One woman's determination
Iva Belle Moore was born November 10, 1915 in west Texas, the eldest of seven children of May V. Melton and Jesse L. Moore. She spent her childhood on west Texas ranches and farms, including the famed JA Ranch where several members of her family worked as cowboys and cooks. Iva never described her life as easy, but she had a strong sense of the life on the ranch as a unique and important moment in the nation’s history. Wanting the people and places to be remembered, she devoted considerable energy to identifying photographs, collecting family memories and ephemera, and recording her own stories in a strong, feminine script. Despite her very limited formal education, her papers are well written and reflect an eye for detail. In combination with other personal memoirs and objective data to support or refute these memories, her collection presents an opportunity understand the lives of low-income farm and ranch workers at the end of the Progressive Era in Texas.
Reconsidering Turner's Frontier Thesis
The inhabitants of the JA Ranch were the embodiment of frontier culture, celebrated in 1893 by Frederick Jackson Turner as a people with
“a passionate belief that a democracy was possible which should leave the individual a part to play in free society and not make him a cog in a machine operated from above; which trusted in the common man, in his tolerance, his ability to adjust differences with good humor, and to work out an American type from the contributions of all nations--a type for which he would fight against those who challenged it in arms, and for which in time of war he would make sacrifices, even the temporary sacrifice of individual freedom and his life, lest that freedom be lost forever.
Turner’s thesis catapulted frontier culture into the national imagination and turned the cowboy into an icon. Yet, this lionization of a culture created a caricature that does a disservice to the people who inhabited the geography of the last frontiers.
The frontier thesis dominated western history until the 1980’s, when “new western” historians began to look more closely at the influence of race, class, and gender, but still with a focus on the 19th century. By 2004, however, western historians agreed that the subject of western required a more complex approach that
“…help us to avoid the too-positive triumphal approach of many early twentieth century historians…. (and)… beyond several late-twentieth century scholars placing too much emphasis on negative conflicts in the West. This larger view sees the American West as an arena in which different cultures met, sometimes conflicted, but also compromised and intermingled.” 1
1Embry, Jessie L. Oral History, Community, and Work in the American West. University of Arizona Press, 2013.