Out where the handclasp’s a little stronger, Out where the smile dwells a little longer, That’s where the West begins; Out where the sun is a little brighter, Where the snows that fall are a trifler whiter, Where the bonds of home are a wee bit tighter, That’s where the West begins
It’s been almost a century since cowboy poet and newspaperman Arthur Chapman published his famous poem, “Out Where the West Begins,” first scribbled down in 1910. But for the past 50 years “the West” has been slowly turning its collective back on its entrepreneurial roots, rejecting the idea of risk and reward, embracing big government solutions to every problem, trusting less and less in its entrepreneurs and more and more in bureaucrats.
“Out Where the West Finally Died” hasn’t been written yet, and if Philip Anschutz has his way, it never will be. His new book, with the same title as Chapman’s poem, is an attempt to recapture the spirit that built the frontier through portraits of 49 men who “made the West.” In some cases, this is quite literal, as with Fred Harvey’s vast chain of “Harvey Houses,” his magnificent resort hotels and his manufacture and export east of southwestern images and Indian art and handicraft. (Anschutz owns the Washington Examiner, as well as numerous other businesses across the United States, with a heavy emphasis in the West.)
These 49 entrepreneurs — whether fur trader or miner, railroad baron or banking wizard, brewer or cattleman — all took enormous personal risks and made fortunes, reputations and a lasting civilization out of lands that were hostile, occupied by combative, resourceful tribes, and essentially lawless. Anschutz doesn’t hide any of these pioneers’ sins, nor does he spend too much time condemning practices that were legal then and are not anymore, including the building of vast business trusts that squeezed out competition.
Out Where The West Begins should be required reading for the dozen or so Republicans crisscrossing the country, seeking the opportunity to stand up against Hillary Clinton as the 2016 nominee. They all speak of Ronald Reagan, and while some of them knew the Gipper, all of them will be quick to say that the spirit of the West is what animated the 40th president. Reclaiming it for the party and thus for the country will be a decisive advantage in the primaries and then the general election.
What that means is simple: We can still do and build big things, bigger than anyone else in the world. We can build desalinization plants to deal with California (and worldwide) water shortages and improvise until their costs of construction and operation plummet, as did Nathaniel P. Hill once did when it came to the process of smelting. A new generation of entrepreneurs, the first edge of which is just now emerging from Silicon Valley, the oil fields of North Dakota, and all across risk-taker-friendly Texas, can take the American DNA of economic innovation and expansion and easily match and beat the world’s assembled talent.
But only if they are allowed to. That’s the unspoken message of Out Where The West Begins. The government didn’t settle the West. People did. People made the country, not Washington, D.C.
Candidates and their staffs looking for stories to inspire their volunteers, donors and hoped-for voters should spend time in these pages. If the country can “reopen” its frontier, anything is possible, even another or two or three American centuries.
This column was originally posted on WashingtonExaminer.com