The American West

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the myths and harsh reality of the 19th century American pioneers. In 1845 the editor of The New York Morning News wrote that it was the “manifest destiny” of the United States “to overspread and to posses the whole of the continent which providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.” With such phrases ringing in their ears the pioneering wagon trains rolled west into the uncharted wilderness of the American continent. Thus began the wagon trails that cut a path beyond the frontier to California and Oregon, a path soon to be followed by gold prospectors, entrepreneurs, cowboys and finally the US army itself. But what propelled them all to go? Was it an “experiment of liberty”, or the promise of a better life? Does the story of the frontier help us to understand the American psyche and do our ideas about the American West owe more to the mythology of John Wayne movies than to the history of the real trailblazers?

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • Frank McLynn No other episodes
    Visiting Professor in the Department of Literature, University of Strathclyde
  • Jenni Calder No other episodes
    Author of There Must Be a Lone Ranger: The myth and reality of the American Wild West
  • Christopher Frayling No other episodes
    Rector of the Royal College of Art

Related episodes

Programme ID: p00548gg

Episode page:

Auto-category: 973 (United States history)