William Henry Jackson, photographic pioneer of the Old West

In August 1870 a small detachment of US cavalry left Camp Carlin, an army supply depot just outside Cheyenne, Wyoming. Following close behind was Ferdinand Hayden, explorer and formerly professor of geology at the University of Pennsylvania. Accompanying him were a motley group of scientists, including a mineralogist, a botanist and a topographical artist. This… Read More

Beads and beadwork of Native Americans

Beading is one of the most characteristic and enduring art forms of Native Americans. Unfortunately since the 1960’s it has been imitated in oriental factories and imported very cheaply, almost completely drowning out high quality native beadwork. The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 goes a long way to remedying this, making it a… Read More

Johnny Appleseed

Johnny Appleseed is an American legend. Some of the popular ideas which surround him, created as they were by stories, cartoons and films, are not accurate. However he was genuinely admirable, and he introduced the cultivation of apples to many states even, it is thought, as far south as Texas. His real name was John… Read More

Native American lifestyle

The hunter-gatherer lifestyle of Native Americans persisted right into the nineteenth century and ran parallel to the industrial age. The different tribes had frequently been at war with one another, and atrocities were committed between them as well as upon white settlers, and yet the idyll of their lives persists in literature, films, songs and… Read More

Settlers’ fare

Settlers were the epitome of self-sufficiency, at least when they first arrived until a community was established. Therefore what they ate was very much dependent on the locality and the season, their ingenuity, and their farming efforts. Certain staples came with them on the journey and would be replenished as soon as possible. These included… Read More

Native Americans today

The federal government of the United States recognises 566 Native American tribes while more than 200 have not received this recognition. Achieving federal recognition as a tribe is a tough ordeal for tribal elders who have to submit extensive genealogical proof of tribal descent and also evidence of the continuity of the tribe’s culture. Not… Read More

Prairie fire

Fire plays a necessary role in the natural cycle of prairie ecology by removing the mass of dead matter which impedes the growth of the young grass. Controlled fires are still used to do the job, but in the days of the first settlers uncontrolled wildfires could sweep across the prairies threatening all in their… Read More

The Chisholm Trail

The Chisholm Trail is possibly the most famous route in the southern USA along which cattle were driven from Texas ranches where they were reared to Kansas railheads where they were sold and transported away to feed the growing population of the North. It was named after the Scottish-Cherokee trader Jesse Chisholm who used it… Read More

Blood out of a stone and water out of a cactus

It would appear to be something of a myth that it’s possible to get potable water out of a cactus, despite old cowboy movies. The reason behind this is that succulents use a different kind of photosynthesis from normal green plants. Succulents’ photosynthesis is called CAM which stands for Crassulacean Acid Metabolism. While other plants… Read More

Wildfire and bison – key factors in the survival of prairies

Like so many other things, prairies aren’t what they used to be. Back in the nineteenth century and before, they were vast areas of grassland constituting over forty percent of North America’s natural landscape. They were maintained by the action of two main influences: wildfires and plains bison. Wildfires, sometimes caused by lightning, would sweep… Read More