Frontier Farewell, Second Edition

2 February 2016

Frontier Farewell: The 1870s and the End of the Old West
by Garrett Wilson
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Keith Foster
$34.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-361-5

You can gauge the importance of a book when it is released as a new edition. There’s a reason some books go into a second printing – the demand for more copies is just too great. Back by popular demand, a second edition of Garrett Wilson’s Frontier Farewell: The 1870s and the End of the Old West, with a new foreword by Candace Savage, has been released.

As the subtitle suggests, Frontier Farewell focuses on the 1870s. In a single generation, the face of the West was transformed forever. Rupert’s Land was transferred from the Hudson’s Bay Company to the new Dominion of Canada, leading to the First Riel Rebellion at Fort Garry, treaties with the Aboriginal inhabitants in the West, surveys along the International Boundary, the formation of the North-West Mounted Police, and side effects from the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Wilson covers it all.

Frontier Farewell is rife with political intrigue. American activists in Minnesota and Dakota Territory coveted the vast territory to their north and wanted to add it to its already burgeoning nation. They openly supported Louis Riel, believing that independence for the Red River settlement would be a first step towards joining the United States.

Wilson criticizes the Mounted Police hierarchy for being so ill-prepared on their march west. The raw recruits were not even equipped with canteens as they traversed great open swatches of prairie where water was either non-existent or unfit to drink. Even after it was filtered, water was the colour of ink.

The Mounted Police were even less prepared when Sitting Bull moved his Sioux north of the international border after the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Developing a warm friendship with Inspector James Walsh, Sitting Bull refused to return to the United States. His fear and distrust was well-founded – Americans were notorious for breaking their promises.

Frontier Farewell provides some startling insights into the past. Contrary to John Palliser’s belief that parts of the Great Plains could not support agriculture, Wilson points out that those same plains had supported millions of buffalo. The demise of these wild creatures, which had freely roamed as far as the eye could see, marked the end of an era.

This 527-page book contains extensive endnotes, bibliography, chronology, index, and more than fifty black and white photos and maps. At the 2007 Saskatchewan Book Awards, Frontier Farewell won the Award for Scholarly Writing, as well as accolades from reviewers. There is little doubt that this second edition will garner further praise, not only from scholars but from the general public and history buffs in particular.

Like a detective, Wilson scoured archives and other historical resources to sleuth out the facts. As a lawyer, he argues his case well, backed up with diligently researched evidence. An artisan with words, he weaves the facts together to form a seamless ribbon. The strategist in him marshals this evidence to make his case, and the verdict is in – the awards and accolades are well deserved.


No Comments

Comments are closed.