Misfortune: There Was Never A Frontier

So this is what I mean by “there was never a frontier.”

First off, it’s deliberately provocative. The entire premise of Misfortune rests on understanding the American West as it actually was, not as it was mythologized. I’m deeply interested in the challenges of the actual time and place, and the tension between the history and the stories we have invented.

It also relies on a particular definition of frontier. Most people probably think of the conservapedia.com (I know!) definition, something along the lines of “the process of settlement of new lands in the West.” But new to whom? Europeans? By the time the major settlement push started in the early 1800s, Europeans — specifically the French and the Spanish — had family and trade ties throughout the area for literally centuries. Centuries. European traders necessarily intermarried with local tribes, raised families, built communities, fucked and fucked up, everything. Go all the way out to California and you find not only Spanish history that’s centuries old, but you find Russian trading posts and, again, intermarrying with the local tribes.

And let’s not forget that prior to the Europeans and Russians pushing their way into North America, the tribes had been there for many, many thousands of years.

So that’s why I say there was never a frontier. Calling the American West a frontier is absurd unless you very narrowly understand the period as American-born settlers loading up wagons and heading west on the Oregon Trail into a completely empty country filled with inhuman savages to be tamed.

No. Terrible. I mean truly terrible. And that shit was baked into the Doctrine of Discovery (1500ish on), that explicitly privileged Christian Europeans over all the rest of the world.

So let’s talk instead about a West that’s full of very old families intermarried across racial and cultural lines, often against the wishes of the governments and churches and various other cultural worry-warts back in their homelands. Let’s talk instead about tribes who came into the 1800s with strong trade and family ties and no idea they were about to face genocide.

Let’s talk about the history, because I promise it’s so much more interesting than shootouts.

I’ve been sitting about halfway into the design on Misfortune for about a year now. I’m going to use this collection to start spooling out my ideas, getting feedback, hopefully prodding myself into being a little more productive on it. Because I really do want to get it out there, but I’m feeling intimidated both by the scale of the work and the ugly politics. I’m already thinking about the folks who are going to haaaate that they can’t get a Tombstone or Deadwood type game out of my game, that it looks like it’s for Westerns but has very little to do with the Western fictional genre.

Anyway. More soon.

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0 thoughts on “Misfortune: There Was Never A Frontier”

  1. That’s a good one, Sandy! I’ve seen it before. Strong stuff, very much what I want to aim at. I’m also hoping my native/first nations friends can set me in the right direction as well.

    It’s so fraught. Lordy.

  2. Andy Hauge it’s only a thing of I keep working on it! And since I seem incapable of keeping my nose to the grind stone in private, I’m trying something different.

  3. I’m reminded of the unfamiliar (to me, when I first came across it) European military usage of “frontier” to mean a border, particularly a hostile border. So for instance the “Battle of the Frontiers,” essentially the opening of WWI on the Western Front, took place along the Franco-German border, hardly the Conservapedia usage of “frontier” but actually not too dissimilar to the reality you’re describing.

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