The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1979, Volume 25, Number 3
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor


Richard H. Peterson, Book Review Editor

Herbert Eugene Bolton: The Historian and the Man. By John Francis Ban-non. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1978. Appendix. Bibliography. Photographs. Maps. 296 pages. $8.95.

Reviewed by Clare V. McKanna, Instruclor in History, San Diego Evening College.

Herbert Eugene Bolton, in all probability, has had a greater impact on western history than any other scholar with the possible exception of Frederick Jackson Turner. Boltonians, whether first, second or third generation, have produced a tremendous number of scholarly studies on almost every aspect of the Spanish and their impact upon the Southwest. There probably is not a single university in the greater Sunbelt region that does not have a Boltonian teaching history. It is only fitting, then, that a biography dealing with Bolton should appear.

John Francis Bannon has written a credible account of that famous borderlands historian. A former Bolton student himself, Bannon has carefully traced the career of his mentor from graduate school in Wisconsin, as a student of Turner, through his formative years at the University of Texas and finally to his zenith at the University of California, Berkeley. Bolton authored many volumes dealing with the Spanish and their role in American history, but none has ever equaled the impact of his first major work, Guide to Materials for the History of the United States in the Principal Archives of Mexico. Every scholar of Spain in America has consulted this useful work at one time or another. Fortunately, this was only the beginning. Bolton authored numerous volumes on Kino, Palóu, Crespi, Arredondo and Coronado. His Coronado: Knight of Pueblos and Plains won the George Bancroft Prize for American history in 1950. It is an excellent example of his painstaking research that included retracing Coronado’s trail with the aid of Russell Ewing and others to authenticate the movements of that great conquistador. Bolton had come a long way from his earlier more pedantic, sometimes boring, style that apparently did not set well with his publishers.

As a teacher of The Americas, the famous Bolton history course on the French, British, Spanish and Portuguese in the western hemisphere, I was interested especially in this biography. It revealed the well-known but somewhat incredible fact that Bolton lectured to over 1,000 students twice a week for over twenty years and his popularity never seemed to fade. That seems impressive in view of the recent decline in enrollment in history courses. However, it is interesting to note that even Bolton seemed to have his off days. “Sometimes he rambled. . .; sometimes he was corny; sometimes he was repetitious” (p. 144). But in the end he generally stimulated his students, as indicated by their large number and his many doctoral candidates. He was always trying to interest them in the wider horizons of American history. That is the essence of The Americas as developed by Bolton.

Bannon has provided not only an appendix listing Bolton’s various publications but also a list of his academic progeny. The roster of over one hundred doctoral students includes Woodrow W. Borah, LeRoy R. Hafen, John W. Caughey, and Abraham P. Nasatir, all well-known as scholars throughout the United States. Although the author’s prose may not be prize winning, his subject is more than adequately covered. Anyone who has ever wondered what Herbert Eugene Bolton was really like should read this worthy biography.