NORMAN D. BROWN, Editor
The Bonanza Kings: The Social Origins and Business Behavior of
Western Mining Entrepreneurs, 1870-I9oo. By Richard H. Peter-
son. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977. Pp. ix+ 191.
Preface, tables, appendix, bibliography, index. $9.95-)
The subtitle rather than the title reveals the actual contents of this
excellent study-it is an analysis of the social origins and the business
behavior of fifty successful mining entrepreneurs of the late nineteenth
century. The fifty were chosen arbitrarily, but Peterson's claim that
they were representative of the "bonanza kings" of the western mining
frontier seems accurate.
Peterson is concerned also with what caused economic success if the
selected "bonanza kings" fit the popular stereotype of the frontier min-
ing entrepreneur, and if the West provided better economic oppor-
tunity regardless of social origin. He compares the fifty men with
eastern industrial elites and concludes that his evidence corroborates
Frederick Jackson Turner's "claim that the frontier promoted vertical
social mobility, or the freedom to rise" (p. 14). Once the "bonanza
kings" achieved financial success they lived like the eastern elite.
Among the wealthy, conspicuous consumption, large gifts to charity,
and private railroad cars were as much a part of the West as of the East.
The chapter on labor relations in the mining enterprises is excellent.
Some mine owners chose to use force in labor disputes; but most pre-
ferred to develop a consensus in labor-management relations. The loss
of life and property were important considerations in the development
of coherent labor-relations policies. However, past experiences led
most owners to prefer a benevolent and paternalistic regard toward
their employees; and this attitude made them amenable to negotia-
tion and the development of a consensus with labor.
The backgrounds of many of the "bonanza kings" prepared them for
their role on the mining frontier. Thirty of the fifty had been in mer-
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 84, July 1980 - April, 1981. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101225/. Accessed December 21, 2014.