OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Louis S. Warren

Portrait of Louis S. Warren
Image Credit: Geoff McGhee

Louis S. Warren is the W. Turrentine Jackson Professor of Western U.S. History at the University of California, Davis, where he teaches environmental history, the history of the American West, California history, and U.S. history. He is the author of The Hunter's Game: Poachers and Conservationists in Twentieth-Century America (1997) and Buffalo Bill's America: William Cody and the Wild West Show (2005) and the editor of a textbook, American Environmental History (2003). He was also a founding coeditor and first editor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary quarterly magazine, Boom: A Journal of California, which was honored with a Library Journal best new magazine award in 2011. He has received numerous awards for his writing, including the American Historical Association's Albert J. Beveridge Prize, the Caughey Western History Association Prize, the Western Writers of America Spur Award, the Stubbendieck Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize, and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame Wrangler Award for best nonfiction book. He received a Guggenheim fellowship for his current book project, "God's Red Son: The Ghost Dance Religion and the Shaping of Modern America."

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

In 1889, a pan-Indian religion began to sweep the Far West. By 1890 the Ghost Dance religion - - as it came to be known - - was exhilarating believers on over thirty reservations with visions of earthly renewal and the return of Indian autonomy. Almost every textbook teaches that the new beliefs perished in the army massacre of nearly 200 believers in the ravine at Wounded Knee Creek late that year. But in fact, the Ghost Dance did not die. It went on to a long life, surviving into the early decades of the twentieth century and influencing religious practice long after. How did the Ghost Dance survive? In what ways did the teachings of Wovoka, the Northern Paiute prophet who originated the religion, resonate with far-flung Indian people at into the early twentieth century? Answering these questions with long-ignored sources illuminates how the Ghost Dance incorporated pragmatic teachings about work, community, education, and twentieth-century life for Indian peoples seeking a path through the reservation era.
Widely remembered as a singularly nostalgic evocation of a vanishing frontier, William F. Cody's show business extravaganza was something much more. The development of its mythic content depended on the contributions of a diverse range of performers including Indians, cowboys, vaqueros, soldiers, and others, as well as a large support staff of cooks, blacksmiths, seamstresses, hostlers, and more, all of whom joined the show's mobile company town (numbering over 1000 in some years) for distinctly modern reasons. Requiring three trains to move cast, support staff, animals, and props, and playing to gigantic crowds on both sides of the Atlantic over the course of three decades (1883 - 1913), Buffalo Bill's Wild West show was a modern spectacle, heralding the rise of popular entertainments by casting a diverse community of western people to play to anxieties about the "polyglot" modern city.
Histories of early wildlife conservation often depict a heroic struggle between enlightened game managers and wasteful criminals. In this lecture, Louis Warren explores deeper class and ethnic conflicts between rural hunters and state officials at the turn of the twentieth century. Gunfights and standoffs between game wardens and immigrants, Indians, and poor whites suggest how much new fish and game laws transformed formerly local resources into public goods managed by the state, a shift that introduced profound changes in rural life. These conflicts took place against a backdrop of changing landscapes that often complicated the politics of conservation, as wild animal decline gave way in some places to dramatic increase, and in others seemingly stable wildlife populations collapsed. Conflicts between people, in other words, took place on a continually shifting ground that often discredited experts, undermined state power, and left antagonists groping for solutions.