Date of Award

Spring 2011

Document Type

Thesis

Department

History

Abstract

The mythic West is often conceived of as the home of the rugged individualist making his way in a land of possibility, wide with Indians, elk, and elbow-room. However, a careful study of western history reveals that most often the West, especially in the realm of public policy, was not the home of rugged individualists, but of a marriage between public interest and private capital that promoted the West as a “land of opportunity,” because doing do was absolutely vital to key economic interests. The story of the development of the sugar industry in eastern Montana reflects this understanding of western history. Originally conceived of both as a crop and a means to benefit the Jeffersonian small-land holder, the western sugar industry was the beneficiary of nineteenth century free labor ideology. Unfortunately, the benefits of the sugar-beet industry would not go to the 80-acre farmer eking out a living in subsistence agriculture. Rather, the profits of this industry would go to larger land-holders, sugar-beet refiners, and the eastern sugar trust. Therefore, the story of the development of the sugar-beet industry mirrors the more general western paradox between the individual, enticed by opportunity, and the corporation feeding at the public trough. Fostered through studies undertaken by the Department of Agriculture and the Agricultural extension service, grown on land ceded by Native Americans, nurtured by water brought by reclamation projects, and protected by tariffs, the growth of the sugar industry in Montana is a story of the westerner’s relationship to the federal government.

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