The Lure of the Desert Southwest

There were any number of reasons for westward expansion in the aftermath of the Civil War; overcrowding in eastern cities, the desire for cheap arable land, manifest destiny, the discovery of gold, silver and other precious metals, and a sense of adventure and opportunity. These motivations led to ever-changing boundaries and the eventual linkage of the country from coast to coast. Settlements, towns, and cities sprung up across the land centered around lines of communication and the abundance of natural resources.

The desert southwest, however, posed unique challenges. An environment teeming with hostile Indians, poisonous snakes and predators, blistering heat during the day, freezing temperatures at night, a dearth of water sources, and a harsh landscape of sand, sagebrush, cacti, mountains, buttes, plateaus, and mesas dissuaded all but the hardiest and bravest of individuals from venturing into West Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Rugged individualism defined the spirit of those who settled this part of the United States. While others saw only a bleak and unforgiving land, these intrepid souls embraced isolation, loneliness and danger, saw beauty in the desert vistas marked by scorching sand and terrain sculpted by wind and water, and spiritually connected with its Creator.

When I first arrived in this land I found it barren, without beauty. The climate was harsh. The possibility of death waited around every corner, either from the elements or from unseen enemies whether man, reptile or beast. In time, however, I found that the very struggle to survive was exhilarating. There is solace in the loneliness of the prairie. If you look hard enough, there is life existing everywhere in the vast expanse of the desert. The mountains reach to the heavens. You can commune with the one God, or as you call Him, the Great Spirit. – excerpt from Palo Duro.

This was the spirit that led to the creation of frontier forts, farms and ranches, and mining operations throughout the desert southwest. It resulted in such places as El Paso, Texas, Alamogordo, New Mexico, and Tucson, Arizona.


Author: maxknight73

Retired Army Officer and Counterintelligence Specialist. Currently living in San Antonio, Texas with his wife Gray. Cancer survivor. Avid history buff and writer.

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