The American West is such a vast topic, you need a general reference (or several) within arm's reach. We found these especially helpful: Howard R. Lamar, ed., The New Encyclopedia of the American West (Yale, 1998); Clyde A. Milner II, Carol A. O'Connor and Martha A. Sandweiss, eds., The Oxford History of the American West (Oxford, 1994); and Richard White, "It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own": A New History of the American West (University of Oklahoma, 1991).

For insight into the West's religious landscape, Ferenc Szasz ("Preparing a Way in the Wilderness") is a top authority. He wrote The Protestant Clergy in the Great Plains and Mountain West, 1865-1915 (University of New Mexico, 1988); edited Religion in the West (Sunflower University, 1984); co-edited (with Richard Etulain) Religion in Modern New Mexico (University of New Mexico, 1997); and has written and contributed to numerous other works on the subject.

Primary Sources

Primary sources are especially remarkable for bringing the West to life, and there are dozens and dozens available. Here are some we found most helpful in preparing this issue:

Sheldon Jackson, Alaska and Missions on the North Pacific Coast (Dodd, Mead & Co., 1880).

William Taylor, Seven Years Street Preaching in San Francisco (Carlton & Potter, 1857) and California Life Illustrated (Phillips & Hunt, 1858).

Clifford Merrill Drury, ed., On to Oregon: The Diaries of Mary Walker & Myra Eells (University of Nebraska, 1963).

J. S. Holliday (based on the diary of William Swain), The World Rushed In: The California Gold Rush Experience (Simon and Schuster, 1981).

Cathy Luchetti (based on the diaries of frontier evangelists), Under God's Spell (HBJ, 1989).


Another key to comprehending the West is to examine individual lives. Some people mentioned in the issue:

Sheldon Jackson: Norman J. Bender, Winning the West for Christ (University of New Mexico, 1996); J. Arthur Lazell, Alaskan Apostle (Harper & Brothers, 1960); and Robert Laird Stewart, Sheldon Jackson (Revell, 1908).

Taylor F. Ealy: Norman J. Bender, Missionaries, Outlaws, and Indians (University of New Mexico, 1984).

Endicott Peabody: William M. Breakenridge, Helldorado (Lakeside Press, 1982).

"Brother Van": Alton Jesse Smith, Brother Van: A Biography of the Rev. William Wesley Van Orsdel (Abingdon-Cokebury Press, 1948).

Narcissa Whitman: Julie Roy Jeffrey, Converting the West: A Biography of Narcissa Whitman (University of Oklahoma, 1991).

The Klein family: Diana Severance ("Yesterday's Christian Woman"), Deep Roots, Strong Branches (Historical Publishing Network, 1999).

Movements and Events

Finally, books that helped us think about significant aspects of the American West:

Mormonism: Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience (Knopf, 1979); Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (U of Illinois, 1985); and Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling, Mormon America (HarperSanFrancisco, 1999).

Missions to Native Americans (particularly the disturbing aspects): George F. Tinker, Missionary Conquest: The Gospel and Native American Cultural Genocide (Fortress, 1993).

California and the gold rush: Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp ("Forty-Niner Faith"), Religion and Society in Frontier California (Yale, 1994).