When: Thu., Oct. 27, 7:30 p.m. 2011
Halfway between Tucson and Phoenix lies Picacho Peak, a rumpy little butte known for its spectacular wildflower blooms in the spring. It's less well known as the westernmost battlefield in the early days of the Civil War, where a small detachment of Union cavalry from California traded shots with a Confederate ambush in 1862. Three Union soldiers were killed and three Confederate soldiers captured—hardly Gettysburg. But that errant flame from the larger Eastern conflagration showed the inevitable result of many decades of pioneering and settling America's western frontiers, a mass migration in which "the people led and the government followed."
In his new book, Lions of the West: Heroes and Villains of the Westward Expansion, eminent historian, novelist, poet and native North Carolinian Robert Morgan tells the stories of 10 men instrumental to the fulfillment of America's "manifest destiny," from the nation's founding to the Civil War. In prose that's both clear and colorful, he writes of figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, David Crockett, Sam Houston and Kit Carson (leaving aside Daniel Boone, to whom he previously devoted more than 500 pages in his best-selling 2007 biography, Boone).
Morgan acknowledges that writing history is an inherently political act. "Where possible, I quote from Mexican historians to remind us that their versions of events are often, though not always, different from the accounts we are familiar with," he writes in the prologue. "We will not understand the story of the westward expansion if we do not recognize that the Mexican side of the narrative is an essential part of our story as well.
"Millions from south of the border cross into the United States every year looking for opportunity and security," he continues. "This movement is as unstoppable as the rush into Missouri and California of a previous century. Where people want to go, they will go." Morgan will also read from his new collection of poems, Terroir. He makes two stops in the Triangle today: at Bull's Head Bookshop at UNC at 1 p.m. and at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh at 7:30 p.m. He'll also appear at McIntyre's Books in Pittsboro at 2 p.m. on Sunday. —Marc Maximov