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Recap: Robert Redford's The West Ep 1

Crazy Bull in Robert Redford's The West
Crazy Bull looks out across the land, Robert Redford's American West

Welcome to the episode recap of HISTORY’s brand new docudrama Robert Redford’s The West. Each week we’ll go through all the best bits from the series, see what we’ve learnt and look at what you’ve been saying on social media. Give us a shout on Twitter and Facebook and get involved.

What's Your Favourite Western?

To mark the new series we asked the public what is the most iconic Western? Find out here what came out on top, but we also got in touch with you on Facebook and we got a great response.

What Happened in Episode One?

1865, the ashes of the American Civil War. A nation divided, half victorious but half distraught. The Union looking to the future, the Confederates seeking revenge. So begins Robert Redford’s The West, the show that explores the dramatic evolution of the American West.

Civil War Anger

The episode opens with Jesse James, a former Confederate soldier and one of the most notorious characters of the West. James returns to his home in Missouri after the War fragile and disillusioned. This is a man who seems unable to accept the Union victory. Still reeling from his time in battle, James, along with his brother Frank, sets up a gang and begins stealing.

“When you think of Jesse James and those families, they felt they had been stripped of everything after the Civil War,” actor and contributor Keifer Sutherland tells the show. “They were going to come and take what they thought was owed to them.” 

We see as James and his motley crew take on the establishment which includes the first ever US bank robbery in which James kills a man he confuses for a Union soldier.

Bringing a Nation Together

While this is going on, we meet Union leader Ulysses S. Grant, a man “trying to heal the nation,” how? By opening the country and offering opportunities in the West.  First muted by Abraham Lincoln, the idea was to ease tensions across the nation through the offer of a new start.

The star of the show Robert Redford sums it up, it was “a chance for people to grow and succeed in ways they couldn’t in the overdeveloped East. Also, just the excitement and the challenge of uncharted territory, a little bit of the American way.” This is a frontier with almost 500,000,000 million square miles of land.

But everything is not as it seems. This land isn’t empty, nor is it the governments to give away.

The Lakota People

Settlers moving West are pushing into land occupied by indigenous populations who have lived there for thousands of years.

Enter Crazy Horse, a Lakota leader of determined to defend his land in the Dakotas. In 1866, Crazy Horse takes part in a bloody campaign across his land pushing settlers back.

The government try to fight back but are defeated by Crazy Horse and the Lakota people in the Battle of a Hundred Slain.

Back in Washington Ulysses S. Grant can’t believe it and has no choice but to send in his best commander, General Custer.

General Custer

Famous for his Civil War Victories, the show portrays Custer as strange and unconventional man with blonde curled hair, outlandish attire and a strange temperament. Legendary actor Burt Reynolds tells us, “a lot of people laughed at him, but not in battle.” The episode ends with Custer heading out West to shut down the trouble that is brewing.

It’s only been three years since the Civil War ended but it seems that America is facing serious problems across the nation. How will Jesse James be dealt with? Can Crazy Horse defend his land? Or will Custer complete his task? Find out next week on Robert Redford's The West. 

Best Did You Know Moment

To promote development in The West, the government made the rail companies an unprecedented offer. Millions of acres of free land. Writer, Walter R. Borneman explains, “For every mile of track the railroad would build Congress would provide the company with land either side of the track. The land grabs really are the sweetheart deal of the century.” In total, around 175,000,000 million acres were given to the railroad companies, more land than the entire state of Texas. This land was then sold on to settlers moving West.

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