History 248 Reading Guide

The Transmission of Ideals to the Trans-Mississippi West

  • John Faragher, Women and Men on the Overland Trail (1979; revised 2001).  Note: if you read the 1979 (first) edition, read the preface to the 2001 (second) edition.  (e-reserve)


  • In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner argued that the frontier had an equalizing influence which supported and perhaps enabled the democratization of American society.  According to Faragher, what kind of “community” did pioneers create on the trail, and what kind of society did they hope to establish in the new country?  Did men and women share the same visions and experience the move west in the same way?
  • How do Faragher’s various sources shape the account that he presents?  How do his sources and his methodology compare and contrast with Osterud’s?  If Faragher had written a more narrative account, what kind of stories might have emerged more clearly?
  • What does Faragher’s study contribute to our understanding about the construction of gender in the 19th century and about marriage and relationships between men and women?  How does his 1979 theoretical perspective and interpretation compare with Osterud’s 1991 study?  What were the contexts for male-female conflict on the trail?  How does Faragher account for family survival?  Was this survival dependent on women’s acceptance of a subordinate position?
  • How were customs of family and community transmitted to the frontier?  What ideals and expectations shaped pioneer families?  How did removal from a rural community of family and friends/neighbors affect women’s and men’s sense of their world?