Following the formula established by executive producer Ken Burns with The Civil War
, director Stephen Ives begins his epic PBS series The West
by emphasizing that America's westward expansion is inextricable from the history of its native peoples. The first episode, "The People," outlines the earliest beginnings of western discovery, focusing on the arrival of Cabeza de Vaca and Coronado from Spain in the early 1500s. The impact of the Europeans would turn the West, in the words of writer Rudolfo Anaya, into "an interrupted dream," culminating in the Southwest Pueblo Indian uprisings against the Spanish in the late 1600s.
While introducing the eloquent authority of series contributors such as writer N. Scott Momaday, this episode also charts the impact of the horse, the plagues of diphtheria and smallpox that decimated entire native populations, and the Spanish missionary establishment of San Francisco (1776) and Los Angeles (1781). Outlining Thomas Jefferson's "core of discovery" and the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, the episode closes with Lewis and Clark's successful quest for the Northwest Passage and their arrival at the Pacific coast on December 3, 1805. Here we see the stage being set for the westward exodus to follow, with crucial attention paid to its effect on Native Americans. Like Burns before him, Ives weaves a tapestry of history that's as vivid and dramatic as any story you could imagine, and watching this episode makes you eager for the rest of the series. --Jeff Shannon