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Prairie Fever: British Aristocrats in the American West 1830-1890

3.47  ·  Rating Details ·  104 Ratings  ·  27 Reviews
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 spor ...more
Hardcover, 338 pages
Published June 18th 2012 by W. W. Norton & Company
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Jul 10, 2012 Tony rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
PRAIRIE FEVER: British Aristocrats in the American West 1830-1890. (2012). Peter Pagnamenta. ****.
This is a fascinating and well-written account of an invasion of our American West by hordes of British nobility. There were two main driving forces for these invasions: the problem of what to do with second, and subsequent, sons when the law of primogeniture insured that the eldest son inherited both the estate and the money upon the death of the father, and younger sons were left to fend for them
Rebecca Huston
A very enjoyable book on the British adventurers who came west to explore, hunt, cattle ranch, or simply to have a good time. Full of stories, maps and a slim insert of photos. I had never heard of these stories and found them fascinating to read about this part of hidden American history. Four stars overall and recommended.

For the longer review, please go here:
Richard Starks
Dec 19, 2013 Richard Starks rated it really liked it
This is a well-researched and well-written book that's an enjoyable and easy read - especially if, like me, you have British roots and now live in the United States. If nothing else, the book underlines the thoughtless greed and bullheaded stupidity of the British aristocracy and its inability to cope with the egalitarianism of the American West. It describes the way the British upper classes bought and slaughtered their way across the prairies ("Saw 50,000 buffalo through the day," one of them ...more
Lauren Albert
Aug 28, 2012 Lauren Albert rated it really liked it
A fun book about the British aristocrats who headed out West in the 19th Century. Some fed on tales such as those of Fenimore Cooper, wanted adventure. Some went for money. Younger sons with no inheritance to support them, came to (hopefully) make their way in the world. Pagnamenta devotes a chapter to each of the driving hopes behind these travels: farming, cattle ranching, travel, hunting, adventure, land investment. He concludes with a section about the souring of American attitudes towards t ...more
Jul 14, 2015 Caroline rated it it was amazing
The British love of all things western has very deep roots, stemming almost from the days of the Revolution itself. There have always been close links between the Old and New World, not least the 'special relationship' of today. Much less well known, however, is the role the British aristocracy played in the settling of the West. A small role, to be sure, but a colourful one.

From the earliest days of western exploration British readers were inspired by the tales of writers such as Fennimore Coop
Kate Whitaker
May 25, 2013 Kate Whitaker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I oddly enjoyed reading this non fiction book by Peter Pagnamenta. I say this because this is not a topic that would normally interest me: hunting. I originally picked it up because I liked the author's name, I had recently named my second son Peter...I know that's odd but sometimes I do this, I am compelled by people's names.

I was unaware of this part of American history but I thought it was especially interesting in light of the popularity of Downton Abbey. I kept picturing Mary and Matthew go
Margaret Sankey
Aug 31, 2012 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
Ever since Charlotte Buckland and Oliver Seccombe set up the Crown Vee in Centennial, I've been interested in the European aristocrats who turned up in the 19th century west looking for respectable channels for their limited skills sets and profits on the plains. Now living closer to some of the ranches, like the Chateau De Mores in North Dakota, this is particularly relevant. Pagnamenta begins with the 1830s, when men like Sir William Drummond Stewart headed out with fur trappers and went back ...more
Mar 06, 2013 Kay rated it liked it
"What to do with younger sons?"

Primogeniture has much to answer for in British history. The need to find employment for those who would not inherit the estate sent thousands of young men darting about the empire -- but not just the empire, it seems. They were also packed off to America.

While admittedly something of a historical sideline, the exodus described in Prairie Fever is engagingly told. There are the laughably Wodehousian episodes involving fox hunting and amateur dramatic societies out
Jul 15, 2012 Sally rated it it was amazing
A very good and often entertaining summary of the involvement of the British upper crust in the development of the western United States—a subject most often treated only in the small magazines of western historical societies. This is, I think, the first time the topic has been treated in depth by a British author, so the book has a different perspective than that provided in 1989 by Lawrence Woods in his excellent but long out-of print “British Gentlemen in the Wild West: The Era of the Intense ...more
Miriam Murcutt
Sep 07, 2012 Miriam Murcutt rated it it was amazing

A well-written, well-researched book about British aristocrats who felt the pull of the American prairies in the mid to late 19th century. First they went there to hunt, killing off thousands of head of bison purely for sport, depriving others who needed the animals for food, clothing and shelter. Then they tried to set up wholly British communities on the prairies and, with a fatal combination of ego and ignorance, chose their spots badly. The majority of the communities failed. Finally, they b
Dec 29, 2014 Connie rated it liked it
It literally took me years to read this book. I started it on a road trip west to Colorado, Utah and Kansas, which are among the areas discussed in this book. I put it down for long periods of time and picked it up again, periodically, usually while walking on the treadmill. In a nutshell, it tells of the British enthusiasm for the American far west when land was cheap and largely populated with buffalo, wolves, bears and other wildlife. British aristocrats, especially younger sons who did not i ...more
Jan Polep
Dec 20, 2012 Jan Polep rated it liked it
Years ago I read Larry McMurtry's "Berrybender Narratives" about a British aristocratic family's fictional 1830's adventures exploring the West...where if things could go radically wrong, they did. Prairie Fever seems tame by comparison. The author describes British planned communities, land grabs, exhibitions, and business empires that wax and wane in connection with the weather, foreign funding, and changing attitudes of American citizens towards the British colonization efforts...which brough ...more
Dec 08, 2012 Izzie rated it it was ok
I was disappointed in "Prairie Fever". Maybe I had the wrong expectations when I opened the cover. I thought the book would go into detail about 19th British communities on the prairie, not focus on old news--the slaughter of thousands of buffalo, elk, and bear strictly for amusement. But wait, the photo on the dust jacket showed a community of settlers, and the first two pages of the introduction referred to the towns the British constructed. Unfortunately, this slim volume of 300 pages spent o ...more
Rey Dekker
Oct 10, 2012 Rey Dekker rated it liked it
...good book, over all...lots of stuff I had no idea about...due to the nature of this beast though there was a lot of Lord This-ing, Duke of That-ing, etc. that got a little tedious and space consuming...but by and large, lots of stuff new to me which is what I expect when I read a historical book...flavour sort of reminded me of David McCullough and that is not a bad thing...anyone interested in Great Plains history or British influences in "the colonies" would find this a good ...more
This is an original and quite extraordinary volume. The British aristocracy judged land in America to be a sterling investment. These wealthy Englishmen purchased, in total, land which, if laid out in a strip, would be 10 miles wide, extending from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. There was no threatening scheme; men were buying land to sell land. But to exaggerate a bit, England could defeat America so England's most wealthy citizens set out to buy America. A memorable book.
As someone with a special interest in the British presence in Dakota Territory—especially as it is still manifest in a series of Episcopal (read "Anglican") church buildings from the 1880s and early 1890s—I'm anxious to read what Pagnamenta has to say about the larger topic of Britons in the American West, whether for sport or as investors.
Aug 08, 2012 Deigh rated it liked it
I liked the first half of the book much better than the 2nd half. The first half dealt with the English aristocrats that came out and hunted with the fur trappers and early explorers of the West while the 2nd half dealt with the farming and ranching efforts of a group out to make money and really never connected with western ideas.
Aug 21, 2012 Daryl rated it really liked it
Shelves: historic
British snobs run rampant across the American plains during the Victorian era, shooting everything in sight, claiming/buying all the land as their own, making gobs of money on the fledgling cattle industry, attempting to start new colonies, and generally pissing off the American homesteaders and westward emigrants.

A good historic read. Well researched and easy reading.
Ellen Baranowski
Aug 03, 2013 Ellen Baranowski rated it really liked it
I am just beginning this book here on vacation in Estes Park but it covers places I have lived by and never knew about....really LaMars Iowa home of Blue Bunny Ice Cream? If the British had stayed would it be called the Azure Hare???? Easy read BYW.
Bill Finley
Apr 25, 2014 Bill Finley rated it it was ok
Book fails to get below the surface offering little analysis of the impact of fifty years of involvement in the settling and development of the American West. The author treats the interaction between the British gentry and the other settlers superficially.
Oct 06, 2012 Laura rated it really liked it
Shelves: wishlist-to-own
Combined two of my great loves - the West (many Colorado-specifics) and the British. A different side of travel/immigration to go into and especially interesting to see how these visitors/settlers/investors shaped parts of the west.
Benjamin Kincaid
May 05, 2013 Benjamin Kincaid rated it liked it
Shelves: have-read
This is a very well researched and written book. Very interesting how privileged the British thought they where. Got a little long.
Aug 11, 2013 Ellen rated it really liked it
A really interesting account of a piece of American history that is widely unknown by most people. Sometimes was a bit tedious to get through but worth the read overall
Mike Campbell
okay, but I was disappointed at the white-washing of Sir William Stewart. The biography of this gay man is better explored elsewhere.
Jul 08, 2012 Glen rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012
A dull but somewhat interesting book about the British aristocrats involvement in the exploration and settlement of the west.
Mike rated it liked it
Jan 13, 2013
Kathy rated it liked it
Oct 04, 2012
Earl Adams
Earl Adams rated it really liked it
Dec 14, 2013
Elizabeth rated it liked it
Sep 03, 2012
Couldn't finish it...
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Peter Pagnamenta is a writer and social historian who lives in London. He is the author of Sword and Blossom: A British Officer's Enduring Love for a Japanese Woman.
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