Irving Stone

Men to Match My Mountains

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Men to Match My Mountains Summary

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Men to Match My Mountains: The Monumental Saga of the Winning of America’s Far West was written in 1956 by California author Irving Stone. The nonfiction historical novel follows a few dozen individuals who helped shape the 19th-century American presence in areas now known as California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. Stone attributes their efforts to the current culture and economic success of the American West. Stone, who died in 1989, remains most famous for his fictional biographies of Vincent van Gogh and Michelangelo. The title of this work comes from a Sam Walter Foss poem called “The Coming American,” which opens: “Bring me men to match my mountains […] Men with empires in their purpose.”

Men to Match My Mountains remains widely read for the scope of its historical sources as well as for Stone’s storytelling abilities. Its themes include courage, origin stories, and the nature of civilization.

In 1840, the territories of the American West were owned by the Mexican Empire after it achieved independence from Spain in 1821, after an 11-year war. However, Mexico lacked the resources to occupy and grow the territories, so various pioneers were able to move in and enact their own visions on the land.

Self-appointed “Captain” John Augustus Sutter, a handsome, charming man notable for his long wavy hair, settled in Sacramento. Sutter left Switzerland because of his outstanding debts and sailed to long off lands like Hawaii and Alaska, going against the advice he received to remain in the safer southern California. Sutter decided to settle the unmanned territory of the Sacramento Valley. He hired ten people from the Kanaka tribe to help him build his “empire” in the following three years. For $100, he also bought a male teenager from another tribe as an indentured servant. When Sutter’s team located a gold mine, their prosperous future was, so it seemed, set.

Stone notes that without an official authority to mind the rules, gangs and vigilantes became the default sheriff’s in town, hence the phrase “the Wild West.” He focuses on the men who helped built this “new civilization” with women obliquely referenced.

Still in California, Dr. John Marsh was a distinguished military doctor. He married a half-Sioux, half-French woman who helped him write Rudiments of the Grammar of the Sioux. When his wife and young child died in childbirth, he decided to resettle in Los Angeles. He loved the open ranch lands around LA, and by the time of his murder by disgruntled employees, he would become one of the wealthiest and most influential pioneers in California.

Brigham Young founded the Mormon religion back in the East but decided to start his new system of living in Utah, ostensibly following biblical prophecies. While Young claimed that polygamy was a moral imperative according to God, groups within and outside of the Mormon church started to question the prophecy.

In Nevada, a great silver mine was discovered. Named Comstock Lode, the attractive mine lured thousands of men to the area and would help settle the Rocky Mountain area. The Stevens Party also became the first group to successfully take covered wagons from the east to west coast. Their success would be reported in all the papers and inspire a new wave of western migration via covered wagon. John Fremont increased the romanticism of the West and led a group of men across the Sierra Nevada mountains during the winter. This journey had never been safely accomplished before, and the Donner Party was still fresh on the public’s mind.

In Colorado, silver mines were being discovered everywhere. While some mines went bust in California or Nevada, increasingly more workers could find their fortune in Colorado. Hordes of immigrants entered the “untouched” land with prospects in desirable minerals as well as work with the railroads. This included thousands of Chinese workers who were often shipped from mainland China to work 16-hour days of grueling manual labor, sometimes by choice and sometimes not.
To middle and upper classes, the West received more attention as Alexander Todd, a young miner who was homesick, decided to start a postal service from East to West called the Pony Express.

The American West mostly stayed out of the Civil War. California unanimously outlawed slavery before the start of the Civil War. However, during the Civil War, Stone observes how some people made a great fortune and how others lost theirs. This includes the dashing John Sutter, whose would-be paradise in Sacramento was squandered as more greedy people descended upon the valley, mostly thanks to industrial developments like the Sacramento Valley Railroad, the first company to build a railroad west of the Mississippi River.

In Utah, the Mormons reproduced quickly, and the biblical interpretations introduced by Brigham Young were enough to “calm the desert.” They also developed a culture of teamwork and devoted work that allowed their economic prospects to grow. While other territories had mineral wealth, the Mormons only had their work ethic.

Men to Match My Mountains concludes in 1900. By this year, Stone writes that the 20th century would proceed in line with the frontier’s rugged founding, and much like the Nile River in Egypt, the people and natural resources were positioned to usher in a great new civilization.