The West looms large in the American imagination. A place of limitless possibility, the West was an always-available stage for reinvention and new beginnings. The frontier offered a proving ground for character and a place where everything, from the scenery to the personalities, was larger than life. This exhibition draws from across the Rosenbach collections to examine the history and mythos of the West and its cast of characters: the trappers and treaty commissioners, soldiers and settlers, farmers and fur traders, and the native Americans whose culture and land were lost.
Americans thrilled to western dramas, from James Fennimore Cooper’s genre-creating Leatherstocking Tales to the formulaic dime novels that turned the real-life figures of Calamity Jane, Daniel Boone, and Buffalo Bill into cultural icons. Westward Ho! juxtaposes the experiences of western pioneers—through maps, travel diaries and scrapbooks, captivity narratives, prints, photographs, and guidebooks—with the romanticized descriptions offered up by these (invariably Eastern) writers to reveal not only the discrepancies, but also a vision of the West that was shared by those who ventured there and those who only imagined it from afar.