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This classic description of the interaction between the vast central plains of America and the people who lived there has since its first publication in 1931 been one of the most influential widely known and controversial works in western history Arguing that the Great Plains environmentconstitutes a geographic unity whose influences have been so powerful as to put a characteristic mark upon everything that survives within its borders Webb singles out the revolver barbed wire and the windmill as evidence of the new phase of civilization reuired for settlement of that arid treeless region Webb draws on history anthropology geography demographics climatology and economics to substantiate his thesis that the 98th meridian constituted an institutional fault—comparable to a geological fault—at which practically every institution that was carried across it was either broken and remade or else greatly altered


10 thoughts on “The Great Plains

  1. says:

    I ahve to be honest Webb is a big Texas nationalist ok maybe that's a big strong But his leanings he wrote a book on the Texas Rangers that goes short of applauding needs to be taken into account howevera big howeverthis book is awesome His chapter alone on the geologic formation of the Great Plains is breathtaking His ideas about how aridity forced Americans to culturally adapt isn't bad either He talks a lot about the invention of the Colt six shooter and why environmental necessity dictated its invention this lets him talk about the Rangers and how the horse actually stopped the Spanish from fully colonizing la frontera del norte If you like environmental studies and how environment changes people read this


  2. says:

    Early last year I commenced a re read of Webb for the umpteenth time His work is a core text for my college course The North American Plains It heads the comps list for my graduate students to whom I characterize it as the work at the headwaters of Great Plains historiography The Great Plains is a book so important that it stands multiple readings ever critical over time In the current re read I have progressed only to the chapter on the cattle kingdom but already I have posted fifty comments many of them uite extended on the work I invite all to have a look at the comments particularly the most recent ones on Webb and the cattle kingdom I'm feeling rather proud of having coined the critical phrase Cattle Kingdom as Camelot to describe Webb's love of this particular era


  3. says:

    Walter Prescott Webb’s The Great Plains takes a topical approach and study of the effect that the Great Plains had on those who attempted to settle it The thesis of the book is to show how “the Great Plains have bent and molded Anglo American life have destroyed traditions and have influenced institutions in a most singular manner” 8 Essentially Webb describes the Plains as a completely different place that Americans had to adapt to after crossing west of the 98th Meridian To the east he writes that civilization stood on three legs land water and timber The Plains simply had land as its only resource and because of that forced American civilization to changeThe book begins with an explanation of the environment on the Great Plains and explains that they can be defined as any area that is treeless semi arid and level On top of those characteristics Webb also outlines the importance of wind to the region especially of “hot winds” that kill corn and other crops by the acre In the winter those hot winds turn to blizzards offering another challenge for life He also addresses the animals that reside on the Plains and characterizes them as hardened for life there and so tough that the only way to kill them is to break their back Among these animals are the American Bison he uses the term Buffalo Pronghorn Jackrabbits and Prairie Dogs Each of them presented their own problem for settlers They all eat grass and plants making it difficult to grow crops without proper management He addresses the fact that the Buffalo was the most important animal to Plains life because it provided food and shelter for the Indians and explains that they both come to an end around the same time 1876 with the Plains WarsNext Webb explains the difference in approach that the Spanish took toward the Great Plains compared to the Americans and explains why Americans did a better job of settling the region The issue that the Spanish met was the fact that they there was nothing on the Plains that they wanted to possess leaving only the Indians to impress their will on Previous to their territorial expansion on the Plains they conuered the Latin American Indian cultures for their resources on top the spread of Christianity Simply put the Spanish goals did not fit with the structure of the itinerant Plains Indians The Spanish encomienda system was set up to take advantage of people who were willing to tend the land and animals there an obvious issue when they ran into a culture of hunters and gatherers who did not have the knowledge The American strategy for settling the West was to provide trade routes through it and then settle those in the area through economics Webb explains that the Santa Fe Trail and the Oregon Trail were beneficial to the uick spread of American influence in the West and that the Plains because of their lack of resources caused Americans to move West uickly than they would if it were wooded like the East The six shooter helped settlers to fight Plains Indians on horseback giving them an advantage thus making it easier to defend themselves against them and forcing them to give in to their will Webb explains that the change to the six shooter from the long rifle was one of the major adaptions to Plains life by AmericansWebb continues explaining how Americans adapted to life on the Plains by explaining the new methods and technology that allowed the region to become important agriculturally He explains that at first agrarian culture jumped over the Plains to the Pacific slope and then worked backward from there While waiting for new technology to allow the Plains to be farmable those living there found the most productive use of the land was for cattle creating what he calls the “Cattle Kingdom” He outlines the development and importance of Texas to the cattle industry and vice versa while explaining the necessity for long drives and the creation of cattle trails to major railheads that allowed for their commodity to be transported to the East The Cattle Kingdom came to an end with the Industrial Revolution and created a new way of life on the Plains Webb credits the expansion and support of the railroad industry by the United States government as the reason for the decline in the cattle industry More railheads were established to the South relieving the need for the cattle drive and the development of the refrigerated railcar put it to its end Barbed wire allowed the free range to be managed as personal property of those with homesteads Basically because of the lack of timber in the region it was difficult to fence Barbed wire allowed homesteaders to fence off their property and keep others off The final piece of new technology solved the water problem in the aridsemi arid Plains The windmill allowed water to be taken out of the ground and for the beginnings of an irrigation system to be set up to grow limited types of cropsWith many of the major obstructions to development taken away by new technology prairie farmers were able to expand the amount of farmable land and the government made its first attempt with the Homestead Act to get people to the region to further its development After people moved to the Plains and began to farm water rights became the largest issue and the government regulated it with the Desert Land Act of 1877 that limited the amount of land that could be used for farming Along these lines the final major issue and argument that Webb addresses is the uarrel between southerners and the government with regards to land and water distribution and expansion onto the Plains He argues that this hurt the South economically for much of the future and hindered its growthThe Great Plains was an important addition to the study of the history of the West because it offered a new interpretation on the place that it began Instead of considering it simply west of the Mississippi River he writes that it begins where the woodlands end This is the key reason that the American way of life changed as it expanded west Reviewers of the work acknowledge his viewpoint that differed from previous ideas about the region They also give him high marks for his narrative and colorful writing style and the way he synthesized the disciplines of sociology ecology and geography with history Besides this they criticize the book because it lacks primary source research and uses secondary sources from close to the period Overall though they explain that the book is an important study of the West that should not be overlookedIn line with reviewers Webb’s book is a relatively easy read and his ideas are presented clearly He restates his ideas and thesis throughout the book and gives ample explanation for the way that the Plains changed American life He does not use many citations but provides a bibliography at the end of each chapter for somebody who would like to look deeply into a certain topic Adding to the ease of understanding he also uses many maps charts and diagrams that benefit and clarify many of his ideas and gives a visual representation and proof for those


  4. says:

    Having grown up right on the 98th gotta read the book I enjoyed learning about this uniue region how it was defined and some of the issuestrends that helped and hindered its growth My grandfather and his brothers were homesteaders As when any book I enjoyed some chapters than others but overall I enjoyed the read


  5. says:

    This is a tough book to grade Obviously the test of time has proven to dispel many of the romantic myths as well as show the book for its racism misogyny and allusions of grander when it comes to American Expansionism Not to mention many of his physical definitions and analyses are incorrect As well he forgets to mention the endless amounts of immigrants migrating the Plains as well as the nuisances with RR ownedsold lands versus lands sold to Homesteaders I could go on and onBut for 1931 for what it was it was an excellent work Further it was brilliant in trying to capture the essence of environmental history and allowed future historians notably in the field of environmental history to use his approach of how land shaped humans and humans shaped the environment as a way of viewing history Despite my aforementioned issues with the book as viewed in 2014 much of it is very well done and accurate to this day Although the book has issues its significance much like FJT's thesis is unuestionable Whether one likes it or not in 2014 it serves as a work that must be digested and used in contrast to works that followed most likey inspired by this book


  6. says:

    This is history of an old fashioned sort mixed in with a Westerner's pride The treatment of Mexicans Indians and sometimes of all others than Anglo Americans might not have raised eyebrows in 1929 The Plains were a challenge fo courageous men but had a tendency to drive women madThe first part of the book is a sweeping and enjoyable take on the pre conuestera physical geography and climate dictates all; Indians adapt though the nomadic people of the plains are a savage obstacle to the eventual settlement than the placid people east of the Mississippi valley to come


  7. says:

    Creey racism at its worst Still read for environmental history but only because it was the first Check out if you can stand it parts of the book where he celebrates genocide and conuest and compares Mexican blood to filthy ditch water


  8. says:

    This only thing this that this book is good for is dispelling any and all myths about the American West but it would have been better if Webb had never written it or was born at all He treats Western Men™️ like Super Saiyan’s rapidly increasing his power level when he enters the plains gets on a horse and is armed with a revolver Not to mention that with the little representation they receive indigenous people and people of color are represented as not actually human and women are almost entirely non existent Complete and utter fiction


  9. says:

    The impact of the Great Plains on the culture and identity of the United States makes for an interesting read I will say I found much of it fascinatingI gave it four stars because it can sometime get bogged down academia I was introduced to this book in a college Texas History course It’s nice to finally get around to actually reading it many years later


  10. says:

    At this point this work serves us better as a primary source than a secondary source