Montana Historical Society

Big Sky. Big Land. Big History.

Golden Dreams: Colorado, California, and the Reimagining of America

By Elliott West

Download and read the article in PDF format.


Manifest Destiny

Geography and Imagination

Modes of Transportation in the 19th Century


1)    What is the metaphorical "hole" that the author is referring to in his opening paragraph?

2)    How did the American public envision the Great Plains region in the early 1840s?

3)    What was Zebulon Pike's vision for the American West?

4)    The acquisition of what three pieces of land dramatically increased the size of the United States?

5)    According to the author, what two developments "reshaped fundamentally the nation's image of itself and its future?"

6)    In the mid-1800s, according to the article, what was the underlying sentiment of the American public's view of Native Americans and Hispanics who inhabited the West?

7)    Why was living and traveling by a river so important to Americans in the mid-1800s?

8)    More then 100,000 people immigrated to Colorado in 1859.   What various modes of transportation did they use to get there?

9)    Why were the three "earliest and fastest" overland routes located along rivers?

10)    In 1859, over 50 guidebooks were available for prospective miners. What type of information was provided in these books?

11)    What did Americans believe would follow the discovery of the "precious metal?"

12)    The author states that, "Imagined America changed more between 1845 and 1876 than at any time in our history."  What does he mean by this statement?   Do you agree? Why or why not?

13)    How did gold reconstruct the West and America both physically and mythically? How did the discovery of gold accelerate changes in the American West?

14)    According to the author, what technological feature helped to "fill" in the "hole" in the center of the country?


-    Write a thought paper about the following quote from the article. "These lesser peoples [Native Americans and Hispanics] were 'reptiles [who must] either crawl [away] or be crushed.'"

-    The author used the metaphor "the rolling, unbroken openness [of the plains] reminded many immigrants of the high seas."   In your own words, elaborate on this metaphor and imagine what the immigrants might have thought about the vastness of the West.