Print The Legend

Photography and the American West

(Yale University Press, 2002)

Print The Legend

This prize-winning book tells the intertwined stories of photography and the American West — a new medium and a new place that came of age together in the nineteenth century.

Photographs made vivid a landscape few Americans had seen for themselves. And yet, despite the astonishing realism of these photographic images, photography did not instantly change the way Americans understood the West. They often seemed too literal to satisfy the desires of American consumers, who preferred the drama and excitement found in more imaginative paintings, novels and Wild West shows.

Resurrecting scores of little-known images of the nineteenth-century American West, Print the Legend offers engaging tales of ambitious photographers, missing pictures, and misinterpreted images. Chronicling both the history of a place and the history of a medium, this book tells the story of how Americans first came to understand western photographs and, consequently, to envision their expanding nation.


Winner of the Organization of American Historians 2003 Ray Allen Billington Award for the best book in American frontier history; the 2003 William P. Clements Prize for the best nonfiction book on Southwestern America; and the 2004 Barbara Sudler Award from the Colorado Historical Society.

Selected reviews:

"This handsome tome is clearly destined to become a classic and required reading — not just for specialists in Western history but for anyone interested in the configuration of American myths, legends and identity. . . . Sandweiss has given us a truly memorable book, written with clarity and grace and superbly illustrated."

—Reviews in American History

"Print the Legend might well be called Martha Sandweiss's magnum opus, so brilliantly does it demonstrate the power of locating photographic history in the social, political, and economic contexts that created visual images and that provided the setting for their interpretation. The book derives from the painstaking archival research that is necessary for such a project, and it follows two decades of writing on the topic of nineteenth-century Western photography. Yale University Press has spared no expense in its production, lavishing the book with exquisitely printed duotones on heavy, glossy paper."

—American Quarterly

"Print the Legend belongs on that short shelf of essential books about the American West."

—James P. Ronda,
University of Tulsa