Monday, December 4, 2023

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Tuesday, August 1, 2023

John Gast, American Progress, 1872

I first saw this painting while researching Trail to Destiny, Book 1 of my Wheels of Destiny Trilogy. I found the painting both an inspirational and fascinating piece of historical western art. Not only did I admire its rich and detailed symbolism and the powerful meaning it gave to America’s westward expansion, but I understood the controversy it provoked as well. Although the original artwork is only 12 ¾ x 16 ¾, the painting viewed by most is a much larger reproduction.

Crofutt’s Trans-Continental Tourist’s Guide, 1872

John Gast, a Brooklyn based painter and lithographer, was commissioned by George Crofutt, the publisher of a popular series of western travel guides. With so many images of the western landscape already in circulation, Crofutt collaborated with Gast to create a new design. Crofutt included an engraving of Gast’s painting in his guidebooks.

In order to appreciate the images depicted in Gast’s painting, one has to realize the connection it had to the concept of “Manifest Destiny,” which was first authored by newspaper editor, John O’Sullivan in 1845, who claimed America had been chosen to carry out the duty of expanding the country all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Gast used his painting to tell the message that the United States was destined to migrate West and to encourage interest in Americans to forge their way across the western frontier. This manifest destiny ideology was common among many early Americans who viewed it as an economic opportunity to start anew. 

American Progress conveys a dynamic story. First, let’s take a look at the landscape. The right side represents eastern America with what is assumed to be the Mississippi River and the left side represents western America with the distant Pacific Ocean. Notice the eastern side is much brighter than the western side which grows darker with storm clouds above the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. Reading into that, some viewers might interpret the east as safe and civilized and the west as a dark, uncivilized and untamed wilderness.

Second, take notice of the large, ethereal feminine figure in the middle of the painting. With the “star of the empire” on her forehead, she seems to be leading and lighting the way for the travelers from East to West. In her right hand she carries what most often is interpreted as a book of knowledge and she suspends a length of telegraph cable, depicting educational advancements and technological improvements and inventions.

Next look below her; men follow her on foot and by various methods of transportation – pony express rider on horseback, covered wagon, stagecoach, and steam engine. In the lower right, farmers work the land, a stone house, trees and a split rail fence nearby. On the road in the foreground, three men walk beside a horseman. One carries a shotgun and another holds a miner’s shovel on his shoulder. 

As sequential waves of Americans move forward across the plains towards the Rockies and beyond, their images tell a story about the importance of the frontier in American life and of the progress achieved through communication, development, transportation and expansion.

But when we look closely to the left side of the painting, we can see quite another dark and controversial meaning to that story. Bison, wild horses and a bear are seen retreating into the darkness. Several Native Americans look back, one bare-chested male raises a tomahawk and another carries a bow and arrow. A horse drawn travois carries a mother and child. Another woman walks beside it and looking over her shoulder.

In the nineteenth century, the new nation of the United States had great ambitions for its future and westward expansion was a common mindset among most Americans. Looking at “American Progress” today, one can appreciate the bright, positive side of Americans’ enthusiasm and energy for forging a bold path across the West, yet also understand the darker, negative side and sympathize with Native Americans being forced from their native land and way of life they were accustomed to.

Gast’s painting at the time he created it effectively conveyed a history of the past, the innovations of the present and a vision of the future. The original painting is now held by the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles, California.


Monday, July 31, 2023



My husband and I took a wonderful 10-day Trafalgar tour throughout the beautiful state of Colorado.  We not only saw unforgettable scenery, but just as enjoyable, we learned much more history about the state than if we’d traveled there on our own without our knowledgeable Trafalgar tour guide.

I’d like to share with you an interesting bit of history he told us about that many of you may not have known …. the origin of the patriotic song, “America the Beautiful.”


In 1893, at age 33, Katharine Lee Bates, long-time professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, was lecturing a summer session at Colorado College. During her visit she joined an expedition to the summit of Pikes Peak in a prairie wagon. Atop that 14,110 foot mountain, the words of a poem started to come to her and she wrote them down upon returning to her hotel room at the Antlers Hotel. (A beautiful historic hotel we had the pleasure of staying at while on our tour.)

Originally entitled “Pikes Peak,” the inspirational poem became lyrics for the song, ”America the Beautiful,” in 1910, with its melody composed by church organist and choirmaster, Samuel A. Ward at Grace Episcopal Church in Newark, New Jersey. Katharine Bates never met Ward. Ward died in 1903, not knowing the national stature his music would attain. However, the song’s popularity was well established by the time Bates died in 1929.

At various times in the more than one hundred years that have elapsed since the song was written, efforts to give "America the Beautiful" legal status either as a national hymn or as a national anthem equal to, or in place of, "The Star-Spangled Banner,” but so far this has not succeeded.

The song remains one of the most popular of the many U.S. patriotic songs.

Commemorative plague atop Pikes Peak

July 1999

America the Beautiful - 1911 Version
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Thursday, June 17, 2021



I enjoy researching American History

and in particular, the Old West.

  Many reasons for that:

           First, I was born in Kearney, Nebraska, the town named after Ft. Kearny located on the Oregon Trail. Growing up there, I remember visiting the fort and admiring those brave pioneers numbering in the hundreds of thousands who migrated across the continent searching for economic opportunity, and who associated land ownership and farming with freedom.  Thousands also were driven by the California Gold Rush and the hopes of striking it rich.   At the same time, I was sympathetic to the plight of the Native Americans and the impact the westward expansion had on their lives. 

          Second, I remember enjoying the era of good 'ol TV Westerns. I'm guessing some of you do too.  From the likes of Roy Rogers & Dale Evans.  From Gunsmoke to Rifleman, from Bonanza to The Big Valley, from Maverick to my all-time favorite, Wagon Train and later on, Little House on the Prairie. Those stories to me represented the romance of that era.  Also, I loved watching western movies, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 3:10 to Yuma and especially, Dances with Wolves. Yes, a lot of it was Hollywood and strayed from the hard facts, but non the less, influenced my love and imagination for that time period.      However, I do want to stress, that though my books contain fictional places and characters, the history it entails has been strictly researched for authenticity.

          Last but not least, I feel the historical old West is a major part of our heritage and we should enjoy learning about it.  Hopefully, by reading the fictional genre I write, my readers will not only enjoy the story but the historical background as well.

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