Prairie Fever

British Aristocrats in the American West 1830–1890

Peter Pagnamenta (Author)


The extraordinary story of the British aristocracy's encounter with American frontier life in the nineteenth century.

From the 1830s onward, a succession of well-born Britons headed west to the great American wilderness to find adventure and fulfillment. They brought their dogs, sporting guns, valets, and all the attitudes and prejudices of their class. Prairie Fever explores why the West had such a strong romantic appeal for them at a time when their inherited wealth and passion for sport had no American equivalent.

In fascinating and often comic detail, the author shows how the British behaved—and what the fur traders, hunting guides, and ordinary Americans made of them—as they crossed the country to see the Indians, hunt buffalo, and eventually build cattle empires and buy up vast tracts of the West. But as British blue bloods became American landowners, they found themselves attacked and reviled as “land vultures” and accused of attempting a new colonization. In a final denouement, Congress moved against the foreigners and passed a law to stop them from buying land.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • June 2012
  • ISBN 978-0-393-07239-6
  • 6.5 × 9.6 in / 368 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide including Canada, but excluding the British Commonwealth and the European Union.

Other Formats

  1. Book CoverPrairie Fever: British Aristocrats in the American West 1830-1890


Endorsements & Reviews

“Something of the magic of the Great West — its big skies and great rivers and prairies filled with game — can be found in Peter Pagnamenta's compelling narrative of the mania for the prairie grasslands that swept British aristocrats in the middle of the 19th century. Grand solitary travelers came first and their tales of adventure brought scores and then hundreds of others — lords and younger sons needing a way to live and retired military officers and men hoping to get rich and sportsmen who wanted a grizzly and dreamers who imagined a ranching kingdom might end boredom once and for all. It's an extraordinary story, told in Prairie Fever with the kind of energy that makes you want to drop everything and go.” — Tom Powers, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and author of The Killing of Crazy Horse

“Vivid… a constant delight. Mr. Pagnamenta tells this story with verve and style. His love of tales of derring-do on the prairie matches his subjects.” — Judith Flanders, Wall Street Journal

“[A] lost—and deeply weird—world…has been lovingly excavated and brought back to life.” — Miranda Seymour, New York Times Book Review

“Entertaining…. A deeply researched and finely delivered look at what can best be described as a counterintuitive slice of American history.” — Scott Martelle, Washington Post

“A parade of colourful personalities and richly detailed scenes which entertain and, cumulatively, expose the violence of cultural imperialism.” — Times Literary Supplement

“Lively and accessible… Prairie Fever skewers the delusion [of romance and heroism] with wit and charm.” — Brian Schofield, The Sunday Times

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