Plains boomers and the creation of the Great American Desert myth

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Although the myth of a Great American Desert occupying a major portion of the Great Plains was accepted by only a small majority of the American population and for only a short period of time in the mid-nineteenth century, settlers and promoters or "boomers" of the Great Plains perpetuated the desert myth from mid-century onward. The tradition of the desert of the Plains was invented, nurtured, and promoted by both Plains settlers and boomers in an attempt at self-justification and self-promotion. From the perspective of settlers, viewing the Plains as desert lent an aura of heroism to their settlement efforts. From the perspective of promoters, perpetuating the image of the Great American Desert and contrasting it with the actuality of successful agricultural occupation of the Plains allowed promotional literature to make claims about the ability of human action to alter the natural environment. The promotion of the desert myth was so effective that, even today, Plains residents embrace the desert tradition. Such an action affirms for them their wisdom and their ability to see the rich productive land which early explorers were unable to comprehend. The persistence of the desert tradition also glorifies the hardiness of Plains dwellers, both past and present, in coping with a harsh landscape. © 1992.

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Journal of Historical Geography