In a recent talk at a library in Longmont, Colorado, author James Whiteside recalled how a journey on his Harley Davidson to a family reunion in British Columbia gave him the idea for a different way to pen a history book. Whiteside, a retired University of Colorado history professor, recalled that getting out of a car and traveling by two wheels showed him culture and history that otherwise might have gone unrecorded if he had approached this project in the traditional way history books take shape—that is, through painstaking archival research.
Whiteside’s book Old Blue's Road: A Historian’s Motorcycle Journeys in the American West is a travelogue of his visits to historical locations, such as Wounded Knee, Santa Fe, Sand Creek, Dodge City, and more. In his travels, he also dives into cultures and relationships, such as the relationship between American Indians and mainstream American culture; our nation’s national parks; Japanese American internment during World War II; and Mormonism in Utah. Old Blue’s Road is the result of more than 15,000 miles logged across nine states and part of Canada from 2006 through 2009.
By visiting historical sites, Whiteside learned much about the culture surrounding these events as well as how these sites are commemorated—formally and informally—today. For example, by visiting the Sand Creek Massacre site in Colorado, he saw how other visitors continue to leave blankets, moccasins, jewelry, and other gifts to the families who were slaughtered more than a century ago.
“Culture is composed of scores of different cultures,” he told Times-Call reporter Pam Mellskog. And Whiteside was encouraged to see acknowledgment of cultures other than the dominant American culture on his journey, for example, the Kindred Spirits statue (in Eads, Colorado), which features three women: one white, one Hispanic, and one Native American.
Whiteside has written two previous books on the West, was awarded the Colorado Historical Society's Leroy R. Hafen Award (1985) and the Colorado Endowment for the Humanities Publication Prize (1999), and was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award (2000).
To read the Times-Call article and see Whiteside on his Harley Davidson, see the article here. You can also listen to Whiteside talk about the book and this approach to history on Utah Public Radio’s Access Utah.