The Contested Plains recounts the rise of the Native American horse culture, white Americans' discovery and pursuit of gold in the Rocky Mountains, and the wrenching changes and bitter conflicts that ensued. After centuries of many peoples fashioning their own cultures on the plains, the Cheyenne and other tribes found in the horse the power to create a heroic way of life that dominated one of the world's great grasslands. Then the discovery of gold challenged that way of life and led finally to the infamous massacre at Sand Creek and the Indian Wars of the late 1860s. Illuminating both the ancient and more recent history of the plains and eastern Rocky Mountains, West creates a tapestry interlaced with environmental, social, and military history. He treats the "frontier" not as a morally loaded term, either in the traditional celebratory sense or the more recent critical judgment, but as a powerfully unsettling process that shattered an old world. He shows how Indians, goldseekers, haulers, merchants, ranchers, and farmers all contributed to and in turn were consumed by this process, even as the plains themselves were utterly transformed by the clash of cultures and competing visions.