The Spirit of 1889

Restoring the Lost Promise of the High Plains and Northern Rockies

Release Date: July 31, 2024

In August 1889, the five states that were once part of the Dakota 1861 Territory—North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho—drafted their state constitutions in preparation for inclusion in the United States. These constitutions were models of progressive and pragmatic values for their time. Wyoming, for instance, was the first state to grant women’s suffrage. In addition to suffrage, delegates from these states banned child labor, curbed the power of railroads and grain monopolies, mandated state ownership of running water, opened voting eligibility, and created state-owned banks. These states, the “89ers,” as Samuel Western calls them, exhibited a spirit of commonweal inclusivity that set them apart.

Much has changed since—and not for the better. Today, legislators in these five states have spurned these inclusive values. Instead, they promote the narrative of exclusion and lean toward authoritarianism. Legislators restrict voting, disenfranchise Native Americans, limit protests, squash public education, and discourage immigration initiatives, such as sanctuary cities. In their current condition, these states are in direct contradiction of the pragmatically inclusive and progressive values of their 1889 constitutions. The 89ers today are driven by ideological objections to political autonomy (stripping power from cities), fueling partisanship, and a rigid commitment to traditional commodity-based industries. Western sees hope for the future, but only if these states replace their fidelity to a particular idea of rural America with a more pragmatic openness to diversity and change—which will paradoxically bring them closer to the original spirit of their constitutions.

Western calls for a radical rethinking of what rural America is and could be. As a long-time resident in Wyoming, he speaks not from the outside but as someone who personally cares about this region and its future prosperity. The Spirit of 1889 aims to shed light on how these states have drifted so far from where they began and what might be done to reclaim those original values.




Non-Fiction books, articles & essays

Samuel Western writes about big-picture economic and demographic trends, the “deeper, slower movement,” as Arnold Toynbee would say. Samuel is also interested in the idea of community and economic history, particularly in the northern Rocky Mountains.


A reckoning in August illustration

North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho wrote, or rewrote, their state constitutions in August 1889.

WrittenThese documents were remarkably inclusive and progressive: state ownership of water, suffrage from women, curbing the power of the railroads, and eight-hour day for workers.

Over the years, these states welcomed the odd duck and unconventional: Hutterites, Mormons, Mennonites, syncretic New Age communes, doomsday cults, Jewish colonies, and militias. These people did not drift into plains and mountains by accident. They came because of the region’s live-and-let-live attitude.

Now, these states are among the most exclusive states in the union. Theircurrent politcal narrative doesn’t match those envisioned by their founders. It doesn’t promote the values of independence, individualism, or liberty found in these collective constitutions.

How did this happen?






Written on a four-month deadline (lots of 12 hours days involved), Pushed Off the Mountain, Sold Down the River, is one of the best-selling books in Wyoming literary history. Now in its eighth printing, the book documents Wyoming unique and sometimes fabricated history. Along with TA Larson’s History of Wyoming, Pushed Off the Mountain is considered cornerstone work in understanding how and why Wyoming works like it does.

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Solace in Numbers


“On the nineteenth of November, 1917, Berton B. Reed booked passage on the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad from Sheridan, Wyoming to Spokane, Washington. The ticket cost $44.08 including $3.53 for a tax covering the war raging in Europe.

The fare did not just cover his personal fare, but included the cost of shipping Mr. Reed’s charge, the body of Edward Augustus Whitney, to a crematorium in Spokane. Whitney had died two days previously in his room above the bank he started in Sheridan.

Reed, a mortician, had seen to Whitney’s embalming, dressing him in a $20.00 funeral suit, preparing him for the journey. Whitney probably did not weigh in excess of 100 pounds. Years of anemia, voluntary malnutrition, and latent pulmonary tuberculosis had worn down Whitney from the 143 pounds he weighed at the peak of his health.”

So begins the story of Wyoming’s eccentric, peripatetic, and successful banker, Edward Whitney.

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“Thomas McIntyre has brought together some of the finest outdoor writers to create this anthology of hunting big game in North America. These original stories cover all North American big-game-from moose and bear in Alaska to sheep and mule deer in the Lower 48; it even contains a hunt for muskox. The writers include Stephen Bodio, author of Eagle Dreams; David Petzal of Field & Stream; Craig Boddington, one of the most famous outdoor writers today; Philip Caputo of the Chicago Tribune (1973 Pulitzer Prize winner) and many more.This book will give you a profound sense of why hunting is such an integral part of the American landscape. It is a grand collection of well-crafted stories on North America’s most sought-after big-game species.”

-Good Reads

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