Good old primogeniture. Not only did it preserve the integrity of Britain’s landed estates and stiffen its clergy and armed forces with relatively deprived younger sons, it also sent those same sons fanning out across the world in search of opportunity and adventure. As we learn from Peter Pagnamenta’s delightful and illuminating Prairie Fever, some of them wound up not in the Subcontinent or Africa but on the American frontier, where they forded mighty rivers, hobnobbed with Indians, jounced along in covered wagons, and, above all, decimated wildlife to their hearts’ content.

There was, for instance, William Drummond Stewart, second son of the Laird of Grandtully. Possessed of, as Pagnamenta puts it, “a Byronic streak,” Stewart made his way to St. Louis in 1832 and proceeded to spend most of the next six years west of the Mississippi. When his older brother died in 1838, Stewart...

 

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