American West and History

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Racial Frontiers: Africans, Chinese, and Mexicans in Western America, 1848-1890

Arnoldo De León

Once neglected, racial minorities are now the focus of intense interest among historians of the American West, who have come to recognize the roles of African American, Chinese, and Mexican people in shaping the frontier. Racial Frontiers is both a highly original work, particularly in its emphasis on racial minority women, and a masterful synthesis of the literature in this young field.

De León depicts a U.S. West populated by settlers anticipating opportunities for upward mobility, jockeying for position as they adapted to new surroundings, and adjusting to new political and economic systems. Minority groups discarded unworkable political traditions that had followed them from their homelands and sought to participate in a democracy that they trusted would see to their well-being. Many embraced capitalism in preference to the economic systems they had left behind but refused to give up their cultural traditions. The result was a U.S. West of many colors.

Known as a skilled writer, De León tells countless stories of the lives of men and women to guide the readers through his narrative. Personal histories and revealing quotations illustrate the struggles and victories of the newcomers, enriching our understanding of the settlement of the trans-Mississippi West since the middle of the nineteenth century.


Howard R. Lamar is Sterling Professor Emeritus of History at Yale and a former president of that university.

Martin Ridge is a senior research associate in the Henry E. Huntington Library. He has taught at San Diego State University, Indiana University, and the California Institute of Technology. He is the former editor of the Journal of American History and the past president of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association and Western History Association. He is the author of numerous scholarly and review articles dealing with the American West. He is the coeditor of Histories of the American Frontier.

David J. Weber is The Robert and Nancy Dedman Professor of History and the Director of the Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University.

Arnoldo De Leín is the C. J. "Red" Davidson Professor of History at Angelo State University and the author of several groundbreaking studies of Mexican American history.


"This book is an informative study of the plights of African, Chinese and Mexican immigrants in the American West, from 1848-1890."


The Dallas Morning News

"De Léon has delivered the best synthesis on race relations in the West to date. His writing conveys the topic's complicated, multifaceted nature in a straightforward style that is accessible to both specialists and beginning students."


Kansas History

"A solid synthesis of the secondary literature and an excellent supplemental undergraduate text.


Western Historical Quarterly

"In his well-designed work, De Leon condenses an enormous amount of literature into a concise, connected narrative about the frontier experience of three groups -- Africans, Chinese, and Mexicans -- while using the power of storytelling to enliven this short volume with numerous exquisite individual narratives."


Montana, The Magazine of Western History

" Racial Frontiers is a wonderful contribution to an area of inquiry that will continue to yield illuminating analyses of the American West's diverse and complex history."


New Mexico Historical Review

"This short well-developed study provides the reader with valuable information and insights. It is a welcomed and long-awaited addition to the Histories of the American Frontier series. For too long the history of the trans-Mississippi West has been the story of Anglo pioneers, while these minorities were relegated to the historical margins if mentioned at all. Its excellent bibliography will allow the serious student to pursue further study. De Leon is a master synthesizer of his material."


Journal of American Ethnic History

" Racial Frontiers is an important work of synthesis, for it shows convincingly that African, Chinese, and Mexicans viewed the western frontier in similar ways to white settlers, but that their experiences differed markedly."


Journal of African American History

"De Leon's Racial Frontiers is a concise and well-written study of the intersection of race on the frontier. It provides a comprehensive overview of Africans, Chinese, and Mexicans in the West. De Leon aptly provides the reader with a general understanding of the three groups, their roles on the frontier, and the changes they experienced."


The Chronicles of Oklahoma

" Racial Frontiers provides a much-needed summary of the minority experience in the U.S. West suitable for both a general audience and as a course adoption."


Historical Geography

6 x 9 in. 160 pages 19 halftones