‘American Trinity’ – Devastating perspectives about how the West was won

American Trinity: Jefferson, Custer, and the Spirit of the West, by Larry Len Peterson, Sweetgrass Books (August 1, 2017), 728 pages.

How did we “win” the west?

Our legends, movies, and novels present derring-do accounts of triumphs over a wondrous, yet dangerous environment; perseverance against inhospitable weather; heroic families and individuals undergoing multiple hardships in a search for the promised land; and surviving battles with rustlers, gunslingers and Indians.

Our high school history books presented Manifest Destiny as the the holy grail of America’s consciousness facilitated by soldiers, missionaries, and heroes who–sanctioned by reason, wisdom, and the Almighty–kicked the snakes out of Eden and made it accessible to pioneers, family farms, and continental commerce.

The focus of this well-researched, scholarly and accessible book comes from Peterson’s statement in the preface: “I have been haunted by the question: who were we and who are we as Americans and a nation? I believe a nation is defined by the people who create its history, and they are remembered by the authors who write their biographies. Reflecting on that era and all its symbolic meaning, I’ve wrestled with explanations to make sense of why the Indian’s way of life was destroyed and what authority justified it.”

The short answers to “what authority justified it,” which are presented in his broad-in-scope book that carries readers deep into the past for information, are religion, disease, the principles of the Enlightenment, European colonization, Social Darwinism, and military force.

American Trinity was named Best Nonfiction Book of 2017 by True West magazine.

From the Publisher: “American Trinity is for everyone who loves the American West and wants to learn more about the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is a sprawling story with a scholarly approach in method but accessible in manner. In this innovative examination, Dr. Larry Len Peterson explores the origins, development, and consequences of hatred and racism from the time modern humans left Africa 100,000 years ago to the forced placement of Indian children on off-reservation schools far from home in the late 1800s. Along the way, dozens of notable individuals and cultures are profiled. Many historical events turned on the lives of legendary Americans like the “Father of the West” Thomas Jefferson, and the “Son of the West” George Armstrong Custer – two strange companions who shared an unshakable sense of their own skills – as their interpretation of truths motivated them in the winning of the West.”

From reviewer Stuart Rosebook, “Truewest Magazine”: “Readers will quickly discover that the strength of Peterson’s American Trinity’s is in the depth of his research and personal introspection throughout his 725-page book. As Peterson states in his Preface & Acknowledgments: “The American Trinity is older and bigger than the American West. It is the story of the grand sweep of human experiences and their eventual influence on white racist attitudes toward Native Americans. History is important. When there is no knowledge of the past, there cannot be a vision of the future.”

Peterson, in the words of his editor, writes Jim Cornelius in “Frontier Partisans,” set out to “challenge views without demanding that you change yours.” He is not grinding an ideological ax – but he is facing up to some difficult history. A man of deep faith, Peterson wrestles with the role religion played in justifying conquest and the stripping of culture away from native peoples. A doctor and a man of science, he grapples with the use of ‘scientific racism’ to rationalize oppression.”

We think we know the west from watching “Bonanza,” “Gunsmoke” and “How the West Was Won.” The reality of the west and why we were drawn there as a young nation is much deeper and wider than TV serials and movies suggest. That reality not only prompts us to ask our ancestors “what were you thinking?” but prompts us to reassess what we’re thinking now.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

Briefly Noted: Charles M. Russell: Photographing the Legend

“Charles Marion Russell (1864–1926) was many things: consummate Westerner, historian, advocate of the Northern Plains Indians, cowboy, writer, outdoorsman, philosopher, environmentalist, conservationist, and not least, artist.” – Charles M. Russell Museum

Charles M. Russell: Photographing the Legend, by Larry Len Peterson, University of Oklahoma Press (March 20, 2014), 329 pages, photographs

charlierussellFrom the Publisher: Almost as familiar as the images of the American West he painted and sculpted is the figure of Charles M. Russell himself. Standing or mounted, in boots and wide-brimmed hat, sash knotted at his waist, gaze steady under a hank of unruly hair: he is the one and only “Cowboy Artist.” What is not so well known is the story that unfolds in the myriad photographs of Russell, pictures that document a remarkable life while also reflecting the evolution of photography and the depiction of the American West at the turn of the twentieth century. This biography makes use of hundreds of images of Russell, many never before published, to explore the role of photography in shaping the artist’s public image and the making and selling of his art. More than that, the book shows how the Cowboy Artist personified what he portrayed.

About the Author: “A two-time Western Heritage Award winner for best art book of the year and recipient of the Scriver Award, Larry Len Peterson is an acknowledged expert on art and art history of the American West. His publications include Charles M. Russell, Legacy (1999); A Most Desperate Situation (2000, 2001); Philip R. Goodwin: America.” – Mountain Press Publishing

If you’re a fan of Charles M. Russell, you’ll find a large selection of his works in the Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena, Montana. According to the society, “This collection (numbering over 200 pieces—24 major oils, 33 major watercolors, 40 pen and inks, 15 original models, 60 bronzes, and 34 illustrated letters) is one of the most significant collections of Russell art anywhere. ” Click here for information about the collection and the society.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy novels, including three set in Montana: “The Seeker,” “The Sun Singer,” and “Sarabande.”

The Call of the Mountains: The Artists of Glacier National Park

Larry Len Peterson brings together in one book a representative selection of the artists who have been inspired by Glacier National Park along with commentary that places the work into a historical perspective.

The Call of the Mountains: The Artists of Glacier National Park (Mountain Press Publishing, 2002), is organized into four sections: “Sign Talkers: The Authors,” “Empire Builders: The Hills and Their Artists” “Shadow Catchers: The Photographers” and “Word Painters: Charles M. Russell and Friends.”

Author of over forty publications, Peterson is a collector of western art and the former chairman of the Charles M. Russell Museum’s advisory board.

Jerry Fetz, of Crown of the Continent E-Magazine writes, “The Call of the Mountains is an exceptional book, one that every admirer of Western art and Glacier National Park, separately but especially together, should own, look at again and again, and give to likeminded or even potentially like-minded friends and family members on special occasions. We owe Larry Len Peterson much gratitude for gathering these artists and works together, and for supplying extremely important textual background and information about the artists, their artistic works, and the amazing Glacier National Park that inspired them.”

A magical novel set in Glacier National Park