state which is colorado. and it was about the history of colorado. it so happens my grandmother who was a student of history, the one who found the house had by this time was not in particularly good health. she was not apartment bound but nearly so.
she and i simultaneously read james mitch and her absent any old. i was on the road and i was traveling across the west and traveling through colorado and i would call her up every evening and say what have you read. she would say i read this part and the things that really interested her was to know how true to historical and geographical life mitch interest novel was. i couldn't help her that much with the history, simply by my eyewitness observations in traveling but i could help with the geography. have any of you read the book centennial? have you read anything by michener? he does really deep history in his book on hawaii starts with lava bubbling off of the bottom of the pacific ocean and goes from there. this one of course includes the rise of the rocky mountains and the dinosaurs traipsing around
and there is one particular site in the book that is identified as the chalk cliff. this place where paleontologists discovered dinosaur bones and michener's formula for these historical novels was always to have a historical story and the present-day story of the two go back and forth and in this case these paleontologists digging up the bones and we flashback to the dinosaurs getting stuck in the mud and their bones are going to be there and so i was wondering how much of this is true to life and how much did michener make up? i was driving north on interstate 25 and it was getting dark, it was in the middle of winter, so it is january or something like that and it was dusk and i had been thinking about this and talk to my grandmother about this and when all of us and that the side of the road i saw a sign
that pointed to chart cliffs so i turned off and not really knowing what i was going to see, dinosaurs or something, by the time i got there it was too dark to see much of anything at all but at least there was this place called the chalk cliff still in the 20th century. centennial focuses on some mountain men as they were called, travelers would spend their days, weeks, months in the mountains hunting for beavers and most of the time they were out there all alone by themselves but every summer they would gather for the annual rendezvous and this was the trade show for the for trade and the people, the purchasers would come up from st. louis and they would agree, how they got the word out is a little unclear, this summer we
are meeting in jackson hole or some other valley and that is where we are going to be and everybody would know you show up and they would come with their fors and the traders would come with their provisions so the trappers would buy gunpowder and lead and salt and other necessaries of life. one of the protagonists of the novel is this trapper who does all the usual stuff but has this one particular weakness that he has to indulge. and he must have at the end of the very difficult challenging hard-working day, he has to have his tea. the only place he can get his tea is at the summer rendezvous. word is out that this guy will buy the so my grandmother was
very intrigued by this because she was a tea lover herself. this guy at the end of each day would have almost this ritual where he would make the fire and this had to last the whole year. so my grandmother was like that too. she could buy tea but nevertheless she was very fastidious and she would brew up soda water and tea and everything, so she would read it and identify with this trapper and she was fascinated. she read in james mitch and her that the specialty was one that she had never had. tea effects in autos will know about this, we live in a time you can get anything any time. she said to me we've got to get some of this, we've got to try it.
i will find it. it took me a while to go around and find out who had it but i got some and it was a cold, rainy day. her apartment was on the third floor of an apartment building that overlooked our block in portland so she looks out into the treetops and the trees, the rain is pouring down and i can imagine if you can imagine we were in the mountains and we had a hard day trapping beaver and now we are going to have our tea and she brings it up and i'm sitting there and we are waiting and the tea is coming and she pours some for me, she poured some for herself, we look at each other and put the teacups to our mouths and take a sip.
i'm looking at her she's looking at me as we take a step. my grandmother was a very refined woman. she never did anything course or impolite but at that moment she did something i never expected she would do. she went [spitting] >> i never tasted anything this bad. i agreed with her. those mountain men were even tougher than we thought. the precipitating factors i was asked to write the book by editor at basic books. i had a relationship with basic books back in the 1990s but the relationship ended badly because i think i drove them into bankruptcy or nearly so. i wrote a book on theodore roosevelt, essentially the last book published by basic books. they went out of business for a while, they were resurrected, they were purchased and then sold and repurchased and resold.
they are doing fine, and an editor, déjà vu, there was an editor then at basic books who said he was thinking of commissioning some regional histories of the united states and he had thought -- we had lunch. i asked him what regions are you thinking about? he said a history of the american south and a history of the american west. okay. then the list ran out after that because -- ahead. history of the upper midwest? conceivably new england. it seemed like a good idea at the time and i still think it was a good idea. but he left basic books when the book was halfway done and this had happened to me when i was there before.
he and his boss had to reassure me this wasn't going to happen again. but nonetheless i was asked to write this book and i was quite pleased to be asked because i had already dealt into western history with a book on the texas revolution called lone star nation and california because of the california gold rush, the age of gold and i had already been thinking about writing a third volume to finish the trilogy and texas california and oregon. i was imagining that, holding my thoughts and pulmonary searches i had done into this book. so there it is. "dreams of el dorado: a history of the american west" is what i came up with and i could tell you through what i learned about, one of the things we had to figure out is when you do a history of something that is concrete enough in terms of
geography, there is but there is no kind of obvious historical hawk to hang your story on. if you write a biography your story is the story of this person's life. if you want to write a history of the last year of the civil war there is your story because you started the beginning of that last year and go to the end of the year but when you write the history of the region you have to figure out how you are going to bound it chronologically and i have to say that my first notion was not my editor's first notion. i thought i was going to -- actually, i was going to start it mitch and her fashion with the rocky mountains rising up or something like that or at least i was going to start with being marooned on the coast of texas and wandering around
texas for eight years before he winds up in mexico and coronado following and i actually wrote that section and send it off to the editor -- well, i don't know, keep writing and we will see. so i wrote some more. the next section was going to be on lewis and clarke, the louisiana purchase, the first time the west of north america becomes an american west is in a west belonging to or claimed by the united states and so then after that this section on lewis and clarke and the louisiana purchase and then it goes into a section on the first raid in the mountains and maybe i just outdid myself in writing on lewis and clark and the mountain men and the migration to oregon because the
editor said the story really picks up when you get to lewis and clark. that was his polite way of saying that coronado stuff is just not moving along. i was quite willing to take the advice because i told him i want to write this as an adventure story because i think that this is the most -- it has some of the most dramatically compelling scenes, episodes in american history. i was just coming off -- coming out of a bad relationship -- i was coming out of a book that was anything but action, some of you -- i saw you last time i was here -- i wrote a book on henry clay, daniel webster and
john calhoun and these guys are politicians and they don't do stuff, they talk and they talk. i did my best, they really talk well, but they stand and give speeches and they don't do much. in contrast to that, after that i want action. i want motion, conflict and all this stuff and that is what i'm going to focus on and he said fine, let's do it. and here i will share the problem, the challenge of any author of history, there can be great stuff happening but if we don't have sources we can't do anything with it. or more precisely we can't make it come alive. i can talk in general about things that happen but i don't have much in the way of sources. if i don't have any eyewitnesses then the story
bogs down and this was the problem with the spanish southwest because the stories, the voices are secondhand and not particularly compelling. so dan said let's start with lewis and clarke because that resolve the problem. what about the timeframe we are looking at here? what in fact, which west are we talking about? if it is the west of the united states, if you look from the perspective of settlements on the atlantic coast, everything was beyond shouting distance, and moved wets over time. i did not want to write about daniel boone in kentucky. a really interesting story but to write the history of the west that way is to do nothing like an entire history of the united states because
everything except jamestown is part of the west. i needed a container and by containing it chronologically starting with the louisiana purchase, the united states leaving the title to land west of the mississippi river, that gave me the queue of what west i was dealing with. .. >> well, i decided to end it well before the present in part because, to get perspective, you've got to be far enough away from it to know how things turn out. but the other thing is i ended at the end of the 20th century, and a convenient moment is when theodore roosevelt becomes president in 1901. he was the first western president. he lived in the west only briefly, but the west was essential to the persona that
theodore roosevelt took on. and his western connection was what changed the silk stocking new yorker into an individual of the ordinary people of america -- into an individual the ordinary people of america could identify with. and that was a result of his connection to west. so my story is the west of the mississippi river from roughly 1800 to 900. -- 1900. why stop there? well, because after that west becomes enough like the rest of the country that you understand, understand california in the 1950s. you need to understand the united states in the 1950s. to understand california in the 1850s, that's a thing apart. new york in the 1850s doesn't give you any useful guidance to california in the 1850s. but houston in the 1950s, california in the 1950s, pittsburgh in the 1950s, they're all sort of of a piece. the other thing is by the end of
this period, in fact, in the career of theodore roosevelt, you can see the west as understood historically fade into memory x. i called my book on theodore roosevelt long ago, the title was the last romantic because he benefited from the fact that the west was fading into a kind of romantic memory. and he, he arrived for the first time in the west in time to kill the last buffalo in the vicinity of madura dakota territory. now, the fact that it was the last didn't prevent him from shooting it. [laughter] he wanted to get his trophy. but it did make him into a conservationist x. so theodore roosevelt became the advocate of national parks and all this stuff. but he, but the reason he did that was, was the west was disappearing. the west was fading away. so that's my story.
i could tell you the themes that i draw, i could tell you episodes but, of course, i want you the read the book -- [laughter] and for the purposes of this evening, you don't have to read the book, you just have to buy the book. [laughter] no, not. actually, i want, i always -- so my father, i was a salesman in my father's business. my father was a salesman before me. i was not a good salesman. my dad was a born salesman. my dad could sell anything to anybody, and he knew the ways to sell. one of his cardinal principles was don't talk past the sale. and so i had a tendency to talk long but, boy, i've got a book to sell. [laughter] no. i am going to take questions. , no actually, the reason i want to stop now is i want to see what questions you might have. don't worry. you think you might get short changed, the questions can be
short, but i can answer long. [laughter] yes. >> i'm curious about the title of the book. >> ah, thank you. where'd the title come from. well, actually, the title is a remnant. that opening of the book that didn't survive into the final version. because when coronado headed up into new mexico and eventually into texas and all the way into kansas, he was looking for el do arounded doe -- el dorado. and it was originally the golden one. and is so there was this idea that there was this man of gold. it sort of morphed into these golden cities. and it might seem really odd to think that you'd go looking for a golden city in kansas, of all places? but think about it, this is in the 1540s. and it was only 20 years earlier that gold had been discovered in mexico, the cortez talk of mexico, and gold and silver in peru, so why not in new mexico?
or texas or kansas? so they went up there, and they didn't find -- oh, the other thing was that the locals had figured out how you get -- coronado had this army. because to travel for months and months, you had to take all of or your provisions with them, many of them on hoof. and so this army marches through. and so how do the various peoples along the way, how do the indian tribes get the spanish to move on? well, the obvious thing, oh, yeah, there's gold over there. [laughter] keep going. and off they would go because coronado had to answer to his boss, and if it was -- if somebody told him there's gold over there and he didn't follow it up, then they'd say, well, you were lacking. you didn't find any gold. and the soldiers went out with him, and they expected sort of shares in the profits of all this. so this is the way you could get people to do this. as i say, now that we know that there isn't any gold there, this seems like a quixotic quest.
but, in fact, nobody knew there wasn't gold there until they went there and didn't find any gold. turns occupant, they just look -- turns out, they just looked in the wrong places. there was gold in california and then discovered elsewhere across the west. other questions. yes. >> could you talk about the transcontinental railroad in. >> yes. okay. so the transcontinental railroad was designed to solve a couple of problems. and the first problem was how you get from the mississippi valley to the pacific coast. now, in fact, people had been talking about this for a while, and when they knew that there was this california out there, but no one had any occasion to go to california except people like richard dana who went and wrote two years before the mass. and when people knew about california -- california in the 1840s, in fact, until almost
the end of the 840s, until, in fact, january 23rd, 1848, well, in fact, until january 24th, 1848, at 6:45 in the morning -- [laughter] california was as far as you could get from the populated parts of the united states; new york, boston, philadelphia. as far as away as you could get and still be on the surface of the earth by the means that were required to get there. so to get from the east coast of the united states to california, you typically had to go all the way around south america and all the way up the coast of south america and up to california. and it could take six months. in fact, william sherman, the famous civil war general, essentially missed the mexican war because he was end route traveling around -- enroute traveling around south america to get there, and war was proclaimed, and it took him six
months to get to california by which time all the big stuff was already over. so california was far away. nobody much cared. in fact, one of the things that took people to california was the same sort of thing that took people to texas in the days when texas was spanish and then mention cab. mexican. the whole attraction was that it was far away. in the case of texas especially, california as well, it was under foreign control, and mexico did not have an extradition treaty with the united states. so if you were wanted for any number of things -- murder, bad debt, illegal slave trading -- you come to texas, and you're home free. nobody can bother you. in the case of california, california was a great place to disappear. so so one of the stars of the story in california's a guy named john sutter who was swift. and john sutter had run up a
debt, and his marriage wasn't going too well. and so he decided he would tell his wife he was going off to make his fortune and i'll be back. and he just disappeared. he disappears, he went as far as he could get away from switzerland. , of course, one of the things about coming to america is you could claim that you were a decorated hero of the wars of the swiss army or something like that, and no one could check up on you. and he did. and so he became this great figure in california. precisely because nobody knew anything about his background. he was a good talker, he could pass himself off as much more than he actually was. and he was pretty sure that his creditors would never find him in california. and his wife would assume that he was dead. and any search for him would stop. and then,, wouldn't you know it, gold is discovered in
california. and the first accounts say that -- [laughter] it was discovered on the property or near a fort that was run by this swiss guy named sutter. and it makes all the papers in america and in switzerland. [laughter] so his wife finds out where he is and sends his son after him. [laughter] the kid shows up on sutter's doorstep. didn't want anything to do with him. but anyhow, all of a sudden there are all these people who go to california. now, this is, this is -- it was taken as evidence that god smiled on the united states of america. because the gold was discovered in california. well, technically, it was discovered in california while the treaty that ended the war between the united states and mexico was being finalized in mexico city. but it took a month for the news to get from the foothills of the sierra nevada to mexico city, so they signed the treaty before
anybody knew that the transfer of california included the transfer of this new gold strike. well, from the standpoint of americans tuned to think that america is this exceptional place and perhaps more so in the 19th century than now butting maybe not. maybe not. this also came with an idea god particularly smiled on the united states. and it was the easy to craft a narrative around this because gold had been lying in the stream beds of california for millennia. and the native americans never found it. and then gold had still been lying in the stream beds for hundreds of years while california was under the control of the spanish, and the spanish knew what gold looked like, but they never found it. and then gold was still in the stream beds in the 25 years that california was under the control of mexico. mexicans didn't find it, and
they knew what gold looked like too. and then within weeks of its transfer to the united states, boom, gold is discovered. and what do you know? so is all of a sudden, the west is much more attractive than it's ever been. and in an earlier book, and i sort of take the same idea in this book, i make the claim and i'll admit that it might be a stretch. we could argue that the gold rush of california was the first event in modern world history. now, it sounds like a ridiculously bold claim, but the way i mean it is this. something, an event that happens in one place that has almost immediate reverberations all over the world, because within weeks the news got to hawaii, it got to australia, it got to china. and people came from all those places to california. it got to france, it got to england, it got to germany, it got to russia. people came from every inhabitedded continent to california, making california which had been this hiding place
way at the back of beyond all of a sudden the most cosmopolitan certainly in the united states, if not in the world at that moment. so there they all are. and people go trekking out to california. ten years later and, actually, there's a direct causal effect that i won't go into. it's in the book. [laughter] there's a causal effect, a connection between the gold in california expect sudden people of california and the civil war. because the add mission of california as a free state tipped the balance between slave and free states in the senate, and senate -- excuse me, the south is insists on the fugitive slave act as a quid pro quo, and now it raises the north and, boom, we get to the civil war ten years later. and when the civil war began the question was, of course, north and south and all this, but something that is not sufficiently appreciated by most people is while the civil war was between north and south, it was over the west. it was the western territories and the western states that they would become.
what are they going to be? are they going to be slave states or free states? and that was really the rock that broke the union apart. and once the union breaks, the question is which way's california going to go? whoever gets that gold has a big leg up in the contest between the north and south. and california happened to be populated not overwhelmingly, but there were a whole lot of southerners and southern sympathizers who had gone out to california. and furthermore, once the south demonstrated that you could actually think of breaking off from the union, californians began to think, you know, we could do that too. we don't necessarily have to join the cop fed rassi -- confederacy, we could just spin off and form a pacific republic. it was so far from the rest of the country that it took a month for news to get back and forth, and all sorts of things could happen. and that's why the transcontinental railroad's built, to keep california in the
union. because until the republicans in congress passed a bill funding a transcontinental railroad, california was thinking about we'll leave, and we'll take nevada with us. so that whole western slope could p ship off and become a specific republic. but once california was promised a railroad, then those people who took four months to get out to california could imagine getting back and forth. oh, wow with. that changes everything. another question, perhaps -- [laughter] yes. >> so i don't know how to frame this question, but, to me, the american west is a gift, and it's the place with the most open land. obviously, we're arguing on how to live on that land. but i wonder if, to me, it's such a gift that this country has what the american west has.
i mean, in the parklands, the open lands and still to reach the west coast. how to we keep that appreciation for what a unique place that belongs to our cub country? >> so how do we keep the dream of the west alive. well, i'll elaborate a little bit on sort of the premise of your question. so the quest has always -- the west has always been the region of america's future. and from the very beginning when farmerred had kids expect kids -- farmers had kids and the kids couldn't find a farm, they went west. henry thoreau, they traveled most freely to the west. and the west wuss where there was always this new opportunity. and the west, there's this westward movement. and the western movement was fairly steady and predictable until, until the line of settlement, until the edge of settlement reached the
mississippi river x. then it ran up against, well, 100 miles or so across the mississippi, against what at that time was called the great american desert. then something weird happened. the line of settlement leaps all the way to the pacific with the discovery of gold in california and the migration to oregon, all the people going out to very fertile land in the valley. and there in between is the great plains which is called the great american desert and the rocky mountains. and the rocky mountains in those days -- and it's important, i think, to keep in mind how people have viewed the west and how they viewed scenery. and i sort of had to figure out how to appreciate this because i'm a child of the 20th century, and i grew up in oregon. every other household has on the coffee table one of those big, glossy books and on the cover -- and inside, you can figure out from the cover, the cover is either snow-covered mount hood,
or the rocky oregon coast with the waves crashing or crater lake are or something like that. and so natural beauty is this stuff to look at. but in the 19th century, natural beauty was not what you looked at, natural beauty was what the land could do for you. so i include texas. and when steven austin a arrives in texas in the early 1820s, he keeps a diary, a journal. and he comes across the river and comes into texas, and he goes true through the region, all the way to san antonio where he has to talk with mexican officials. all the way to mexico city. but the thing that struck me as i was reading his diary was how often he used the word "beautiful" to describe the land that he was seeing. and this puzzled me, because,
you know, as i say, i grew up with natural beauty is a rocky mountain, you know, or a snow-covered mountain or this very deep sol can cantic -- volcanic lake or something like that. and what i would think, i would drive between austin and college station a lot, and it's pretty much on the same route that steven austin traveled. and what you see is nothing like that. [laughter] a what you see is rolling countryside, and you can tell especially here in the bottomlands, the colorado river, it's very fertile. and what austin was seeing was land that was beautiful from the perspective of somebody who's a farmer, who's going to make his living growing things out of this ground. and so that was the promise of the west. and, in fact, this is -- i don't go in too much for counterfactual historical pales, but if the united states had not acquired the trans-mississippi west, let's say until 1900, then
its history would have been very different. because, and i to this exercise with my -- i do this exercise with my students. from 1776, the founding of the united states, until, well, for the next each generation for the next 80 years, the land and domain of the united states doubles in size. so at the end of the revolution their war, the united states gets the aaron half of the -- the eastern half of the mississippi river. and then the secession from mexico and the acquisition of oregon. so the land and domain of the united states is constantly increasing. why? because the united states had a rapidly growing population, and they were nearly all farmers. and a growing population of farmers needs more land. and then, and then the territorial expansion of the united states comes to a screeching halt. the last bit of territory
purchased, acquired really was alaska. in 18 is 67. 186 7. and that was just sort of a wildcard. so the question i pose to my students i'll pose to you now, why did it stop? it had been going relentlessly for the previous 80 years, and now it's stopped. and it really never picked up. to add in hawaii, okay, and, you know, puerto rico and the philippines for a while, but they were given back. why did it stop? and i should point out that there was a time in the middle of the 9th century -- 19th century in the age of so-called map fest destiny which really is vastly overblown. people in the 1840s thought it was a bunch of hoo by, most of them. but this is what publicity seekers say. most people were thinking that the united states would become this continental republic. and you might think that we are a continental republic, and we span from the atlantic to the pacific. they were talking about from the atlantic to the pacific and from
panama to arctic ocean. and if you look at a map of the united states, we're not even a third of that. so continentalism never really caught on. why not? why did the territorial expansion stop? >> [inaudible] >> because people stopped being farmers. because if you were with thomas jefferson, you know, as president of the united states you're trying to basically provide jobs for your people. this is what presidents do. if there are lots of jobs, they get reelected. after the industrial revolution, jobs don't come from farms anymore, so you don't need it anymore. but your question was so how do we -- [laughter] preserve the west? well, that's a long-winded way to say i don't know. [laughter] i mean, i don't have any magic formulas. but one of the principal characters in my book is jon muir, one of that first generation of people who look at the west not as this thing to exploit. everybody else wants to exploit the west.
and if there's a single story of the american west that everybody who goes out there to seize the natural resources of the west whether it's land or whether it's cattle grazing or buffalo or gold or silver or water or whatever it might be, but muir is one of that first generation to say we need to preserve, we need to preserve it just as it is. you cannot improve on yosemite. and he was sufficiently persuasive to talk to people like theodore roosevelt who came to the same idea. and this question of so what is the future of the west going to be, it remains contested. and it's fair to say that the idea that there are certain parts of the west that should be simply left as they are, that idea is fairly secure. but whether that, those parts should be expanded, whether encroachments can be made into wilderness areas, all this stuff, it's the old battle --
well, there still is in the west, probably more in the west than in the east, there still is this idea of the west as this resource to be exploited. and so if you're a cattle rancher in wyoming, you might decide we need to continue to graze cattle on this public land. they're also developed in the united states in in the west in a way that you don't see much in the east much -- actually, you do see in texas, part of the west -- this idea that if youly on the land -- you live on the land, you develop squatterrers' rights. -- squatters' rights. in the 19th century, the ethos was, the basic thought to be was what's in the public doe main, we need to privatize as quickly as possible p. get it into individual hands. and it's only with theodore roosevelt in the beginning of the 20th century, wait, we've got to stop. and it is still the case that the west is the part of the country that is still, in some states they're fill mostly in
federal -- still mostly in federal hands. one of the great ayenies, the west is -- ironies, the west is the repository of mythical -- individuals didn't go out, so the land was acquired by the united states collectively. and then individuals go out and they the create these ideologies of it's just us against the land are. anyway, i think we'ven run out of time, and i certainly don't want to talk past the sale. [laughter] oh, one of the things i do need to remind you, that there are not very many shopping days until christmas. [laughter] and books make wonderful gifts. [laughter] so don't just think of one, think of the half a dozen people who need this book. thank you very much. [applause]
[inaudible conversations] >> here's a look at some books that are being published this week. former u.n. ambassador nikki haley chronicles her time serving in the trump administration in her memoir, "with all due respect." in the plot to betray america, counterterrorism analyst malcolm nance argues that the trump administration has compromised national security. diplomatic correspondent paul richter profiles four american diplomats who chose to serve in the middle east following in "the ambassadors." and in taken for granted, gianno caldwell of fox news argues that law makers have failed urban communities and offers his thoughts on how both political parties and citizens can work toward reform. also being published this week in all hell breaking louis, the nation's michael claire examines climate change from a
pedagogue's perspective. and a.k. sandoval strauss the' barr owe america reports on how latino immigrants restored american cities in the 1990s and 2000s after disinvestment. look for these titles in bookstores this coming week and watch for many of the authors in the near future on booktv on c-span2. >> booktv recently visited capitol hill and asked republican congressman gary palmer of alabama about his reading list. >> well, over the last year or so, i've read several books. the american spirit by dade mccullough -- david mccullough, friends didded by gordoned wood. -- divided by gordon wood. got on a little history thing there. a time for truth. if you can keep it by eric me