History, Department of


Date of this Version



In EUROPEAN IMMIGRANTS IN THE AMERICAN WEST: Community Histories, ed. Frederick C. Luebke. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1998, pp. vii-xix.


Copyright 1998 University of New Mexico Press.


European immigrants are the forgotten people of the American West. Their stories are not told in the many books, paintings, and movies that have created the mythic West. Immigrants did not easily fit the image of the West as the bastion of unfettered individualism and self-reliance-a region peopled by the free, brave, and pure-battling against the urbanized, industrialized, a,nd economically dominant East. Nor do European immigrants populate the pages of frontier history. Ever since Frederick Jackson Turner opened the field a hundred years ago, general histories of the American frontier have tended to ignore them. Grounded on the Turnerian notion that the frontier environment overpowered ethnocultural behaviors and attitudes, such histories assumed that common frontier experiences created the so-called American character. Presumably, the environment worked equally on all frontier people regardless of origin; people of all cultures had to adapt to physiographic realities if they were to survive. Failing to fit the established interpretive model, European immigrants again were overlooked. They have fared no better in the histories of the American West. For example, Robert V. Hine simply dismisses European immigrants as unimportant for his interpretation in The American West (1984). Rodman Paul's The Far West and the Great Plains in Transition, I859-I900 (1988) devotes two chapters to racial and ethnic diversity, but he summarizes the role of European immigrants in about seven pages. One searches fruitlessly in these and other broad studies of the West for adequate descriptions of ethnic-group settlement or for recognition of the sometimes astounding proportions of European-born persons in certain communities. Equally scarce are analyses that illuminate internal social structures or the intricate economic and political relationships of ethnic groups with each other or with so-called dominant elements in western society.

In preparing this volume, I have been motivated strongly by the desire to illu~inate the role of European immigrants in the history of the American West. But this book is no panegyric of immigrant accomplishment; I leave the recitation of heroic deeds by the ethnic fathers to the filiopietists. Instead, I hope that the examples of historical research presented here will stimulate students, both graduate and undergraduate, to pursue ethnic community histories, to conceptualize historical problems appropriately, and to employ sources and methods available at the local level. I hope especially that this book will help to dispel the notion that European immigrants had no significant role in the history of the American West.