The Aspen Institute hosted a four-day conference in August on the American West, a subject central to understanding our national character.
The agenda was stacked with discussions featuring experts in fields as wide-ranging as Native American history to archeology. The stakes for revisiting this history felt high as it required confronting both the grandest achievements and darkest hours of our country’s “manifest destiny.” The goal of the program was to inspire a deeper understanding of what it means to build a country and a community—what could be more useful for the contemporary national conversation than that?
During the opening night dinner held at the Doerr-Hosier Center, a panel debated the assumed values and codes of the West. Leading scholars were asked to parse myth from reality on this grand, “Hollywoodified” topic while participants dined on bison tenderloin and fried bread.
The highlight of the week was a trip to William I. Koch’s Old West Town in Somerset, Colo. Guests were transported by shuttles and helicopters to explore one of the largest collections of Old West artifacts and ephemera ever compiled. The intimate day trip offered special access to an otherwise private collection, which is housed in several buildings (sheriff’s office, brothel, bank, etc.) allowing participants to literally “walk the streets” of history.
A public lecture was held on Kit Carson, a legendary trapper and pioneer, whose life story offered a perfect window into the conflicted culture of the 19th Century West.