Introduction

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Courtesy the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, University Libraries, via the Mountain West Digital Library.

The pervasive view of the Gold Rush in American culture imagines fevered years of U.S. population settlement in the West and the rise of a frontier masculinity that transformed America’s national identity. This singular portrait is based largely on photographs and records like those seen so far in this exhibition—pictures of rugged American men taming the frontier, gentle American women mothering children in a lawless land, and white American citizens bringing their superior way of life to the misguided, primitive inhabitants of the Western wilderness. The reality was quite different, and while there is far less evidence of the marginalized participants in the gold rushes, photographs and documents do exist that attest to their presence and influence on the frontier culture that developed over decades of American expansion into the West.