Beyond the American Pale: The Irish in the West, 1845–1910
by David M. Emmons, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2010, $34.95.
As the United States expanded westward in the 1800s, the advocates of Manifest Destiny envisioned a land of opportunity, a vast wilderness across which Anglo-Americans would spread the constitutional republic they had founded and Protestant work ethic on which their society was founded. Almost from the outset, however, that scenario began to go awry as waves of foreign immigrants came to the West for a new start of their own. Among the first to discover that Indians were not the only ones hiding the welcome mat were Irish Catholics. Generally regarded by Protestants as socially backward and religiously medieval, the Irish nevertheless became an indispensable source of laborers, railroad workers, soldiers and, as they settled in, other professions. Discriminated against though they often were, the Irish left their mark on the West.
In Beyond the American Pale, David M. Emmons, professor emeritus of history at the University of Montana, draws on three decades of research to trace the Irish frontier experience. The book explores Irish accomplishments, the uneasy everyday relationship between the Irish and Anglo-Americans and their long, difficult road to assimilation. There is not much of the ridin’, ropin’ and shootin’ Wild West in this account, but it relates a story that deserves to be told of one people’s specific journey to become Americans.
Originally published in the April 2011 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.