This definitive biography offers a new critical assessment of the life, works, and ideas of Herbert E. Bolton (1870–1953), a leading historian of the American West, Mexico, and Latin America. Bolton, a famous pupil of Frederick Jackson Turner, formulated a concept—the borderlands—that is a foundation of historical studies today. His research took him not only to the archives and libraries of Mexico but out on the trails blazed by Spanish soldiers and missionaries during the colonial era. Bolton helped establish the reputation of the University of California and the Bancroft Library in the eyes of the world and was influential among historians during his lifetime, but interest in his ideas waned after his death. Now, more than a century after Bolton began to investigate the Mexican archives, Albert L. Hurtado explores his life against the backdrop of the cultural and political controversies of his day.
Herbert Eugene Bolton Historian of the American Borderlands
The Scholars' Hard Road
In late December 1922 Herbert Eugene Bolton boarded an eastbound train at the Berkeley station and settled into his seat. Even in repose Bolton was a striking figure. At fifty-two years old, he was six feet tall with sandy hair that was still full and neatly trimmed. Smiles broke easily upon his open face. He wore glasses over large blue, attentive eyes, and chain-smoked Lucky Strike cigarettes, but still looked fit in middle age. Bolton was chairman of the history department at the University of California, director of the Bancroft Library, and one of the most important historians of his day. Everyone in the history profession knew it. He was on his way to New Haven for the annual meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA).
The wintry landscape that slid past the Pullman car window triggered memories about his own past, as well as the history he had written. At some points Bolton's personal story and his grand narrative of the North American frontier seemed to merge. As the train sped across Nebraska, Bolton recalled his family's covered-wagon trek when he was only three. Seeking new farmland in the West, the Boltons had left Wisconsin in 1873. Busted, the family returned to Wisconsin, but this sad memory of frontier failure did not divert Bolton for long. Now riding down the Platte River Valley, "where ran the trail of the fur traders, the Oregonians, and the Californians, and along which Parkman came," Bolton saw only prosaic haystacks instead of teeming herds of wild animals. "I would much prefer to see buffaloes, or Pawnee Indians, who belong here." One of his friends interrupted this reverie with pleasant conversation, but Bolton "could not help looking out from time to time, to see if perchance I might get a trace of [Pedro de] Villazur or of [Pierre] Mallet, or of the Pawnee."
Through New York the rails paralleled the abandoned Erie Canal, which his New England ancestors had traveled. "I can see them now, peering over the edge of the railing of a can[al] boat drawn by a tow line. That brown-eyed girl is my mother." Not content with conjuring his mother, Bolton "saw old Leatherstocking or some of his associates 'moving noiselessly' through the thickets over the hills." As the train rolled through the Hudson River Valley, Bolton imagined that he could see Rip Van Winkle and all the heroes of Sleepy Hollow.
Herbert Bolton was a romantic. For him the landscape was a grand stage upon which heroic figures, historical and imaginary, acted their parts. In his imagination, long-dead explorers and literary heroes joined him in the places where they had lived so memorably. He admired their exploits, and-in his own mind at least-shared their glory. One cannot understand Bolton or his work without recognizing his romantic attachment to the people and places about which he wrote. Where did this romantic historian come from?
Bolton was not born to be a romantic professor of history. Far from it. He came into the world on a small farm in Wisconsin on July 20, 1870. He was the fourth in a family of eleven children, three of whom did not live to maturity. The circumstances of his birth and early family life are the common stuff of nineteenth-century rural America. His father, Edwin Latham Bolton, was born in Leeds, England, and migrated with his family to Utica, New York. They worked at the weavers' trade, as they had done in England. According to family tradition, young Edwin took up surveying and led the Boltons out of the mills and across the country to western Wisconsin, although family mill earnings may have financed the move. In 1856 they settled on a farm in Wilton near Kickapoo Creek, about twenty-five miles from La Crosse. There the Boltons became independent farmers, working the raw land to build a new life for themselves.
Bolton's father was an immigrant, but his mother, Rosaline Cady, was not. She came from old New England stock. Ten generations back, one of her forbears, Richard Warren, had arrived in the New World aboard the Mayflower. She even had a distant connection to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Her family had been settled in Vermont for two centuries before her father and mother moved to Wisconsin in the 1840s or 1850s. The children of Edwin and Rosaline were culturally and genetically Anglo-American right down to the soles of their feet.
By the time Herbert entered the world, the eighty-acre homestead near Wilton was doing well. Edwin built a larger house to accommodate his growing family. His rheumatic condition, a legacy of his Union Army service during the Civil War, was the only cloud on the horizon. In the early 1870s his illness was still manageable, but it would steadily grow worse. In 1873 the prospect of new lands on the Nebraska frontier filled Edwin with optimism. He sold his farm and moved his family to a new homestead near Lincoln. It was a bad year to go west: grasshoppers and drought ruined the farm before it was fairly begun. The Boltons returned to Wisconsin, and Edwin bought another farm there, but it was not as productive as the old one. Located at LaGrange, the new farm had poorer soil, fewer resources, and a mortgage. The Boltons had to scratch harder than ever. Even so, the family was poorer at the end of 1873 than they had been at the beginning, when they had turned their hopeful faces west.
Large families like the Boltons' were the rule on American farms where children soon became useful. The Bolton boys were of inestimable value on the farm. By 1880 three of them were teenagers, old enough to work at men's jobs. Even Herbert could pick berries and do light farmwork. Everyone worked an "eight-hour" day, Herbert's older brother Frederick joked: "8 hours in the forenoon and 8 more in the afternoon!" Hoeing, weeding, and harvesting occupied the farmer's sons in season. Caring for livestock, building fences, repairing barns, and countless other farm chores took whatever time remained. There was work to do at the neighbors' places, too. Planting, haying, harvesting, cutting, and hauling wood all demanded labor that the Bolton boys could supply in return for produce, handmade clothes, or other goods; they sometimes got cash but rarely. As soon as Herbert was big enough, he became his older brother Fred's constant work partner. A life of hard labor seemed to stretch endlessly before them.
Constant hard work was not the only discipline that the Bolton boys knew. Their Methodist parents "were both quite religious and we received rather strict, but wholesome counsel," Fred recalled. "Had we told a lie, committed a theft, or damaged others' property, the punishments would have been severe." Swearing, smoking, and playing hooky from school were also infractions worthy of punishment. Fred thought that he and Herbert inherited their drive and perseverance from their father. "He was the personification of those traits." The elder Bolton augmented his income by teaching school in the winter, an occupation that probably first inspired Fred and Herbert to become teachers. Fred and Herbert wanted to escape rural life and understood that education offered them a way to do it. Both parents encouraged their children to get an education, and the boys often saw their father studying when he took a break from farmwork. In January 1883 Edwin gave Herbert some advice in the autograph book that his mother had given him for Christmas: "Make the most of the advantages you may have. E.L. Bolton." Herbert took his father's counsel to heart.
Herbert's introduction to history no doubt came from his father. Full of vivid tales about his Civil War experiences, Edwin also told admiring stories about the heroes of the American revolutions, such as the Marquis de Lafayette and Simón Bolívar. Poor as he was, Edwin subscribed to two periodicals that inspired Herbert and Fred, the Chicago Inter-Ocean and the Youth's Companion. The boys walked five miles to the post office to pick up the latest issues. The Inter-Ocean opened their eyes to world affairs and a life beyond rural Wisconsin. The Youth's Companion fired the boys' imaginations with adventure stories by Jack London, Barrett Willoughby, and Samuel Woodworth Cozzens. Cozzens's serialized The Lost Trail, a story about two boys who went to California with a trading caravan, was a particular favorite of the Bolton boys. The southwestern setting for Cozzens's vivid tale with its deserts, mesas, and perpetually blue skies was dramatically different from western Wisconsin. The story was full of youthful heroism and narrow escapes from Comanche and Apache Indians, who were the villains of the piece. Cozzens even described the mission San Xavier del Bac, near Tucson, as "one of the most interesting relics of the old Spanish rule to be found in the country." Cozzens's exciting serial was doubtless Herbert's introduction to the Southwest as a place of romance and adventure.
With incessant labor the Boltons made a go of their hardscrabble farm, but in the late 1870s Edwin's rheumatic condition grew debilitating. He began teaching in the summer as well as the winter in order to replace the income that he could no longer earn by manual labor, but even this occupation became too much for him. He died in 1885 at age forty-nine, leaving Rosaline with eight children and the widow's share of his Civil War pension. Forty-one years old and pregnant, Rosaline was responsible for a poor farm and a large family. Every dollar counted. From Edwin's pension Rosaline received eight dollars a month plus two dollars for each child under the age of sixteen. Herbert and his five younger siblings thus added twelve dollars per month to the family treasury, but only briefly. He turned sixteen in 1886. One year later his thirteen-year-old brother, Johnnie, was thrown from the driver's seat when his team bolted; he was killed in the fall. Herbert's maturity and Johnnie's death reduced the family income by four dollars per month.
All of the boys pitched in to keep the farm and the family together. Fred went to La Crosse to teach school and sent money home. Herbert started high school in Tomah, where he worked for room and board at a local hotel. School was a common topic in the letters of the two education-minded brothers. "I get along very well with my studies," Herbert wrote, "all except English Language and that I detest." Teachers had already noticed that tall, blonde, good-looking Herbert was a likely prospect for their calling, because they sometimes allowed him to teach classes. He was in the same business that Fred was, "teachin skule," he once joked, because the teacher was sick. Herbert liked school, although he described many of his fellow pupils as "country Jakes." Of course, he was a country Jake also, fresh from the farm. In high school he studied history, but at fifteen Herbert did not think of this subject as a professional option. He studied "very hard evenings as well as day time. Don't have much time for mischief."
But Herbert did find a little time for devilment. He cut school once to look over the old Bolton farmstead at the Ridge, perhaps wishing that his father had not left his good farm for a dream in Nebraska. Sometimes he got a "good 'solemn lecture'" at school for failing to keep up with his homework, but these occasions were rare. Another time, spring weather inspired Herbert and some friends to skip school and go fishing. They were caught in a cold rain, but Herbert persevered and returned home with a bit of doggerel that described his experience:
And a hungry gut.
He was not above a practical joke. One night Herbert and some friends saw one of their schoolmates visiting his girl. They "tied the [barn?] doors when he was up there and he stayed till morning too." If this adventure became common knowledge, it would have set small-town tongues wagging. "He don't know who 'twas," Herbert told his brother, and "you needn't tell him ever either."
Rural life was not Herbert's idea of an attractive future, but the countryside had its charms for an active boy. He loved to saddle a horse and ride around the country with his friends. In Tomah Herbert made a name for himself as an athlete. He played baseball with the local team, the unfortunately named Skunks. Herbert was the fastest sprinter in high school, and the best broad jumper. He would always revel in the outdoors and in physical activity as long as they had nothing to do with farming.
Herbert was a likable youth who liked other people. Affability was one of his most endearing traits, though he committed himself to solitary habits of study. In some ways, the adult would become almost monkish in his pursuit of scholarship, but the teenaged Herbert was no monk. He liked his friends and enjoyed parties. "Had a good time," he reported to Fred after attending a social. "I guess it wouldn't be me if I didn't, would it?" he added with a touch of self-awareness that pegged him as a good-natured, social animal. Yet Herbert's teen years were marked by unusual seriousness of purpose. He had his fun but worked to make a success of high school just as he worked hard on the farm. As he said, he would have to work hard if he ever intended "to be anybody, which I cert[ainly] do." Herbert's ambition to be somebody marked his whole life.
Girls noticed the blonde boy with the sunny disposition. They smiled at him, and he smiled back, although he sometimes reported that he was giving up girls in favor of hard work so that he could get ahead. One girl in particular commanded Herbert's attention: Gertrude Janes of Tunnel City-"snapping-eyed, beautiful Gertie Janes," as Fred remembered her. Herbert met her when carrying blueberries from the farm to sell at the Tunnel City trading post. Eventually she attended high school in Tomah, so Herbert saw a lot of her there. He kept her in sight on Sundays by going to church in Tunnel City. In his senior year Herbert liked Gertrude well enough to be jealous of a boy who competed for her affection. Consequently he planned to attend church a little oftener than usual, "till he has withdrawn from the field."
In the summer of 1888 Herbert worked as printer's devil at the weekly Tomah Journal. It paid six dollars per week and was preferable to "granging it," as Herbert derisively called farmwork. His stint with the weekly may have sharpened his interest in current events. "What are your politics?" he asked Fred. "I don't know what mine are, I'm either a Pro[hibitionist] or a Republican." Herbert's adult political sympathies seemed to hover around the progressive side of the Republican Party, but he made it a point not to discuss his party affiliation (at least not in writing).
Essentially apolitical in the partisan sense, Bolton had a keen sense of personal and institutional relations that would serve him well throughout his career. He probably acquired these skills in the Bolton family matrix. As historian Frank Sulloway argues, siblings must develop strategies for obtaining their shares of family resources such as food, shelter, wealth, affection, and encouragement. Thus each child develops a niche in the family and a way of maximizing his or her chances for survival. The fourth son in a very large family, Herbert capitalized on his innate strengths and developed talents that set him apart from his older brothers. His good looks, athletic prowess, pleasing personality, affability, sense of humor, good health, capacity for hard work, attention to detail, and ability to get along with people made Herbert a good son, a successful student, and a valued employee. These personal qualities served him well throughout his life.
Fred, the second son, blazed the trail of higher education and escape for Herbert, but his older brother's struggle for advancement showed that the scholar's life was not a perfect meritocracy. A certain amount of shrewdness was needed in order to succeed, and Herbert, even as a teenager, seemed to have it. In 1887 Fred wanted a teacher's job at Tunnel City, so he wrote to Mrs. Janes (Gertrude's mother), who was a school board director. After Fred's mother went to see Janes and the board clerk about the position, Herbert reported to Fred, "I guess they want you." Herbert was certain that his brother was the best man for the place, but it helped to know someone. His brother got the job.
Such jobs were just stepping stones for the Bolton boys. The following year, Fred resigned so that he could attend the state normal school in Milwaukee. Education was a family affair, with most of the older siblings helping to pay for expenses whenever they could. Fred was only the third graduate of Tomah High School to attend college, so his matriculation in Milwaukee was a big thing, especially to Herbert. He asked his older brother about everything-girls, extracurricular activity, books, everything. Herbert was already looking past Milwaukee and hoped to attend the state university in Madison. He knew that he would "have to work a while," but the dream was there. Fred was showing that with hard work and some help from home, the dream could be realized. "You encourage me," Herbert wrote.
A senior now, Herbert was anxious to be out on his own. Graduation was fast approaching. The teachers had chosen him to speak at commencement, and this honor brought out his insecurity. "But I can do my best." As always, doing his "best" meant working hard on the task at hand. Commencement evidently came and went without great trauma caused by a botched valedictory. At least Herbert never mentioned it in his letters to Fred.
Now the road was open to the future. Nearly nineteen, Herbert had accomplished as much as he could have in the little community bounded by the farm, Tomah, and Tunnel City. Optimistic, attractive, and outgoing, Herbert faced the future certain of only one thing: a lot of hard work. Even so, success was not assured. The track for advancement he had chosen, higher education, was virtually unknown to him. From Tomah he could see only a few paces ahead as his brother proceeded. Yet he was determined to make something of himself through ambition and hard work.
Herbert did not know it, but a place was already being prepared for him. In 1884 forty-one historians had gathered at a resort in Saratoga, New York, to found the American Historical Association (AHA). Their purpose was straightforward: the promotion of historical studies "without limitations of time or space," as Harvard professor Justin Winsor explained. "The future of this new work is in the young men of the historical instinct," he continued, "largely in the rising instructors of our colleges." Founded for the promotion of history, the AHA would become primarily an organization of, by, and for college professors of history. They would form a new professional class: college professors with a doctorate. The AHA founders took the German academy and its faculties as their model. The new American doctor-professors would transform their universities into Germanic research institutions whose mission was to investigate history rather than to merely reiterate well-worn moral tales about the past. The transformation involved the establishment of doctoral programs so that as time marched on new generations of American-trained PhDs would fill the ranks of the professorate in the United States. It followed that institutions with doctoral programs would attain the highest level of prestige among colleges and universities. Thus research universities, graduate schools, and doctoral production formed a self-perpetuating and self-justifying regime. None of this was laid out in the AHA constitution, but it nevertheless came to pass.
The first AHA members' historical interests embraced the American West. In 1885 the AHA passed a resolution that called for the careful recording of the history of the western states and territories. A second resolution called for cataloging historical documents concerning the United States held in European archives. A third resolution commended the German historian Leopold von Ranke, "the oldest and most distinguished exponent" of "historical science." These resolutions were not unrelated. The AHA founders envisioned their historical enterprise as an excruciatingly detailed Rankean effort that would be global in extent. Before there could be a proper history of the United States, specialists must assemble the documents, whether they were in Leadville or London. The teenaged Herbert had no way of knowing about these resolutions, but they defined his life's work.
In the summer of 1889 the arcane discussions of historians did not concern Herbert. He was looking for a job. Like his brother, he hoped to teach school, but it was not an easy matter for an inexperienced high school graduate to convince school boards that he was up to the task. He searched for a position with characteristic energy and thoroughness. In a flurry of writing he sent letters to fourteen schools. Whenever possible, Herbert spoke with board members and clerks. Surely, he explained to Fred, after all of this activity he "must get something of a place." Fred was especially interested in his brother's employment prospects because a portion of Herbert's meager salary would go to support Fred's education. Once Fred's schooling was complete, he would help finance Herbert's college years. The striving brothers would alternate years of school teaching with stints as college students. This was the scholars' hard road of upward mobility that would culminate in university professorships for the Boltons.
But first Herbert had to get a job, and school boards were remarkably unimpressed with the nineteen-year-old inexperienced (but earnest) applicant. In the summer Fred worked for a lumber company in Granite, Wisconsin, so Herbert followed him there. When Fred departed for Milwaukee in late summer, Herbert took his job as store manager. This brought him into contact with a rough, migratory laboring class of lumberjacks and shingle weavers. It must have been difficult for a boy so young to look such men in the eye and tell them what they owed the company store.
Fred and Herbert may have been college men, or at least college bound, but they were not pansies. They wrestled with the lumberjacks on their days off and gave a good account of themselves. Herbert made friends with some of the more colorful characters who worked in the woods. He recounted some of their misadventures-and their debts to the store-in his letters to Fred. These encounters must have reminded the Boltons that they were not too far removed from the laborers' life that they were trying to escape for good.
In September Herbert finally heard that the small town of York had decided to take a chance on him. He settled business in Granite and departed for his new job with a sense of purpose and affection for "the renowned (new) York," the "home of my heart and the center of all rural attractions." The school suited him. Most of his scholars were almost as old as he was. Some young men already had moustaches. The school was ungraded, which meant that he taught students of all ages in the same room. He was grateful that all but two of his charges were able to read and write.
Teaching in York was good experience for Herbert, but he led a solitary life while preparing for Normal. As usual he asked Fred for advice about books to read. The uncertainty of regular pay at York troubled him too, because he had a hard time forwarding money to Fred. His affection for the small town quickly wore thin. "I should like to get into a town somewhere in civilization. It is so lonesome here. No one to talk with on a subject that interests me, or any-one wishing to pursue any line of book study." The boy from a two-horse town looked down on the one-horse town that claimed his services. He quit at the end of the first semester.
Herbert's loneliness was real enough. He and Gertrude occasionally exchanged letters and saw each other when he went home, but he may have taken her for granted. "I'll be terribly sweet when I go home ... and make up for it all. Someday I'll get left, won't I?" he cavalierly added. He had also heard a false rumor that Gertrude and several other Tunnel City students would not graduate on time. The story might have lowered Gertrude a bit in the estimation of a young man who was betting everything on the power of education to improve his condition in the world. Gertrude's intelligence and excellent academic performance had been among the qualities that recommended her to Herbert. Now, perhaps, she was lowering her sights, looking ahead to a life as wife and mother with some local farm boy or merchant. Besides, Herbert had a long way to go before he was ready for marriage and capable of supporting a family. Gertrude, "old girl," as he sometimes called her, might turn out to be Herbert's old girl. In the fullness of his young manhood he no doubt assumed that the choice would be his, but life would be full of surprises for Herbert.
Once home, Herbert hoped to work and save enough to join Fred at Wisconsin Normal in the fall. He had managed to save a hundred dollars from his York earnings, but he put this in the family common fund and so was not able to use that money to go to Milwaukee or to help Fred. But he was not the only Bolton who was banking on higher education to lift the family out of penury. Mrs. Bolton had mortgaged the farm to help the boys through college. Then she sold a horse for $85 and sent some money to Fred. To Herbert's great surprise and satisfaction, the family urged him to go to normal school immediately and provided money to do it. On March 1 he informed Fred that he would arrive in Milwaukee the next Monday on the midnight train.
The budding scholar who had looked down on little York was now in Milwaukee, which was probably the first sizable city he had ever seen. With its bustling Lake Michigan port, burgeoning industry, and growing immigrant population Milwaukee must have been exciting and overwhelming at first. Wisconsin Normal was located near the heart of the city. Normal schools were meant to train professional teachers with a two-year college curriculum designed with pedagogy in mind. Professionalization was one of the watchwords of the late nineteenth century. Self-taught physicians and lawyers gave way to university-trained men (and a few women) who increasingly dominated their professional worlds. The time would soon pass away when a likely high school graduate, perhaps one who was big enough to "handle" the larger pupils, could find a job at a country school as the Bolton boys had done. Indeed, Fred and Herbert would eventually help hasten the day when college training was a prerequisite for school teaching at all levels. The brothers saw no irony in this development.
Herbert and Fred roomed together in the spring. With his brother's help Herbert adapted and prospered, in the personal sense if not financially. Still, scholastic success in this new and strange atmosphere was not guaranteed, and Herbert did not immediately impress Wisconsin Normal students as a comer. One of his friends later recalled that he was not sure if the green boy from Tomah would make it through Normal. He was well established at the school by the fall of 1890, when his brother, diploma in hand, departed for Fairchild to be principal of the high school there. Fred's new job was convincing evidence of the value of higher education. At age twenty-four, with less than two years' teaching experience, Fred's normal school certificate made him a high school principal. Here was tangible proof that the Boltons' faith in higher education was well placed. Fairchild was only a way station for Fred. He was headed to the state university in Madison eventually but needed to make money to finance Herbert as well as gain experience in the field. Fred was turning to education as his academic specialty. As a teacher of teachers he might land a job at one of the new normal schools that were being established in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
Wisconsin Normal offered college-level courses, but was by no means a comprehensive university. As its graduates were expected to teach many subjects, the curriculum was general. The normal school diploma was not a bachelor's degree, but a certification of the holder's competence to teach school in specific disciplines. Mastery of a textbook in the field seemed to be the common standard for each course. Herbert studied mathematics, grammar, political economy, history, rhetoric, science, Latin, modern languages, pedagogy, and practice teaching all crammed into a year and a half of intense study.
Social life in Milwaukee was far more interesting than anything Herbert had experienced before. After Fred's departure Herbert roomed with other Normal students. Despite his sometimes cloistered study habits Herbert easily made friends among the students, men and women alike. Gertrude apparently slipped off of his list of preferred female companions. There was no lack of attractive young ladies to escort to dances, sleigh rides, and other entertainments at Wisconsin Normal. Besides, Gertrude was younger and still in Tunnel City.
Gertrude, perhaps sensing that Herbert was losing interest, then stunned him by announcing that she intended to teach. "She always swore against it," he wrote his brother. "But so we do change. I think she will be a success with smaller children," he added, not quite willing to grant Gertrude full credit for a career move that was identical to his own. Gertrude landed a job in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota. This was a bold move, revealing an unexpected streak of independence and drive in the small-town girl Herbert thought he knew. And she did not have to go to York to teach bumpkins, he no doubt noticed. His correspondence with Gertrude had dwindled (at least he seldom mentioned it to Fred), and he no longer regarded their relationship as a courtship, if he ever had. But Gertrude, well, Gertrude had other plans.
All the while, Herbert portrayed himself as a carefree youth playing the field. "Now I'm not in love-with anybody, but my Dutch and my Norwegian girls used to bother me somewhat, for I did not know which to please. I settled it by trying to please them both. Hope I succeeded." One school incident hints that he was not quite the sophisticated lover that his letters made him out to be. Miss Faddis, an instructor at Normal, held regular classes in manners. Herbert attended infrequently, but decided to put in an appearance one day. He was the only man among fifteen young women for whom Miss Faddis was demonstrating the correct method of shaking hands, a procedure evidently more complicated in 1891 than it is today. Perhaps she failed to notice the lone gentleman in the room, or maybe she just forgot herself in the midst of a teachable moment. Whatever the case, in order to make clear the particularities of correct posture, she raised her dress "nearly up to her ____________," Herbert reported to Fred. This display of feminine pulchritude was too much for the blushing young brother, who left the room. He immediately reported the incident to Professor Mapel, but did not get the response that he expected. "'Oh my dear boy!' said he. 'you don't like it because you are not interested. If Mr Gillan should give you the work you would do your best.'" Herbert evidently did not quite follow the gist of Mapel's remark. "I soon made him understand that he had told the truth for Gillan is a teacher, and Miss F. is not." The boy from Tomah was not yet up to the droll humor of the urban sophisticates in Milwaukee.
The end of the spring semester 1891 found Herbert preparing for graduation and looking for employment. Fred was going to the University of Wisconsin in the fall, so Herbert needed a good job in order to support his brother's further education. The brothers put an amazing amount of time and energy into their search for employment. They seemed to know of openings in every school throughout the state and shared information about each place, who they knew there, and who could help them with a recommendation. Herbert's best chance for employment came from his brother's recommendation to replace him at Fairchild. He considered a position in Montello, but Professor Gillan thought it would go to a Catholic, so he advised Herbert to concentrate on Fairchild. Religious and ethnic prejudice worked both ways in the 1890s, as the Protestant Herbert learned.
With neither summer nor fall plans firmed up, Herbert looked forward to graduation. If not quite a lettered man, he at least would have a diploma that certified his professional standing among the ranks of Wisconsin teachers. He was relieved to pass this milestone in his diligent program of self-improvement and upward mobility.
In July Fairchild finally decided to hire Herbert as principal at seventy dollars per month. At about the same time he learned about Fairchild, something else popped up. Gertrude, fresh from a year of teaching at St. Paul, wanted to study with him during the summer. He thought it would be a good idea, but the plan did not materialize as Gertrude had hoped. Herbert took a job as a traveling salesman of memberships in an association that sold books to members at discount prices. "Now if a man has time and wants a trip to California he can get there all right if he will work." He liked the money, but selling on the road was not the path to status that he had in mind. A traveler did "not belong to any society, and of course" was "a fraud." Herbert would find another way to get to California.
A letter from Gertrude found Herbert while he was on the road. She had heard about a teaching position at Fairchild and asked Herbert to help her get it. He was willing, but it turned out that the position had already been filled. Too bad, but Gertrude, a young woman of remarkable resilience, persistence, and determination, was not finished with Herbert yet.
At summer's end Herbert went to Fairchild to take up his post as high school principal. He was twenty-one and only two years out of high school, yet now he taught pupils who were nearly as old as himself, managed the school, and oversaw teachers who were far older and more experienced than he was. Of course, he taught his own classes, so preparation was part of his day. As always, he worked at night for as long as the light and his energy held out. In addition to his myriad duties Herbert prepared himself to enter the University of Wisconsin, where Fred was now a student. Herbert would maintain this demanding schedule for two years, sending Fred whatever money he could spare.
It should come as no surprise that Herbert managed to do all of this work. By then discipline and labor were ingrained in him, but there was more to the principal's job than work. The management of older teachers who must have resented a mere youth as their new chief required sound judgment. Before long one of the teachers began to give him trouble, but he stood firm and eventually forced her to resign. "The one who wears the slipper can kick hardest and hurt most," he observed. Despite his youth Herbert was willing to take charge, give orders, and insist that they be carried out. He did not like subordinates who challenged him. In his world, even in little Fairchild, status and authority went hand in glove. For the most part Herbert wore authority lightly, but he wielded it without compunction.
Principals had to deal with superiors as well as subordinates. The state school superintendent, Oliver E. Wells, had to approve the work done at Wisconsin high schools. He also had something to say about who taught summer institutes and was an ex officio member of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents. Wells's win was something of a surprise in the 1890 election that swept him and other Democrats into office. Needless to say, getting along with Superintendent Wells was crucial for high school principals. Wells, however, was not well liked by the Bolton brothers. He hoped to revamp the University of Wisconsin to emphasize practical subjects that would better serve the people of Wisconsin, or so he believed. Fred wrote a critical newspaper article about Wells. "Good for you!" wrote brother Herbert. "I endorse your sentiment ... exactly."
Herbert disliked Wells, but he had to cultivate him while he was in office. When finally he met Wells, Herbert ingratiated himself with pleasantries and good humor. In November 1892 Herbert voted against Wells, but the superintendent won reelection. Herbert had little choice but to go along cheerfully with a superintendent whom he happened to despise. This small incident foreshadowed a lifetime of pleasing the men who held authority over him. When in charge, Herbert expected to be obeyed; to his betters, he returned the favor with a smile on his face.
Success at Fairchild High School was important to Herbert, but it was a means to an end. He studied hard for the university and kept asking Fred for advice about his studies. The brothers were dreaming big dreams for farm boys with two-year teaching diplomas. They began to consider the doctorate as the consummation of their educational and social advancement. Herbert drew a figure at the bottom of a letter to Fred. At the left margin a fingerpost pointed to the right, followed by five arrows that ended at "Ph.D." on the opposite margin. "I will follow in your wake, or break a road for myself," he told his brother.
The same letter contained another foreshadowing. Herbert asked Fred about bringing Wisconsin history professor Frederick Jackson Turner to Fairchild for a lecture. There is no reason to suppose that Herbert wanted to study with Turner, but the brothers probably knew enough about him to regard the young history professor as a role model. Turner was also a small-town Wisconsin boy, who was only five years older than Fred and nine years senior to Herbert. If Turner could do it, there was hope for the brothers.
Herbert was beginning to take more than a perfunctory interest in history. With a friend he read Prescott's Conquest of Mexico. He selected an assortment of histories for his school and hoped to read them, but feared he had "more good works" than he could "get time to read." The little library included books about Hannibal, Alfred the Great, Peter the Great, William the Conqueror, Rome, and Greece. He also had Parkman's Pontiac, Fiske's history of the American Revolution, and miscellaneous books about U.S. history. This was not a bad little library, considering the state of historical scholarship in 1892. Dipping into it would have given him a broad education in history.
While at Fairchild Herbert found time for romance with a local woman, but she threw him over for someone else. The experience left him wounded and a little discouraged about women. "I would not trust any of them with my heart if I wanted it to remain whole. They would bust it, sure!" Fred was probably in no mood for Herbert's dreary philosophy about women and love, for he planned to marry his fiancée after he graduated from Wisconsin in June 1893. But Herbert continued with his casually misogynistic ramblings. "It is well for me that there is no danger of female eyes gazing on some of my charges made against their sex," he wrote; "otherwise I should be doomed to lifelong celibacy."
Permanent celibacy was not the sort of life sentence that Gertrude Janes had in mind for Herbert. He had come to respect her educational and professional goals, although in the fall of 1892 he regarded her merely as an old friend. Nevertheless, his respect for Gertrude was growing. When he told someone that Gertrude "ought to be at the U.W.," his friend replied, "Yes, nice thing-lots of money," referring to the Janes family's comfortable circumstances. "I suppose that's as far as he sees," Herbert thought. But Herbert now saw Gertrude as someone with serious mental ability, a likely prospect for the state university, where he was headed himself. In the spring of 1893 his feelings for her would deepen.
During the Christmas holiday Herbert went home to his family and likely saw Gertrude. Whatever transpired then, their relationship took a turn in the new year. In early February Gertrude visited Fairchild, and it was not because she was looking for a job. Herbert, who usually wrote long, detailed letters to his brother, resorted to breathless stabs of information. "Janes is here to spend Sat Sun[.] Dance last night." It must have been a big night. "Still in the ring, though slightly disfigured," he told Fred. Gertrude had him now and Herbert was a willing captive.
In the fall Herbert went to Madison, while Fred and his new wife, Olive, moved to Kaukauna, Wisconsin, for a principalship at the high school. Once again the brothers traded places, now with Fred gaining practical experience and subsidizing Herbert's education. At last Herbert stood at the door of the institution that he had dreamed about since high school, an institution that he hoped would grant him the keys to the kingdom of professional recognition and social advancement. The professors he met there would change his life.
About the Book
“Scholars curious about Bolton's résumé will discover much of interest.”—Wall Street Journal
“The most comprehensive biography of one of America’s most important historians. . . . A delightfully written book that will appeal to the broad audience interested in biography, western American history, California history, the colonial Mexican and American borderlands, and the history of higher education.”—Southern California Quarterly
"Compelling. . . . Hurtado skillfully narrates Bolton’s career."—Journal of American History“A vivid, compelling, and timely biography of an historian who struggled, sometimes against his own prejudices, to make both the United States and American history less provincial. Al Hurtado has managed to capture more than half a century of American intellectual life, social life, and institution building through the story of single man.”—Richard White, author of Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America
“This definitive biography does double duty as a candid chronicle of academic history on the Pacific Slope, with all the rivalries, shifting allegiances, and promotional disputes that swirled around the persistent productivity of Herbert Eugene Bolton, academic archon of the Spanish Borderlands.”—Kevin Starr, University of Southern California
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
A Note on Language
Introduction: The Border Lord
1. The Scholars’ Hard Road
2. A Gathering at Lake Mendota
3. Gone to Texas
4. Many Roads to California
5. In Stephens’s Grove
6. Foundations of Empire
7. Teachers and Students—Worlds Apart
8. Of Presidents and Politics
9. Race, Place, and Heroes
10. Exploration, Empire, and Patrimony
11. The Grand Patriarch
12. Bury My Heart at Corte Madera
13. Western Revolt and Retirement
14. Defending the Empire
15. The Fading Pageant
16. The Emperor Departs
Afterword: The Debatable Legacy
Abbreviations Used in the Notes