At Stanford, Reworking the Old Story of the Overland Trail

William Henry Jackson’s Crossing the South Platte, c. 1930 (William Henry Jackson Collection, Scotts Bluff National Monument, Gering, Nebraska)

During 2012-13, Sarah Keyes was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with a joint appointment at The Bill Lane Center for the American West and the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West (ICW). She is currently an Upton Foundation Fellow at the Clements Library at the University of Michigan. This fall she will begin a two-year appointment as an ACLS New Faculty Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

For approximately nine months, The Bill Lane Center for the American West was my intellectual home. I joined the Center after completing my dissertation, "Beyond the Plains: Migration to the Pacific and the Reconfiguration of America, 1820s-1900s," at the University of Southern California under the direction of William Deverell.

My appointment at the Center allowed me to begin work on my book manuscript, based on my dissertation. In the fall I explored aspects of the experience that I had not included in the dissertation. One of these themes was health on the overland trail. Historians have long noted that many Euro-Americans undertook the journey to improve their health, as well as to reach what they believed to be the more healthy climates of California and Oregon. In a paper I presented at the annual meeting of the Western History Association, I argued that Euro-American travelers declared that adopting an "Indian lifestyle" - walking long distances and eating buffalo meat, for instance - was the way to improve their health. Through this claim Euro-Americans described the journey as transforming them for the better, by making them more like the healthy, tall Indians of the Plains that they so admired.

Recently, during the Center's "Spring Seminar" series. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to present portions of an upcoming exhibit that I am developing at the Oregon History Museum. The exhibit, based on research I did at the Oregon Historical Society, showcases how the Society focused its preservation and commemoration efforts on both Euro-American and indigenous populations. Although the members of the Society had distinct views of these two groups' roles in the history of their state, they vigorously pursued relics and documents pertaining to both of them.

I have recently begun an Upton Foundation Fellowship at the Clements Library at the University of Michigan. I am currently researching and continuing to revise my book manuscript from the Midwest. In the fall I will be teaching Immigration History and American Indian History at the University of California, Berkeley.