Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Quarterly 15:1 (Fall 1996). Copyright © 1996 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


The Way West, scripted and directed by Ric Burns, is advertised as the story of United States expansion into the American West from 1845 to 1893. Burns sets the series' temporal boundaries arbitrarily from a New York editor's first use of the term "manifest destiny" in 1845 to Frederick Jackson Turner's 1893 address on the significance of the frontier and his announcement of its close. The documentary's episodes actually focus on the struggle for control of the Great Plains, pitting the U.S. Army against the Sioux nation and its allies. Largely forsaking the challenge of providing a sure overview of who the Native peoples of the Plains and the West were, or of what sorts of people took their land as settlers, the series instead offers descriptions-at times in prolonged detail-of some of the classic battles and massacres of Great Plains history. In short, it is Old Western History with a twist: the addition of Indian perspectives to the story.