The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 99, July 1995 - April, 1996 Page: 138
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Many historians have tied the development of the land of the West to
quantities of rainfall and to man's ability to improve on rainfall through
the development of dry land agriculture or the introduction of irriga-
tion. Their work is related to that of the field of Cultural Ecology, which
attempts through careful study of the land, the society that lived on the
land, and the way that land was occupied and used, to understand better
the relationship between men and their environment.' In following
these histories of the U.S. West we find ourselves drawn more toward the
thinking of Walter Prescott Webb, who was a historian of the West as re-
gion more than the West as idea.2 Beginning with his The Great Plains,
Webb saw the peopling of the West with settlers from the more eastern
United States as a process that was affected by the environment, and we
follow that lead." Much of our analysis after we locate the frontier, then,
will respond to questions about man's ability to overcome with technolo-
gy the limits imposed on him by land and climate. Our conclusions will
emphasize the extent to which human improvements on nature are per-
manent or transitory.
Any attempt to locate the demographic frontier requires that we
define that frontier. We are aware that the word "frontier" has taken on
particular (and sometimes sensitive) meanings. Turner employed the
term to mean the area settled by English-speaking colonists, arriving
from the eastern United States and moving toward the west. That char-
acterization of the frontier usually implies that the area beyond it was
unsettled, which it was not. In Texas, as elsewhere in the United States,
virtually every area had been populated or traversed by some group of
native Americans.4 Moreover, before Texas became open to English-
speaking settlers in the 182os, it was explored and lightly populated by
Spanish-speaking settlers from Mexico.' The English-speaking colonists
'For an introduction to these questions, see Karl W. Butzer, "Towards a Cultural Curriculum
for the Future: A First Approximation," in Kenneth E. Foote (ed.), Re-Reading Cultural Geography
(Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994), 409-428; Karl W. Butzer, "Cultural Ecology," in Gary
L. Galle and CortJ. Willmott (eds.), Geography zn America (Columbus, O.: Merrill Publishing Co.,
1989), 192-20o8; Karl W. Butzer, "The Realm of Cultural-Human Ecology: Adaptation and
Change in Historical Perspective," in B. L. Turner et al. (eds.), The Earth as Transformed by Human
Action: Global and Regional Changes in the Biosphere over the Past 300 Years (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press with Clark University, 199o), 685-701.
2 See Donald Worster, "New West, True West," Western Historical Quarterly, XVIII (1987),
reprinted in Donald Worster, Under Western Skies: Nature and Hstory in the American West (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 19-33-
Walter Prescott Webb, The Great Plains (1931; reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press,
W. W. Newcomb, The Indians of Texas, from Prehistoric to Modern Times (Austin: University of
Texas Press, 1961).
5 Tina Meacham is at work on a dissertation that will accurately place and quantify these pre-
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 99, July 1995 - April, 1996, periodical, 1996; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101217/m1/186/: accessed December 12, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.