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Table of Contents

Explorations of the West
Sam Dalsheimer

Caitlin Goss
Nick Schradle
David Sena

Representations of
Native Americans

Richard Dybas
Amanda Leong
Cynthia Robertson

The Western Railroads
Ronni Toledo
Kayt Fitzmorris
Jon Ingram
David Halperin

The California
Gold Rush

Jordan Helle
Adam Lawrence
Marisa Pulcrano
Patrick Ryan

California as Western Destination/ Mediterranean Boosterism
Maddy Kiefer
Danielle Mantooth
Molly Nelson
Stefanie Ramsay

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From initial surveys of the territory upon which to build the railroad to advertisements of new regions accessible by the railroad, our four texts outline the evolution of American conceptions of the frontier from the mid- to the late-19th century. Volume XI of the War Department’s Reports of Explorations and Surveys of 1853 examines the land between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean and the potential for a cross-country railroad.[more]

Frederick Jackson Turner’s thesis on the frontier likely stemmed from his examination of such documents. The surveyors’ accounts allude to the frontier as a source of great adventure in which developers could help establish new regions by conquering the savagery of nature. The addition of such claims to the Reports suggests an underlying boosterism and potential for new beginnings on the frontier. While obviously written so as to persuade the War Department to approve of the construction of the railroads, the ideas emphasized by the explorers were later mimicked in advertisements for the railroads. Many parts of Crofutt’s Trans-Continental Tourist Guide of 1871 stress the benefits of the railroad as a corridor to the West for pioneers to more easily access and take control over land. In an early incarnation of the modern tourist guide, such claims embodied America’s notion of “Manifest Destiny,” of having a divine right to expand across, and later beyond, North America. This focus still shows an extension of Turner’s theories of the frontier. The changes occurring out west, however, can be seen in the depiction of the far west as the ultimate destination, rather than the central territories and states.
Similarly, the Rand McNally’s Guide to the Pacific Coast of 1893 promotes the West as an ideal location for settlement which enabled people to explore new, entirely different worlds, even just in traveling from one part of California to another. While still somewhat enthusiastic about adventure, the perceived closing of the frontier prompted railroad companies and advertisers to place less emphasis on the need to “conquer” the land and more on the benefits of living in the region. Nonetheless, the opportunity to settle in a new region still portrayed the West, at least implicitly, as a place to create new lives and identities. Even when traveling to unsettled lands, the railroad became a corridor of domesticity for which to travel through foreign spaces.
As exemplified by portions of Health and Pleasure on “America’s Greatest Railroad”, railroad companies also began representing relatively unsettled areas as locations where people could get closer to nature. However, they no longer described nature as a savage and dangerous, and thus masculine, but rather as a place in which people could be psychologically and physically rejuvenated. A more therapeutic ethos took hold and claimed that people “needed” temporary, rather than permanent, sojourns to nature to reduce stress and to renew their tranquility. Despite a supposed closing of the frontier, as Turner stated in the same year that both the McNally Guide and Health and Pleasure were released, the railroad supposedly enabled people to simulate Turner’s challenges in different ways to obtain similar benefits.

Health and Pleasure on "America's greatest railroad":
Descriptive of Summer Resorts and Excursion Routes, Embracing More Than One Thousand Tours

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- Ronni Toledo

In the section on American resorts in the fifth issue of the promotional series, Health and Pleasure on “America’s Greatest Railroad”, the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company characterizes the Adirondack Mountains as the “nation’s pleasure ground and sanitarium”. The description of the region outlines the myriad of benefits that the New York wilderness confers upon visitors; most importantly, the opportunity to unite with nature and be restored to health and vigor by the “soothing properties of the balsamic air”[1] After five pages of lofty, detailed claims about the beauty and value of the region, the authors finally express their true intentions: to publicize the opening of the Adirondack and St. Lawrence Lines, two of the only—and certainly most convenient—ways to get to the mountains and to experience the tranquility of the wilderness.

Published in 1893, the same year that Turner delivered his paper on the significance of the frontier, the part on the Adirondacks agrees with Turner’s description of the frontier as a place where man can escape the shackles of civilization and return to a more “basic state”. The rest of the section, however, offers a representation of the frontier that differs significantly from Turner’s. Turner suggests that the frontier forces people to abandon the metropole entirely and to confront the savagery of nature. Such a process supposedly leads to the creation of the American identity since men must learn to survive in a completely different environment. The Railroad Company on the other hand, merely encourages people to take a temporary sojourn to the Adirondacks; enough to become reinvigorated, but certainly not the length of time required to form a completely new identity.

Furthermore, while visitors may acquire more strength and individualism on their short trips to the Adirondacks, the Railroad Company places much more emphasis on the peacefulness of the region and the physical and mental rejuvenation that the mountains supposedly provide, whereas Turner assumes that man must face a number of threats to his existence on the frontier. The Railroad Company may have faced Turner’s frontier while constructing the lines, but their advertisements for the lines suggest that the railroad transformed the region into one of safety and beauty. Ironically, the company repeatedly claims that the land upon which the lines lay remains untouched and untainted by human intervention. The authors essentially suggest that the railroad enables Americans to explore the regions that Turner claims no longer exist and to acquire somewhat similar, if not superior, benefits, while avoiding “the fatigue and hardships encountered in the past”[2]

[1] The New York Central & Hudson River Railroad Company,
Health and Pleasure on "America's Greatest Railroad": Descriptive of Summer Resorts and Excursion Routes, Embracing More Than One Thousand Tours (New York: New York Central & Hudson River Railroad Co., 1893), 114.

[2] Ibid., 115.

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Image of "West
                                                end of Madelin
                                                Pass" from
                                                "Reports of
                                                Exploration &
                                                Surveys Vol. XI:
Reports of Explorations and surveys:
to ascertain the most practicable and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Made under the direction of the secretary of war, in 1853

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Kayt Fitzmorris

The United States War Department Reports of Explorations and Surveys, Volume Eleven, was created to “represent only such portions” of the western territories “as have been actually explored, and of which our information may be considered reliable"[1] in order to be reviewed by the United States War Department in preparation for building railroads from the East to the West. Compilers of the reports, Lieutenant G. K. Warren especially, emphasized the objective quality of selecting explorers’ accounts, maps, and images from which to form an accurate account of the land between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean.

In the collection are not only topographical accounts and maps, but also several accounts of explorers’ experiences on the frontier. Lieutenant Warren included these accounts in order to “promote the consultation of the original reports and maps, by pointing out to each investigator those works which probably contain information about the region of country especially interesting to himself.”[2] Despite his emphasis on accuracy and objectivity described in the beginning of his introduction, Lieutenant Warren also gives value to the personal accounts and biases that come with exploring the frontier. This subtle boosterism for the territory can also be seen in the images included in the volume. In several of the detailed sketches of the territory between the Mississippi and the Pacific, the foreground of the image features people looking out across the land. In some, Indians survey the territory while in repose. In others, European explorers decorate the foreground, eyeing the undeveloped territory confidently.

Lieutenant Warren’s report accomplishes two things: describing the territory in preparation for the cross-country railroad, and highlighting the frontier as a place of adventure and beauty. His choice to include accounts of American explorers on the frontier is reminiscent of Frederick Jackson Turner’s belief that a true American is a product of his surroundings—transformed by the frontier after leaving the east behind. In this book the railroad presents, although subtly, the opportunities for developers and builders to access this wild frontier, becoming more American as they travel west.

[1] Introductory remarks

[2] Introductory remarks

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Map of the Union
                                                and Central Pacific
                                                Railroad Lines and
                                                Connections from
                                                Tourist Guide"

Crofutt’s Trans-Continental Tourist’s Guide

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Jon Ingram

The travel guide is a portable book in which the author gives detailed information on the trans-continental railroad. Specifically, the text focuses on the numerous stations and stops along the way, giving information regarding them and the surrounding area. This book details not only what was important to the writers of the book, but what they would have wanted people traveling to know or what was to be found along the way. In this, the book begins with descriptions of western regions (Northeast, Far West, etc) and gives depictions of them and the grandeur to be found. Essentially, the book aims to promote the railroad, give incentive to travel westward, and portray the trans-continental as the conduit to the west. The second section of the text gives a rather romanticized version of how the rail line came to be built, hearkening back to the Civil War, and showing the US in an expansionist, nationalistic light. The wording and images indicate the heavy prevalence of Manifest Destiny that people still felt at the time about the frontier. In this light, the Union Pacific railroad is specifically mentioned. A detailed history and summary of its setup and the working of the company is given as a promotional review and advertising can be found for its railcars (particularly the sleeper cars) as the best options for travelers. Much of these two sections seem to revolve around the tourism aspect of the guide, using self promotion and lofty descriptions to make their points. Inserted into this are detailed sketches of the rail line, showing the trains and the landscape of the west, using them as selling points and creating the idea that the traveler wants to be there looking out at these areas from the train.

Lastly, the majority of the tourist guide revolves around the short summaries it contains on the majority of station stops along the way, national parks, and features of the landscape. What is interesting is that while it is classified as a “tourist’s guide”, it does not provide information for the most part on what the stops contain in the way of food, lodging, or other basics. Rather the train is the focal point for these necessities while the landscape and what the train passes through becomes the focus. In a way, the trans-continental at this time is basically just a corridor passing through the frontier, but in the descriptions we can see how tourism will develop, such as how Yellowstone is referenced and how later guides will include things to do along the way. This section is summed up by category and alphabetical order by the authors for quick reference by page number,in order that one might quickly reference a specific location. Ideally, each description contains at least several facts, details, or points of interest. For instance, interesting occurrences, land features, events, or what the area specializes in (cattle, grain). Every step of the way is detailed with tourist and factual information with the ultimate goal of California being consistently present. The theories of Fredrick Jackson Turner are consistent with this as the West is shown as the escape from the city. The west here is the answer to improving one’s life and forming a new start, while everything along the way is secondary and just part of the journey.


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Rand, McNally & Co.'s new guide to the Pacific coast :
Santa Fé route: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas

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- David Halperin

Frederick Jackson Turner describes the American frontier as “sharply distinguished from the European frontier – a fortified boundary line running through dense populations." [1] When it comes to the history of the western railroads in California, one does begin to see a noted boundary line, yet the dense population he spoke of did not begin here, but rather in Southern California. In Rand, McNally & Co.’s Guide to the Pacific Coast (published during the same year Turner delivered his frontier speech), the travel guide lists numerous facts about the west, stretching from Kansas to California. Though the most elaborate account of a frontier-like state comes when it describes the junction at the small, almost non-existent, town of Needles, CA.

“Here, the cars destined for Los Angeles and San Diego turn directly southward. It is the end of the desert. By a contrast and transition so striking as to be almost marvelous, you stand at this lonely little desert station almost upon the verge of a country where all the products of two zones grow side by side, with a luxuriance unknown elsewhere on the globe, and beneath a climate that within the past five years has attracted tens of thousands of permanent residents." [2]

Clearly this was a significant landmark for both the railroads and for western migrants looking to capitalize on a more prosperous life in this new and desirable climate.

            Furthermore, though California had existed as a singular state since 1850, there were increased observations of the differences between the northern and southern sections. When California became a popular travel destination the differences noted between the two areas allowed for a new, Postcolonialist way of identifying what constitutes as foreign and domestic. [3] This concept is brought forth in the travel guide book, which explains that “Indeed it may almost be said that everybody, in California or out of it, regards the two sections as entirely distinct…The distinction has produced a ‘boom’ in which the northern three-fourths of the State has not shared." [4] By sending the trains all across the state, the respective populations unquestionably developed sharp contrasts to one another as new groups such as Los Angeles boosters could now, for example, be contrasted to northern Californians with different political agendas.

             In conclusion, the Rand, McNally & Co. guidebook serves not only to physically map out the west, but to encourage the curious traveler to make the journey to a rapidly expanding land. As Richard Francaviglia duly notes, “...maps are tools of the spirited mind—the empire builder and the storyteller: they fuel the desire to experience, even claim, the geographic area that they represent." [5] The guidebook clearly serves to present nature and the human response to nature through the railroad’s crossing of a small, but mighty, boundary in California.

[1] Turner, Frederick Jackson. “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” American Historical Association (Washington DC) 1893. (Page 3)

[2] Steele, James W. Rand, McNally & Co.'s New Guide to the Pacific Coast: Santa Fé route: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas. Chicago; and  New York: Rand, McNally & Co., 1893, c1888. (Pages 129-130)

[3] Axelrod, R.B. & Axelrod, J.B.C. Draft of “Postcolonialism.” W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2004-2009. (Page 18)

[4] Steele, James W. Rand, McNally & Co.'s New Guide to the Pacific Coast: Santa Fé route: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas. Chicago; and  New York: Rand, McNally & Co., 1893, c1888. (Page 143)

[5]Francaviglia, Richard. “Walt Disney’s Frontierland as an Allegorical Map of the American West.” Western History Association, 1999. (Page 156) 

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 About this Project / Acknowledgements

Occidental College's "American Frontier" Research Seminar was developed by
Dr. Jeremiah B.C. Axelrod, Adjunct Assistant Professor of History.

The library project is developed in collaboration with the Special Collections Department:
Dale Ann Stieber, Special Collections Librarian
with student staff
Henry Boule and Claire Lem and
Laila Tootoonchi and Anahid Yahjian.

Title Image: Thomas Moran, "Nearing Camp, Evening on the Upper Colorado River, Wyoming, 1882," from http://www.boltonmuseums.org.uk/collections/art/paintings_prints_and_drawings/oil/nearing_camp_moran

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