Prairie Fever: British Aristocrats in the American West 1830 – 1890 by Peter Pagnamenta


This appears to be a very thorough look at the topic of British aristocrats' interest in and experience of the American West during the period.  Views of the West, and especially of Native Americans, were popularized by the works of James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, Charles Murray, and George Caitlin. Their rhapsodic descriptions of the landscape and the intriguing lives of the Native Americans caught their imaginations.  

The 1% of Britain at the time had two reasons for coming to the American West:  they had time on their hands and those victims of primogeniture (the second and subsequent sons), needed to make some money.  In the early 1830s a second son William Stewart, who had plenty of money and time, equipped himself and joined treks to trapper gatherings.  He was the only person in the group traveling for pleasure, but liked it so much he stayed around for 7 years.  Unlike Stewart, subsequent travelers who were in less danger and had more comfortable accommodations found the Americans far too familiar.  The toffs were just amazed at the lack of respect of the Americans.  These first travelers were seeking to kill buffalo and later elk and just about any other creature they could shoot.

Later the aristocrats made themselves even more unpopular by fraudulently buying public lands that were intended to be sold in small lots for homesteaders, in particular civil war veterans.  They also fenced off public lands that were open for grazing.  By the time the Congress managed to pass legislation to limit their access, they had discovered that Iowa and western Kansas did not have the moderate climate they hoped for.  

The author describes various attempts made by prominent families of Britain to recreate their lives in places such as Le Mars in northwestern Iowa by enticing others of their class to the area.  They recreated the social life as best they could, but coyote hunts, even if you are wearing red coats, just aren't the same as fox hunts.  By the end of this book, I was quite happy to have seen the back of that lot.


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