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Rise of Industrial America
The American West
As Some Things Appear on the Plains and Among the Rockies in Mid-Summer

Kenneth Young was a newly married African-American man from South Carolina who decided to tour the West in 1891. He described his experiences in a document found in African American Perspectives, 1818-1907. In the excerpts below, Young describes both the physical and the social settings of the West. Which of his words best capture the West? How does he relate the physical setting and attitudes of the people? How might you find evidence to support or challenge his views?

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Denver. One may enter Colorado Springs and Pueblo with the same unconcern as he does St. Louis and Kansas City, but on coming into Denver he is first pleased, then delighted, last amazed!

Pleased with the idea of seeing the truly Queen city of the far west delighted with the artistic display of beauty and grandeur; amazed at the stupendous wealth, busy commotion, obstreperous motion of vehicles and conveyances, public and private.

Denver is built in a valley and has for her protection the Rocky, receiving during summer the gentle breeze that fans the brow of the weary and in winter shelter from the stormy blasts. From that charming, enticing and rich man's city, I go with reluctance, climb the heights and leave discrimination farther behind. The next point of interest at which I find myself is Cheyenne, Wyo. Here I am informed that I am elevated to the height of about ten thousand feet above sea level. I don't wonder that the people are so high minded and benevolent, respecting alike the rights of all men, since they live in closer proximity to the God of equity than we. The atmosphere, light, cool, and thin, makes one pant lively shiver quickly and perceive objects miles away that appear to be only a few hundred yards in the distance.

This is a beautiful little city on the mountain scrupulously clean, and kept so by the constant gusts of wind pervading her streets, testing always the tenacity of life by interfering with the action of the heart. On leaving Cheyenne going westward, one passes through that fascinating town Evanston. After pulling out from that bewitching little town still westward bound gliding down a ravine a bracing breeze, an exhilarating draft, a chilling gust is experience that puts one looking for the crystal capped pyramid with its flowery valley and sparkling stream. Passing up this valley near Colorado River on the Union Pacific, an upward glance will reveal nature's stair-way known as "Devil Slide," exquisitely chiseled, beginning at the base and running toward the apex, as artistically cut as though designed by architectural skill and perfected with mathematical precision. A little yet beyond while gazing upon natures, admiring the reflection of the sun's rays on the snow above, enjoying a scenery enrapturedly grand, one is without warning, plunged into erebus, (Granite Tunnel.) This tunnel is cut through a portion of the base of the Rocky through which the Union Pacific runs. The longest one of these dark, shadowy vales through which I passed was between Butte City and Helena, Montana, requiring six minutes, I am told to pass out. After being hidden from the outside world for about three minutes one becomes to be possessed of that strange, indescribable, mingled sensation--indifference and awe--with a peculiarly smitten conscience and an apprehensive dread that he may never more see light and continue the downward and darker road that he has for a life time travelled. The tunnels of themselves are not strange, but when everything connected therewith is considered the wonder lies in the fact that the hand of art is so used in adjusting the hills of nature to the adaptation of civilization. . . .

I was about to say how pleasantly I spent the time among the Mormons at Ogden, Salt Lake, Garfield Beach and Logan; Utah is socially the most liberal section of country I found. There I was as free as freedom and as white as honesty. To dwell within the walls of the city of Ogden is to live behind the walls of a natural prison with the freedom of locomotion and the violation of speech. The city is enclosed by walls of the eternal Rocky the city being the centre, whose radius is about three miles and the crest of her hills perpetually covered with snow. . . .

Sunday is the great holiday for the laboring man. Excursions are made to Medicinal springs, fishing lakes, baseball grounds, pleasure parks. Those who remain within the walls frequent operas, club rooms, beer gardens. Saloons are thrown open and in some instances mechanics labor. Notwithstanding the mountain peaks look barren and forlorn, the plains seem dry and sterile; the Sabbath turned to mockery and desperation countenanced, yet there is a fascination, a charm, a magnetism--a something--about the entire country that tightens one's hold and welds his affections to the immalleable rocks of the Rocky! Some may accredit it to the inexhaustible treasures taken from the bosom of the earth which liberally reward the employer and employees: Other may attribute it to flashy society that stamps its fleeting charm on a vacillating multitude, but I ascribe it to social equity.

"That equity which is the impartial distribution of justice on doing that to another which law of God and man and reason give him a right to claim" regardless of color or previous condition. There equity triumphs. All public Inns and public institutions are open to the public. If one esteems himself as worthy of the benefits his privilege is in return respected.

When the black and the white go to law they go before a judge robed in the garb of justice; the case is placed on the scales of justice and justice is meted out according to the merits of the case. Social equality and social equity are not to be confounded. They are as distinct in their signification as in their application.

Association is, by mutual consent, entirely distinct and separate: insinuating nothing on the one hand nor repulsive on the other. Yet social equity is to be found in all parts of the west. The one distinctly defined and the limits respected; the other as free as grace, as broad as creation, as generous as humanity!
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View the entire document from which these excerpts were taken from African American Perspectives, 1818-1907. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.