Development of the Southwest
Treks across the American West at the beginning of the 19th century were arduous ventures taken on by explorers equipped not only with the desire to discover and document a new, often pristine world but also with the determination and ability to persevere and resolve the challenges and obstacles that faced them. These early adventurers, like Meriwether Lewis and William Clark who charted a northwest passage, William Becknell who pioneered trade on what would become the Santa Fe Trail, and the countless other expedition leaders and entrepreneurs, laid the early foundations of approaches to the unknown, exotic locales of the West. Through their accounts they whetted the appetites of people far away in the east. More significantly their mapping of the various regions of the west would later suggest to countless pioneers, who traveled via horse and covered wagon, the trails by which to approach the unfamiliar, and at times, perilous landscape.
Travel to the West was soon revolutionized, for during the 1850s, the idea of a transcontinental railroad was born. This mode of transportation served as a catalyst for change in the area, leading to development of many industries in the West, the growth of cities, and the flow of vast populations in and out of the region. In the Southwest, it would be the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, that would pioneer into the region, starting as fledgling freight business. It would soon be transformed into one of the most successful passenger lines, once entrepreneur Fred Harvey coupled his energies with the Santa Fe Railroad to lure tourists and eventually settlers to this wonderland. Later the Southern Pacific Railroad would serve similar purposes for the southern rim of the area.
Promotional material on the region described the various potential seen in the Southwestern landscape. Descriptions of the cultures, the terrain, and of the flora and fauna emphasized the uniqueness of the region. In advocating the marvels of the area, many artists and writers, working independently or through commissions, provided their perspectives on the experiences that could be had. Their descriptions and depictions of the indigenous peoples and their culture, art and architecture; of the natural landscape; and of the other Europeans-- the Spanish and the Mexicans -- were skillfully constructed texts and images. Be these real or imagined, these narrative and visual descriptions often influenced and shaped distant audiences first impressions of the region.
Once that audience was sufficiently intrigued, entrepreneurs figured out how to create situations where tourists could come experience the Southwest directly. Tours, like Fred Harvey's Indian Detours, claimed to provide tourists with genuine, first hand experiences of this remote area and its seemingly foreign peoples. Another attraction was, however briefly, to role play and be a "westerner," an experience enjoyed by many at dude ranches and guest houses that catered to those in search of a different type of vacation experience. The dry, warm climate was especially attractive to individuals suffering from certain health problem, like tuberculosis.
Others saw the Southwest as a landscape to conquer and transform. They saw how the natural resources could be cultivated and exploited via agriculture and mining. Crops, products, and industries could be brought in to make the land more "useful." Water was channeled, new crops introduced, and amongst them desert cities extended. In promoting the area, developers claimed that the exotic could be tamed: the natives were made to seem nonthreatening and under control, immigration was monitored, and the landscape was made to look familiar. Folks from back east could feel safe in settling in this area. The area was also promoted as a place free of the burdens and restrictions of eastern society: a place to find religious tolerance, a place for individuals be they eccentrics or renegades.
This exhibition provides a selection of materials from the pamphlet and ephemera collection in the University of Arizona's Special Collections and illustrates how the Southwest was promoted as a region. It verbally and visually documents some of the ways the Southwest was popularized. Through these various approaches to the region, certain concepts about the Southwest were indelibly impressed on the imaginations of individuals interested in the region, especially on those outsiders who first experienced the Southwest through the literature and art about it.
Theresa Salazar, April 22, 1997
Introduction | Accessibility | Advertising | Agriculture | Architecture | Entertainment | Environment
Exotic | Health | Indigenous Culture | Railroads | Religion | Roads