Book Reviews and Notices
BOOK REVIEWS AND NOTICES
The Great Plains. By Walter Prescott Webb, Associate Professor
of History, the University of Texas. (New York: Ginn
and Company. 1931. Pp. XV, 525.)
What happened when the American frontier was carried be-
yond the timber and extended into the Plains? Did it remain
substantially the same or was it so modified and transformed by
the new environment as to become something different? And
what of the civilization that accompanied and followed this fron-
tier? Do we find in it a mere repetition of those processes which
had been worked out in the advance from Jamestown to Natchi-
toches and St. Louis or did the level, arid, and treeless land
bring about new institutions pertaining to life in all its aspects?
Around these questions Mr. Webb has constructed a thesis which
in originality and boldness has scarcely an equal in recent his-
torical literature. He has taken the Great Plains, a single en-
vironmental unit, as the basis of his study and has treated a
variety of topics ranging from geology, vegetation, and animal
life to law and literature.
The author's account of how he came to write the book affords
an explanation of his method of approach. One night in 1922
he read that the ax, rifle, boat, and horse were the instruments
and agencies with which the American continent had been sub-
dued. He felt that the list was not complete; in the West the
six-shooter had been of greater importance than the rifle. The
investigations were extended to other Plains tools and institu-
tions and it was found that the story of weapons repeated itself,
with slight modifications, in that of fences and water supply.
The quest was extended "to include the whole round of Plains
life from geology to literature," and from the study emerged a
truth of wide applicability.
It was that the Great Plains environment, as defined in this
volume, constitutes a geographic unity whose influences have
been so powerful as to put a characteristic mark upon everything
that survives within its borders. Particularly did it alter the
American institutions and cultural complexes that came from a
humid and timbered region, resulting, as Powell said, in the de-
velopment of "a new phase of Aryan civilization."
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 35, July 1931 - April, 1932. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101092/. Accessed March 9, 2014.