Three Frontiers: Family, Land, and Society in the American West, 1850-1900

Any lingering notions that the settlement of the American West happened according to a fixed pattern will not survive a reading of Dean May’s new book. By describing and comparing the founding and development of three mid-nineteenth-century settlements, all quite different, May presents a convincing portrait of frontier diversity. Only when the communities reached their third generation did the three places start to converge in their social life and mores, and in ways that May finds regrettable. In their early years, however, these settlements reveal how different frontiers could be. In this well-researched and well-written history, May carries to new and complex lengths the idea that western settlements were more different than alike.

Dean May is professor of history at the University of Utah and has already authored many books and essays on the history of the New Deal, on Mormon history, on historical demography, and on the history of the West. This volume will further enhance his scholarly reputation. As a founder of the Center for Historical Population Studies at Utah, he pioneered in the use of manuscript census sources, and he employs them exhaustively here, together with tax and probate records, newspapers, business credit reports, and the somewhat elusive diaries and journals of individuals, as well as records of the settlements’ schools, clubs, churches, and other associations. Photographs of settlers and their homes add flesh and blood to the written sources.

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