What was it like to be pioneering man in the West?

March 7, 2009

Bobz Book Reviews

“As Big as the West:
The Pioneer Life of Granville Stuart,”

by Clyde A. Milner II & Carol A. O’Connor

Granville Stuart, like thousands of others in the mid-1800s, dreamed of making it big in that great expanse of the western territory of the United States.

Stuart had yet a bigger dream than most; he wanted to be important, not just rich.

When mining for precious metals didn’t earn as much of a fortune as he thought it should, he sought wealth and esteem in cattle ranching. Hobnobbing with the likes of Teddy Roosevelt as a founding member of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, Stuart did well for himself — but just for a while.

An ego as big as the West?

This meticulously researched account of Stuart’s life story could double as an early history of the state of Montana. Stuart felt he had played a huge role in that history — and it might be a recognition he deserved, too — but his reach never quite realized his ambition, either in wealth or fame.

Rather than Stuart’s life being “as big as the West,” as this Oxford University Press title suggests, maybe it was Stuart’s ego that was that size.

Along the way Milner and O’Connor’s history bears important information about the land-grabbing practices and the abuse of native peoples, the assumed racial superiority of Caucasians of the time — and ours? — over Indians, vigilante justice, and the rise and fall of fortunes thanks to the boom and bust of the industries that were supposed to make millions for investors back down the Missouri and points east.

Stuart’s ego surfaced in politics, too. Always feeling he deserved government jobs because of his work for the Democratic Party, Stuart wasn’t shy about asking for positions in government at any level, and he was sometimes rewarded and other times ignored in his quests.

Who can explain how this failed rancher from the middle of Montana is, in the 1890s, appointed the U.S. minister to Uruguay and Paraguay!

Is this a great country, or what? — bz

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About Bob Zyskowski

Bob is the Client Products Manager for the Communications Office of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A 40-year veteran of the Catholic Press, he is the former Associate Publisher of The Catholic Spirit. You can follow him on twitter or email him at zyskowskir@archspm.org.

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