JF Ptak Science Books Post 320
This wonderful map is from Charles Paullin and John K. Wright Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, Washington, Carnegie Institution, and New York, American Geographical Society, 1932. It is just so very interesting and unusual--I'm not so sure that I've seen another map quite like this, illustrating travel time and difficulty.. One major stand-alone feature here for me is the distance from New York City to my own area of the U.S., the southern Appalachian region of western North Carolina: it took six days to get to Savannah from NYC and two weeks (!) to get up here in the mountains, which looks to be about the same amount of time it took to get to the Chicago area. Of course once you got to Asheville in 1830 you were, well, probably looking to get somewhere else. I'd take it that the turkey population vastly outnumbered the people. Maybe the horses did, too. Getting back on track here though the West in the U.S. at the time began just on the other side of the state of Tennessee, and it wasn't but a couple (?) of censuses before this that the West was right about at the Cumberland Gap/Ohio River basin region.
Perhaps this leads us to a more interesting if badly-asked question: where does the American West begin?
This is an awfully tricky question, best left to the answer that pops into your mind the instant you hear the question, before the problems of what the sentence entails creep in.
Locating where the West begins is a curious, personal adventure--is it on the other side of the Mississippi, or does it really start in Texas, and once in Texas does it start in Austin or the sleepy Brazos? Does it really begin where the sign says it did, at Meacham Field in Fort Worth?
It depends on the era, too, as we just said above; in the 18th century the American West was really out there with the makers of the martyr Bibles in Ephrata, which means that the rest of the place was really very big. And of course you can go all the way back to the beginning of European colonization here, all of North America was the West, at least to the people who were boarding the ships thousands of miles away across the Atlantic. And even once they got here the West was problematic--for the Spanish in the southlands there doesn't really seem to be a "west", only the northlands. In the 16th century the West was just creeping into Pennsylvania (Penn's Forests), and the French and Indian War in the mid 18th century was fought over the control of "the West", the crux of it all heading down to the forks of the Ohio at Pittsburgh. Even in the late 18th century, the West was still not all that far away, relative to what we think of today, what with Kentucky being the first "Western" state admitted to the Union (in 1792). It would probably be easiest just to say that the Mississippi River is the dividing line; after all, Lewis and Clark departed (in 1803) on their expedition from St. Louis (as did hundreds of thousands of other people later in the century who were seeking their new life in the West). Then there's the West of Saul Steinberg. who puts the whole thing on the other side of the Hudson...I'm not so sure if the West didn't start for some people somewhere along 11th Ave.
And where does the West "end"? Does the West make it all the way to California coast, or does it stop in the desert, east of Sacramento? Do people think of Oregon and Washington as the West; certainly they're western, but are they The West? To really complicate things, I guess you could define the middle of the West and look for the boundaries. But the middle of the West usually seems to me to be flat and red and not terribly high; who's to say that a nice town in Colorado (Salida?) might not be the middle of the West, even if it is 7,000 feet high?
Its a tricky question and probably most people have a different answer for it. For that matter, what about the South? Where does that begin? I'm in a southernish state, but I hardly think of Asheville as being in The South per se. Maybe we're too high; maybe the place over 2000' in elevation that are south of Pennsylvania are just Appalachia, and actually not part of the South. Scotland Neck over on the other part of my state is definitely the South to me, but perhaps it isn't too much very Southern for someone in the high delta, or taking an easy afternoon in Oxford, Mississippi, or anywhere else in the Louisiana-Mississippi-Alabama-Georgia block. I know that to Robert Johnson and Honeyboy Edwards and Son House and Muddy Waters and anyone else in Coahoma county that the South didn't go all that far north from where they were sitting. .In maps from sat 1850-1890 that area is called "the deep south"; seems to me that anytime you have a geographical location with a qualifying prefix, you're actually dealing with the real thing, everyone else without the prefix being pretenders, or just something else.
Same too for the North--is everything above Washington D.C. northern? I wouldn't tell my father that, being a Berkshire Hills (MA) boy; but that's another problem, especially to someone in Bangor.
So somewhere in all of this, after figuring out where all of these places start, somewhere in there is a place in this country that rejects these geographical delineations--that's the place I'd like to find. (When I was describing this idea yesterday to a friend, Renee, a Texan via way of Alabama--like many of the defenders of the Alamo--the answer came immediately: "Kansas" she said.
I'm not sure I agree. But then once I get past my immediate response (Texas without Trees), I start to think of a 3-D representation, trying to accommodate time. I don't have answer for the place that isn't anywhere, but once you start drawing enough circles to signify where The North South East West is/are, there is sure to be a little spot that gets overlapped by all of the circles more often than any other place--and that is where I think you'll find Nowhere.