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Ken Burns' The West, or simply The West - presented by filmmaker Ken Burns - is a serialized documentary of the American Old West aired on public television stations in the USA. Ken Burns gained fame for earlier documentaries on the Civil War and baseball. Here, however, Burns is the executive producer. He provides the financial backing and overall guidance to bring this show to television. Direction is within the hands of Stephen Ives, with whom Burns collaborated in at least two other shows. Lacking any significant motion picture film from the 1800s, Burns and Ives employ the proven technique of still photography with narration to bring The West to life. This is not a drama, and Ives depends heavily upon historical archives and Hollywood's most celebrated voice actors to paint a picture of the Old West. Indeed, narrator Peter Coyote and voiceover actors John Lithgow, Adam Arkin, Gary Sinise and others truly are the series' cast.

The West originally aired on public broadcast airwaves in eight episodes presented in chronological order, beginning in 1806 with episode one, The People. Episode two transitions into the period of the Louisiana Purchase, the Republic of Texas and the Mexican-American War; it ends with the California gold rush. Episodes three through seven document westward expansion, the Civil War, Reconstruction and the railroads. By episode seven, The Geography of Hope, the century is drawing to a close, and the automobile and telephone are set to transform rural life forever. The last chapter, episode eight, relives the turn of the century, industrialization and the years just before World War I in 1914. Viewers may see the final episode online or elsewhere as One Sky Above Us, episode eight, and Ghost Dance.

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1 Season, 9 Episodes
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Ken Burns' The West Full Episode Guide

  • As settlers race to claim tribal lands, Native Americans try to restore a lost way of life until their hopes are crushed at Wounded Knee. The new century marks a new era, but the West remains what it has always been, a world waiting for a dream.

  • By the late 1880's, Americans were astounded by the changes they had brought to the West. Mining towns such as Butte, Montana were now full-fledged industrial cities, magnets of opportunity to workers from around the world, but also places where the landscape itself was under assault. Defeated militarily, Native Americas throughout the region now flocked to the call of a Paiute mystic, who offered the illusionary hope that the lost world of the buffalo could be brought back by a Ghost Dance. But its promises would be trampled in the snow and blood of Wounded Knee. In place of the great Native American cultures which once dominated the Plains was a new culture, epitomized by the Oklahoma Land Rush, in which 100,000 eager settlers lined up for a mad dash to stake out a farm and a future.

  • Newcomers arrive by the millions, bringing a new spirit of conformity to the West. Yet the legend of the “Wild West” lives on, thanks to the greatest showman of the age.

  • The federal government tightens its grip on the West, but three bold spirits remain defiant - Sitting Bull, Brigham Young, and Chief Joseph.

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