Where does the American West begin?

Inspired by this thread, where do you consider the American West to start? I’ve always considered the West as being the states the Rockies run through or the states west of them. Anything past that I consider “back east”. I’ve lived in Washington state all my life. However, I once heard a person refer to Pittsburgh as the West!

Usually the Mississippi was the dividing line, wasn’t it?

I agree with your definition that the Rockies mark where the West ends, but “back East” is further east than that. I live in Michigan, and this is not “back East”. It’s still the Midwest.

I’m originally from California.

I’d say the front range of the Rockies, which would include Denver, Cheyenne, Ft. Collins, etc.

The “American West” for me is tied up with the idea of the western genre of fiction. So it’s basically anywhere that a western could plausibly be set. That probably eliminates the column of states immediately to the west of the Mississippi river and starts ‘the West’ with the column that runs from North Dakota down through Texas. And while I don’t think of westerns being set in Oregon or Washington, they get waived in because they are actually, y’know, so durn far west 'n all.

I always read that St. Louis was the Gateway to the west, so I would think St. Louis west?

Not really. I am from Northwestern Louisiana which is West of the Mississippi and we are Southern and identify with the Southern states all the way to Virginia. We are Eastern but so are the people just across the state line in East Texas who are also Southern and Eastern. My mother who is from Fort Worth, TX has a clean answer for this. She says Fort Worth is where the west begins so Dallas is Southern and Eastern but Fort Worth looks west.

To the OP. Nobody said Pittsburgh is part of the modern west. What they claimed was that it is part of the Midwest which is always up for debate but it is part of the rust-belt and shares some similarities with cities in Ohio which is part of the Mid-West. The U.S. used to be located mostly on the East Coast so exotic lands like Ohio and Indiana were midwestern as they were settled but they are certainly in the eastern part of the country today.

I always thought Kansas seemed sort of like the west to me , so, Kansas City

My vote would be for Leavenworth, KS.

Fort Leavenworth was the traditional Easternmost point for the Santa-Fe and Oregon trails, so it was the last bastion of civilization and government, and almost by definition where the West began.

(which is close to Kansas City, but on the other side of the river, and a little north)

Traditionally, St. Louis is deemed the westernmost eastern city, and Kansas City is deemed the easternmost western city.

What liar told you that? The Santa Fe Trail and the Oregon Trail were both present in Independence, MO.

“The West” begins at the Mississippi. Nebraska and Kansas are part of The West. They certainly aren’t “back East.”

Born and raised in New York; lived in Colorado for quite a few years.

Eh. I don’t think that ‘not being Back East’ qualifies as being ‘out west’.

While the whole ‘Midwest’ appellation is a little off, there is definitely a nowhere land in between. Besides, ‘Back East’ has always, culturally, as far as I am aware, referring to the East Coast, not just East of the Mississippi. I could be wrong, though; I grew up outside Chicago and never understood the whole ‘Midwest’ thing, as looking at a map tells you clearly that it’s just West-East. :stuck_out_tongue:

I think the divisions used by the census bureau work fine, although some divide the South differently.

In general, my mental map of U.S. regions corresponds pretty much with that of the Census Bureau (although it is a little odd to think of Maryland and Delaware as being part of “the South”). However, the western edges of “the Midwest” and “the South” definitely shade off into “the West”: Dodge City is in Kansas and Deadwood is in South Dakota (both now officially in the Midwest); and Texas to me is clearly at the intersections of the South and the West.

To me the West begins where the scenery starts to change significantly, roughly when you get about 1/3 of a way across Nebraska or Kansas or any place West of there. The farms give way to ranches and the trees are mostly only found around streams and other water sources. Also you notice the clouds begin to get closer (or appear closer) to the ground as the elevation of the plains gets higher.

Kansas City is still too green for me to consider it being part of the West, YMMV of course.

William Least Heat-Moon describes this phenomenon really well in Blue Highways, also considering the spacing between towns.

I look at other natural and cultural indicators, such as:

  • Farms irrigated by central pivot systems.
  • Popularity of rodeo as a sport.
  • Prevalent color in the natural landscape is brown or yellow, not green.
  • Western accents (speaking with little or no mouth movement).
  • Prevalence of ghost towns and small, dying farm towns.
  • Ease of viewing the horizon.

I agree with other posters that said Kansas City isn’t western. It’s a very green city, with a lush canopy of trees even compared to cities on the East Coast.

I’ve never been to Kansas City, but I agree strongly regarding the general thought on “greenness”. Speaking as someone who grew up in what anyone would call the West (I never lived further than 20 miles from the Pacific until I was ~22) and whose spent most of her adult life in the Midwest, the leafy greenness of the eastern part of the country is one of the most obvious differences.

The first time I visited the Midwest, for a wedding in August 2000, I had a layover in Pittsburgh, and I can still remember how astonished I was by how green everything was as the plane descended. I kept remarking on it to my seatmate.

After I moved to the Midwest, it took several years to get used to it. And even now, when I go back to California for visits, it still feels comfortable and right for everything to be dry and brown in the summer and green and wet in the winter.




What about Oklahoma? It’s a strange beast; the landscape is Western, the culture Southern, and the built environment Midwestern. Small towns in Oklahoma look far more like those in Kansas, Nebraska and Illinois than those just to the south in Texas.