The Not So Wild West

The American West. As we construct our stories, our myths, about who we are and where we came from, this is the region that has so captivated our consciousness that it has its own genre in cinema.

Imagining the long and hazardous journey the pioneers made from the beginnings of the West somewhere around St. Louis, Missouri, across barren deserts, hostile Indian lands, waterless canyons, imposing mountains, wild animals, and inclement weather, we are left in awe as to how anyone made it alive at all to find a homestead or a claim in the West.

The story in our minds is something like this: small family with one wagon, one rifle, two oxen and a horse, randomly traverse wild unexplored country while they become the hapless victims of anyone they meet, especially cattle barons, lawless bandits, hostile Indians, or anyone who wants their water. They are saved from certain destruction by a gunslinger with no name who for some never explained reason chooses to waste time and talent on the poor clods.

Now I’m not sure where truth ends and story begins, but I do know the immigrant to the West was a lot better prepared and informed than they get credit for.

Take a look at this, from a small pioneer museum in Scott’s Bluff, Nebraska. It’s an odometer used by the Mormons. No one’s sure how it worked but probably it was attached to a wagon wheel somehow. An odometer! For chrissakes, these people not only knew where they were going and how to get there, they knew exactly how far it was and were able to measure it in real time, mile by mile.

I suppose if they’d had a piece of string that was long enough, they would have brought along a soup can telephone, too!

Mormon Odometer


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