Untold tales of the American frontier

Images of the black experience in the West

  • Mary Fields on the streets of Miles City, Montana, circa 1895.

    Black Pioneers by John Ravage, courtesy The University of Utah Press
  • Deputy U.S. marshals who served the district court of the Western District of Arkansas, with jurisdiction in Indian Territory. (Left to right) Amos Maytubby, Zeke Miller, Neely Factor, and Bob L. Fortune.

    Black Pioneers by John Ravage, courtesy The University of Utah Press
 

Black Pioneers -- Images of the Black Experience on the North American Frontier
John W. Ravage
251 pages, softcover: $22.95.
University of Utah Press, 2008.


With the second edition of Black Pioneers, historian and media professor John Ravage continues his mission of dispelling the myth that rugged, pioneering, "against-all-odds" Americans were exclusively white. Black pioneers led wagon trains over the plains, founded Western towns, fought in all of the Indian Wars, and explored with Lewis and Clark. They were ranchers, gold miners, lawmen and outlaws. Ravage examines the often-overlooked role of these pioneers, both men and women. This expanded edition adds a chapter on dating historical photographs and another filled with line drawings, lithographs and other nonphotographic images.

Clearly, Ravage has gone to extraordinary lengths to collect these images. It's a shame that these very American images have to be in a specialized book on black pioneers rather than in one on just plain old All-American pioneers. But given that this is the way it is, Black Pioneers is a useful and informative collection. It's powerful and refreshing to see blacks in these roles. One of the more striking things these pictures reveal is how diverse those times seem to have been, in unexpected ways: Over and over, we see blacks and whites working side by side in the outdoors, something rarely encountered today in either outside work or recreation. As inspiring as the images are, however, Ravage's words are less so -- his writing tends to be dry and academic.

One surprising -- and confusing -- aspect of a book intended to celebrate the lives of black frontiersmen is its focus on the harsh treatment and degrading stereotyping that blacks faced in the West. We already knew that blacks were lynched, laughed at, and in general treated unfairly; that is a tragic and often-told story. What is much less known is the deep involvement that many blacks had in the taming of the frontier. The mixing of the two messages -- blacks as active participants in the making of the West, and blacks as helpless victims of racism -- dilutes the main point: that our images of hardy American pioneers can and should be fully multicultural -- in our minds, in our books and on our screens.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DEVELOPMENT AND OPERATIONS COORDINATOR
    Development & Operations Coordinator Terms: 1.0 FTE (full-time), Salary DOE ($45,000 - $55,000) Benefits: Paid Time Off (12-24 days/year depending on tenure), Paid Holidays (10/year),...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • CARBON RANCH PLANNER
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Education and Outreach Program Director The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic,...
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...