A Literary History of the American West - LITERARY HISTORY by userlpf

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         OF THE

          SPONSORED BY
The Western Literature Association

    Texas Christian University Press
              Fort Worth

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                       Copyright © 1987 by The Western Literature Association.

                            Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
                                          Main entry under title:
                                 A Literary history of the American West.
                                              Bibliography: p.
                                               Includes index.
                           1. American literature—West (U.S.)—History and
                          criticism. 2. West (U.S.) in literature. I. Western
                                       Literature Association (U.S.)
                          PS271.L58 1986             810'.9'978 85-50538
                                            ISBN 0-87565-021-x

                                      Design by Whitehead & Whitehead

       An excerpt from “Estimated Prophet” by John Barlow and Bob Weir is reprinted by permission of
Ice-Nine Publishing Co., Inc. © 1977, 1979 by Ice-Nine Publishing Co., Inc.
       An excerpt from “The Night Chant: A Navajo Ceremonial” is reprinted from Four Masterworks
of American Indian Literature, edited and translated by John Bierhorst. © 1974 by John Bierhorst. Re-
printed by permission of John Bierhorst.
       “Abiquiu—Thursday in Holy Week” is reprinted from New & Selected Poems by Peggy Pond
Church. © 1976 by Ahsahta Press at Boise State University. Reprinted by permission of Ahsahta Press.
       “Tin Cans at Keeler” is reprinted from If There Is Time by Hildegarde Flanner (published 1942 by
New Directions Publishing Corp.). © 1942 by Hildegarde Flanner. Reprinted by permission of Hilde-
garde Flanner.
        “The Occultation of Venus” and “Sheep Herding” by Sharlot Hall are reprinted from Women
Poets of the West: An Anthology, 1850–1950. © 1978 by Ahsahta Press at Boise State University. Re-
printed by permission of Ahsahta Press.
        An excerpt from Letter to an Imaginary Friend, Parts III & IV by Thomas McGrath is reprinted by
permission of Copper Canyon Press. © 1985 by Thomas McGrath.
        “Like Chief Joseph, the Nez Perce” is reprinted from Selected Poems by Norman Macleod. © 1975
by Ahsahta Press at Boise State University. Reprinted by permission of Ahsahta Press.
        “Tired” is reprinted from If I Could Sleep Deeply Enough, Poems by Vassar Miller, by permission of
Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1968, 1972, 1973, 1974 by Vassar Miller.
        “Black Hair” is reprinted from Black Hair by Gary Soto, by permission of the University of
Pittsburgh Press. © 1985 by Gary Soto.
        “Watching a Storm” is reprinted from In the Clock of Reason by William Stafford (published 1973
by Soft Press, Victoria, British Columbia). © 1973 William Stafford. Reprinted by permission of
William Stafford.
        “Hills Brothers Coffee” is reprinted from Seasonal Woman by Luci Tapahonso (published 1982 by
Tooth of Time Books, Santa Fe, New Mexico). © 1982 Luci Tapahonso. Reprinted by permission of
Luci Tapahonso.

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        J. Golden Taylor (1912–1982)
                SENIOR EDITOR
              Thomas J. Lyon
             Utah State University

                George F. Day
           University of Northern Iowa
              Gerald W. Haslam
            Sonoma State University
              James H. Maguire
             Boise State University

             William T. Pilkington
            Tarleton State University

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Preface                                                  XV
     Max Westbrook
Chronology                                               xxi
     Richard W. Etulain
                  PART ONE :   Encountering the West
     Introduction                                          3
           James H. Maguire
Section I: Oral Traditions
     Introduction                                          8
           James H. Maguire
     Native Oral Traditions                               11
           Larry Evers and Paul Pavich
     Folklore in the American West                        29
            Barre Toelken
Section II: The Written Donée of Western Literature
      Introduction                                        68
           James H. Maguire
     Across the Wide Missouri: The Adventure Narrative
     from Lewis and Clark to Powell                       71
            J. Golden Taylor
      The Military                                       104
            Michael Koury
      Lawmen and Outlaws                                 119
            Kent L. Steckmesser
Section III: Beginnings of Genres in the West
      Introduction                                       135
            James H. Maguire
      Precursors of the Western Novel                    141
            James K. Folsom

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    A Literary History of the American West

     The Western Story                                           152
          Gerald W. Haslam
     World Westerns: The European Writer and the American West   159
          Richard H. Cracroft
     Western Poetry, 1850-–1950                                  180
          Tom Trusky
     Western American Drama to 1960                              204
          James H. Maguire
     The Nature Essay in the West                                221
          Thomas J. Lyon
     The Western Movie to 1960                                   266
          William T. Pilkington
Section IV: Beginnings of Literary Historiography
     Introduction                                                273
          James H. Maguire
     Roosevelt, Wister, Turner, and Remington                    276
           Ben Merchant Vorpahl
     Early Western Literary Scholars                             303
           Fred Erisman
                 PART TWO :   Settled In: Many Wests
     Introduction                                                319
          James H. Maguire
Section I: The Far West
     Introduction                                                326
           James D. Houston
     Bret Harte, Mark Twain, and the San Francisco Circle        339
            Patrick D. Morrow
     Mary Hunter Austin                                          359
           Jacqueline D. Hall
     Frank Norris                                                370
            Don Graham
     Jack London                                                  381
            Earle Labor
      Robinson Jeffers                                            398
            Robert Brophy
      H. L. Davis                                                 416
            Paul T. Bryant
      John Steinbeck                                              424
            Richard Astro
      Theodore Roethke                                            447
            Kermit Vanderbilt


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    William Stafford                                                458
          J. Russell Roberts, Sr.
     William Saroyan                                                472
           Gerald W. Haaslam
     Prophets on the Burning Shore: Jack Kerouac,
     Gary Snyder, and San Francisco                                 482
           Dennis McNally
Section II: The Southwest
     Introduction                                                   496
           William T. Pilkington
     The Cowboy in Short Fiction                                    515
           W. H. Hutchinson
     The Novel of the Cowboy                                        523
           Lou Rodenberger
     J. Frank Dobie                                                 535
           Henry L. Alsmeyer, Jr.
     Harvey Fergusson                                               546
           William T. Pilkington
     Katherine Anne Porter and the Southwest                        559
           Joan Givner
      Oliver La Farge                                                   567
            Everett A. Gillis
      Paul Horgan                                                       574
       Robert Gish
      William Eastlake                                                  587
            Delbert E. Wylder
      Benjamin Capps                                                    597
            James W. Lee
      Edward Abbey                                                      604
            Ann Ronald
      Larry McMurtry                                                    612
            Jane Nelson
      The Southern Border                                               622
             Lou Rodenberger
 Section III: The Midwest
      Introduction                                                      636
             George F. Day
      Hamlin Garland and Midwest Farm Fiction                           664
             Roy W. Meyer
      Willa Cather                                                      686
             John J. Murphy
       Rølvaag and Krause: Two Novelists of the Northwest


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     A Literary History of the American West

    Prairie Frontier                                             716
          Arthur R. Huseboe
    John G. Neihardt                                             739
           Lucile Aly
     The Western Writings of Sinclair Lewis                      754
           Glen A. Love
     Mari Sandoz                                                 764
           Helen W. Stauffer
     Wright Morris                                               777
           G. B. Crump
     Frederick Manfred                                           792
           Robert C. Wright
     Thomas McGrath                                              806
           Frederick C. Stern
     Robert Bly                                                  813
           Douglas Smith
Section IV: The Rocky Mountains
     Introduction                                                822
           Levi S. Peterson
     Mormon Novels                                               849
           Kenneth B. Hunsaker
     Vardis Fisher                                               862
            Louie W. Attebery
      “Intellectualoids,” Westering, and Thomas Hornsby Ferril   887
            Tom Trusky
      Bernard DeVoto                                             899
            Wallace Stegner
      A. B. Guthrie, Jr.                                         912
            Wayne Chatterton
      Frank Waters                                                935
            Charles L. Adams
      Jack Schaefer                                               958
            Fred Erisman
      Wallace Stegner                                             971
            Joseph M. Flora
      Walter Van Tilburg Clark and the American Dream             989
             Max Westbrook
      The Northern Boundary                                      1000
             Morton L. Ross


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                PART THREE :   Rediscovering the West

     Introduction                                                   1017
           Gerald W. Haslam
Section I: Earth Tones: Ethnic Expression in American Literature
     Introduction                                                   1026
           Gerald W. Haslam
     Western American Indian Writers, 1854–1960                     1038
           A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff
     American Indian Fiction, 1968–1983                             1058
           Paula Gunn Allen
     Coyote’s Sons, Spider’s Daughters: Western American
     Indian Poetry, 1968-–1983                                          1067
           Patricia Clark Smith
     Early Mexican-American Literature                              1079
           Raymund A. Paredes
     Contemporary Mexican-American Literature, 1960–Present         1101
           Raymund A. Paredes
     Asian-American Literary Traditions                                 1119
           Jeffery Paul Chan and Marilyn Alquiloza
     Afro-American Writers in the West                                  1139
           James W. Byrd
      Scandinavian Immigrant Literature                                 1148
           Christer Lennart Mossberg
Section II: Present Trends
      Introduction                                                      1162
            Gerald W. Haslam
      Unknown Diversity: Small Presses and Little Magazines
      in the West, 1960–1980                                            1167
            Gerald W. Haslam
      Trends in Western Women’s Writing                                 1178
            Lou Rodenberger
      Contemporary Trends in Western American Fiction                   1182
            Mark Siegel
      Present Trends in Western Poetry                                  1202
            William Lockwood
      Contemporary Western Drama                                        1232
            Mark Busby


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     A Literary History of the American West

     The Western Nature Essay Since 1970                  1246
          Thomas J. Lyon
     Western Movies Since 1960                            1256
          Don Graham
     The Modern Popular Western: Radio, Television,
     Film and Print                                       1263
          Michael T. Marsden and Jack Nachbar
Epilogue: The Development of Western Literary Criticism   1283
     Martin Bucco
Major Reference Sources on the West                       1317
     George F. Day
Contributors                                              1324
Index                                                     1330


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T      HIS WORK WAS MADE POSSIBLE through the assistance of a research
       grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Augustana
       College, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, served as the business office of
the project. Dr. Arthur Huseboe, of Augustana, wrote the original grant
proposal to NEH and administered the resulting funds most efficiently.
     At Utah State University, the final gathering and editing of the text
was generously supported by William F. Lye, Vice-President for University
Relations; by Glenn R. Wilde, Associate Dean, College of Humanities,
Arts, and Social Sciences; and by Kenneth B. Hunsaker and Patricia
Gardner, who served as Heads of the English Department during the proj-
ect. Bibliographical research and compilation were handled most compe-
tently by Charlotte Wright. A very great deal of accurate typing, copying,
and proofreading was contributed unstintingly by Patricia Gordon. She was
aided by Anna Marie Ivie.
     To all these people and institutions, we owe the existence of this


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W          HEN THE PURITANS     set sail to cross the Atlantic, they were not
             going to a small, manageable island. Their destination was a con-
             tinent, a new world. Their mission, as described with the bias of
European civilization, was to establish a beachhead, a first settlement on
the beginning edge of a land that was enormous, mysterious, frightening,
and challenging. Clearly, the territory later called the American West was
going to play a major role in the development of the nation they hoped to
      The Puritans had little knowledge of what lay beyond their foothold
on the New England coast, but early explorers had told of vast lands,
strange natives, and incredible variety. The continent to the west of
Plymouth and Jamestown, with its millions of undeveloped acres, added
a massive physicality to the Puritan adventure in religious and political
      As religion receded from politics and democratic capitalism developed,
the West provided opportunities for the poor and temptations to the ex-
ploiter, thus making the American experiment a realistic testing ground for
democracy. A chapter in history began to unfold, a chapter characterized by
such materials as inspire myth-makers. Both marvelous and terrible, the de-
velopment of the West came to be symbolized in the American mind by
pioneering, Indian wars and cattle drives, by the talismanic figure of the
cowboy—a merging of Hispanic and Anglo traditions—by the heroic yet
shameful railroad story, by miners, farmers, and loggers; and, at the end of
the trail, in the promised land of California, there was a pot of gold. Back
east, White House policies and Congressional debates often centered on
the lands and riches of the West. From colonial times to the present day,
recognition of the importance of the West to American history has been
clear and continuous.
      The importance of western literature as a part of our national litera-
ture, however, has not been established. With professors and readers of his-
tory, the frontier has always been a respected topic. With professors and


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      A Literary History of the American West

readers of literature, to mention frontier stories is to evoke automatic
thoughts of popular stereotypes. While the term “western history” may sug-
gest Thomas Macaulay, Francis Parkman, Washington Irving, Frederick
Jackson Turner, Henry Nash Smith, Bernard DeVoto, and Richard
Hofstadter, the term “western literature” suggests for most such names as
Owen Wister, Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, and various Hollywood actors
from Tom Mix to John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.
     The contributing authors of A Literary History of the American West
have avoided the polemical trap of a special pleading and concentrated on
presenting and analyzing their assigned topics. Yet one of the major under-
lying purposes of A Literary History of the American West is, by demonstra-
tion rather than defensiveness, to support the ongoing introduction of west-
ern literary riches to readers interested in American literature, culture,
and history.
     Admittedly, as always, there are problems in the court of literary eval-
uation. Those who study the literature of the American West tend to be-
lieve there is an entrenched prejudice in favor of minor novels and medi-
ocre poems written amidst the cultural prestige of England or New England
and a prejudice against excellent novels and poems written about the harsh
plains of Nebraska or the unprestigious deserts of Nevada. Still, the West
has produced no William Faulkner, no giant with enough original power to
make prejudicial rankings collapse; and, regrettably, some attempts to de-
fend the worth of serious western literature have been strident attacks on
the eastern establishment or somewhat sentimental praise of the local be-
cause it is local.
     Since the founding of the Western Literature Association in 1966,
however, the attitude of teachers and critics of western literature has been
characterized by a disinterest in proselytizing and a confidence in their
chosen field of study. The belief, stated simply, is that the literature of the
American West, although handicapped by association with Hollywood
horse operas and stereotypical paperbacks sold in bus stations, includes a
large body of first-rate literary art. Western literature of quality, much of it
unknown to the reading public, honors the dramatic invitation of western
history. The American West plays an important role in the history of the
nation; western literature, as demonstrated by A Literary History of the
American West, plays an important role in the literature of the nation.
     The editorial problem, in fact, has not been how to find western litera-
ture of quality but, rather, how to organize and present an enormous and
remarkably varied body of such literature. The first step, obviously, was to
gather the troops, a group of scholar-critics with a variety of knowledge
equal to the task. The Western Literature Association and its journal—
Western American Literature—provided the forum necessary for identifying


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and organizing over seventy scholars with specializations that include major
writers of the American West, regional literatures and historical periods, a
wide range of genres and literary methods, and literatures written—or
spoken—in languages other than English.
      Gathering an appropriate group of scholars turned out to be less diffi-
cult than conceptual questions about the project itself. The history of the
American West has been defined by groups conscious of their own history
but too often unaware or unappreciative of any other history. Anglo pio-
neers, for example, tended to think of themselves as moving into a new
world, that is, one not characterized by their notion of civilization; and yet
up ahead were unknown millions of indigenous citizens, many with an oral
tradition of power and sophistication. Moving into a supposedly new world,
the Anglo pioneer was actually moving into a very old world. Likewise, the
oversimplification of “red” versus “American” ignores long-established His-
panic civilizations in the Southwest and in California, the influence of
French trappers and missionaries, Scandinavian developments in north-
central America, German communities established in Texas and through-
out the West, and the stories of blacks, Asians, and literally dozens of other
ethnic groups.
      The assumption that the American West was settled by Anglo pioneers
moving out from gateways such as Independence, Missouri, in fact, needs
reconsideration in the light of theories which emphasize the importance of
the largely Hispanic movements from the south and the importance of
largely Scandinavian movements following a northern route into the Dako-
tas and surrounding territories. Western literature, being concerned with
what happened and with what various people thought was happening,
moves around in history and the history of consciousness in ways that are
difficult for the scholar to map.
      The editors have also had to face the fact that regionalism, from the
beginnings to the present day, is intrinsic to the best of western literature as
well as to the mediocre and, often, the worst—the most formulaic. Thus
the editors confronted an old paradox: literary art tends to achieve universal
significance by devotion to a specific locale, a region. Homer, according to
Hamlin Garland, was a regionalist. If Garland’s example of a universal-
regionalist seems extreme, then Henry David Thoreau and William Faulkner
will make the case for him. The problem of a regional literature ambitious
for national and international recognition is, in the present instance, acute.
      Among numerous other editorial problems, at least one requires men-
tion. Just as regional, chronological, and ethnic headings do not provide a
neat shape for the literary historian, so does the essential term, western,
refuse to cooperate with the scholar seeking clarity. Definitions in terms of
geography, themes, subject matter, or the residence of the authors have all


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     A Literary History of the American West

proved unsatisfactory; and attempts to discover a distinctively western style
or vision, while rewarding, are not definitive. The best definitions, perhaps,
are studies in practical criticism which invite further analysis rather than
campaign for an end to analysis.
      As the Table of Contents makes clear, the editorial decisions are a se-
ries of compromises. The beginning, certainly, is “Native Oral Traditions,”
even though the concerted and ongoing study of Indian literature is a fairly
recent enterprise.
      Other beginnings are explored in essays on the development of various
genres—including poetry and drama—and in essays on types of prose some-
times associated with culture or history rather than literary art. Nature es-
says, for example, are a necessary topic for study because they challenge our
theoretical distinctions between art and non-art and often capture that
sense of place, of land, which is for many the very soul of western literature.
Folklore-and this is true for other literatures—is often the raw material of
formal art; and gunfights and cowboy movies, a sore point for many serious
western artists, are entangled in the minds of writers and readers even if
only as destructive myths in need of purgation. And popular culture, of
course, regardless of artistic merit, is a revealing and important field of
      The arrangement of Part Two, although easier to outline than to de-
fend, seemed required by the recurrent emphasis on specific locale. Just as
Faulkner devoted himself to his “postage stamp” of the world and found it
inexhaustible, so have many western writers found a complete world in the
Southwest, the Midwest, the Rocky Mountains. The fourth regional divi-
sion, the Far West, may be a legitimate category for its consistent defiance
of all categories. Historically, the Far West was often the goal of western
expansion, and yet it was also the end of expansion, the place where pio-
neers turned back from the ocean and faced the East. Oregon Territory
loomed in the national psyche as the ultimate in newness, and yet Califor-
nia, the neighboring state, was an old and established civilization. A para-
dise of fertile land and mineral wealth, but also a land of corruption and
violent injustice, the coast as paradox has inspired a number of literary
      Part Three, “Rediscovering the West, ” is a shift in organizational prin-
ciple required by the fact that so much of the ethnic literature of the Ameri-
can West has received even less recognition than novels and poems by
Anglo writers. The editorial rationale here lies in the history of improving
consciousness rather than the history of the literature itself. Belatedly, there
is a widespread effort to recognize the art of ethnic minorities and a burst of
energy both in criticism and in creativity.
      “Present Trends,” a sub-division of Part Three, returns to the principle


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of chronology; but the decision, while a compromise, is not arbitrary. There
is, both in the West and in the nation generally, a small press renaissance in
progress. Major publishers, in part because new owners are less willing than
their predecessors to work for literature as well as profit, are widely believed
to be uninterested in taking a chance on a new writer or on a veteran who
has never had a best seller.
      A full description of the small press business has not been written; but
it is well known that while some small presses do not last the season of their
birth, many endure with surprising tenacity. In major cities, and often in
small towns, an enormous number of active and serious publishers and writ-
ers constitute a national small press industry. Although important, the
trend is not exclusive, of course. As made clear in each of several chapters,
many western novelists and even a few poets do enjoy a happy relation with
a major publishing firm, nature writing continues to be an important genre,
and there are quality western films made in major studios.
      In the Epilogue, Martin Bucco describes the course of western literary
criticism from its beginnings to the present. He does for western criticism,
in short compass, what George Saintsbury (History of Criticism and Literary
Taste in Europe) and René Wellek (History of Modern Criticism: 1750–1950)
have done, on a monumental scale, for comparative criticism.
      The need for a literary history of the American West was first expressed
quite casually, over coffee, by various members of the Western Literature
Association. Afterwards, during a plenary session, the idea met with imme-
diate and total agreement. The significance of the apparently innocent in-
ception of this literary history is that scholars and critics of western Ameri-
can literature had already realized the existence of a third stage in the
development of a western literature.
      The first stage was the history itself, events culminating, at least in our
consciousness, in a period of about fifty years, roughly the second half of the
nineteenth century. The second stage was the emergence of a large and var-
ied body of literature. The development of a responsible criticism, a move-
ment of the past twenty-five years or so, is the third stage.
      Broad generalizations need, of course, the obvious qualifications; but a
surprising amount of the best of western literature has been written in the
twentieth century but set in the nineteenth. Perhaps the historical develop-
ment of the West went forward at such a heady pace that we are, distanced
by time, not as surrogate pioneers but for ourselves, still trying to absorb the
glories, cruelties, and stubborn endurance that characterized the westering
      Along with the continuing effort to understand what has happened,
however, there is a large and increasing number of talented writers who
focus their attention on life in the West as it is today. Appropriately, in


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      A Literary History of the American West

undertaking the writing of a literary history that must confront such long-
running and yet ever-changing concerns, the editors and authors of A Liter-
ary History of the American West believe they have contributed to the begin-
nings of serious study. Far from thinking of this volume as the last word, the
members of the Editorial Board have expressed their hope that the present
undertaking will encourage further work in the literary history of the West.
      Relevant to encouragement is the Board’s decision not to impose a
lock-step marching order on contributors in matters of critical approach.
Anyone who reads in this volume will note that some of the chapters are
strongly interpretive, others more general and neutral. This diversity of ap-
proach and tone represents the editors’ recognition of the variety in western
literature, the relative freshness of the West, and—therefore—its invita-
tion to many different types of criticism. Understandably, there are prob-
lems and topics yet to be confronted.
      A proper thanks for work done is not possible in an undertaking of this
magnitude. Too many have made important contributions. A complete list,
certainly, would begin with the names in the Table of Contents, those who
did the actual research and writing. The Board of Editors, which changed
during the working process, would come next: the late J. Golden Taylor,
first elected Editor-in-Chief; Thomas J. Lyon, who took up the unfinished
task and saw it through to completion; William T. Pilkington, James
Maguire, and George F. Day, who joined the Board at a time when their
scholarship and industry were essential; and, the editor who served the
longest and deserves a special word of thanks, Gerald Haslam.
      Finally, the support of the members of the Western Literature Associa-
tion and a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humani-
ties are gratefully acknowledged, along with thanks to Arthur Huseboe,
who worked patiently and efficiently in securing financial support for the
      Literary histories, of course, do not have a reason for being unless there
exists the literature itself. This volume, perhaps more than others of its
kind, is an expression of appreciation for the talented and dedicated literary
artists who ignored the odds, avoided temptations to write for popularity or
prestige, and chose to write honestly about the American West, believing
that experiences long known to be of historical importance are also experi-
ences that need and deserve a literature of importance.

                                 M AX W E S T B R O O K ,   University of Texas


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           A Historical Chronology of the Frontier and
                       the American West

1507:       Western Hemisphere first called America
1513:       Vasco Nuñez de Balboa crosses Panama to discover the Pacific Ocean
1540–42:    Francisco Vásquez de Coronado explores the interior Southwest
1541–42:    Hemando de Soto travels through Arkansas and Oklahoma
1598:       Juan de Oñate plants settlements in northern New Mexico
1607:       Frontier settlements in Jamestown, Virginia
1609–10:    Founding of Santa Fe, New Mexico
1620–21:    Pilgrims organize Plymouth, Massachusetts
1630:       Boston, Massachusetts, is settled by the Puritans
1673:       Pére Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet explore the Great Lakes and
               Mississippi Valley
1680:       Pueblo Revolt, the Indians drive the Spaniards out of New Mexico
1692:       Don Diego de Vargas begins successful reconquest of New Mexico
1706:       Founding of Albuquerque, New Mexico
1734:       Birth of Daniel Boone (1734–1820), first frontier literary hero
1763:       Treaty of Paris ends French and Indian War and cedes French Canada
               and trans-Appalachian West to England; Louisiana given to France
1769–70ff: Spanish establish missions from San Diego to the Bay Area
1783:       Treaty of Paris ends American Revolution and extends U.S. borders
               to the Mississippi River
1803:       Louisiana Purchase from France doubles the size of the nation
1804–06: Lewis and Clark expedition, first major exploration into the recently
               acquired area of the Louisiana Purchase
1805–07: Zebulon M. Pike explores the Mississippi and Colorado and New
1812–15: War of 1812 pushes the British from most of the frontier
1818:       Convention of 1818 fixes the U.S.-Canadian border west to the
1819, 1821: Transcontinental (Adams-Onís) Treaty provides boundary for Texas,
              Nevada, and California
1819–20: Major Stephen H. Long explores the Southwest
1820:       Missouri Compromise attempts to solve the growing slavery


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        A Literary History of the American West

1821:      Mexico wins independence from Spain and assumes control of the
           Hudson’s Bay Company absorbs its major British competitor, the
              North-West Company
           Beginning of the Santa Fe Trail
1822:      Jedediah Smith ( 1799–1831) makes first of many western explorations
1820s–30s: Halcyon years of the American fur trade and mountain man era in the
              Rockies and the Southwest
1830:      Organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; pub-
              lication of Book of Mormon
1835–36: Texas Revolution and establishment of Republic of Texas (1835–45)
1842:      John Charles Frémont makes first of several western explorations
1843:      First major groups travel the Oregon Trail to the Pacific Northwest
1845:      Annexation of Texas as a state
           Journalist John L. O’Sullivan writes about Manifest Destiny
1846:      Oregon Country is divided at 49° between U.S. and England (Canada)
1846–47: Mormons leave Nauvoo, Illinois, travel along the Mormon Trail, and
              begin to settle in the Salt Lake valley
1846–48: Americans fight and win the Mexican-American War and thereby
              wrest control of the Southwest from Mexico
1848:      Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo promises to respect Mexican rights in
              recently captured areas but fails to do so
1848–49:   Gold is discovered in California and thousands flood west to the
1850:      California becomes the first far-western state
           Compromise of 1850 tries to solve boundary and slave controversies
              in the Southwest
1851:      Ft. Laramie Treaty, major attempt to make peace with Plains Indians
1853:      Gadsden Purchase completes present border between U.S. and
           Beginning of the bloody struggle over slavery in Kansas and Nebraska
1854:      Kansas-Nebraska reignites national slavery controversy
1856:      “Bleeding Kansas” results from the struggle over the extension of
1857–58: The Utah or Mormon “war”
1857:      Mountain Meadows Massacre
           Establishment of the Overland Mail Company to carry mail to the
              West Coast
1858:      Completion of the first stagecoach and mail service from Missouri to
1858–59: Gold discoveries lead to rushes to Nevada and Colorado
1859:      Oregon becomes a state
1859–60: Mining rushes to Nevada, Colorado, and Idaho
1860–61: Pony Express crosses the West
1861:      Completion of first telegraph connecting the East and West


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1861–65:   Civil War has large impact on the West although few battles take
              place west of the Mississippi
1862:      Homestead Act provides inexpensive land for western pioneers
           Morrill or Land Grant Act sets aside lands for colleges of agricultural
              or mechanical arts
           Pacific Railroad Act helps pave the way for transcontinental railway
              with generous land grants to the Union Pacific and Central Pacific
1864:      Sand Creek Massacre in which John Chivington and the Colorado
              Volunteers destroy a band of Cheyennes
1865–67:   Continued battles with the western Sioux
1867:      The purchase of Alaska
           The Dominion of Canada is established
1868:      Founding of University of California, Berkeley
           The Overland Monthly begins publication
1869:      First transcontinental railroad joins at Promontory Point, Utah
1872:      Establishment of Yellowstone National Park, world’s first national
1874:      Barbed wire fence patented
1876:      Battle of the Little Bighorn—Custer’s Last Stand (June 25)
1877:      Retreat of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce
           Black Exodusters migrate to Kansas
1878:      Timber and Stone Act, a land grant for western pioneers
1879:      Publication of Henry George’s reformist study Progress and Poverty
1881:      Helen Hunt Jackson’s expose of Indian reforms and conditions, A
              Century of Dishonor
1882–83:   Transcontinental railroads completed to southern California and Pa-
              cific Northwest
1885–87:   Severe winters in Rockies and Plains destroy thousands of cattle and
              many ranchers
1886:      Capture of Geronimo ends major wars with Indians
1887:      Dawes Severalty (General Allotment) Act attempts to Americanize
              Indians through outright gifts of land
1889:      Beginning of Oklahoma land booms
1889–91:   Ghost Dance and Battle of Wounded Knee end armed conflicts with
1890:      Woodruff Manifesto proclaims end of Mormon polygamy
           U.S. Census Bureau announces the closing of the frontier
1891:      The Populist Party is established
1892:      Sierra Club founded
1893:      Severe national depression sweeps through the West
           Completion of the Great Northern Railroad from Minnesota to the
              Pacific Northwest
           Frederick Jackson Turner delivers his key essay “The Significance of
              the Frontier in American History”


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        A Literary History of the American West

1896:       William McKinley defeats William Jennings Bryan for the presidency
               and much of the Populist movement disappears
1897–98: Last major gold rush to the Yukon and Alaska
1898:       Sunset Magazine begins as regional West Coast journal
            Spanish-American War includes the famous Rough Riders, who were
               mostly westerners
1900ff:     Carmel, California, and Taos-Santa Fe, New Mexico, begin as no-
               table artistic-literary colonies
1902:       Oregon institutes initiative and referendum laws
1903:       Great Train Robbery, first Western film; produced in New Jersey
1904:       A. P. Giannini establishes Bank of Italy in San Francisco, which be-
               comes the Bank of America in 1930
1905:       Establishment of Industrial Workers of the World, radical labor union
1906:       San Francisco earthquake and fire
            San Francisco segregates oriental children
1907:       Publication of Spirit of American Government, J. Allen Smith’s pro-
               gressive treatise
1907–08: “Gentlemen’s Agreement” notes place restrictions on Japanese
1909–10: Milwaukee Road and Western Pacific, last of the transcontinental
               railroads, completed to the Pacific
1910:       Election of Hiram Johnson, Progressive governor of California
            The Pinchot-Ballinger controversy over conservation policy
1910ff:     Hollywood becomes major location for the production of films
1912:       Hiram Johnson runs unsuccessfully with Theodore Roosevelt as vice-
               presidential candidate of the Progressive Party
1914:       William S. Hart stars in his first major Western film
            Completion of the Panama Canal, a new route to the West Coast
1914, 1916: U.S. invasions of Mexico
1914–15: Founding of the Non-Partisan League, socialistic political group in
               the Rockies and northern Plains
1915:       Death of IWW hero, Joe Hill, by firing squad, on a murder charge
1916:       Congress authorizes the establishment of a National Park Service
            Jeanette Rankin, Montana Congresswoman, first woman elected to
1917–18: U.S. involvement in World War I brings great socioeconomic changes
               to the West
1918:       Noted U.S. cultural figure, Mabel Dodge (Luhan), arrives in New
1919–20: Western senators Hiram Johnson and William E. Borah lead suc-
               cessful fight against Treaty of Paris and League of Nations
1919:       Seattle General Strike (February 6–11) attacked by conservatives as
               evidence of communist infiltration in the Far West
1920:       Nineteenth Amendment ratified, giving vote to women
1920s:      Los Angeles becomes the automobile-driving capital of the U.S.


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            Airplane manufacturing begins on the West Coast
            Rapid development of dude ranches in the West
1922:       Oregon becomes major stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan
            Aimee Semple McPherson builds Angelus Temple in Los Angeles
            First one-day, coast-to-coast air flight
1923–24:    Teapot Dome oil scandal
1924–28:    McNary-Haugen Bill to aid farmers first defeated in Congress and
               then twice vetoed by President Calvin Coolidge
1928:       First sound motion pictures
            Herbert Hoover, first western president, elected
1929:       Great Depression strikes the West
1930s:      The West experiences the Depression, Dust Bowl, and New Deal
1931:       Walter Prescott Webb, The Great Plains, major historical reinterpreta-
               tion of the West
            Gambling is legalized in Nevada
1933ff:     New Deal and its policies profoundly transform the West
1934:       Indian Reorganization (Wheeler-Howard) Act revises the Dawes Act
               of 1887 and places more emphasis on Indian self-identification
            Taylor Grazing Act authorizes policies for open-range grazing
            Upton Sinclair loses as Democratic finalist for the governorship of
               California (End Poverty in California campaign)
1935:       Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicates Boulder (Hoover) Dam
1935–40:    Federal arts, guides, and theatre projects under the Works Progress
1939:       Release of Stagecoach, the classic John Ford–John Wayne Western
1941:       Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and U.S. joins World War II
1941–45:    Economic and social disruptions of World War II transform the West
1942–43:    Racial conflicts in Sleepy Lagoon Case and zoot suit riots
1942–44:    Internment of Japanese-Americans in detention camps in the interior
            Henry J. Kaiser builds giant wartime plants in coastal states
1943:       First Los Angeles smog
1945:       First atomic bomb exploded in New Mexico
            United Nations charter written in San Francisco
1940–50s:   Beats and North Beach area involved in the San Francisco Renaissance
1948:       Beginning of uranium rushes to the Southwest
1950–53:    Far West becomes jumping off place for Americans involved in the
               Korean War
1952:       General Dwight D. Eisenhower, westerner, is elected president
1958:       Alaska admitted to statehood
1959:       Hawaii becomes the fiftieth state
1960:       Los Angeles third largest U.S. city (population 2,479,015) behind
               New York and Chicago


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        A Literary History of the American West

1962:          California surpasses New York as the most populous state
               César Chávez organizes the National Farm Workers Association
1963:          President John F. Kennedy is assassinated and Texan Lyndon B.
                 Johnson becomes president (1963–69)
1964:          Two westerners, Lyndon B. Johnson and Barry Goldwater, compete
                 for the presidency
               Congress enacts the Wilderness Act, creating a National Wilderness
                 Preservation system
1965:          Watts riots in Los Angeles
1968:          Californian Richard Nixon wins the presidency (1969–74)
1969:          Indians seize and hold Alcatraz as protest against government policies
1970:          Organization of the National Indian Youth Council
1973:          Confrontation between Indians and government officials at Wounded
                 Knee, South Dakota
1977–78:       Decline and fall of Rev. James Jones and the People’s Temple
1978:          California voters uphold Proposition 13, limiting local taxation
1980:          “Boat people” and other Southeast Asians move into western U.S.
               Los Angeles remains third largest city behind New York and Chicago
               Ronald Reagan, former cowboy movie star and California governor,
                 elected to the White House


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          A Literary Chronology of the American West

During the millennia before the arrival of the Europeans in North America,
a rich oral tradition flourished on this continent. Myths, legends, and songs
were passed from generation to generation.
1510:        Las Sergas de Esplandián, by Garcí Rodríguez Ordóñez de Montalvo,
               describes California
1539:       The image of a golden West is sketched in Report of Fray Marcos de
1542:       Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, La Relacion, first captivity narrative
1610:       Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá History of New Mexico, verse narrative
1630:       Fray Alonso de Benavides, Memorial
1682:       Mary Rowlandson, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God (better known
               as The Narrative of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson), first captivity narrative
               in English
1778:       Jonathan Carver, Three Years Travels Through the Interior Parts of North-
1782:       Hector St. Jean de Crévecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer, first
               notable philosophical consideration of frontier life
1783:       John Ledyard, A Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage to the Pacific
1785:       Captain James Cook, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean
1790:       John Meares, Voyages Made in the Years 1788 and 1789
1799:       Russian explorer A. A. Baranov, “Song,” first poem by a white com-
               posed in the West
            Charles Brockden Brown, Edgar Huntly, early portrait of Indians in
1801:       George Vancouver, A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean
              and Round the World
            François René de Chateaubriand, Atala, early example of romantic
1810:       Zebulon M. Pike, An Account of Expeditions to the Sources of the Missis-
               sippi and Through the Western Parts
1814:       Nicholas Biddle and Paul Allen edit History of the [Lewis and Clark]
               Expedition, first publication of expedition journals
1822:       Edwin James, Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky
              Mountains, chronicle of the Stephen H. Long expedition
1823:       James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers, first of the five Leatherstocking
              Tales; introduced western hero to England and Europe
1826:       Timothy Flint, Francis Berrian, first novel in English set in the


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        A Literary History of the American West

1827:         Timothy Flint begins publication of Western Monthly Review (1827–
                 30), first magazine published west of the Allegheny Mountains
1829:          Tokeah; or, The White Rose by Charles Sealsfield (Karl Postl)
1831:         James Ohio Pattie, The Personal Narrative of James O. Pattie, early
                 travel narrative of California and the Southwest
1832:         Albert Pike, “The Fall of Poland,” in his Prose Sketches and Poems
                 Written in the Western Country; first poem in English by a white and
                 composed in the West
1835:         Washington Irving, A Tour on the Prairies
1836:         Washington Irving, Astoria
1837:         Washington Irving, The Adventures of Captain Bonneville
1839:         John K. Townsend, Narrative of a Journey Across the Rocky Mountains
                 and the Colorado River to the Sandwich Islands
1840:         Richard Henry Dana, Two Years Before the Mast, travel account deal-
                 ing in part with Spanish California
1841:          Das Kajütenbuch (The Cabin Book) by Charles Sealsfield (Karl Postl)
              George Catlin, North American Indians
1843:         Frederick Marryat, The Travels and Adventures of Monsieur R. Violet in
                 California, Sonora, and Western Texas
              Father Pierre De Smet, Letters and Sketches
              Thomas J. Farnham, Travels in the Great Western Prairies
1844:         George Wilkins Kendall, Narrative of the Texan-Santa Fé Expedition
              Josiah Gregg, Commerce of the Prairies
1846:         John C. Frémont, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky
                 Mountains in the Year 1842
1847:         David H. Coyner, The Lost Trappers
1848:         Die Flusspiraten des Mississippi (River Pirates of the Mississippi) by
                 Friedrich Gerstäcker
1849:         George Horatio Derby (John Phoenix), first western humorist, arrives
                 in California
              Francis Parkman, The California and Oregon Trail
              George Frederick Ruxton, Life in the Far West, Englishman’s views of
                 mountain men, Indians, and traders
1850:         Lewis H. Garrard, Wah-To-Yah and the Taos Trail, classic account of
                 trapper life by American teenager
              Bayard Taylor, El Dorado
1851:         The Scalp Hunters by Mayne Reid
1853:         Alonzo Delano, Pen Knife Sketches; or, Chips of the Old Block
1854:         John Rollin Ridge, The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Cele-
                 brated California Bandit, first novel by a Native American
              Margaret Jewett Bailey, The Grains, or Passages in the Life of Ruth
                 Rover, first novel of the Northwest
              Alonzo Delano, Across the Plains and Among the Diggings
1855:         Mrs. Maria Ward, Female Life Among the Mormons
1856:         George Horatio Derby, Phoenixiana


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        The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, as dictated to T. D.
1857:   James G. Swan, The Northwest Coast
        Alonzo Delano, A Live Woman in the Mines
1858:   Juan Seguín, Personal Memoirs
        Les Trppeurs de l’Arkansas (The Trappers of Arkansas) by Gustave
1860:   Horace Greeley, Overland Journey
        Moncure Daniel Conway edits first midwestem little magazine, The
1861:   Der Halbindianer ( The Half-Breed ) by Balduin Möllhausen
1864:   J. Ross Browne, Crusoe’s Island
        Theodore Winthrop, The Canoe and the Saddle
1865:   Mark Twain, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”
        Charles Farrar Browne, Artemus Ward, His Travels
        Outcroppings: Being Selections of California Verse, edited by Bret Harte,
           first Far West poetry anthology
1866:   Bret Harte and Mark Twain establish themselves in San Francisco
        Thomas J. Dimsdale, The Vigilantes of Montana, or Popular Justice in the
           Rocky Mountains, early apology for extralegal justice in the West
        Mark Twain, The Celebrated Jumping Frog, and Other Sketches
1868:    The Overland Monthly is founded in San Francisco and publishes Bret
           Harte’s “The Luck of Roaring Camp”
1869:   Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad
        John Muir’s first summer in the Sierra
         The Luck of Routing Camp and Other Sketches, Bret Harte’s first
1870:   Bret Harte, “Plain Language from Truthful James”
1871:   Cincinnatus Hiner [Joaquin] Miller, Songs of the Sierras, published in
1872:   Mark Twain, Roughing It
        Clarence King, Mountaneering in the Sierra Nevada
1874:   George A. Custer, My Life on the Plains
        Nicolai Severin Hassel, Alf Brage eller skolelaereren i Minnesota En
           original norsk-amerkansk fortelling (Alf Brage, or the Schoolteacher in
           Minnesota: An original Norwegian-American Story), first Norwegian-
           American novel
1875:   John Wesley Powell, The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its
1876:    Dan de Quille (William Wright), The Big Bonanza
1878:    Joaquin Miller, The Danites (First Families in the Sierras, 1875)
1879:    Arthur Morecamp (Thomas Pilgrim), Live Boys; or Charley and Nasho
           in Texas
1881:    Bill Nye (Edgar Wilson Nye) founds Laramie Boomerang, a newspaper
            outlet for Nye’s comic sketches


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        A Literary History of the American West

              Isabella L. Bird, A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains
1883:         Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, Life Among the Piutes, first autobiogra-
                phy and tribal history by an Indian woman
              Mary Hallock Foote, The Led-Horse Claim
              E. W. Howe, The Story of a Country Town
              Robert Louis Stevenson, The Silverado Squatters
1884:         Helen Hunt Jackson, Ramona
1885:         Charles A. Siringo, A Texas Cow Boy, or Fifteen Years on the Hurricane
                Deck of a Spanish Pony
              Elizabeth B. Custer, Boots and Saddles, or Life in Dakota with General
              Kristofer Janson, Praeriens saga (Saga of the Prairies)
1887:         Josiah Royce, The Feud of Oakfield Creek
              Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet
1888:         Frances Courtenay Baylor, Juan and Juanita
              James Bryce, The American Commonwealth, Englishman’s view of
1890:         Adolph Bandelier, The Delight Makers
1891:         Hamlin Garland, Main-Travelled Roads
              John Gregory Bourke, On the Border with Crook
1892:         Eusabio Chacon, El hijo de la tempestad (Son of the Tempest) and Tras la
                 tormenta la calma (Calm After the Storm)
1893:         Charles F. Lummis, The Land of Poco Tiempo
              Karl May, Winnetou
1894:         John Muir, The Mountains of California
              A. S. Mercer, The Banditti of the Plains
              Hamlin Garland, Crumbling Idols
1895:         Founding of The Lark, little magazine in San Francisco
              The Land of Sunshine, edited by Charles F. Lummis (1895–1909)
              The Wave, literary magazine edited by James O’Hara Cosgrave
              Carl Hansen, Praeriens børn (Children of the Prairie)
1897:         Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville
1898:         Ernest Thompson Seton, Wild Animals I Have Known
              Frank Norris, Moran of the Lady Letty, his first novel
              Nephi Anderson, Added Upon
              Gertrude Atherton, The Californians
1899:         Frank Norris, McTeague: A Story of San Francisco
              Edwin Markham, “The Man with the Hoe”
1900:         Jack London, The Son of the Wolf, his first book
              Francis LaFlesche, The Middle Five, book-length autobiography by
1901:         Frank Norris, The Octopus: A Story of California
              John G. Neihardt, “The Divine Enchantment,” his first major poem
1902:         Owen Wister, The Virginian
              Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa; Sioux), Indian Boyhood


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        Gertrude Atherton, The Splendid Idle Forties
        Frederic Remington, John Ermine of the Yellowstone
1903:   Mary Austin, The Land of Little Rain
        Jack London, Call of the Wild and The People of the Abyss
        Andy Adams, The Log of a Cowboy
        Billy the Kid, play by Walter Woods
1904:   John C. Van Dyke, The Desert
        Mary Austin, The Basket Woman
1905:   Emerson Hough, Heart’s Desire
1906:   William Vaughn Moody, The Great Divide
        George Wharton James, The Wonders of the Colorado Desert
        B. M. Bower (Bertha Sinclair Muzzy), Chip of the Flying U
        Thomas Hornsby Ferril, “A Mountain Thought,” first published poem
         Early Western Travels, edited by Reuben Thwaites, multivolume col-
           lection of major western travel and exploration narratives
1907:   O. Henry (William Sydney Porter), Heart of the West
        Oliver O. Howard, My Life and Experiences Among Our Hostile Indians
1908:   Martha Summerhayes, Vanished Arizona: Recollections of the Army Life
           of a New England Woman
1909:   Founding of Texas Folklore Society
        Jack London, Martin Eden
        Frances M. A. Roe, Army Letters from an Officer’s Wife
        Enos Mills, Wild Life on the Rockies
1910:   Eugene Manlove Rhodes, Good Men and True
1911:   Sharlot Hall, Cactus and Pine, collection of western poems
1912:   Robinson Jeffers, Flagons and Apples, first volume of poems
        Zane Grey, Riders of the Purple Sage
        John Muir, The Yosemite
        Ole Rølvaag, Amerika-Breve (Letters from America), first novel
1913:   Willa Cather, O Pioneers!, her first farm novel
        Oscar Micheaux, The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer, first
           novel by a black in the West
1914:   Robinson Jeffers moves to Carmel, California, with his new wife Una
        Osborne Russell, Journal of a Trapper, notable mountain man
1915:   Founding of Midland, regional literary magazine, by John T. Frederick
        Harry Leon Wilson, Rugggles of Red Gap
        Southwest Review begins publication (Texas Review, 1915–24)
        John G. Neihardt publishes first Song of Epic Cycle of the West (other
          four Songs in 1919, 1925, 1935, 1941)
        Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark
1916:   Charles A. Eastman (Sioux), From the Deep Woods to Civilization
1917:   Hamlin Garland, A Son of the Middle Border
        Mary Hallock Foote, Edith Bonham
1918:   Willa Cather, My Ántonia


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        A Literary History of the American West

1919:           Will Rogers (Cherokee), Rogers-isms: The Cowboy Philosopher on the
                   Peace Conference and Rogers-isms: The Cowboy Philosopher on
                H. L. Davis wins Levinson Prize for poems in Poetry: A Magazine of
1920:           Alice Corbin (Henderson), Red Earth, an early volume drawing on
                   Indian and Hispanic traditions of the Southwest
                Sinclair Lewis, Main Street
1921:           Eugene Manlove Rhodes, Stepsons of Light
                Hamlin Garland, A Daughter of the Middle Border, wins Pulitzer Prize
                Harvey Fergusson, Blood of the Conquerors
1922:           Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt
                Dame Shirley (Louise A. K. S. Clappe), The Shirley Letters, edited by
                   Thomas Russell; important source on Gold Rush camps
                Harry Leon Wilson, Merton of the Movies
1923:           Emerson Hough, North of 36
                Willa Cather wins Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours (1922)
                Mary Austin, The American Rhythm
                Land of Sunshine merges with Overland Monthly
                Willa Cather, A Lost Lady
1924:           Sidney Howard, They Knew What They Wanted
                Mary Austin, The Land of Journeys’ Ending
                Robinson Jeffers, Tamar and Other Poems; reprinted as Roan Stallion
                   and Other Poems (1925)
1925:           Willa Cather, The Professor’s House
                Frederic Logan Paxson, History of the American Frontier, wins Pulitzer
                   Prize for history
                Dorothy Scarborough, The Wind
                Martha Ostenso, Wild Geese, her first novel of prairie farm life
                Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith, wins Pulitzer Prize for fiction
1926:           Eugene Manlove Rhodes, Pasó por Aquí
                Thomas Hornsby Ferril, High Passage, wins Yale Younger Poets Award
                Susan Shelby Magoffin, Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico
                Will James, Smoky, the Cow Horse
                Walter Noble Burns, The Saga of Billy the Kid
1927:           Ole Rølvaag, Giants in the Earth, first published in English
                Mourning Dove, Co-ge-we-a, first novel by an Indian woman
                Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop
                Vernon Louis Parrington, Main Currents in American Thought, classic
                   interpretation from western populistic perspective
                Upton Sinclair, Oil, first major novel on oil industry
                Frontier begins as regional magazine, H. G. Merriam as editor
                Prairie Schooner begins publication at the University of Nebraska
                Charles Erskine Scott Wood, Heavenly Discourses
                Harvey Fergusson, Wolf Song


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1928:   Vardis Fisher, Toilers of the Hills, first novel and first in Antelope Hills
        Lynn Riggs, A Lantern to See By
1929:   J. Frank Dobie, A Vaquero of the Brush Country
        Oliver La Farge, Laughing Boy, wins Pulitzer Prize
        Folk-Say: A Regional Miscellany, notable regional collection, B. A.
           Botkin, editor
        Wallace Thurman, The Blacker the Berry
1930:   Frances Gillmor, Windsinger
        Edna Ferber, Cimarron
        Sinclair Lewis becomes first American writer to be awarded a Nobel
        Max Brand (Frederick Faust), Destry Rides Again
        J. Frank Dobie, Coronado’s Children, folk tales of the Southwest
        Writers’ Editions cooperative of Santa Fe begins publishing south-
           western works
        Katherine Anne Porter, Flowering Judas, first collection of short
        Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon, first Sam Spade novel
1931:   New Mexico Review begins, T. M. Pearce and Dudley Winn, editors
        Ole Rølvaag, Their Fathers’ God, his final prairie novel
        Lynn Riggs (Cherokee), Green Grow the Lilacs, play from which the
           musical Oklahoma was made
        Robert Cantwell, Laugh and Lie Down
1932:   Bernard DeVoto, Mark Twain’s America, sets off argument with Van
           Wyck Brooks on Mark Twain, the West, and American culture
        John Joseph Mathews (Osage), Wah’ Kon-Tah
        Mary Austin, Earth Horizon
        Maxwell Anderson, Night over Taos
        John G. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks
1933:   Frederick Jackson Turner, The Significance of Sections in American His-
           tory, wins Pulitzer Prize for history
        Robinson Jeffers, Give Your Heart to the Hawks
        T. M. Pearce and Telfair Hendon, eds., America in the Southwest: A
           Regional Anthology
        The Lone Ranger, WXYZ Radio, Detroit
1934:   Robert Cantwell, The Land of Plenty
        Ruth Suckow, The Folks
        William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and
           Other Stories, his first collection
        Thomas Hornsby Ferril, Westering
1935:   Paul Horgan, No Quarter Given, his first novel about the Southwest
        Bernard DeVoto begins his twenty-one-year stint as writer of the Easy
           Chair column in Harper’s
        Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie


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        A Literary History of the American West

              Robert E. Sherwood, The Petrified Forest
              Mari Sandoz, Old Jules, wins Atlantic Non-Fiction Prize
              H. L. Davis, Honey in the Horn, wins Harper Prize 1935; Pulitzer Prize
              John Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat
              Overland Monthly ceases publication
              George Stewart, Bret Harte: Argonaut and Exile
1936:         John Steinbeck, In Dubious Battle
              Sophus Winther, Take All to Nebraska, first of three novels about
                 Americans on the frontier
              Bernard DeVoto begins brief stint as editor of Saturday Review of Liter-
                 ature (1936-38)
              Lynn Riggs, Cherokee Night, first play by Indian writer on an Indian
              D’Arcy McNickle, The Surrounded
              George Milburn, Catalogue: A Novel
1937:         Conrad Richter, The Sea of Grass
              E. P. Conkle, Two Hundred Were Chosen
              John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men
              Wallace Stegner, Remembering Laughter, his first novel wins the Little,
                 Brown novelette prize
              Oliver La Farge, The Enemy Gods
              Intermountain Review (later Rocky Mountain Review and Western Re-
                 v i e w) begins publication, edited by Ray B. West
1938:         Mabel Major, Rebecca Smith, and T. M. Pearce, eds., Southwest
              Robinson Jeffers, Selected Poetry
              John Steinbeck, The Long Valley
1939:         William Attaway, Let Me Breathe Thunder
              William Saroyan, The Time of Your Life, wins Pulitzer Prize (1940) but
                 he declines the award
               Paul Corey, Three Miles Square, first of Mantz trilogy
               Vardis Fisher, Children of God, wins Harper Prize
               Franklin Walker, San Francisco’s Literary Frontier
              John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, wins Pulitzer Prize
               Katherine Anne Porter, Pale Horse, Pale Rider
              J. Frank Dobie’s Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver wins first Texas Institute
                 of Letters award for best book by a Texan
               Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep
               Nathanael West, The Day of the Locust
               Carey McWilliams, Factories in the Fields, revisionist study of farm
               William Everson, San Joaquin
               Aldous Huxley, After Many a Summer Dies the Swan


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        Joseph Henry Jackson, Bad Company
1940:   Yvor Winters, Poems
        Walter Van Tilburg Clark, The Ox-Bow Incident
        William Saroyan, My Name is Aram
        Judy Van Der Veer, November Grass
        Alan Swallow publishes first book: Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn
           Warren, eds., Signets: An Anthology of Beginnings
        Edward and Charles Weston, California and the West
        Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely
        Paul Bailey, For This My Glory
        John Steinbeck and Edward Ricketts, Sea of Cortez
1941:   J. Frank Dobie, The Longhorns
        Kenneth Rexroth, In What Hour, first poetic collection
        Frank Waters, People of the Valley
        George R. Stewart, Storm
        Maurine Whipple, The Giant Joshua
1942:   Frank Waters, The Man Who Killed the Deer
        Wright Morris, My Uncle Dudley, his first novel
        J. Frank Dobie, Guide to Life and Literature of the Southwest
        Idwal Jones, The Vineyard
        William Saroyan, The Human Comedy
        Robert Easton, The Happy Man
        Virginia Sorensen, A Little Lower Than the Angels
1943:   Wallace Stegner, The Big Rock Candy Mountain
        Raymond Chandler, The Lady in the Lake
1944:   Bernard DeVoto, The Literary Fallacy, precipitates controversy with
           Sinclair Lewis
        J. Frank Dobie, A Texan in England
        Feike Feikema (Frederick Manfred), The Golden Bowl
        Ernest Haycox, Bugles in the Afternoon
1945:   John Joseph Mathews (Osage), Talking to the Moon
        George R. Stewart, Names on the Land
        Josephina Niggli, Mexican Village
        Oliver La Farge, Raw Material, an autobiographical account
        Walter Van Tilburg Clark, The City of Trembling Leaves
        Khatchik Minasian wins Edwin Markham Gold Medal for Poetry
        Arizona Quarterly begins, Albert R. Gregenheimer founding editor
        Promised Land, edited by Stewart Holbrook, Northwest regional
        James Stevens, Big Jim Turner
        Great Tales of the American West, edited by Harry E. Maule
        John Steinbeck, Cannery Row
        Luke Short (Frederick Glidden), And the Wind Blows Free
1946:   Frank Waters, The Colorado


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        A Literary History of the American West

              Southwesterners Write, eds. T. M. Pearce and A. P. Thomason
              Mine Okubo, Citizen 13660, first major work on Japanese-American
                 relocation camp experiences.
              Carlos Bulosan, America Is in the Heart, first major book by a Filipino-
1947:         Herbert Krause, The Thresher
              Feike Feikema (Frederick Manfred), This Is the Year
              Frank Waters, The Yogi of Cockroach Court
              Mario Suárez’s first story appears in Arizona Quarterly
              Western Humanities Review, Jack Garlington founding editor
              A. B. Guthrie, The Big Sky
1948:         Bernard DeVoto, Across the Wide Missouri, wins Pulitzer Prize for
              Wright Morris, The Home Place
              Forrester Blake, Johnny Christmas
              Theodore Roethke, The Lost Son and Other Poems
              Robinson Jeffers, The Double Ax
              Samuel W. Taylor, Heaven Knows Why
              George R. Stewart, Fire
1949:         Tom Lea, The Brave Bulls
              Jack Schaefer, Shane
              Walter Van Tilburg Clark, The Track of the Cat
              A. B. Guthrie, The Way West, wins Pulitzer Prize
1950:         Frank Waters, Masked Gods
              Franklin Walker, A Literary History of Southern California
              Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and
              Walter Van Tilburg Clark, The Watchful Gods and Other Stories
              Khatchik Minasian, The Simple Songs of Khatchik Minasian, first poetry
              Harvey Fergusson, Grant of Kingdom
              Wallace Stegner, Women on the Wall, first short story collection
1951:         A. Grove Day, The Sky Clears: Poetry of the American lndian
1952:         Bernard DeVoto, The Course of Empire
              Tom Lea, The Wonderful Country
              John Houghton Allen, Southwest
              Thomas Hornsby Ferril, New and Selected Poems
              Joseph Wood Krutch, The Desert Year
              John Steinbeck, East of Eden
              Edna Ferber, Giant
              Ernest Haycox, The Earthbreakers, the last written of his many novels
              J. Frank Dobie, The Mustangs
              Walter Prescott Webb, The Great Frontier
1953:         William Inge, Picnic, wins Pulitzer Prize for drama
              Jack Schaefer, The Canyon


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        J. Mason Brewer, The Word on the Brazos
        Louis L’Amour, Hondo, his first well-known Western
        H. L. Davis, Team Bells Woke Me and Other Stories
        Dorothy M. Johnson, Indian Country, a collection of stories
1954:   Thomas McGrath, Figures from a Double World, wins Alan Swallow
        Paul Horgan, Great River: The Rio Grande in North American History,
           wins Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes for history
        Frederick Manfred, Lord Grizzly
        Theodore Roethke, The Waking, wins Pulitzer Prize for poetry
        Wallace Stegner, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian
        Alan Le May, The Searchers
        Harvey Fergusson, The Conquest of Don Pedro
1955:   William Inge, Bus Stop
        Six Poets at the Six Gallery: Kenneth Rexroth, Philip Lamantia,
           Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, and Allen
1956:    Wright Morris, The Field of Vision, wins National Book Award (1957)
        W. H. Hutchinson, A Bar Cross Man
        William Eastlake, Go in Beauty
         Allen Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems
         A. B. Guthrie, These Thousand Hills
         Fred Gipson, Old Yeller
         Edward Abbey, The Brave Cowboy
1957:    William Inge, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs
         Jack Kerouac, On the Road
         Jack Schaefer, Company of Cowards
         Northwest Review begins publication
         John Okada, No-No Boy, major work on Japanese-American reloca-
            tion camp
         Robert Laxalt, Sweet Promised Land, first major work on American
         Blue Cloud Quarterly, literary magazine, begins publication, Brother
            Benet Tuedten editor
         Frederick Manfred, Riders of Judgment
         Dorothy M. Johnson, The Hanging Tree, a collection of stories
         Shig Murao and Lawrence Ferlinghetti arrested for selling “obscene”
1958:    San Francisco columnist Herb Caen coins term “Beatnik”
         Theodore Roethke, Words for the Wind: The Collected Verse of Theodore
            Roethke, wins Bollingen Prize
         José Antonio Villarreal, Pocho, first important Chicano novel
          The Book of Negro Folklore, edited by Langston Hughes and Arna
         William Eastlake, The Bronc People


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        A Literary History of the American West

              Wright Morris, The Territory Ahead
1959:         The Wormwood Review, Marvin Malone, publisher
              Frederick Manfred, Conquering Horse
              Gary Snyder, Riprap, first collection of poems
1960:         Jack Schaefer, Old Ramon
              Don Berry, Trask
              Wright Morris, Ceremony in Lone Tree
              Poetry Northwest begins publication
              Paul Horgan, A Distant Trumpet
              E. L. Doctorow, Welcome to Hard Times
              Will Henry (Henry Wilson Allen), From Where the Sun Now Stands
              John Graves, Goodbye to a River
1961:         Larry McMurtry, Horseman Pass By, his first novel
              The Outsider magazine founded by Jon and Louise Webb
              John Howard Griffin, Black Like Me
              William Brammer, The Gay Place, first novel
1962:         John Steinbeck is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature
              Don Berry, Moontrap
              William Stafford, Traveling Through the Dark, wins the National Book
                 Award for Poetry (1963)
              Katherine Anne Porter, Ship of Fools
              A Country in the Mind, edited by Ray B. West
              Upton Sinclair, Autobiography
              Theodora Kroeber, Ishi in Two Worlds
              Ken Kesey, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest
              Edward Abbey, Fire on the Mountain
1963:         Frank Waters, Book of the Hopi
              Jack Schaefer, Monte Walsh
              William Eastlake, Portrait of an Artist with Twenty-Six Horses
              South Dakota Review begins publication, John R. Milton, editor
              Virginia Lee, The House That Tai Ming Built
1964:         Benjamin Capps, The Trail to Ogallala
              J. Frank Dobie, Cow People
              Theodore Roethke, The Far Field, posthumous
               The Western Review begins publication
              Thomas Berger, Little Big Man
              Thomas McGrath, New and Selected Poems
              Frederick Manfred, Scarlet Plume
              Ken Kesey, Sometimes a Great Notion
               Sam Shepard, Cowboys, first play begins off Broadway
1965:          Katherine Anne Porter, The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter,
                 wins Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award ( 1966)
               Luis Valdez founds El Teatro Campesino
              Joan Didion, Run River, her first novel
               Oliver La Farge, The Door in the Wall, a collection of short stories


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        lnternational Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses, published
           by Len Fulton and Ellen Ferber
        Organization of the Western Literature Association
        Vardis Fisher, Mountain Men
1966:   Frank Waters, The Woman at Otowi Crossing
        Western American Literature begins publication, J. Golden Taylor and
           Delbert E. Wylder, founding editors
        James K. Folsom, The American Western Novel
        Thomas Hornsby Ferril, Words for Denver
        Theodore Roethke, The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke
        Larry McMurtry, The Last Picture Show
1967:   Publication of Southwest Writers Series, edited by James W. Lee
        William Goetzmann, Exploration and Empire, wins Pulitzer Prize for
        Jack Schaefer, Mavericks
        COSMEP (Committee of Small Magazine Editors and Publishers)
           founded in Berkeley by Len Fulton and Jerry Bums
        Ishmael Reed, The Free-lance Pallbearers, first novel
        Small Press Review begins publication, edited by Len Fulton
        Southwest Writers Anthology, edited by Martin Shockley
        Gerald Locklin, Sunset Beach, first poetry collection
        Gary Snyder, The Back Country
        Robert Bly, The Light Around the Body, wins National Book Award for
           poetry ( 1969)
        Richard Brautigan, Trout Fishing in America
        Wright Morris, In Orbit
1968:   Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
        Leslie Fiedler, The Return of the Vanishing American
        American Negro Folklore, edited by J. Mason Brewer
        Richard Bradford, Red Sky at Morning
        N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn, first novel, wins Pulitzer
           Prize (1969)
1969:   Frank Waters, Pumpkin Seed Point
        Vine Deloria, Custer Died for Your Sins
        Leonard Gardner, Fat City, first novel
        James D. Houston, Gig, first novel
        The American Indian Speaks in Poetry, Fiction, Art, Music, Commen-
           tary, landmark anthology edited by John R. Milton
        Wallace Stegner, The Sound of Mountain Water
        Gary Snyder, Earth House Hold
1970:   Thomas McGrath, Letter to an Imaginary Friend, Part I and II
        Joan Didion, Play It as It Lays
        A. B. Guthrie, Arfive
        Paul Horgan, Whitewater


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        A Literary History of the American West

1971:         Founding of Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature, David D.
                Anderson and others
              Frank Waters, Pike’s Peak
              Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose, wins Pulitzer Prize (1972)
              John Cawelti, The Six-Gun Mystique
              Wright Morris, Fire Sermon
              First issue of Southwestern American Literature published
              The Literature of the American West, edited by J. Golden Taylor
              Lawrence Clark Powell, California Classics
              Lawson Inada, Before the War, first collection of poems
              Down at the Santa Fe Depot, edited by David Kherdian and James
              Tomás Rivera, “. . . y no se lo tragó la tierra,” first novel
              Paul Foreman founds Thorp Springs Press
              Elmer Kelton, The Day the Cowboys Quit
1972:         Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima
              Hanay Geiogamah, Body Indian, opens
              John Seelye, The Kid
              Frank Chin, The Chickencoop Chinaman, is staged
              Thomas McGrath, The Movie at the End of the World: Collected Poems
              Boise State College Western Writers Series begins, edited by Wayne
                 Chatterton and James H. Maguire
              Ann H. Zwinger (with Beatrice Willard), Land Above the Trees: A
                 Guide to American Alpine Tundra
              George Keithly, The Donner Party, first poetry book
              Larry Levis, The Wrecking Crew, first collection of poems, wins U.S.
                 Award from International Poetry Forum
1973:         Elmer Kelton, The Time It Never Rained
              Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan
              Wright Morris, A Life
              Gerald Haslam, Okies, first collection of stories
              Frank Bidart, Golden State, first poetry collection
              Kevin Starr, Americans and the California Dream 1850–1915
              Arna Bontemps, The Old South
              Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel, The Carousel Would Haunt Me, first po-
                 etry collection
              Rolando Hinojosa-S[mith], Estampas del valle y otras obras, first collec-
                 tion of stories
              William T. Pilkington, My Blood’s Country
              Paul Foreman, Redwing Blackbird, first poetry collection
              Richard Hugo, The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir
1974:         Copper Canyon Press founded by Sam Hamill and Tree Swenson
              Art Cuelho, The Last Inch of Shade, first poetry collection
              Miguel Méndez, Peregrinas de Aztlán
              Western Writing, edited by Gerald Haslam


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        Arnold R. Rojas, These Were the Vaqueros
         Len Fulton, The Grassman, first novel
         Lawrence Clark Powell, Southwest Classics
         The Man to Send Rain Clouds, edited by Kenneth Rosen; short story
            collection of contemporary American Indian writers
         Hector Lee, Tales of California
         Gary Snyder, Turtle Island, wins Pulitzer Prize (1975)
         John Nichols, The Milagro Beanfield War
         James Welch, Winter in the Blood
         Tillie Olsen, Yonnondio: From the Thirties
1975:    Laurence Yep, Dragonwings
         Jack Schaefer, An American Bestiary
         Ron Arias, The Road to Tamazunchale
         Edward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang
         Paul Horgan, Lamy of Santa Fe, wins Pulitzer Prize (1976) for history
         Literature of the American Indian: Views and Interpretations, first an-
            thology of critical essays dealing with American Indian literature
         Aiiieeeee !: An Anthology of Asian-American Writers, edited by Frank
            Chin, et al.
         The Western Story: Fact, Fiction and Myth, edited by Philip Durham
            and Everett L. Jones
         Larry McMurtry, Terms of Endearment
1976:    Wallace Stegner, The Spectator Bird, wins National Book Award
         David Wagoner, Collected Poems
         Preston Jones, A Texas Trilogy, opens on Broadway
         William Everson, Archetype West
         Luis Valdez, La Carpa de los Rasquachis
         El Teatro Campesino performs in Europe
         Gerald Locklin, The Chase, first novel
          Phantasm founded by Larry Jackson
1977:     Southwest: A Contemporary Anthology, edited by Karl and Jane Kopp
         William Stafford, Stories That Could Be True: New and Collected Poems
         Paul Horgan, The Thin Mountain Air
         Gary Soto, The Elements of San Joaquin, first collection of poetry
         Leslie Silko, Ceremony
         Gary Witherspoon, Language and Art in the Navajo Universe
         Richard Hugo, 31 Letters and 13 Dreams
         Dick Harrison, Unnamed Country: The Struggle for a Canadian Prairie
         Robert Day, The Last Cattle Drive
1978:    William Stafford, Writing the Australian Crawl
          Sam Shepard, Buried Child, wins the Pulitzer Prize for drama
         Luis Valdez, Zoot Suit
         California Heartland, regional anthology edited by Gerald Haslam and
            James D. Houston


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        A Literary History of the American West

               Women Poets of the West: An Anthology 1850–1950, edited by
                  A. Thomas Trusky
               Barry Holstun Lopez, Of Wolves and Men
               Elmer Kelton, The Good Old Boys
               C. L. Sonnichsen, From Hopalong to Hud: Thoughts on Western Fiction
               Ivan Doig, This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind
1979:          Chester Seltzer, The Stories of Amado Muro
               Lanford Wilson, Tulley’s Folly, wins Pulitzer Prize for drama
               Jessamyn West, The Life I Really Lived
               Marilyn Brown, The Earthkeepers
               Wallace Stegner, Recapitulation
               Dick Harrison, Crossing Frontiers: Papers in American and Canadian
                  Western Literature
1980:          Wright Morris, Plains Song, wins American Book Award
               Sam Shepard, True West, opens off Broadway
               Southwestern American Literature: A Bibliography, edited by John Q.
                  Anderson, et al.
               Maxine Hong Kingston, China Men
               John R. Milton, The Novel of the American West
1981:          Don D. Walker, Clio’s Cowboys: Studies in the Historiography of the
                  Cattle Trade
               Frank Waters, Mountain Dialogues
               Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping
               Southwest: Toward the Twenty-First Century, edited by Karl and Jane
               A Bibliographical Guide to Midwestern Literature, edited by Gerald C.
               Wayne Ude, Becoming Coyote, first novel
1982:          Wright Morris wins Commonwealth Award for Distinguished Service
                   in Literature
               William Stafford, A Glass House in the Rain
               Thomas McGrath, Passages Toward the Dark
               Richard Dokey, August Light
               Ivan Doig, The Sea Runners
               Texas Books in Review, edited by William T. Pilkington, begins
               Levi S. Peterson, The Canyons of Grace, first short story collection
                Fifty Western Writers, edited by Fred Erisman and Richard W. Etulain
               A. B. Guthrie, Fair Land, Fair Land
               A Bibliographical Guide to the Study of Western American Literature,
                   compiled by Richard W. Etulain
               Larry McMurtry, Cadillac Jack
               Thomas McGuane, Nobody’s Angel
               Lanford Wilson, Angels Fall
                Wallace Stegner, One Way to Spell Man
                Lou Halsell Rodenberger, ed., Her Work: Stories by Texas Women


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1983:   David James Duncan, The River Why
        Louis L’Amour first novelist to be given a special National Gold
          Medal by Congress
        Historians and the American West, edited by Michael P. Malone
        The Woman Who Owned the Shadows, first feminist American Indian
          novel published by feminist press, Spinsters Ink
        Jon Tuska and Vicki Piekarski, Encyclopedia of Frontier and Western
1984:   Joan Didion, Democracy
        Douglas Unger, Leaving the Land
        Westward the Women: An Anthology of Western Stories by Women,
          edited by Vicki Piekarski

                    R ICHARD W. ETULAIN , University     of New Mexico


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     Part One

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                       of “Axe Handles,” the western poet Gary Snyder

                        And I see: Pound was an axe,
                        Chen was an axe, I am an axe
                        And my son a handle, soon
                        To be shaping again, model
                        And tool, craft of culture,
                        How we go on.
The craft of culture in the American West, as in any land, is not limited by
provincial examples, for as Snyder’s poem demonstrates, those who practice
a craft can look to any culture for their models. Yet because most artists
encounter their first models close to home, the first part of A Literary His-
tory of the American West begins with the stories told in and the reports
about the Old West. There are also chapters surveying the history of those
genres brought to the West before 1890 but not well rooted here until after
the Second World War. In short, the first stage in the literary history of the
West is the literature of the frontier. The history of every literature, of
course, begins with such a stage. That is how we go on.
      In 1890, when the U.S. Census Bureau announced the closing of the
frontier, the belles-lettres of the American West were still in a nascent state.
Nevertheless, the roots of western literature are centuries old. Although
many computer-age westerners may be unaware of the West’s rich pre-
twentieth-century heritage, most contemporary western writers draw upon
it for subjects, themes, and characters. Western literature written before
1890 is to the West what pre-1800 literature is to America.
      Every literature begins with such a seedtime, which can be profitably
studied both for its own sake and for what it reveals about the work that
grows from it. The seedtime of western American literature began with the
oral tradition of people who had arrived in North America thousands of
years ago. Europeans, after encountering the West and its inhabitants,


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     A Literary History of the American West

added letters, reports, diaries, and journals to the West’s literary heritage.
That literature of early encounters proceeded in stages: Spanish and French
before 1800; then, starting with Lewis and Clark, American exploration up
to the Civil War; and scientific cataloguing of the land and the natives from
the end of the Civil War into the new century. From the time of first settle-
ment, Europeans and, later, Americans began to write about the West in
the various genres of European literature. And even before American settle-
ment in the West, a western literary criticism had started to grow.
      The first of those disparate sources of western American literature is
the oral tradition of the Native Americans. It probably began with the ar-
rival of people on this continent some 30,000 years ago. When people be-
gan to paint pictures of bison upon the cave walls at Lascaux in Europe,
other humans were telling stories about giant bison in what is now the
West. American Indians had sung the glories of the land centuries before
Columbus sailed; some of their songs and stories survived and now inspire
many contemporary western writers. With that oral tradition this literary
history begins. A tradition so apparently far removed from our usual notions
of belles-lettres may seem an odd beginning, but the reader should recall that
European literature began with the oral tradition which culminated in
Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.
      Into that European literature came reports of the lands that Columbus
and his sailors had reached. Long before the Lewis and Clark expedition,
western wilderness acted as a lodestone for explorers and philosophers. As
Howard Mumford Jones explains in O Strange New World (1964), the earli-
est European immigrants arrived in America with preconceived, conflicting
notions about the wild new lands: they had heard ( I) that the wilderness
was a new Garden of Eden and (2) that it was an earthly hell. Perhaps the
noble natives would freely give you mountains of gold; but if you stayed in
the New World’s strange wild vastness for too long, you might degenerate,
losing all your civilized traits and sinking to the level of the cannibalistic
savage. (Europeans often forgot that their own civilization offered examples
of behavior that made a cannibal look kind.)              ,
      One of the first Europeans to encounter the West, Álvar Núñez Cabeza
de Vaca traveled with three companions through parts of the Southwest in
the 1530s, and his narrative of their adventures appeared in print in 1542.
After Cabeza de Vaca came other Spanish explorers: Marcos de Niza ( 1539),
Coronado (1540), Rodriguez-Chamuscado (1581), Espejo (1582), Castaño
de Sosa (1590), and Humaña-Bonilla (1594). To the reports of their expe-
ditions were added accounts of early Spanish settlement, beginning with
Juan de Oñate’s expedition in 1598. The year when Santa Fe was founded,
1610, also saw the publication of the poetic chronicle History of New Mex-


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                                INTRODUCTION: ENCOUNTERING THE WEST

ice by Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá, followed in twenty years by The Memorial of
Friar Alonso de Benavides.
      Only Sir Francis Drake’s brief voyage along the California coast in
 1579 antedates the Spanish presence there; and before the end of the
American Revolution, a string of Spanish missions extended as far north as
 San Francisco. Spanish descriptions of California and French accounts of
 the upper Midwest had been written decades before President Jefferson
sought to purchase the Louisiana Territory. However prosaic and derivative
 one considers the early Spanish and French reports and chronicles of their
western experiences, they nevertheless have what Randolph G. Adams
calls “the charm of the primitive, not only in expression but in the format
of these old books.” In his chapter, “Reports and Chronicles,” in the Liter-
ary History of the United States (third ed., rev., 1963), Adams adds that the
principal appeal of such early accounts “lies in the fact that they present the
feelings of the man who was there at the time the event took place and not
what some later interpreter, however learned, may have felt” (pp. 38–39).
      What Adams says of the early European reports and chronicles is also
true of early American accounts of encounters with the West. The first offi-
cial American inland exploration was the Lewis and Clark expedition
(1804–1806), and the journals of that expedition have not only the charm
and appeal of the earlier European reports but also the interest of early
attempts at scientific measurement and classification. Moreover, The Jour-
rnals of Lewis and Clark are to western American literature what William
Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation is to early American literature: one of the
major sources of a tradition. Adding volumes of reports to the growing
American knowledge of the West, other major government explorers in-
cluded: Zebulon Pike (1805; 1806; 1806–07); Stephen H. Long (1819–20);
Charles Wilkes (1838-42); Joseph N. Nicollet (1839–40); and John C.
Fremont (1842-43; 1846-47; 1848-49). The government also published
reports of the transcontinental railroad surveys of 1853-54.
      All the early western explorers faced the same challenge: writing about
the vastness and strangeness of the West in a language they had learned
back home, a language suited mainly to the cultivated and more familiar
lands of Europe and the East. The efforts of the early explorers made easier
the task of post-Civil War scientists such as Ferdinand V. Hayden, Clar-
ence King, John Wesley Powell, George M. Wheeler, and Walter P. Jenney,
who were all engaged in the work of scientific investigation and mapping.
Even the incredible wonders of the Grand Canyon came to be more accu-
rately described in the works of Major Powell and Clarence Dutton, as Wal-
lace Stegner explains in Beyond the Hundredth Meridian.
      Besides that language of scientific accuracy, writing about the West


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      A Literary History of the American West

also included a new boisterous lingo of hyperbole added by the mountain
men of the fur trade. Fur companies entered the West soon after the Lewis
and Clark expedition, and from then until 1840 (the year of the last moun-
tain man rendezvous), fur trappers and traders traversed the West, creat-
ing a new culture that was a mixture of and allied to American, Indian,
Canadian-French, and southwestern Hispanic cultures. Long after the
last rendezvous, the mountain men influenced the West; and the list of
twentieth-century novels about the early fur trade is a long one.
      Only a few decades after the beginning of the western fur trade, other
businessmen entered the West. In 1821, William Becknell pioneered the
first venture along the Santa Fe Trail. Mexico’s achievement of its indepen-
dence had made possible the opening of the Santa Fe Trail; and Mexican
independence and American settlement in Texas led to Texan indepen-
dence in 1836.
      The Year of Decision, as Bernard DeVoto called 1846, and the next
few years after it mark another great divide in western American history.
The Mexican-American War, the Mormon migration, and the Gold Rush,
followed by statehood for Texas, California, and Oregon, provided enough
history, enough colorful new jargon, enough fantastic characters to keep
any country’s authors busy for generations. Much of that history repeated
itself in the mining booms and the waves of immigration of the next four
decades, not to mention the Indian Wars, the building of the railroads, and
the era of the great cattle barons and cattle drives.
      So rich, in fact, is the history of the Old West that a great part of west-
em literature continues to focus on that epic time. Aware of the danger of
such an exclusive focus, Wallace Stegner has called upon critics and readers
to avoid defining as western only that literature which depicts Old West
history of the white male. In “History, Myth, and the Western Writer” (The
Sound of Mountain Water, 1969), the best essay yet written on the develop-
ment of western fiction, Stegner says that it is difficult to identify many
characteristics that are true of all, or even most, of western fiction, because
“a number of things happened to block the organic cultural growth the
West had a right, from the experience of the rest of America, to expect.”
Those inhibiting forces included the West’s great environmental and ethnic
diversity; the flood of pulp fiction whose formulas froze “the most colorful
western themes and characters” into simplistic petrified myths; constant im-
migration; late and irregular development; and a citizenry that have always
been “notably migrant. ” “Fearing the loss of what tradition we have,” says
Stegner, “we cling to it hard, we are hooked on history.” As a result:
     The typical western writer loves the past of his native region, but
     despises the present. In a way the dichotomy between past and


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                             INTRODUCTION: ENCOUNTERING THE WEST

     present is a product of two forces, generally embodied in charac-
     ters frequently encountered in both western fiction and the West-
     ern: the freedom-loving, roving man and the civilizing woman.
      As some of Stegner’s own histories explain, however, the western fron-
tier was not entirely barbarous. The old axiom that literature does not flour-
ish on a frontier did not hold true for all of the West. As Franklin Walker’s
literary history of early San Francisco shows, the Forty-Niners had scarcely
left their sluice boxes before the likes of Bret Harte, Ambrose Bierce,
Joaquin Miller, and Mark Twain had made the Bay Area a literary center
that could for a time rival all but a few of the centuries-older cities on the
eastern seaboard. Universities had been founded and periodicals such as
The Overland Monthly established almost before the western frontier had
emerged from its adolescence. By 1890 when the massacre at Wounded
Knee ended the Indian Wars, universities in California, Colorado, Oregon,
Washington-—in fact, in almost all the western states—were already fix-
tures of western life, many of them having passed their twenty-fifth
      Although the frontier had ceased to exist in many areas beyond the
hundredth meridian long before 1890, that year is the divide between the
Old West and the New. The region had emerged from its territorial days,
and it faced the approaching twentieth century with a rich and colorful
past. The West now had a considerable body of frontier literature, pioneer-
ing efforts that constitute the first stage of its literary history. When we
compare that first stage with what came later, the following lines by Walt
Whitman apply:
    These are of us, they are with us,
  All for primal needed work, while the followers there in embryo wait
  We to-day’s procession heading, we the route for travel clearing,
    Pioneers! O pioneers!

                              J AMES H. MAGUIRE ,   Boise State University


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     Part One

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                       of “Axe Handles,” the western poet Gary Snyder

                        And I see: Pound was an axe,
                        Chen was an axe, I am an axe
                        And my son a handle, soon
                        To be shaping again, model
                        And tool, craft of culture,
                        How we go on.
The craft of culture in the American West, as in any land, is not limited by
provincial examples, for as Snyder’s poem demonstrates, those who practice
a craft can look to any culture for their models. Yet because most artists
encounter their first models close to home, the first part of A Literary His-
tory of the American West begins with the stories told in and the reports
about the Old West. There are also chapters surveying the history of those
genres brought to the West before 1890 but not well rooted here until after
the Second World War. In short, the first stage in the literary history of the
West is the literature of the frontier. The history of every literature, of
course, begins with such a stage. That is how we go on.
      In 1890, when the U.S. Census Bureau announced the closing of the
frontier, the belles-lettres of the American West were still in a nascent state.
Nevertheless, the roots of western literature are centuries old. Although
many computer-age westerners may be unaware of the West’s rich pre-
twentieth-century heritage, most contemporary western writers draw upon
it for subjects, themes, and characters. Western literature written before
1890 is to the West what pre-1800 literature is to America.
      Every literature begins with such a seedtime, which can be profitably
studied both for its own sake and for what it reveals about the work that
grows from it. The seedtime of western American literature began with the
oral tradition of people who had arrived in North America thousands of
years ago. Europeans, after encountering the West and its inhabitants,


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     A Literary History of the American West

added letters, reports, diaries, and journals to the West’s literary heritage.
That literature of early encounters proceeded in stages: Spanish and French
before 1800; then, starting with Lewis and Clark, American exploration up
to the Civil War; and scientific cataloguing of the land and the natives from
the end of the Civil War into the new century. From the time of first settle-
ment, Europeans and, later, Americans began to write about the West in
the various genres of European literature. And even before American settle-
ment in the West, a western literary criticism had started to grow.
      The first of those disparate sources of western American literature is
the oral tradition of the Native Americans. It probably began with the ar-
rival of people on this continent some 30,000 years ago. When people be-
gan to paint pictures of bison upon the cave walls at Lascaux in Europe,
other humans were telling stories about giant bison in what is now the
West. American Indians had sung the glories of the land centuries before
Columbus sailed; some of their songs and stories survived and now inspire
many contemporary western writers. With that oral tradition this literary
history begins. A tradition so apparently far removed from our usual notions
of belles-lettres may seem an odd beginning, but the reader should recall that
European literature began with the oral tradition which culminated in
Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.
      Into that European literature came reports of the lands that Columbus
and his sailors had reached. Long before the Lewis and Clark expedition,
western wilderness acted as a lodestone for explorers and philosophers. As
Howard Mumford Jones explains in O Strange New World (1964), the earli-
est European immigrants arrived in America with preconceived, conflicting
notions about the wild new lands: they had heard ( I) that the wilderness
was a new Garden of Eden and (2) that it was an earthly hell. Perhaps the
noble natives would freely give you mountains of gold; but if you stayed in
the New World’s strange wild vastness for too long, you might degenerate,
losing all your civilized traits and sinking to the level of the cannibalistic
savage. (Europeans often forgot that their own civilization offered examples
of behavior that made a cannibal look kind.)              ,
      One of the first Europeans to encounter the West, Álvar Núñez Cabeza
de Vaca traveled with three companions through parts of the Southwest in
the 1530s, and his narrative of their adventures appeared in print in 1542.
After Cabeza de Vaca came other Spanish explorers: Marcos de Niza ( 1539),
Coronado (1540), Rodriguez-Chamuscado (1581), Espejo (1582), Castaño
de Sosa (1590), and Humaña-Bonilla (1594). To the reports of their expe-
ditions were added accounts of early Spanish settlement, beginning with
Juan de Oñate’s expedition in 1598. The year when Santa Fe was founded,
1610, also saw the publication of the poetic chronicle History of New Mex-


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                                INTRODUCTION: ENCOUNTERING THE WEST

ice by Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá, followed in twenty years by The Memorial of
Friar Alonso de Benavides.
      Only Sir Francis Drake’s brief voyage along the California coast in
 1579 antedates the Spanish presence there; and before the end of the
American Revolution, a string of Spanish missions extended as far north as
 San Francisco. Spanish descriptions of California and French accounts of
 the upper Midwest had been written decades before President Jefferson
sought to purchase the Louisiana Territory. However prosaic and derivative
 one considers the early Spanish and French reports and chronicles of their
western experiences, they nevertheless have what Randolph G. Adams
calls “the charm of the primitive, not only in expression but in the format
of these old books.” In his chapter, “Reports and Chronicles,” in the Liter-
ary History of the United States (third ed., rev., 1963), Adams adds that the
principal appeal of such early accounts “lies in the fact that they present the
feelings of the man who was there at the time the event took place and not
what some later interpreter, however learned, may have felt” (pp. 38–39).
      What Adams says of the early European reports and chronicles is also
true of early American accounts of encounters with the West. The first offi-
cial American inland exploration was the Lewis and Clark expedition
(1804–1806), and the journals of that expedition have not only the charm
and appeal of the earlier European reports but also the interest of early
attempts at scientific measurement and classification. Moreover, The Jour-
rnals of Lewis and Clark are to western American literature what William
Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation is to early American literature: one of the
major sources of a tradition. Adding volumes of reports to the growing
American knowledge of the West, other major government explorers in-
cluded: Zebulon Pike (1805; 1806; 1806–07); Stephen H. Long (1819–20);
Charles Wilkes (1838-42); Joseph N. Nicollet (1839–40); and John C.
Fremont (1842-43; 1846-47; 1848-49). The government also published
reports of the transcontinental railroad surveys of 1853-54.
      All the early western explorers faced the same challenge: writing about
the vastness and strangeness of the West in a language they had learned
back home, a language suited mainly to the cultivated and more familiar
lands of Europe and the East. The efforts of the early explorers made easier
the task of post-Civil War scientists such as Ferdinand V. Hayden, Clar-
ence King, John Wesley Powell, George M. Wheeler, and Walter P. Jenney,
who were all engaged in the work of scientific investigation and mapping.
Even the incredible wonders of the Grand Canyon came to be more accu-
rately described in the works of Major Powell and Clarence Dutton, as Wal-
lace Stegner explains in Beyond the Hundredth Meridian.
      Besides that language of scientific accuracy, writing about the West


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      A Literary History of the American West

also included a new boisterous lingo of hyperbole added by the mountain
men of the fur trade. Fur companies entered the West soon after the Lewis
and Clark expedition, and from then until 1840 (the year of the last moun-
tain man rendezvous), fur trappers and traders traversed the West, creat-
ing a new culture that was a mixture of and allied to American, Indian,
Canadian-French, and southwestern Hispanic cultures. Long after the
last rendezvous, the mountain men influenced the West; and the list of
twentieth-century novels about the early fur trade is a long one.
      Only a few decades after the beginning of the western fur trade, other
businessmen entered the West. In 1821, William Becknell pioneered the
first venture along the Santa Fe Trail. Mexico’s achievement of its indepen-
dence had made possible the opening of the Santa Fe Trail; and Mexican
independence and American settlement in Texas led to Texan indepen-
dence in 1836.
      The Year of Decision, as Bernard DeVoto called 1846, and the next
few years after it mark another great divide in western American history.
The Mexican-American War, the Mormon migration, and the Gold Rush,
followed by statehood for Texas, California, and Oregon, provided enough
history, enough colorful new jargon, enough fantastic characters to keep
any country’s authors busy for generations. Much of that history repeated
itself in the mining booms and the waves of immigration of the next four
decades, not to mention the Indian Wars, the building of the railroads, and
the era of the great cattle barons and cattle drives.
      So rich, in fact, is the history of the Old West that a great part of west-
em literature continues to focus on that epic time. Aware of the danger of
such an exclusive focus, Wallace Stegner has called upon critics and readers
to avoid defining as western only that literature which depicts Old West
history of the white male. In “History, Myth, and the Western Writer” (The
Sound of Mountain Water, 1969), the best essay yet written on the develop-
ment of western fiction, Stegner says that it is difficult to identify many
characteristics that are true of all, or even most, of western fiction, because
“a number of things happened to block the organic cultural growth the
West had a right, from the experience of the rest of America, to expect.”
Those inhibiting forces included the West’s great environmental and ethnic
diversity; the flood of pulp fiction whose formulas froze “the most colorful
western themes and characters” into simplistic petrified myths; constant im-
migration; late and irregular development; and a citizenry that have always
been “notably migrant. ” “Fearing the loss of what tradition we have,” says
Stegner, “we cling to it hard, we are hooked on history.” As a result:
     The typical western writer loves the past of his native region, but
     despises the present. In a way the dichotomy between past and


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                             INTRODUCTION: ENCOUNTERING THE WEST

     present is a product of two forces, generally embodied in charac-
     ters frequently encountered in both western fiction and the West-
     ern: the freedom-loving, roving man and the civilizing woman.
      As some of Stegner’s own histories explain, however, the western fron-
tier was not entirely barbarous. The old axiom that literature does not flour-
ish on a frontier did not hold true for all of the West. As Franklin Walker’s
literary history of early San Francisco shows, the Forty-Niners had scarcely
left their sluice boxes before the likes of Bret Harte, Ambrose Bierce,
Joaquin Miller, and Mark Twain had made the Bay Area a literary center
that could for a time rival all but a few of the centuries-older cities on the
eastern seaboard. Universities had been founded and periodicals such as
The Overland Monthly established almost before the western frontier had
emerged from its adolescence. By 1890 when the massacre at Wounded
Knee ended the Indian Wars, universities in California, Colorado, Oregon,
Washington-—in fact, in almost all the western states—were already fix-
tures of western life, many of them having passed their twenty-fifth
      Although the frontier had ceased to exist in many areas beyond the
hundredth meridian long before 1890, that year is the divide between the
Old West and the New. The region had emerged from its territorial days,
and it faced the approaching twentieth century with a rich and colorful
past. The West now had a considerable body of frontier literature, pioneer-
ing efforts that constitute the first stage of its literary history. When we
compare that first stage with what came later, the following lines by Walt
Whitman apply:
    These are of us, they are with us,
  All for primal needed work, while the followers there in embryo wait
  We to-day’s procession heading, we the route for travel clearing,
    Pioneers! O pioneers!

                              J AMES H. MAGUIRE ,   Boise State University


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                               SECTION I
                              Oral Traditions


S     O MANY WRITERS      have been inspired by the oral traditions of the
       American West that very few western novels, poems, and plays are
       without allusions to Native American myths, tales, and songs or to
western folklore. Thanks to the pioneers of ethnology and folklore studies,
the West’s oral traditions have been recorded in print, preserved in thou-
sands of volumes. Many readers are aware of the existence of such volumes
of recorded oral literature, but few realize how rich that heritage is.
      Even after reading books of Indian literature, many non-Indians re-
main ignorant of the value of the Native American oral narratives, because,
as Kenneth M. Roemer explains, “they tend to associate them with ‘quaint’
or ‘primitive’ fairy tales, folklore or superstitions. Part of the explanation for
these misconceptions is that the popular written and mass media forms of
transmitting information about Native American oral narratives often strip
away the cultural and literary contexts of the stories. Furthermore, the nar-
ratives are usually associated with the dead past of the Vanished American”
(“Native American Oral Narratives: Context and Continuity,” in Smooth-
ing the Ground [University of California Press, 1983], ed. Brian Swann,
p. 39). In their chapter in this section of A Literary History of the American
West, Larry Evers and Paul Pavich explain the history of the Native Ameri-
can oral tradition in general terms, giving the cultural and literary contexts
of that tradition. Evers and Pavich, pointing out that their subject is too
vast and complex to be exhaustively treated in a single essay, ask us at least
to recognize that our media-instilled views of Native American literature
are misconceptions.
      The mass media may find it increasingly difficult to continue purveying
such misconceptions, since the study of Native American culture has be-
come an established part of the curriculum at many major universities, lead-
ing to the publication of journals such as American Indian Quarterly, Studies
in American Indian Literature, American Indian Culture and Research Journal,
and Sun Tracks: An American Indian Literary Magazine. Such journals exist
because, as Karl Kroeber writes,“Indian narratives need sophisticated criti-
cal attention.” In Traditional Literatures of the American Indian: Texts and In-


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                                                         ORAL TRADITIONS

terpretations (University of Nebraska Press, 1981), Kroeber also says that as
a teacher he has found “that many Americans who know only Western lit-
erature are baffled by Indian oral narratives” (p. 1). He advises an inex-
perienced reader
           . . . to assume that such tales can be comprehended, that
     they are neither below nor beyond our customary procedures
     of analyzing and evaluating literature, and, therefore, that one
     should attack head-on any overt critical problems posed by a par-
     ticular tale. One should begin by assuming that an Indian oral
     narrative may be a first-rate work of art. One must abandon the
     misconception that this literature is “primitive.” It is not. It is
     worth remembering that all good literature raises troubling prob-
     lems and is structured by intricacies which both attract and defeat
     the most intense analysis. (pp. 2–3)
       Western folklore has also invited analysis, perhaps because it has oc-
cupied such a large territory in the American mind for more than a century.
As Malcolm Cowley explains: “What we might call the first American my-
thology had taken final shape by 1890. In retrospect it seems amazingly
complete, including as it does a score of familiar backgrounds, each with its
registered trademark.” And many of the trademarks Cowley mentions are
western: “. . . the sod house on the prairie, the chuck wagon surrounded by
cowboys squatting on their heels, the Indian village with dancing braves,
and the gambling saloon near the California diggings” (“Three Cycles of
Myth in American Writing,” in A Many-Windowed House [Southern Illi-
nois University Press, 1970], p. 235). “Against those familiar backgrounds,”
Cowley continues, “moved a whole pantheon of mythological figures, at
least twelve of which might be listed as major gods of our first native Olym-
pus.” Of the twelve American gods Cowley identifies, five are largely or en-
tirely western: the woods ranger; the backwoods boaster; “the slit-eyed,
lean-jawed, soft spoken gambler with two six-guns hidden beneath the
frock coat made by the best Omaha tailor”; the outlaw; and the Indian
chief. And of the “demigodlike figures” not far behind those major deities,
many are western.
      The Old West gave us those folklore figures, and the New West and the
contemporary West have added to American folklore, too. Western folk-
lore, like all folk literature, “differs from the rest of literature,” as B. A.
Botkin has pointed out, “only in its history: its author is the original ‘forgot-
ten man”’ (A Treasury of American Folklore [New York: Crown, 1944],
p. xxii). Barre Toelken, author of the folklore chapter in A Literary History
of the American West, does not, however, focus on the literature. Instead, he
explains folk groups and customs and tells about the shifts and changes in


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      A Literary History of the American West

the oral tradition from one layer of culture to another, from East to West or
West to East, and from past to present. The traditions of the folk are one of
the richest of sources for western writers.
      In revering the oral traditions of any culture, there is the danger, as
Botkin warns, of a clannishness that can fuel chauvinism. But there is an
equal danger in ignoring oral traditions: the danger of forgetting that the
source of all literature is ultimately the people. Literature is, after all, a pro-
cess, not a product. And as Robert Weimann has argued in Structure and
Society in Literary History (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia,
1976), “the process of literature, when seen in terms of both its creation
and reception, is functionally, significantly, and historically part of the so-
cial activity of its creators and recipients” (p. 178). Since a literature begins
with what its people say, this literary history starts with an account of what
was said by the first peoples who encountered the American West.

                                J AMES H. MAGUIRE ,     Boise State University


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                         Native Oral Traditions

     Long ago, they say, when the earth was not yet finished, darkness
     lay upon the water and they rubbed each other. The sound they
     made was like the sound at the edge of a pond. There, on the
     water, in the darkness, in the noise, and in a very strong wind, a
     child was born.
                                                  –from a Papago narrative

               First Born made the earth.
               First Born made the earth.
               Go along, go along, go along.
               It’s going along. Now all will remain as it is.
                                                             –a Papago song

I   F WE ARE to speak of the literature of the American West, we must speak
    first of the native American literatures, for each of the two or three hun-
    dred tribal communities living in the West has invested this land with
traditions of story and song. The reciprocal relationship between man and
the land is a common denominator for all native literature. The land is our
source, and here, in Mary Austin’s phrase, “the land sets the limit.”
Within the limits the land sets, it remains for man to imagine ways of seeing
and talking about it, ways of knowing it. First Born emerges from the land
only to turn back and create it with story and song. The Papago commu-
nities who join together to tell of First Born invest the land with meaning.
They make the land into a cultural landscape.
      Cultural landscapes are social and cumulative. They are the natural
result of a process which has been carried on for centuries in native commu-
nities on this continent. Cultural landscapes are made whenever commu-
nities of people join words to place. They enable man to feel a sense of
place, to hear the darkness rub the water.
      The remarkable thing about the cultural landscape that whites call the
“American West” is that it was created in absolute ignorance of the cultural
landscapes of the native communities it displaced. The explorers, mission-
aries, trappers, ranchers, and settlers who flooded the West saw it as had
Lewis and Clark, “a void to be imagined.” It was only in the late nineteenth
century, when most native American peoples were safely confined on reser-


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      A Literary History of the American West

vations, that we began to recognize the achievement of native verbal artists
and to realize the intimate imaginative relations their stories and songs
shared with the earth.
      To speak of these native verbal arts as literature has certain dangers. In
a few significant cases, they were literally so: the Toltec and Mayan glyphic
systems of Mesoamerica and the pictographic systems of the north Pacific
coast, Plains and Southwest. More commonly, they were preserved wholly
in the memory of those who performed them, each performance being at
once a kind of publication and reading. Traditional native American liter-
atures are thus predominantly oral and aural, not literal. So to speak of a
native American literature might have two meanings. First and most signifi-
cantly, native American literature consists of stories and songs as they are
performed in natural contexts in the communities which support them.
Secondly, native American literature might be said to refer to those tran-
scriptions of story and song from native American communities which
record in print the oral performances of native people. It is the latter, of
course, that academics usually think of when they speak of native American
      There is a connotative problem as well. In the Euro-American tradi-
tion, we tend to think of literature, indeed all the arts, as something associ-
ated with marginal misfits and the discontented. These are associations to
leave aside in approaching native literatures. In native communities stories
and songs count, they make a difference, and those who make and perform
them are among the most valued members of the community. They remind
the people of who and what they are, why they are in this particular place,
and how they should continue to live here. A Navajo singer recently told
us: “When one has even one song, he will live for a long time. He will live
by it. He will guide his children by it. He will guide his people by it.” Litera-
ture in native American communities has always been central to man’s
      It is not possible here to discuss all the native literatures of the Ameri-
can West. Both space and experience limit this discussion to some thematic
and generic similarities among them. To an explication of these is added a
brief review of the history of collecting, translating, and studying native
oral literatures, as well as a final comment on the continuing presence of
native literatures in the West.

     Despite their diversity, there are striking generic similarities among the
native American literatures. Most native traditions distinguish between
narrative and song, and many consider prayer as a separate category of ver-


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                                                 NATIVE ORAL TRADITIONS

bal expression as well. Contemporary Navajo singer Andrew Natonabah,
for example, speaks of how “the stories, the songs, and the prayers come
together to form a literature.”

      Anyone who glances at native American narratives must be struck by
their high level of organization. And one who troubles to inquire into na-
tive thought on the subject will discover important insights regarding form
and genre in native American tradition. Narratives tend to be divided into
those thought to be literally true and those thought to be fictional. While
these distinctions resemble the European distinction between “myth” and
“folktale,” it is very important to recognize that native American people
have long had their own ways of talking about the distinctions. Winnebago,
for example, distinguishes between waikan, what-is-sacred, and worak,
what-is-recounted; Zuni between stories of the chimiky’ana’kowa, the Begin-
ning, which are regarded as true historically, and telapnaawe, “tales,” which
are considered fictional. In Hopi society, tuuwutsi, stories about make-be-
lieve things, are distinguished from stories which are ka’atsa, “not false,”
that is to say the events of Hopi history.
      Taken together, “true” narratives often form a kind of Bible for native
peoples, a collection of central religious texts which furnishes an allusive
background for other native literary forms. The core story is of the origin or
emergence of life, and a wide range of other narratives generally branches
off from the origin narrative like so many limbs from the trunk of a tree.
These may tell of the migration of ancestors, detail the adventures of cul-
ture heroes and account for the origin of specific ceremonies, customs, and
rituals. “True” stories of this sort are set in real time and real space but be-
fore the world is as it is now. It is common for them to be filled with place
names, to be lengthy, to be told to initiates in ritual settings, to contain
esoteric language, and to be the subject of endless allusion, discussion, and
interpretation. Hopi Albert Yava tells of discussing and debating the Hopi
tradition that Hopi people climbed into this world from a lower world
through a bamboo reed:
     One night we were talking about it (in the kiva) and someone
     said: “Now how in the world could all those people come through a
     bamboo? How could they get in? How could it hold their weight?
     How could they get through the joints?”
Such questions indicate that there exists a tradition of native critical in-
quiry based on oral literary texts which has largely gone unremarked by


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     A Literary History of the American West

     Stylistically, “true” narratives show enormous variation throughout
the West. Consider, for example, the expansive accumulative quality of this
portion of a Papago narrative told over four consecutive nights by medicine
man Frank Lopez. “Ñe:” marks the narrative into stanzas and has no direct
translation in English.
    Ñe: his heart felt very bad, from thinking of it, after he heard how
    his father was killed;
    Ñe: that is what happened; when it was morning they tried to feed
    him, but he would not eat, and then he went outside and just sort
    of walked around, the way one does when one does not feel right,
    perhaps when one hears of a relative dying and one feels like
    walking somewhere and lying down; that is what happened to the
    boy, and that is why he did not think of eating anything, of drink-
    ing any water; in the morning he went out and walked toward the
    north where the cactus was standing; then when the sun was a bit
    this way and made a shade, he walked over and laid in the shade;
    he laid down; he laid face down; and it happened that his mother
    was missing him, so she followed him; she found him and saw the
    way he was and was also that way; she understood what he was
    seeing and why he was that way.
    Ñe: after she saw him, she went back.
    Ñe: after he was like that for a while, it became noon and the
    shade moved the way it does in the afternoon. . . .
In this way, the narrative continues to describe how a young man is able to
make a personal connection with the supernatural through the slow ritu-
alized process of grieving. By contrast, the following portion of a Western
Apache narrative details how an Apache community was able to contact
the supernatural while grieving for one who was lost. The spare, compact,
repetitive quality of this passage is typical of the whole narrative which was
told in less than an hour by Rudolph Kane of Cedar Creek:
                 Lone time ago,
                 at nighttime,
                 They all started dancing.
                 They were all singing.
                 They said the gaans were coming to them,
                 and they came to them,
                 at etso goheyo [yellow place called].
                 There were four of them:


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                                                  NATIVE ORAL TRADITIONS

                 They all,
                 all the gaans came down.
A second kind of narrative is generally regarded as “fictional” in native
American communities. “Fictional” narratives are usually told during the
winter at night by grandparents to delight and instruct their grandchildren,
but they may be told at other times and in other circumstances as well.
These narratives are often set off from normal discourse by special phrases
which serve as formulaic openings and closings for the story. Somewhat in
the manner of the European “once upon a time . . .” they signal listeners
that the tale teller is moving from the world of literal truth into the fictional
world of the tale. In Hopi communities, for example, where these stories
are called tuuwutsi, a storyteller will begin with “Aliksaii . . .,” and close
with “Pai yuk polo” (Now to here it ends). In between, the audience must
also respond with the formulaic expression “oo” after each sentence, for, as
one teller puts it, “the storyteller is touchy, if you do not respond she may
pout and not tell a story.”
      Formulaic endings among the Lakota demonstrate the type of story
being told. He ha yela owihake (that is all; that is the end) is used at the end
of those stories whose main purpose is to entertain rather than skee (it is
said) and keya pie (they say) which signify that the story is true. Among the
Western Apache, the closing formula is vivid: shi goshk’ dash jaa (That’s the
way my yucca fruit hangs). The yucca fruit resembles a cluster of bananas
and is a particularly apt image for the kinds of stories which the teller en-
closes between the opening and closing formulae.
      “Fictional” narratives of this sort are often episodic or cyclical, and
cluster around the adventures of a conventional character. The cante fable is
common, and narrators of fictional tales often embellish and embroider
their narrations with vocal tone change and gesture.
      Probably the most popular character type for these stories is the trick-
ster figure, so labeled because he deceives and is deceived himself again and
again in stories. He appears in a wide variety of guises throughout the native
West: Raven, Rabbit, Fox, and most commonly Coyote. The trickster is
pictured as a humorous character who never learns from his mistakes but
continually entertains through his absurd antics. At the same time, the
trickster tales often teach the listeners the outcome of inappropriate ac-
tions. The trickster often embodies qualities such as lust, greed, envy, and
avarice. The adventures attributed to him in a single telling might range
from an historical narrative about how he stole fire with his tail for the
People, to a satirical one in which he tricks an Anglo farmer.


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     A Literary History of the American West

     Like his real life counterpart, the coyote, the trickster has proved to be
remarkably adaptable and well-suited to the twentieth century. In “fic-
tional” stories about him, we see the beginnings of social protest as a theme
in a native literature of the West. Consider the following episode from a
cycle of trickster tales collected among the Minnesota Ojibway by Cole-
man. The Trickster/Hero Nanabozho is addressing a council meeting:
          You’re not the only one who’s puzzled. Long ago there was
     plenty of deer. There was enough meat for food, hides for clothing,
     sinew for thread, hoofs for little baskets. I used to soak the brains
     and rub them on the deer hide to soften it. I hung up the deer
     hide on racks before a slow fire to dry it. I cut up the deer meat
     and put it into a clean cloth sack and then later I used it for mak-
     ing soup. I sliced it and chopped it fine for soup and other dishes.
          Now I can’t do this. There are game wardens. The new laws
     affect me too. I go fishing and turn around, the game warden tells
     me I’m over my limit. I want rabbit and I set my snares, and the
     game warden tells me I can’t do that either.
           My brother I am troubled. But I feel sorry for you. I have two
     dollars in the bank. You can have it. (Imagine Nanabozho having
     money in the bank.)
           “Not long ago,” Nanabozho said, “I controlled everything.
     Now there are big officials. Tell me how to get on WPA.”

      Songs pervade every part of life in native American communities from
such ordinary daily activities as corn grinding, working in the fields, travel-
ing, and child care to more extraordinary ritualistic occasions. Songs are
both ceremonial and non-ceremonial.
      Ceremonial songs are often regarded as a kind of special speech in na-
tive communities, a speech which distorts the regular cadences and sounds
of everyday conversation at the same time as it stretches language seman-
tically to accommodate poetic, religious realities. Such special speech may
be regarded as an esoteric language in some communities. In others, it may
give voice to the supernatural. The Yaqui deer singer, for example, consid-
ers his songs to be the voice of the deer who “does not speak, but speaks in
an enchanted way.”
      Ceremonial songs show considerable range in length and complexity
throughout the American West. The Navajo Nightway Ceremony, for ex-
ample, fills nine days and eight nights with some four hundred songs such as
the following:


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House made of dawn.
House made of evening light.
House made of the dark cloud.
House made of male rain.
House made of dark mist.
House made of female mist.
House made of female rain.
House made of pollen.
House made of grasshoppers.
Dark cloud is at the door.
The trail out of it is dark cloud.
The zigzag lightning stands high up on it.
Male deity!
Your offering I make.
I have prepared a smoke for you.
Restore my feet for me.
Restore my legs for me.
Restore my body for me.
Restore my mind for me.
Restore my voice for me.
This very day take out your spell for me.
Your spell remove for me.
You have taken it away for me.
Far off it has gone.
Happily I recover.
Happily my interior becomes cool.
Happily I go forth.
My interior feeling cool, may I walk.
No longer sore, may I walk.
Impervious to pain, may I walk.
With lively feelings, may I walk.
As it used to be long ago, may I walk.
Happily may I walk.
Happily with abundant dark clouds may I walk.
Happily with abundant showers may I walk.
Happily with abundant plants may I walk.
Happily on a trail of pollen may I walk.
Happily may I walk.
Being as it used to be long ago, may I walk.
May it be beautiful before me.


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     A Literary History of the American West

                      May it be beautiful behind me.
                      May it be beautiful below me.
                      May it be beautiful above me.
                      May it be beautiful all around me.
                      In beauty it is finished.
                      In beauty it is finished.
By contrast, a Yaqui fiesta might consist of singing a dozen short compressed
and highly imagistic songs such as the following:
           These three like enchanted night buzzards
           hover above me.
           These three like enchanted night buzzards
           hover above me.
           As they are coming with the light before dawn,
           here from the enchanted light before dawn,
           on top, on the highest point where the mountain sits,
           they are swinging.
           These three like enchanted night buzzards
           hover above me.
Understanding and appreciation of native American song depends upon a
knowledge of the religion and way of life it springs from. Papago singer
Maria Chona’s famous comment “our song is short because we know so
much” suggests a depth of allusion which is present in virtually all native
American song regardless of length or use.
     Non-ceremonial songs accompany nearly all the ordinary motions of
native American life. It is not uncommon for songs used in a ceremonial
context to be sung outside the ceremony for other purposes. Thus songs
from the Navajo Nightway Chant might be used as traveling songs, or a
Yaqui deer song might be sung to accompany house work, or a Blackfoot
ceremonial song might find its way into the repertory of social dance sing-
ers. There are many songs which are created for non-ceremonial purposes as
well: lullabies, grinding songs, and the like. This is a Hopi lullaby for
      Owl, owl, burrowing owl with their eyes each other relishing.
      Owl, owl, burrowing owl with their eyes each other relishing.
            Whomever’s child is a crybaby, we will eat.
            Not you while crying, then go to sleep, not you will I eat.
            Then you while crying go to sleep, you will I eat.


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                                                NATIVE ORAL TRADITIONS

                         a-a-a-ya-a-ay, hu’hu’hu’hu’
                         aaha iihiihi
                         aahaaha iihiihi
Another type of non-ceremonial song which has become popular with
many contemporary native Americans is the “49.” These “49s” are often
sung at the end of a powwow or more formal dance occasion or “after the
party is over.” They combine English lyrics and native vocables into some
strikingly ironic love songs:
                 oh yes, I love you honey
                 iya hana yo
                 I don’t care if you married sixteen times
                 I’ll get you yet

                           PERSONAL NARRATIVES

      During the late nineteenth century and continuing into the twentieth,
there arose a new type of literature based on the oral tradition. This was a
form of autobiography in which an intermediary wrote down the life story of
an elderly Indian. In many cases, the autobiography becomes a vehicle for
telling the history of the tribe during the person’s life and for explaining
native American philosophy. Perhaps the most popular example of the
“as-told-to” narrative is Black Elk Speaks. In this work, the poet John G.
Neihardt recorded the experiences of the Sioux holy man, Black Elk. The
work traces Black Elk’s spiritual quest and that of his people from the time
of Custer and the exploitation of the Black Hills. Black Elk offers a unique
native American view of the events as a counter to accepted American his-
tory. He also offers to all his “listeners” a picture of the power and the
beauty of his native tradition.
      A number of other works also relate the perceptions of native Ameri-
cans in a rapidly changing milieu. Among the more important ones are
Maria Chona’s Autobiography of a Papago Woman; Crushing Thunder: The
Autobiography of a Winnebago; Guests Never Leave Hungry: The Autobiogra-
phy of James Sewid, a Kwakiutl Indian; and Lame Deer: Seeker of Visions.
Common to most of these works is a description of the traditional world
view of the tribal peoples before European contact. Some, such as Lame
Deer: Seeker of Visions, also offer acute criticism of the materialism and lack
of spirituality in American culture.


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      A Literary History of the American West


      Despite their diversity of language and literary form, there are striking
thematic similarities among the native literatures of the West. Four major
themes are the sense of the sacred, the sense of the beautiful, the sense of
place and the sense of community. Each of these elements is closely inter-
woven with the others since the native philosophies from which the litera-
ture proceeds are unitive and holistic.
      The Sacred. Religion permeates all of native American life. There is
probably no aspect of it that could be called non-religious. Religion more
often than not centers on the concept of a power or a set of powers which
inform all things and which need to be contacted through words and acts if
the world is to continue. So it is that words in native American commu-
nities make a difference. They matter, for they are used to contact the sa-
cred. The sacred in turn gives language meaning; it gives words power. The
sacred has the quality of balance and harmony when all is well. It celebrates
a relationship among all things, a relationship in which harmony and bal-
ance are key notions.
      The Beautiful. Man expresses this balance and harmony of life in the
patterned beauty of story and song. The form and style of story and song
suggest the shape of the sacred. Thus we find symmetry, repetition, and bal-
ance (antithesis) present and valued aesthetically in traditional native
American literature.
      When the sacred is expressed in story and song, it links the individual
to his community and religion through aesthetic perceptions. Thus when a
member of a Yaqui audience hears a deer song, he might say, “When I hear
the songs, it takes my mind to the East, to the seyewailo.” The beautiful is
thus experienced as something very personal throughout native American
communities. Acoma writer Simon Ortiz speaks of the importance of situa-
tion in feeling the beauty of the song:
     My father tells me, “This song is a hunting song, listen.” He sings
     and I listen. He may sing it again, and I hear it again. The feeling
     that I perceive is not only contained in the words but there is
     something surrounding those words, surrounding the song, and it
     includes us. It is the relationship that we share with each other
     and with everything else. And that’s the feeling that makes the
     song real and meaningful and which makes his singing and my
     listening more than just a teaching and learning situation.
      Place. The beautiful and the sacred are always linked to particular
places. Mountains, lakes, rivers, and other natural phenomena define the
relationship of the individual to his environment. This connection with
the land is essential to native American thought. Many stories recount the


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                                                NATIVE ORAL TRADITIONS

birth or migration of tribes, which feel a sense of well-being, of harmony
when they are within sight of a sacred spot. The land offers both power and
security to the People. For example, the Lakota revere the Black Hills, and
the Navajo and Hopi view many southwestern mountains as the dwelling
place of the gods. In some cases, an area is connected with the mythic be-
ginnings of a tribe in the place, as with the lake of emergence for the Taos
people. In other cases, the land is a representation of an event which ties
the very blood of the people to their environment, as with the tribes of the
Upper Midwest and the pipestone area in Minnesota. A sense of place gives
meaning and continuity to the People.
      Community. Yet another central theme is the idea of community.
Among such diverse groups as the Haida of the Pacific Northwest, the
Pawnee of the Plains and the Zuni of the Southwest, there resides an abid-
ing and pervasive sense of community. This community often extends be-
yond the human to encompass everything in the animate and “inanimate”
realms. The individual is constantly reminded that he is part of the whole,
not any more important than any creature around him. This radical sense of
community requires respect and concern for all of creation. Thus, many of
the mythic tales are concerned with the time when every being was an inte-
gral part of the tribe. Even though there may be a difference in the physical
appearance of things, the spirit which informs all life is the same.


     Patterns of interest in American Indian story and song as literature
have been cyclic. Just as American interest in anything about the American
Indian ebbs and crests about once a generation so, too, does interest in
American Indian literature. These generational cycles are reflected in the
publications of anthologies of American Indian oral literature. Natalie
Curtis’s The Indians’ Book (1907) marks the crest of a first cycle of interest;
the publication of George Cronyn’s The Path on the Rainbow (1918), a sec-
ond; the appearance of two anthologies around mid-century—Margot
Astrov’s The Winged Serpent (1946) and A. Grove Day’s The Sky Clears
(1951), a third; and the flood of anthologies which arrived in bookstores in
the late sixties and early seventies, epitomized by Jerome Rothenberg’s
Shaking the Pumpkin (1972) and William Brandon’s The Magic World (1971),
suggest a fourth. That the most recent cycle has only begun to ebb, and
that during its course some fifteen new anthologies of American Indian lit-
erature appeared, suggests that the total force of these cycles of interest is
cumulative and has shown quantitative growth.
     Beginning in earnest in the late nineteenth century and continuing
into the present, collection, translation, and interpretation of native Ameri-
can literature has had a similar cyclical character. Throughout these cycles,


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     A Literary History of the American West

the issues and arguments among scholars as to how native American litera-
ture should be translated and interpreted have remained surprisingly the
same. In one sense then, the cycles early in this century set the tone
for almost everything which has followed. It was during the last years of
the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth that Washington
Matthews, Alice Fletcher, Jeremiah Curtin, Frank Cushing, Franz Boas,
and many other ethnologists and folklorists gathered enormous numbers of
narratives and songs from tribal peoples throughout the American West.
Printed in limited scholarly editions, these translations quickly attracted
the attentions of many non-Indian poets and writers. Almost immediately
an adversary relation was established between the anthropologists who
strove to represent the stories and songs of Indian people in interlinear
word-for-word translations of purported scientific accuracy and the poets
who reached for the emotional core of the stories and songs they read.
Comments such as the following one from Washington Matthews’s Navaho
Legends are indicative.
     Stephen Powers, in his “Tribes of California,” gives in simple and
     direct language, the story of how fire came to the Karok nation.
     A few years after he wrote, someone worked his story into a
     “Poem,” which appeared most artistically illustrated, in one of our
     leading magazines. In this poem, the Coyote, in a quandary, is
     represented as “stroking his goatee.” Coyotes have no goatees; In-
     dians have no goatees. The act of stroking the goatee, in thought
     or perplexity, is the special mannerism of a nervous American.
     No allusion could be more out of place in an Indian legend.
     Should the poet referred to ever select any of the tales in this
     book to be tortured into a poem, I beg that he will not, even for
     the sake of making a faulty rhyme, put a beard on the chin of the
     Navaho Coyote God.
Matthews and Boas and the other ethnologists and folklorists in their tradi-
tion have tried to represent the words of American Indian story and song as
accurately and scientifically as they could in their translations.
       An early spokeswoman for the poetic interpretation of texts was Mary
Hunter Austin. She argued that the letter was less important than the
spirit. Working just after Matthews, early in the present century, she re-
marked that she was so interested in “primitive concept” that she did not
bother to record the original form of the songs she encountered among na-
tive people. Rather she “[stripped] them off as so much husk to get at the
kernel of the experience.” Indeed Austin preferred not to regard her work
as translation at all. In The American Rhythm she writes, “If forced to affix a
title to my work I would prefer to call it not translation, but re-expression.”


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Mary Austin and those poets who have attempted to translate, “retranslate”
or “re-express” native American story and song have all been far more con-
cerned with communicating the emotional core, the spirit, of the text than
with rendering an accurate transliteration of it.
     The tension between these two views of translating American Indian
oral literature continues throughout all the cycles and is with us in the
present. Each view is associated with interpretive styles as well. The eth-
nologists have through the years tended to stress the necessity for viewing
native American story and song against the backdrop of native American
culture. They argue that it is virtually impossible to reach an understanding
of native American literature without a knowledge of native American
culture. Moreover, they have often placed considerable stress on native
American interpretations of native American literature, internal rather
than external interpretations—what has lately been called metafolklore.
At the same time, the thrust of their efforts has been in the main preserva-
tionist, many times resembling the verbal equivalent of salvage archaeol-
ogy. By contrast, the poets have placed a far greater emphasis on incor-
porating the content and style of native American story and song into their
own creative work. They argue that this is the only way one may really
understand American Indian verbal expression, by making it one’s own. In
this way, they hope to introduce the native American tradition into Ameri-
can literature generally, and, in Austin’s phrase, redirect “the ultimate liter-
ary destiny of America.”

      One of the constant features of writing about native American story
and song is the statement or implication that it is dead or dying. Commonly
an editor or collector reports that but for his efforts these “dying whispers”
would be lost. If the American West is any indication, nothing could be
further from the truth. In many communities, traditions of story and song
continue and flourish. Revivalist movements are well under way as well.
Spurred on by the move to teach and/or recognize native cultures in the
public school system and by a growing network of community controlled
and operated schools on the reservations, Indian people are bringing back,
maintaining, and preserving large parts of their heritage that seemed to be
slipping away from them in the years after the Second World War. Then,
too, there are the efforts of such linguists as Dell Hymes, who is attempting
to “restore” native American story and songs to communities along the
north Pacific coast through his linguistic work with texts collected earlier in
this century. Finally, there has appeared in the decade or so since N. Scott
Momaday’s House Made of Dawn (1968) a generation of Indian writers who
seek in their own work to represent the content and style of the oral tradi-


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     A Literary History of the American West

tions out of which they come. Momaday’s The Way to Rainy Mountain,
Ortiz’s A Good Journey and Silko’s Storyteller are each in a significant way
collections of materials from oral tradition with informed inside commen-
tary. They provide us with the most accurate, authentic and accessible ap-
proaches to native American oral traditions presently available.

                                          L ARRY E VEN , University     of Arizona
                                          P AUL P A V I C H ,   Fort Lewis College


1.   Dean and Lucille Saxton, O’ o thham Hoho’ ok A’ agitha: Legends and Lore of
     the Papago and Pima Indians (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1973),
     pp. 1–2, 8.
2.   Mary Austin, The Land of Litttle Rain (1903; rpt. Albuquerque: University of
     New Mexico Press, 1974), p. 3.
3.   See Gary Witherspoon’s discussion of this idea in Language and Art in the Na-
     vajo Universe (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1977).
4.   Andrew Natonabah, recorded on the videotape By This Song I Walk, produced
     by Larry Evers (Tucson: University of Arizona Division of Media and Institu-
     tional Services, 1979). Distributor: Clearwater Publishing Company, 1995
     Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10023.
5.   Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (1956; rpt.
     New York: Schocken, 1972), p. 118; Dennis Tedlock, Finding the Center: Nar-
     rative Poetry of the Zuni Indians (1972; rpt. Lincoln: University of Nebraska
     Press, 1978), p. xvi; Ekkehart Malotki, Hopitutuwutsi: Hopi Tales (Flagstaff:
     Museum of Northern Arizona Press, 1978), p. xiii.
6.   Albert Yava, Big Falling Snow: A Tewa-Hopi Indian’s Life and Times and the His-
     tory of Traditions of His People, ed. Harold Courlander (New York: Crown Pub-
     lishers, 1978), p. 41.
7.   “Al Wiapoi,” trans. Ofelia Zepeda, in The South Corner of Time: Hopi, Navajo,


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    Papago, and Yaqui Tribal Literature, ed. Larry Evers (Tucson: University of Ari-
    zona Press, 1980), pp. 132–33.
8. Rudolph Kane recorded on the videotape The Origin of the Crown Dance: An
    Apache Narrative, produced by Larry Evers (University of Arizona Division of
    Media and Institutional Services, 1979). Distributor: Clearwater Publishing
9. Helen Sekaquaptewa, recorded on the videotape Iisaw: Hopi Coyote Stories,
    produced by Larry Evers (University of Arizona Division of Media and Institu-
    tional Services, 1979). Distributor: Clearwater Publishing Company.
10. Ella Deloria, Dakota Texts (1932; rpt. New York: AMS Press, 1974), pp. ix-x;
    Grenville Goodwin, Myths and Tales of the white Mountain Apache (1939; rpt.
    New York: Kraus, 1969), p. ix.
11. Sr. Bernard Coleman, Ellen Frogner and Estelle Eich, Ojibway Myths and Leg-
    ends (Minneapolis: Ross and Haines, 1961), pp. 98–99.
12. Larry Evers, personal interview with Lorenzo Salvatierra, 21 October 1976.
13. Translation by Washington Matthews (1907) quoted from Four Masterworks of
    American Indian Literature, ed. John Bierhorst (New York: Farrar, Straus and
    Giroux, 1974), pp. 307–308.
14. Lorenzo Salvatierra, singer, Felipe Molina and Larry Evers translators, re-
    corded on the videotape Seyewailo: The Flower World: Yaqui Deer Songs, pro-
    duced by Larry Evers (University of Arizona Division of Media and Instruc-
    tional Services, 1979). Distributor: Clearwater Publishing Company.
15. Helen Sekaquaptewa, singer, Emory Sekaquaptewa and Kathleen Sands, trans-
    lators, from “Four Hopi Lullabies: A Study in Method and Meaning,” Ameri-
    can Indian Quarterly 4 (August 1978):202–203.
16. Barre Toelken, Instructor’s Manual, The Dynamics of Folklore (Boston: Houghton
    Mifflin, 1979), p. 6.
17. See Paula Gunn Allen, “The Sacred Hoop: A Contemporary Indian Perspec-
    tive on American Indian Literature,” in Literature of the American Indians, ed.
    Abraham Chapman (New York: New American Library, 1975), pp. 111– 135,
    and N. Scott Momaday, “The Man Made of Words,” in Literature of the Ameri-
    can Indians, pp. 96–110.
18. “Song/Poetry and Language—Expression and Perception: A Statement on Po-
    etics and Language,” Sun Tracks: An American lndian Literary Magazine 3
19. Natalie Curtis, The Indians’ Book (1907; rpt. New York: Dover, 1968); George
    W. Cronyn, The Path on the Rainbow (1918; rpt. New York: Liveright, 1962);
    Margot Astrov, The Winged Serpent (1946; rpt. New York: Capricorn Books,
     1962); A. Grove Day, The Sky Clears (1951; rpt. Lincoln: University of
    Nebraska Press, 1964); Jerome Rothenberg, ed., Shaking the Pumpkin (New
    York: Doubleday, 1972); William Brandon, The Magic World (New York:
    William Morrow, 1971). See Larry Evers, “Cycles of Appreciation,” in Paula
    Gunn Allen, ed., Studies in American Indian Literature (New York: MLA, 1983).
20. Washington Matthews, Navaho Legends (New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1897).
21. Mary Austin, The American Rhythm (New York: Macmillan, 1923), p. 40.


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      A Literary History of the American West

22. The American Rhythm, p. 38.
23. See “Folklore’s Nature and the Sun’s Myth,” Journal of American Folklore 88
24. N. Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain (Albuquerque: University of
    New Mexico Press, 1969); Simon J. Ortiz, A Good Journey (Berkeley: Turtle
    Island, 1977); Leslie Marmon Silko, Storyteller (New York: Seaver Books,

                           Selected Bibliography
Murdock, George P. Ethnographic Bibliography of North America. 4th ed. rev. by
    Timothy J. O’Leary. 5 vols. New Haven: Human Relations Area Files Press,
    1975. Comprehensive bibliographies for each of the North American tribes,
    regularly updated.
Ruoff, LaVonne, and Karl Kroeber. “A Basic Bibliography for Teachers Initiating
    Courses in Native American Literatures.” Supplement to Studies in American
    Indian Literature 4 (1980). Available from Karl Kroeber, ed. SAIL, Dept. of
    English, Columbia University, New York, N.Y. 10027. Best short bibliography
    available. Regularly updated.
Stensland, Anna Lee. Literature by and About the American Indian: An Annotated
    Bibliography. Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English, 1979.
     A number of scholarly publications regularly include oral literature. Among
the most important of these are:
    The Journal of American Folklore
    The Bulletins and Annual Reports of the Bureau of American Ethnology
    Papers and Memoirs from the American Museum of Natural History
General Collections
Bierhorst, John. The Red Swan: Myths and Tales of the American Indians. New York:
    Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976. A collection of national scope organized
    around topics.
Evers, Larry, ed. The South Corner of Time: Hopi, Nawajo, Papago and Yaqui Tribal
    Literature. (Originally published as Sun Tracks: An American Indian Literary Se-
    ries, Volume 6.) Tucson, Arizona: University of Arizona Press, 1980.
Thompson, Stith, ed. Tales of the North American Indians. Bloomington: Indiana
    University Press, 1966. A classic collection with voluminous notes and bibli-
    ography. Reprint of 1929 edition.
Turner, Frederick W. III, ed. The Portable North American Indian Reader. New York:
    Viking, 1973. A good general collection of oral literature along with autobiog-
    raphy, poetry, etc.


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Tribal Narratives
Deloria, Ella. Dakota Texts. New York: AMS Press, 1974. Contains original
    Dakota, literal and free translations by this Sioux scholar. Reprint of 1932
Jacobs, Melville. The Content and Style of an Oral Literature: Clackamas Chinook
    Myths and Tales. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959. Translation and
    analysis of eight stories.
Kilpatrick, Jack F. and Anna. Friends of Thunder: Folktales of the Oklahoma Chero-
    kees. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1964. Interesting collection
    which includes notes on beliefs and social systems.
Momaday, N. Scott. The Way to Rainy Mountain. Albuquerque: University of New
    Mexico Press, 1969. A collection of stories gathered by Momaday from his
    Kiowa kinsmen.
Radin, Paul. The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology. New York:
    Schocken Books, 1972. A classic account of the Winnebago trickster and hare
    cycles. Reprint of 1956 edition.
Ramsey, Jarold. Coyote Was Going There. Seattle: University of Washington Press,
    1977. A good overview of the narratives from Oregon tribes.
Yazzie, Ethelou. Navajo History, Vol. I. Many Farms, Arizona: Navajo Community
    College Press, 1971. The emergence stories of the Navajo.
Crashing Thunder. Crashing Thunder: The Autobiography of a Winnebago. Ed. Paul
     Radin. New York: Dover, 1963. Insightful account of a traditional Indian
     caught up in rapid change. Reprint of 1920 edition.
Fire, John (Lame Deer) and Richard Erdoes. Lame Deer: Seeker of Visions. New
     York: Simon and Schuster, 1972. The life of a Sioux medicine man, more criti-
     cal of America than Black Elk.
Lurie, Nancy Oestreich, ed. Mountain Wolf Woman, Sister of Crushing Thunder: The
    Autobiography of a Winnebago Indian. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan
     Press, 1961. The life story of a seventy-five-year-old woman who was born in
Neihardt, John G. Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala
     Sioux. New York: Pocket Books, 1961. The account of Black Elk’s visionary
     experiences and his accounts of Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee. Reprint
     of 1932 edition.
Sewid, James. Guests Never Leave Hungry: The Autobiography of James Sewid, a
     Kwakiutl Indian. Ed. James P. Spradley. New Haven: Yale University Press,
     1969. The life of a chieftain born in 1913.
Underhill, Ruth. Papago Woman. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979.
     A clear and powerful account of the cultural changes in a Papago woman’s life.
     Reprint of 1936 edition.
Bierhorst, John. Four Masterworks of American Indian Literature. New York: Farrar,


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      A Literary History of the American West

    Straus and Giroux, 1974. Contains the Navajo Night Chant, helpful
Curtis, Natalie. The Indians’ Book. New York: Dover, 1968. Songs from throughout
    the country, includes the musical notation for each song. Reprint of 1907
Day, A. Grove. The Sky Clears: Poetry of the American Indians. Lincoln: University
    of Nebraska Press, 1964. Includes both song texts and commentary, organized
    by various regions of the continent. Reprint of 1951 edition.
Underhill, Ruth. Singing for Power: The Song Music of the Papago Indians of Southern
    Arizona. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1938. Poetic translations
     along with commentary.
Allen, Paula Gunn, ed. Studies in American Indian Literature. New York: Modern
    Language Association, 1983. Course outlines, strategies for teaching, and
    critical essays.
Chapman, Abraham, ed. Literature of the American Indians: Views and Interpreta-
    tions. New York: New American Library, 1975. A good collection of essays,
    including those of N. Scott Momaday, Paula Allen, and Vine Deloria, Jr.
    Also contains essays by the controversial Hyemeyohsts Storm and Jerome
Kroeber, Karl, comp. Traditional American Indian Literatures: Texts and lnterpreta-
    tions. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1981. Essays by Kroeber, Jarold
    Ramsey, Dennis Tedlock, Barre Toelken, Tacheeni Scott, and Dell Hymes.


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                    Folklore in the American West

                 Our neighbors are the rattlesnakes—
                 They crawl up from the Badlands’ breaks;
                 We do not live, we only stay;
                 We are too poor to get away.

H       ARDLY THE WORDS    of a Founding Father or a Pioneer Mother, hardly
         the phrasing of a history book or the rhetoric of a Historical Society
         pamphlet, but such are the expressions found routinely in the
genres of folklore—those informal but traditional and recurrent ways in
which the members of closely related groups pass along the shared values
and attitudes which animate their everyday lives. Some culturally shared
ideas are difficult to express in coldly technical or denotative language, pre-
cisely because their principal content is more emotional than intellectual.
How does one express, for friends and relatives who already know the score,
just how frustrating and disappointing the homesteading experience was—-
or how triumphant the second generation feels about the fact that their par-
ents (some of them, at any rate) prevailed and actually obtained title to a
snake-infested desert, supporting a family from its produce or its minerals?
Clearly, the feelings involved are complex and deep, for they are a mixture
of frustration and hard-won success, and they are best expressed, for in-
siders, at any rate, in the vernacular of everyday speech and the genres of
everyday performance, that is, through jokes, songs, sayings, proverbs, cus-
toms, games-even food and buildings. The study of folklore analyzes these
“unofficial” expressions of culturally shared ideas by looking at the articula-
tions themselves, as they are found in the natural contexts in which people
actually “perform” them to each other.
      Doctors and professors, as well as cowboys, tell certain kinds of jokes,
anecdotes, and legends which testify to their ongoing shared concerns and
anxieties about their professional situation; these oral traditions will be
quite different from the traditions followed by the same people when at
home celebrating Christmas or Chanukkah with their families, or the same
people when they go to a Norwegian family reunion or a festival in their
home town in Buster, Oklahoma. All of us are members of several folk
groups, and we tailor our speech and our other informal behavior and ex-
pressions according to the group we find ourselves in at the particular mo-
ment. The concept of geographical region, then, especially one so poten-


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     A Literary History of the American West

tially open to subjective definition as “The West,” provides but one of many
dimensions of a very complex and fascinating subject.
       Indeed, some folklorists are convinced that an entire region is too
broad for folkloristic analysis, especially when—as is certainly the case in
the American West—there is a constant influx of traditional expression
from other areas. Having said all that, what then remains to be discussed
about the existence and nature of folklore—distinctive and ongoing infor-
mal traditional expression used on an everyday basis—in the American
West? The folklore discussed in this essay may have come into the West
chiefly from other areas, but we know it has been adapted, used, discarded,
and developed according to both the newer “facts” of life in the West, and
the shared values of the people who settled the area. The process by which
incoming folklore and cultural attitude are modified to suit the new physical
and cultural setting, and the means by which this new environment then
constitutes a living matrix in which local expressions are generated, is
treated at length in an excellent essay, “Regionalization: A Rhetorical
Strategy,” by Suzi Jones. In it, she shows how folklore actually is used as a
persuasive statement about regional identity, and suggests that regional
folksongs, tall tales, names, and the like, although they may be presented in
a laconic, offhand manner (especially in front of outsiders), provide some of
the most telling “readings” on the depth of feeling in a locale. In the
present essay, I will first mention a few of the many folk groups which have
characterized the cultural life of the West, partly in order to show that the
subject is far more complex than a brief essay would indicate, and then de-
scribe some of the genres of folklore which are particularly good examples of
the “regionalized” tradition in the American West.’ The reader is requested
to keep in mind, however, that these are a selection of the groups, forms,
topics, and character types that are clearly important to our understanding
of western culture: they are in no way a definitive listing, nor are they dis-
cussed very deeply. The interested reader should, thus, go further and
deeper with any one of them.
                        WESTERN FOLK GROUPS

      Most of the folk groups which have been prominent in the settlement
of the West are multidimensional; that is, occupations which have their
own lore and language have been developed or excelled in by members of
certain ethnic or national groups which have as well their own insider lore.
For example, much of the cowboy culture which has colored the life and
attitudes (as well as fueled the stereotypes and myths) of the West was in
fact brought north from Mexico and developed into a highly articulate cul-
ture by Spanish-speaking ranchers. Much of the terminology still used
in the cattle country comes directly from Spanish buckaroos (vaqueros).


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                                       FOLKLORE IN THE AMERICAN WEST

The preference, in fact, for the word “buckaroo” by the cattle ranchers
over the word “cowboy” is still a locally distinctive feature in some areas
within the region we call the West. In eastern Oregon, parts of Idaho, and
much of Nevada, in fact, use of the word “cowboy” marks someone as an
outsider. With such deep-seated usage of Hispanic terminology remaining so
central to local conception of insider culture, we would expect to find other
kinds of cultural expressions from the same background central to the on-
going value system, but they are rare, a fact which testifies to the mal-
leability and selectivity of the folklore process. The buckaroos, working to-
gether with other knowledgeable buckaroos, developed a rich insider lingo
for dealing with horses and cattle. At home, among their families—where
other customs and ethnic values come into play—their folk expressions ar-
ticulated those other constellations. Obviously, ranchers of Hispanic back-
ground continue to live in a richly colonial Hispanic culture, even though
in the intervening years, not all Hispanic people have remained ranchers.
Significantly this strong central role in the development of ranching in the
West is not often depicted so fully in the popular media, where the Mexican
most often appears as a later interloper, a foreigner out of place in the Anglo
system. Although historians estimate that as many as thirty percent of the
working cowboys were Hispanic or black, and although their influence is
easily seen in western occupational speech and slang, the popular images
which appear in films and dime novel format grow more directly out of later
racist stereotypes which have been politically and sociologically more im-
portant to the public than acknowledgement of the deeper level of earlier
indebtedness suggested by folklore.
      Among other things, this should indicate one important reason why
the study of folklore adds something to our fuller view of western culture
and history. But more germane to the point here is the suggestion that
nearly all folklore in the West is similarly complicated. Not only is there
sheepherder lore (both the lore of the sheepherders themselves and the
ranchers who raised the sheep, and the lore about sheepherders passed along
by those—for example cattle ranchers—who often saw the sheep ranchers
as very odd people indeed, as outsiders to their own cultural views), but
there is Basque sheepherder lore, as well as Basque lore, and lore about
Basques by non-Basque people. Along the Northwest coast there is the lore
of the fishing people (the fishermen themselves, as well as their families at
home); but there is also the lore of the Yugoslav fishermen as contrasted to
that of the Scandinavian fishermen.
      Throughout the West there are various kinds of miners; thus we will
find the folklore of open pit and hardrock underground miners, coal vs. cop-
per miners, and so on. Again, complicating the picture even more, there
are the Cornish miners with their Tommyknocker stories, as well as the


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      A Literary History of the American West

Finns, the Irish, and transplanted Kentucky and West Virginia miners of
 Scotch-Irish background. In a place like Butte, Montana, this kaleidoscope
creates a cultural complexity that cannot be covered by the word “miner.”
 So important were these cultural differences in Butte’s past that they re-
sulted in the formation of distinctly ethnic neighborhoods in that small city
 (Finntown, a part of Butte, has teetered on the brink of the large open
 Berkeley pit for some years, waiting for total destruction), and these differ-
ences have often led to fighting and rivalry among the people of the town.
 But the brotherhood forged by the grinding underground and pit mining
work also created a rich set of values such as can be seen in the greeting card
sent by a retired Irish miner to his Finnish friends on St. Patrick’s Day:
 “Happy St. Urho’s Day, you Finnish Bastard!” The combination of rivalry
 and deep friendship, ethnic difference and occupational kinship, performed
 in the gruff humor of a working culture, would be difficult to express in tech-
nical or simply denotative terms.
       A similar kind of dichotomy is seen in the folklore of the lumber indus-
try. Here, although loggers come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, the
 important split seems to be between those who work in the woods and those
who work in the mills. At least in the Pacific Northwest, the people make a
distinction between “logger” and “lumberjack,” the latter being someone
who stacks lumber in a mill; used by a logger, the term suggests a negative
 connotation. Since many of the eastern “lumberjacks” who left Michigan
and Wisconsin to become “loggers” in the Northwest were Scandinavian,
we might expect that national identification to have exercised a strong in-
fluence on the lore of the occupation. And indeed, it seems persistent today
as a form of proud humor: Swedes (as most Scandinavians were called) were
reputed to be hard and faithful workers who felt no pain, and thus the
 stories about them became something like internal stereotypes of the logger
 image. A Swede, in one story, tries to show his foreman how he cut his
 hand off in the buzzsaw by trying to work too fast: “Ooops, dammit, now
 dere goes da udder vun !” It is said that when a logger died on the job, his
 lower lip was pulled out to see if he had the distinguishing Swede character-
 istic: a hole the size of a quarter burned into the lip by snoose (moist,
ground tobacco carried in the lip in preference to smoking). Young loggers
 trying to learn how to dip snoose were said to be “passing as Swedes.” For
 the forest workers, ethnic differences showed up more distinctively at home
 or at weddings or church socials in which ethnic foods were served and na-
 tional dances allowed for a retention of older community expressions.
       Chinese and Japanese immigrants, once imported mainly to work on
the railroads and the mines, slowly developed their community stability in
America largely because they originally did not bring their families with
them. Much of their early folklore was men’s lore, expressed, of course, in


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                                        FOLKLORE IN THE AMERICAN WEST

their own languages. Later, as wives and families joined the men, family
lore (in the form of foods, customs, songs, and stories) grew apace, espe-
cially because there was so much sense of cultural surroundment and social
isolation. A well-known phenomenon in folklore, often called marginal or
peripheral distribution, accounts for the fact that people far from their origi-
nal homes tend not so much to lose their traditions as to intensify them se-
lectively by using them to adapt to the new situation while maintaining
their own sense of normality. Many of the Japanese and Chinese customs
found in the United States are actually older than the customs one can find
in circulation today in the parent country. A Japanese lullaby, “Naranda,”
sung to Japanese children born in America at the turn of the century, is still
sung here, but is virtually unknown in Japan. Innovation along ethnically
“normal” lines is also found in new contexts: thus, we find several Chinese
dishes which were “invented” in America, or Japanese foods (such as
sukiyaki) which have been altered by the addition of more meat (avoided
once by Buddhists, and rare anyway in Japan), or the exchange of one con-
diment or vegetable for another more readily available in the new situation.
      Much could be said about the deep differences in folklore between
Japanese and Chinese: how the one eventually settled mostly in rural areas
and excelled in farming and developing previously marginal land, while the
other, keeping large, extended family groups together, tended to settle in
the urban areas and operated family-owned service businesses; how the
vastly different cultures were classified together as the Yellow Peril, often
coming under suspicion precisely because their folklore was so different and
because it was practiced in the privacy of their homes (a custom which the
Anglos saw as secretive and furtive). This outside stereotype came into po-
litical use during World War II when government “experts” testified that
the very fact that the Japanese kept their culture alive secretly at home was
a sure sign of their loyalty to the Japanese emperor, and the fact that no
sabotage had ever been committed by a Japanese-American showed just how
well-organized they were in their ultimate plan of waiting for the proper
moment to strike. Such beliefs led to the internment without due process of
110,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry in 1942, but equally re-
markable is that the same stereotypes (many of them based on what we call
exoteric folklore) are today used to illustrate how successful the Asians have
been in becoming American citizens: they keep their families together, they
mind their own business and keep their teenagers off the street, and they
keep their ethnic heritage alive, all qualities highly valued in modern
America. For the same reasons they were once a threat, the Asians are now
thought of as our model minority. Here is a striking example of the working
of ethnic folklore and exoteric response in the American West. Of course,
today, with the influx of Koreans since the 1950s and the Southeast Asians


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      A Literary History of the American West

since the early 1970s, the picture becomes increasingly complex, and one
sees and hears the beliefs once applied to the Japanese and Chinese being
applied to the newer arrivals.
      Folklore is alive and well in the American West, as elsewhere, and it
behooves us to pay attention to its political and sociological ramifications.
Nonetheless, the West envisioned by some academics who write about the
region is not, I think, the present-day West with its ongoing realities and
traditions, but the archetypical West in which certain recurrent ideas have
functioned to define and express values shared by substantial numbers of the
people who have seen themselves as central to the West. In this archetypical
world, the Japanese and Chinese remain as outsiders, the Indians as im-
placable foes (or occasionally as spiritual guides—as long as they are not
interested in holding onto much land), the women as supporting players
who sometimes rise to glory, the men (and male values) as central issues of
reality. In many ways, thus, the West has given dramatic voice to attitudes
characteristic of the whole country, or has promoted “American” values
revered by the whole culture.
      Other groups which are valuable subjects in the study of western folk-
lore are the many religious groups which have made themselves at home
here, often in the expressed belief that somehow the West offered them a
possibility for community independence which they could not find else-
where. What was it they found, or thought they saw here? If we knew more
about their folk expressions, we could unlock still other cultural aspects of
the western puzzle. Consider their variety: the Mormons in Utah and south-
ern Idaho (archetypically, at least; of course the Mormons are not confined
there); the Hutterites in Montana; the communalistic Aurora Colony in
Oregon; the socialistic Puget Sound Utopian settlements; the extremely
conservative Russian Old Believers near Woodburn, Oregon; the Buddhists
and Shinto people in California and cities like Salt Lake; the Jews in every
major city; the Catholics in the Southwest; the Protestants in the North-
west; the Amish in Oregon (once living near Amity, they suddenly picked
up in the 1950s and moved to Florida); the Rajneesh community in Ante-
lope, Oregon (temporarily renamed Rajneesh City). All of these groups
have had an effect on the culture of the West, and therefore an effect on
what it is we call the West. All of these have undoubtedly been regionalized
to one extent or another. Each of these groups would show in its folk expres-
sions some dimension of the western experience, and the study would be
well worth the effort.

      The first genre of western tradition to be discussed in this essay is mate-
rial culture: those expressions which—by the use of cloth, wood, threads,


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                                       FOLKLORE IN THE AMERICAN WEST

plants and other physical materials—transmit in concrete form concepts
 and designs and values parallel to the oral forms that will be discussed.
Cooking would of course be one of these expressions: local recipes (and
names for them), local uses of wild vegetables and game, preferences for
regional styles of food preparation and seasoning, favorite fuels or woods for
smoking, customs about who does the cooking. Some western families re-
strict the raising and use of sourdough to men; in others, men cook meals
prepared outdoors, while women take charge of those produced in the
kitchen and control the language that is used there.
      Largely but not exclusively a woman’s form of expression is quilting.
Most of the western quilters we know about are women, but men show up
far more often than one would expect. Some take up quilting because there
is no woman in the family passing on a mother’s or a grandmother’s tradi-
tion; in other cases a man takes it up after retirement or after a difficult
operation. Still others are lured into it by helping their wives add the quilt-
ing (back and filling, together with whatever decorative stitches are used to
bind them together) to a piecework top. The regular alteration of geometric
patterns naturally provides a physical statement of the stability and predict-
ability which are highly valued by the agrarian society in which quilting
became so central. Certain patterns are most likely to be given as gifts be-
cause they embody the thought or intent offered by the giver: for example,
“Double Wedding Ring,” with its interwoven symbols of marriage, or “Log
Cabin,” with its regular “log” walls and central spot (reminiscent of a
hearth), is considered a proper gift for newlyweds, while erratic or humor-
ous patterns like “Drunkard’s Path” or “Turkey Tracks,” because of their
characterizations of wandering away from the straight path, are considered
dangerous for newly married couples. Do quilters “believe” that the quilt
exercises a magical influence on those who sleep under it? No, but they ob-
viously see the quilt as a statement, and they want the statement to be con-
sistent with community value and practice. Folklore does not, however,
need to be consciously planned in order to display intent and cultural
      Other women’s lore in the West (again, not limited to women but tra-
ditionally associated with female role and custom in the community) would
include other arts or crafts such as embroidery (extremely important for the
Russian Old Believers), rug hooking or braiding (mainly a practical way of
reusing older materials, but subject to tremendous artistic variation), mid-
wifery (almost exclusively a female tradition in the early West; older mid-
wives will usually not even discuss it with a male researcher), and the per-
formance of that great range of philosophical, medicinal, practical, and
moral expression which falls under the deceptively simple rubric of house-
work. The housework itself is often done according to the traditions of rou-


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      A Literary History of the American West

tines long in the family: women report doing their washing and ironing on
the same day their mothers did them, using certain procedures passed down
in the family (like what order to wash clothes or dishes in), and even hav-
ing the same attitudes toward color combinations that were thought normal
by older female members of their families.
      Another material dimension of western folklore is folk costume (not in
the sense of a party costume, but the everyday traditional use of clothing to
mark boundaries between groups of people). House painters tend to dress in
white, cowboys and fishermen in blue, loggers in black and gray. Fishermen
may prefer a certain kind of rubber boot, while loggers may use any work
boot as long as it fits the terrain (which often means wearing caulked boots,
pronounced “corks,” which have hobnails on the bottom). Ways of wearing
the clothing may also be traditional: for example, loggers in some parts of
the West cut the cuffs or seams off the pantlegs; others insist on wearing a
certain striped workshirt with the tail cut off; others don’t appear without
their red “Logger’s World” suspenders (belts are dangerous in the woods,
and besides, many loggers work in the summer with their pants hanging
open for ventilation). Cowboys wear different kinds of chaps for different
purposes and in different kinds of weather. Many working cowboys of today
do not wear the kind of Stetson that has become known as the cowboy hat;
rather, they prefer a small working cap with a visor to protect the eyes from
sun-the kind distributed by tractor companies and baseball clubs. Cur-
rently, one can see more cowboy hats per square head in downtown Denver
among young working men and women at play than on a similar number of
working cowboys.
      Still another form of material expression in folk design is the folk boat:
the distinctively local boat built by local people for local conditions and
use. Usually these are modifications of some earlier kind of boat known to
the first boatbuilder who tried regionalizing the idea. Practically every west-
em river, from the Salmon to the Colorado to the Rogue, has its own dis-
tinctive boat. They are practical, usually built of local materials, and al-
though the users would probably be the first to say that their construction is
more practical than aesthetic, there is often a very strong note of grace,
balance and symmetry that demonstrates an ongoing taste in good design as
well as technical command of functional detail. The fact that local styles
remain relatively stable over the years is a good sign that ends more compli-
cated than technical necessity are being served. These are visible articula-
tions of a shared sense of the good, proper, and beautiful.
      The same can be said of traditional barns and outbuildings, fence styles
and gates, mailbox supports and ranch entryways. So ubiquitous in the
West is the high, two-posted entry with crossbeam that even weekenders
from the city living in prefab or mobile homes will erect one soon after ob-


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                                       FOLKLORE IN THE AMERICAN WEST

taining a piece of property in ranch country. In earlier times, the high
entryway no doubt helped people to find the gate opening in a long fence
stretching for miles across the range. And of course it had to be built high
enough that people could ride through without dismounting. But its prac-
tical functions are nearly always augmented by personal decoration of very
specific sorts: a plank with the family or ranch name may hang in the
middle; a saddle may ride on the cross-piece; wagon wheels, single and
doubletrees may dangle from overhangs; bison or cattle skulls, horse and
oxen shoes, large models of the family’s cattle brand, boots, hats and the
like may be affixed over all. All of these are of course emblems of the ranch
life, and the better they detail the accepted notions of the “real” ranch life
of earlier times, the more they testify to the owner’s tenure in the country.
       Austin Fife showed some years ago how even the mailbox supports
used throughout the West demonstrated a decided element of cultural
choice: although government regulations stipulate what kind of supports
may and may not be used, and although practicality and economics would
argue for something simple and unadorned, one finds instead cream sepa-
rators, welded logging chains, hand-held plows, milk cans, augers, metal
tractor seats—all of them physical remnants of the way the previous genera-
tion did its work in the place. Technically, Fife pointed out, these items are
throwaways, “junk,‘: but in emblematic terms they are signs that say, “We’ve
been here since this item was actually in use.” The item, instead of having
lost its meaning, has been intensified and specialized in its meaning, and
has become an easily recognized icon. Anything can hold up a mailbox; not
everything can proclaim local roots and community value. For similar rea-
sons, the old “Jackson Fork” hay derrick (also known as the Mormon der-
rick), though not in regular use to stack loose hay for some years now, re-
mains standing like a dinosaur in many a ranch yard, mute but eloquent
testimony to the regional identity of the owner. Woe to the new foreman
from out of the area who saws the “useless” rig up into firewood.
       Fences, once the abomination of the cattlemen, have become in more
recent years emblems of domain and familiar self-produced signs of owner-
ship. There are local preferences for cedar posts, metal stakes, or diamond
willow (“gives the cattle a better shelter from wind in the open country,” a
Montana rancher soberly assured me), preferred ways of stretching or re-
pairing wire fence, locally developed methods of anchoring fencelines (such
as “rock traps,” bins of rock in eastern Oregon where land is too hard for
post holes, explained to tourists as a means of catching rocks before they are
blown out onto the road by high winds). Scraps of wire fencing are saved for
use in repairing gates, machinery, and tackle. Oregon old-timer Reub Long
once said, “If heaven hasn’t any old rusty patched-up wire fences, I’ll never
feel at home there.”


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      A Literary History of the American West

                         FOLK SONGS IN THE WEST

      Many of the songs sung traditionally in the West have survived not
only the transcontinental journey, but the transoceanic voyage as well—
often with surprising fidelity to earlier versions. Of course, few folksongs
have a single version which can reasonably be called the “correct” one, be-
cause constant variation in text and tune is the hallmark of the traditional
process. Some older songs from England appear in western American ver-
sions in what first appears to be eroded condition. An old British broadside
street ballad of some forty stanzas once became one of the most popular
songs in the English language; it described in what we would today consider
extremely melodramatic language the slow deaths of a wealthy husband and
wife, and the later deaths of their two children. What remains in western
American tradition are a mere three verses, the ones that detail the death of
the lost children. Before we lament that erosion has taken its toll, however,
we should note several important details: first, the part of the ballad which
remains is poetically most pleasing, and in diction the least didactic and
strained of the whole earlier ballad. So a good argument could be made here
for the poetic tastes of American traditional singers. Another thing we
might notice is that the song now makes a somewhat different point: instead
of moralizing about the duties of adults to their minor charges, the ballad
now places full spotlight on the plight of the children, without rationale,
background, or moral lesson. Why would singers do this, and why would
the song have been so popularly sung in the West? It does not seem to be
the result simply of poor memory. One way to approach such a question is to
ask about how and when a song was actually sung, and by whom. Here we
begin to get a revealing picture: most elderly people in the West remember
hearing this song as a lullaby sung to them by their mothers, who probably
shared with other mothers along the wagon trails, and later on the western
homesteads, the fear that their children might wander off and die in the
woods. For reasons like this, one of the most popular songs ever to exist in
England became also one of the most popular songs ever to be sung in the
American West.

                                Two Babes in the Woods
           Oh do you remember a long time ago
           When two little babes, their names I don’t know
           They wandered away one bright summer’s day
           And were lost in the woods, I heard people say.
           And when it was night, so sad was their plight
           The moon had gone down and the stars gave no light


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            They sobbed and they sighed and bitterly cried
            And those two little babes laid down and died.
            And when they were dead, a robin so red
            Brought strawberry leaves and over them spread.
            And all the day long they sang their sweet song,
            Those two little babes who were lost in the wood.
      Quite another kind of folk editing occurred when the equally popular
British broadside “The Unfortunate Rake” went into folk tradition. It de-
picts the wayward son of a wealthy squire’s family dying of drink, general
dissolution and venereal disease outside St. James Hospital in London. Al-
ready wrapped for burial, placed outside the hospital to make room for
others, he is discovered by an old friend, to whom he tells his sad story. In
some versions he also asks that his younger brother be warned to avoid the
same fate; in most versions he requests a proper funeral with music, a pro-
cession and pallbearers. The song became very popular and quickly entered
the song traditions of the sailors, who apparently felt some kinship of spirit
for the poor victim. Naturally, however, they would not have been inter-
ested in singing about some rich kid from the country, so they inserted
themselves in the role, and sang of a dying sailor lying wrapped in his
cerements-to-be outside St. James Hospital, who then tells a shipmate what
has happened and requests a proper sailor’s funeral with fife and drums
and pallbearers. The song came to the American shore both in broadside
(printed) form and in the oral traditions of the sailors, and it was quickly
taken up by virtually all male-oriented occupations whose members often
found themselves (or envisioned and hoped themselves) in the big city and
threatened by the ravages of good old male behavior. The song came West,
of course, and the interesting part of its history for our purposes is that it
became “The Dying Cowboy” or “The Streets of Laredo,” now chastely be-
reft of its direct references to venery (replaced by the euphemistic “it was
first down to Rosie’s”), but still insisting on a military funeral with fife and
drum. Most Americans know the song only in its cowboy version, and most
are unaware of its origin, which tells us something about the way this song
has made itself at home in our preconceptions. Most people are also un-
aware that the song went in other geographical directions as well, and has
continued to have an interesting history: it now exists in black tradition in
the deep South as “The Saint James Infirmary Blues,” a fact which should
keep us in mind of the subtle and powerful ways of regionalization.
       This rhetorical process can be nicely illustrated by following a song
 along its way west. Although some songs change widely as they pass through
 oral tradition, others, with minimal textual adjustment, achieve a consider-
 able alteration in meaning or in application. The following was originally


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      A Literary History of the American West

a hymn, written by an Englishman, which became very popular among
Americans partly, one imagines, because of its capacity to suggest with its
rich and fertile imagery the promised land of the West, no doubt for many
the Willamette Valley, goal of most of the Oregon Trail trekkers. One verse
and the chorus of the hymn are sung as follows:
                  I’ve reached the land of corn and wine
                  And all its riches now are mine;
                  Here shines undimmed one blissful day,
                  For all my night has passed away.
                  Oh Beulah Land, sweet Beulah Land,
                  As on thy highest mount I stand:
                  I look away across the sea
                  Where mansions are prepared for me,
                  And view the shining glory shore—
                  My heaven, my home, forevermore.
By the time some of the settlers got to the Plains or the deserts, however,
some were giving out, financially and physically. They settled down on
ground quite unlike Beulah Land, and tried to make a go of it anyway. In
their own generation, it is said that they began to express their frustration
and disappointment in parody form; in any case, it is clear that their inheri-
tors used the parodies as a form of local chauvinism: look at what we’ve
                   We’ve reached the land of dying wheat
                   Where nothing grows for man to eat,
                   Where the wind it blows the fiery heat
                   Across the plains so hard to beat.
                   Dakota Land, South Dakota Land,
                   As on thy burning soil I stand;
                   I look away across the plains
                   And wonder why it never rains,
                   Till Gabriel blows his trumpet sound
                   And says the rain’s just gone around.
A New Mexico version stresses the wind, an incessant plague in that area,
and ends with a couple of lines which are humorous for what they do not
use as a rhyme word:
                   This is a land of dusty roads,
                   Of rattlesnakes and horny toads;
                   It never rains, it never snows,
                   The doggone wind just blows and blows.


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                    New Mexico so fertile and rich
                    We think you are a honey.
                    [The last two lines are to the tune of
                    the first line of “Oh Christmas Tree.”]

In Kansas, or so it is said, the farms and homesteads were so far apart that
parents despaired of ever getting their daughters married. Young women
were advised to grab the first person who came along. Naturally, in folklore
(though of course not in real life) the Kansas girls become famous as flirts:
                   Oh Kansas girls, dry Kansas girls,
                   With laughing eyes and sunny curls;
                   They’ll sing and dance and flirt and play
                   Til some sodbuster comes that way;
                   They’ll grab him at the dugout door
                   And stick by him forevermore.
By the time the pioneers (those who could make it) arrived in western
Oregon, they were beginning to see more rain and water than they had ever
imagined possible. While the dry Dakotas may have struck the imagination
as a hellish contrast to Beulah Land, mucky Oregon seemed like an over-
dose of God’s plenty. Moreover, we can tell that the Oregonians, while con-
tinuing the Beulah Land parody for their own reasons, had already become
acquainted with the Kansas version, for they parodied as well its absurd sug-
gestions that a girl could have sunny curls (even today, the sun is referred to
in western Oregon as a UFO). In addition, we note that the courting situa-
tion is now a different one: Oregonians were beginning to settle in small
towns, or in clusters of relatively nearby farmsteads. Their problem was not
finding their daughter a husband, for the place was overrun with men. The
bigger problem was keeping the house from filling up with mud:
            I’ve reached the land of rain and mud,
            Where flowers and trees so early bud;
            Where it rains and rains both night and day
            For in Oregon [pronounced O-ree-gun] it rains always.
           O Oregon, wet Oregon
           As through thy rain and mud I run;
           I stand and look out all around
           And watch the rain soak in the ground,
           Look up and see the waters pour
           And wish it wouldn’t rain no more.
           Oh Oregon girls, wet Oregon girls,
           With laughing eyes and soggy curls;


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     A Literary History of the American West

                 They’ll sing and dance both night and day
                 Til some webfooter comes their way:
                 They’ll meet him at the kitchen door
                 Saying, “Wipe your feet or come no more.”
      Other songs, of course, are of very local origin; rather than reforming a
song from some other area to local specifications, these grow directly out of
local pride or frustration (usually the latter). Consider this verse and chorus
from a song composed and later widely sung among the Mormon settlers of
the area called “Utah’s Dixie,” a hot, desert, forbidding land into which
they were sent by their church. The area emerges in Mormon lore time and
time again as a totally impossible place to live; yet the Mormon pioneers
with dedication (if not aplomb) did settle the place and cultivate the land.
They even raised grapes and made wine until the Church ruled against the
use of alcohol. One relatively high personage in the church, J. Golden
Kimball, is said to have declared in a sermon that if he had owned both St.
George and Hell, he would have sold St. George and moved to Hell. When
directed by higher Authority to go back and apologize for his remarks, he is
supposed to have said: “My brothers and sisters, the president of the Church
has asked that I take back my intemperate remarks about the heat you ex-
perience here, but it’s so damn hot today, I ain’t gonna do it!” More of
Kimball later; here it should suffice to say that the settlers of the St. George
area appear not to have been overjoyed by their task in the early days.
Thus, it is difficult to accept Austin Fife’s rhapsodic description of this song
as “epic,” for it has much more parody than prophecy. Nonetheless, there is
that subtle note of “Just look what our parents and we were able to put up
with” about it that cannot be denied. A reading of Juanita Brooks’s works
gives a fuller account of these feelings and triumphs, but nothing functions
as poetically as the lines:
                           St. George and the Drag-on
        The sun it is so scorching hot it makes the water sizz, sir,
        And the reason that it is so hot is just because it is, sir.
        The wind with fury here doth blow, that when we plant or sow,
        We place one foot upon the seeds and hold them till they grow,
Chorus: Mesquite, soaproot, prickly pears and briars:
        St. George ere long will be a place that everyone admires.
Their witty way of dealing with their church’s “call” to settle in the desert
tells us far more about the local Mormon spirit than we could ever expect to
learn from official documents.


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      The use of humor as a means of expressing frustration or even fear and
hatred is well reported in the literature of psychology, but less often recog-
nized in folklore, partly I think because many have taken folklore to be a
somewhat benign sort of expression for use in home entertainment. Equally
interesting is the extent to which an apparently humorous folksong can give
voice as well to factually accurate images of historical issues which grew out
of deeply shared emotions. Whether the events in the following song ever
really happened as reported is quite beside the point, for we know from the
many examples of anti-Chinese activity from Rock Springs, Wyoming, to
the Mother Lode country of California that the sentiments here dramatized
are accurate. Chinese were considered superfluous, and on this basis laws
were enacted and outrages perpetrated against them. Moreover, it was pre-
cisely in the courtroom where the technical crux of the matter was experi-
enced, for the Chinese in most western states were forbidden to testify
against white persons. This song is thus—albeit unwittingly—the cameo of
a reality in the frontier experience, articulated in the humor of those whose
own citizenship was clouded by the guilt of their denial of it to others.
                                 Judge Duffy
     Old John Martin Duffy was a judge of the court
     In a small mining town in the West;
     Although he knew nothin’ ‘bout rules of the law,
     At judgin’ he was one of the best.
     One night in the winter a murder occurred,
     And the blacksmith was accused of the crime;
     We caught him red-handed and gave him three trials
     But the verdict was “guilty” each time.
     Now he was the only good blacksmith we had
     And we wanted to spare him his life,
     So Duffy stood up in the court like a lord
     And with these words he settled the strife:
     “I move we dismiss him—he’s needed in town.”
     Then he spoke out these words, which have gained him renown:
     “We have two Chinese laundrymen, everyone knows—
     Why not save the poor blacksmith and hang one of those?”
     Probably the best known kind of folksong in the West is the cowboy
song, although it is difficult to call all of them regionalized, since many were
written by former cowboys after they had retired and moved back to Chi-
cago. But the poetic context and dramatic focus of the cowboy song make it
an almost archetypical expression of western values. The solitary and geo-


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      A Literary History of the American West

graphically mobile male figure who cares more about his pard than about his
lady-love, who works himself to exhaustion and quits only if his boss is un-
fair, who protects his horse and his equipment more than his own body, who
is basically a moral puritan (except when he is on a spree), who is easily
embarrassed but will shoot a liar without hesitation—this character is still
so powerful in our imaginations that even a photo of him can be used to sell
movies, cigarettes, and even politicians. His power as a rhetorical or iconic
image can hardly be questioned. The song “The Tenderfoot” appears to
ridicule the greenhorn, and ends with the advice to others that before tak-
ing up the cowboy life, one should first slit his throat (an ironic self-parody,
for the song would have been sung by and for those who had already passed
through the greenhorn stage); “The Zebra Dun,” conversely, tells of a man
who only appears to be a tenderfoot (“he looked so awful foolish and he
talked so awful round, we thought he was a greenhorn just escaped from
town”), but who successfully stays on the wild bronco “the boys” give him
and thereby earns a job as ranch foreman. In “No Use for the Women,” a
young cowboy is attracted to a lady of questionable repute; when a gambler
insults her picture, the young man shoots him and leaves town, followed by
the inevitable posse made up of friends and acquaintances. His friend, the
persona of the song, says:
                  All through the long night we trailed him,
                     Through mesquite and thick chaparral,
                  And I couldn’t help think of that woman
                     As I saw him pitch and fall:
                  If she’d been the pal that she should have,
                     He might have been raising a son,
                  Instead of out there on the prairie
                     To die by the ranger’s gun.
In the chorus, the cowboy asks that his friends bury him out on the prairie,
where the coyotes can howl over his grave. In another equally well-known
song the cowboy asks that his friends not bury him on the lone prairie, but
instead see that he is taken back home where his women folk can cry over
his grave (of course, in good cowboy style they bury him on the lone prairie
anyhow). In one, a cowboy rubs hair tonic on his bare chest so that he can
look like a hero, and dies in a gunfight, still hairless. In others, friends try to
save each other from being trampled in stampedes, or keep each other com-
pany on the long trail rides. Some of the songs were apparently sung to
quiet the cattle at night, but—as with lullabys—we can easily suspect that
the soothing was often self-directed. Once in a while there is a glimpse of
real local detail—such as in the “Mormon Cowboy,” where the persona de-
cides to leave a party when he sees the others are drinking; the music was


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provided by “a colored man with his guitar—I can hear him singing yet.”
This mixture of sentimentality with toughness, naive respect for women
and raw misogyny, piety and blasphemy that we find in the whole range of
cowboy song provides us with an extremely evocative character portrait of a
type still very much alive in American culture and American literature.
      The stereotype of the cowboy as “macho” (a term, by the way, which
Anglos use in a much more limited way than do our Hispanic countrymen)
appears often in humorous understatement. This is the reverse of the hyper-
bole we find in the Tall Tales (below), but it serves a similar purpose: it
reveals that what is being said is only a part of the message. Left up to the
listener is the question of where reality really lies.
 As I was a-roundin’ Scorpion Butte on a routine cattle inspection,
 Who should I meet but Hairtrigger Pete, ridin’ hell-bent for election.
 The lion he was ridin’ at full speed was kickin’ up plenty of dirt,
 He used a Bowie knife for a bit and a rattlesnake for a quirt.
 The wildcat he carried under his arm chewed the loose end of the reins,
 A gila monster for a charm was drug by a barb-wire chain.
 A six-gun he carried in his right hand—I thought the durn fool would
      crack her,
 But all he did was spit in my face a pound of chaw tabacker.
  I asked him where he’s goin’—what was his hurry all about;
  He says “A tough guy just hit town and he’s just run me out!”

      By this time it should be clear that meaningful folk expressions about
the West are not found in a single genre of folklore, for there are always
overlaps and interchanges with other forms, such as Legend and local Tall
Tale. In the latter, there is more than a humorously hyperbolic text in ques-
tion, for most of the best texts we have available were narrated by people
who themselves relished the role of the local “liar.” Here is a genre in which
the performer is a living part of the tradition, and usually tells the stories as
having happened to himself (even when the scholar can show without ques-
tion that the story is several generations old). Often the storyteller is a local
marginal “character,” a retired farmer or an early settler who has been by-
passed by younger and more aggressive folks who do not appreciate what the
good old days were all about. The local “liar,” then, is often not at the cen-
ter of his community’s current life in practical terms, but is capable of
projecting his community’s values in a way that all insiders will recognize
(because they know where reality leaves off and hyperbole begins, and they
also know what it is that local taste considers worthy of hyperbolic treat-


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     A Literary History of the American West

ment). In many ways, the western Tall Tale represents the inverse of myth
(that is, the reverentially received and accepted story of the great, the
powerful, the central): instead of describing the exploits of heroes and
founders, or even of cowboys who may stereotypically characterize values
which many people believe to be central to their culture, the Münchausens
glorify mistakes, coincidences, and odd occurrences, which are at the cen-
ter of local values. They brag about local geographical or meteorological
conditions which no one likes, they extoll the use of outmoded equipment,
they savor the details of patently impossible events, and most of all they
love to do this in front of an audience made up in part of local folks who
know the score and in part of innocent outsiders who do not.
      In Wyoming lives an animal which looks very much like a jackrabbit
except that it has horns like an antelope. The Jackalope, said to be a cross
between an antelope and a jackrabbit, is very shy, and breeds only during
lightning flashes in high desert rainstorms. Jackalopes are rarely seen except
in taxidermic form, and their existence is thus attested to mainly by the
eyewitness accounts of those who have dedicated their lives to the study of
the beast (one of these, Roger Welsch, of Lincoln, Nebraska, was inter-
viewed at length on national television by Charles Kuralt, and many view-
ers took the program as proof that such an animal actually existed). One
imagines, however, that in the desert country of Wyoming and Montana,
the question of veracity has less to do with the existence of the jackalope
than it has to do with greening the visitors. The fact that the animal has
been known for years in the alpine areas of Europe as the Hasenbock is no
doubt of little interest or importance to the ranchers of Wyoming.
      Folk exaggeration runs from these examples of visual misinformation
to lies that are acted out while the naive person watches (a mechanic pulls
his hand back from a battery as if shocked: “Did it get you?” he is asked by a
concerned observer. “Nope, I was too fast for it.“), to lies that come up
casually in conversation after some peculiar action has taken place. As well,
there are artful lies told in the first person (Münchausens) and in the third
person (Tall Tales), both of which will be discussed here in greater detail.
      First, however, let us admit that our main aim is not to make sober
distinctions between truth and falsehood in western culture; to begin with,
truth is too hard to capture. How would anyone describe the redwoods or
the canyons, or the colors, or the heat/cold extremes for someone who had
never experienced them? Indeed, the truth is hard enough to deal with: in
Oregon, if an angler catches a sturgeon under three feet long or over six, it
must be returned to the water. Explain that one without smiling to your
relatives in Connecticut. There are, moreover, cases where a lie may also be
simultaneously the truth; the story is told in Utah that after the Army took
over Zion and began to force Mormons to renounce polygamy, one Swedish


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immigrant left his three wives in the cemetery when he went to apply for
U.S. citizenship so that he could say honestly of his wives, “Vell, sir, dey
are resting in da churchyard,” and thus avoid getting rid of them.
      In an interchange between two residents of southern Utah, I heard
that the farmers in St. George feed their chickens cracked ice in the summer-
time to keep them from laying hard-boiled eggs. “Do you remember that
time when the power went off? Why we had nothing but hard-boiled eggs to
eat in this town for six weeks!” When such a conversation starts up, espe-
cially when there are young people or strangers present, it can easily turn
into an orgy of exaggeration. One hears that the cows have to keep one foot
on their hay to keep it from being blown away, that a heavy logging chain
hung from a post tells how hard the wind is blowing (when links begin snap-
ping off the end and the chain is straight out, it’s a “fair breeze”), that one
time the wind blew the streetlight and headlight beams off the roads (but of
course that was back when the lights weren’t as strong as they are now), or
that the wind blew all the dirt from around a well or a prairie-dog hole,
leaving the hole standing in the air. On the Olympic Peninsula in Washing-
ton a farmer will tell you how his rain barrel overflowed during one storm;
the water running over the lip of the barrel washed out the dirt under one
side and the barrel tipped over: “You know, it rained into the bunghole
faster than the water could flow out the open end of that barrel, and before I
knew it the water got all compacted in there, and it kept flowing out for a
couple of months after the storm was over! Watered my stock on that one
barrel the whole summer! I can show you the barrel itself if you don’t be-
lieve me.”
      Reub Long, a loquacious central Oregon rancher once said, “We mea-
sure humidity by the amount of sand in the air. When it rains, we keep our
hired man in—we want all the water on the land.” The same rancher once
told anyone who would listen that he had never seen rain until he was eigh-
teen years old, and then he had run outside to see what the strange sound
was of something hitting the tin roof of the ranchhouse. “You know, one of
those big desert raindrops hit me on the back of the head and knocked me
cold. They had to throw six buckets of sand in my face to bring me around!”
The rapidly changing weather and resultant difficulties of raising livestock
were never subjects of complaint in Long’s conversations, but, as we have
seen with other expressions above, the source of considerable humor through
exaggeration. “The reason I’ve been able to produce some fast horses is
that, where I graze them, they have to feed at thirty miles an hour to get
enough to eat.” One of his favorite stories, especially in front of strangers,
was his account of how he tried to get rid of rats on a ranch he once bought.
He had heard that if you caught one of them and painted it white, the
others would think it was a ghost and leave the place. Long and a group of


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      A Literary History of the American West

buckaroo friends finally caught one of the rats at night, and to keep it from
escaping, took it out into the middle of the road. Then, while they kneeled
on it, they argued over which was the best way to apply the paint: with the
grain of the hair or against it (did they want a shiny finish or a rough one?).
While all this was in progress, someone came down the road in a car, and of
course stopped at the sight of this strange crowd (one imagines that the
stranger in the car in the story functions as the equivalent of the stranger
listening to the story). “What in the world are you doing there, for God’s
sake? ” “Why, we’re whitewashing a rat,” replied Long testily, whereupon
the stranger turned around in haste and drove quickly out of sight. Once a
stranger asked Long if he didn’t feel isolated, if he didn’t have the need to
travel. “Travel?” he asked. “Why, I’m already here.” This mixture of local
chauvinism with exaggeration is the hallmark of western Tall Tale lore, and
it continues to this day ever fresh: after the dry summer of 1984, a rancher
in central Nebraska told Roger Welsch that he had had to go out and buy
two bales of hay just to prime his baler.
      It is safe to say that every definable area in the West has at least one of
these creative liars, but the problem has been generally that their own
families consider them an embarrassment and keep them hidden from sight.
Occasionally a researcher inadvertently discovers such a person, and then
we get a glimpse of an important character who would otherwise have re-
mained unknown. Such was the case when a student, Susan Mullin, per-
sisted over the objections of family members that “Arthur can’t be relied on
to tell the truth; he’s getting on in years, you know, so don’t believe any-
thing he tells you.” What Mullin eventually collected was a tremendous
range of Tall Tales, as recalled by Arthur Belknap from the first-person per-
formances of his grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Finn (who had claimed
being the model for Mark Twain’s Huck Finn).
      Among Belknap’s performances of his grandfather’s daily narratives
was the well-known “Liar too busy to lie” (Motif # X905.4; AT 1920B).
Some Eugene newspapermen had come up the McKenzie River to interview
him and collect some of his lies, but he was too busy to lie to them that day.
“My best friend, Old Man Pepiot died just last night, and I’ve been up all
night working on his coffin. Now if you boys will just come back another
time, why I’d be happy to tell you some lies.” The newspapermen of course
apologized profusely for their intrusion, and went on down the road, where
the first person they met was—naturally—Old Man Pepiot. Other yarns
also found widely in the Münchausen tradition feature Grandad being
caught in a tree or in a split stump (had to go all the way back to the house
and get an ax to come chop himself loose), one which explained the great
hunter bringing back only one wolf hide (he had been treed by a whole
pack, and each time he shot one, the rest ate him up, so that finally, al-


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                                        FOLKLORE IN THE AMERICAN WEST

though he had shot twenty, he had only one pelt to show for it, but of
course used the hide as proof of the whole story), a version of the Great
Hunt (hunter, with very few shots, kills an unbelievable amount of game,
and often falls in water only to emerge with his pants full of fish) which was
narrated only when outsiders—hopefully game wardens—were present so
that when they said “Do you know who we are?—State game wardens!” he
could reply “You know who I am? Huck Finn, the biggest damn liar on the
      Probably his best known story locally, outside the immediate circle of
family and friends, concerns the naming of Finn Rock, a large monolith
which stands beside the McKenzie River Highway. Local story (of course
originally narrated by B. F. Finn himself) tells how Finn moved the rock to
its present position by using a new buckskin harness which stretched as
he drove his skittish team out across the roaring McKenzie. “That didn’t
bother Grandad none, though; he just hung the harness on a tree, and
when the sun came out, why over come the rock!” said Arthur Belknap in
one conversation. Later, when asked to repeat the story, he claimed that
the stretching harness episode occurred when Grandad Finn brought a
wagon-load of groceries home through the Oregon rain. The wagon got
mired in the muck along the way, while the wet buckskin harness continued
to stretch. “That didn’t bother Grandad none, though,” said Belknap to
Mullin, “he just hung the harness on the gatepost and when the sun came
out, why along come the wagon.” With just two versions of the same story
from the same narrator, we begin to understand more clearly one of the
standard maxims of folklore study: no single version can be said to be the
“original” or the “correct” one, for the narrators themselves are accustomed
to using them in various ways depending on the circumstances. And the
mere fact that there is a particular “Finn Rock” whose placement is “ex-
plained” by the story solves nothing: first of all, it is quite evident from its
size and placement that this monolith has never been moved by anybody,
and that the river is entirely unfordable at this point anyway; secondly, a bit
of folklore research shows that the motif of the stretching buckskin is a stan-
dard element in Münchausen lore, that it is extremely widespread, and that
it predates the existence of B. F. Finn. Belknap’s formulaic phrasing, how-
ever, places him in the long tradition of skilled oral performers from times
previous to Homer up through the present.
      I hope it is clear that both the exaggerations and the understatement of
proportions—especially in terms not particularly flattering to the teller—
provide us with a very special style of hyperbole that is distinctly not found
in the various sanitized productions of professional writers trying to satisfy
the wishes of schoolteachers and politicians without enraging parents and
voters. I refer here obviously to the well-meaning but phoney “tall tales”


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      A Literary History of the American West

promulgated by James Stevens and others and found chiefly in schoolrooms,
not in the oral traditions of loggers or farmers, or anyone else. That Stevens
knew better is apparent from his Big Jim Turner (1948), a novel flavored
with the saltier songs and tales of the actual folk tradition. Even from
as early as the fur-trapping era, western writers such as George Frederick
Ruxton and Lewis H. Garrard had seasoned their writings with folklore, as a
glance at a collection like B. A. Botkin’s A Treasury of Western Folklore
(1951) will show. Westerners such as J. Frank Dobie, Stewart H. Holbrook,
Mody C. Boatright and C. L. Sonnichsen have gained literary reputations
from their accounts of folk traditions, and most—practically all—western
authors have used folklore or fakelore or a bit of both in their works. The
schoolroom has been so dominated by phoney materials, however, that the
genuine seldom receives attention, and there are very few studies of the folk
tradition (both the real article and the plastic) as it has inspired and been
incorporated in the literature of the West.
      The West can be better understood by recognizing what it was that
prompted writers like Stevens to manufacture a factitious folk tradition.
Paul Bunyan was not born in the woods—at least not the Paul Bunyan
we came to know, and perhaps for the wrong reasons love, in the fourth
grade—but in the minds of authors who wanted to satisfy a demand of a
much more political variety: the hero chock full of brag and fight and pa-
triotism. The Paul Bunyan stories, along with Pecos Bill and other manu-
factured all-good and all-powerful western pseudo-heroes, were well laid to
rest by folklorist Richard Dorson long ago, but they still keep showing up in
the lesson plans of schoolteachers who probably would not mind dealing
with the subtleties of style found in the real Münchausen stories, but who
apparently cannot incorporate stories like the few Bunyan yarns that actu-
ally exist into their curricula—stories such as the one where Bunyan gets
scared of heights while topping a tree in winter, and to get down quickly
urinates and slides down the icicle. Nor are they prepared to defend to the
parents of their children a story which was told to me by the scion of an
upstanding southern Utah Mormon family: “My uncle tried ranching in the
Dixie country, but his wife came from the East, and she wanted a garden
and a lawn. Almost impossible, you know, in that country. So he had to
take time to train himself a team of lizards. Every day, he’d take them down
to the Virgin (river) and fill ‘em up on water, then bring ‘em back up into
the yard and beat the piss out of ‘em.” If nothing else, the imagery of vio-
lence, along with the expression of marital and agricultural frustration,
combined with what I would call an economy (if not a chasteness) of word-
ing, constitute folk poetry at its best. But then, the people who actually
perform these “yarns” are not interested in creating national heroes or ac-
ceptable lesson plans: they are engaged in expressing locally perceived


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truths using a very special kind of humorous hyperbole. It is hot and dry on
the Utah and Nevada desert; it is unbelievably rainy on the Olympic Penin-
sula; the wind does blow furiously over much of the West. It is the shared
attitudes and emotions on those bothersome subjects that reach expression
through the Münchausen, the yarn-spinner, and the local folk raconteur.
      One of the best living examples of this kind of expression was J. Golden
Kimball, an important, but not highest-level, functionary in the Mormon
Church. For his people, he became the epitome of faithful membership and
individual pride. Not a Münchausen, Kimball was nonetheless a marginal
figure in much the same way as were the other characters mentioned thus
far: not in the sense of being distant from the values and concerns of society,
but, living in an ambiguous situation, speakers of those values in relief.
      Local “characters” like J. Golden Kimball perform a tightrope act be-
tween acceptable and non-acceptable, between religious and secular, spir-
itual and worldly expressions of behavior. The local drunk who is the only
one known to speak the truth, the local clown, the town idiot, the village
wiseacre, the practical joker—all of these provide traditional ways of ex-
pressing things which “everyone” feels or knows, but no one wants to be
caught saying in public. Kimball, a member of the Council of Seventies,
had been an animal-driver, and his colorful language and direct way of
speaking were not always comfortable to the Mormon Church. He disliked
pomposity and hypocrisy, and was quite uncomfortable with the citified bu-
reaucracy of his growing church. When church President Heber Grant was
afraid Kimball would disgrace the Church during a national radio broadcast
from Temple Square, he wrote out the text of the inspirational talk Kimball
was to present. But when the tall, high-voiced ex-muleskinner rose and be-
gan haltingly to read the crabbed writing, he turned and on national radio
said “Good Hell, Hebe, I can’t read this damn thing!” Eyewitnesses, among
them the most faithful of Mormons, not only tell the anecdote with glowing
admiration, but recall that afterwards the streets were lined with well-
wishers who shouted encouragement to Kimball as, chastised, he walked to
his home in the Avenues district. When a friend warned him that he might
be “cut off the Church” (excommunicated) for his swearing, he is supposed
to have said, “Hell, they can’t cut me off the Church—I repent too damn
fast!” Almost run over by hotrodders near Temple Square, he is said to have
shouted “You sonsabitches! Have you no respect for the priesthood?” Sit-
ting on a public works committee for the city, he fought against what he
considered to be frivolous “improvements”; in one case, speaking against
building a bridge across the Jordan River (west of Salt Lake) where an easy
ford existed, he said, “We don’t need a bridge over the Jordan; why, I can
piss half-way across the Jordan.” The chairman of the committee gavelled
him into silence and said “Brother Golden, I believe you’re out of order!”


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     A Literary History of the American West

“I know I’m out of order,” was his immediate comeback; “if I wasn’t out of
order, I could piss all the way across the Jordan River!”
       It is the stories, and not Kimball himself, which give us a hint as to
his cultural importance (although, as mentioned, the intentional perfor-
mance of the local character indicates in itself a willingness to assume a
traditional role of formulaic behavior); Kimball himself seems to have been
both aware of his role and wary of others’ enjoyment of it, for when asked if
he wanted to hear the latest “J. Golden story,” he told a neighbor, “Hell no!
Seems like everytime something happens, they blame it either on me or on
Mae West.” He is still best remembered for his salty remarks in church,
where strong language is officially discouraged, and for provocative remarks
to his neighbors in a culture where neighborliness is a virtue: “Some son-of-
a-bitch stole my lawnmower. Wonder if it’s over here.” Somehow, char-
acters like Kimball play for white communities a role in real life similar to
that of Coyote or the “trickster” in many Native American cultures, for
they provide expression for that which simmers just under the surface, but
for which the ordinary person has only a limited vocabulary.
       There are, of course, stock characters who appear more in folk nar-
ratives than in the real daily life of the West, although they certainly have
their origins in shared ideals of behavior or sterotypes of culturally valid
roles. In folk narratives these originals are intensified—as they also are
in popular literature: the Pioneer Wife or Mother (to say nothing of the
archetypical Pioneer himself, with leather pants, beard, rifle, jutting chin
and purposeful stride), the timid-but-triumphant man (often a nice green-
horn), the Doctor and the Itinerant Preacher, the Whore with the Heart of
Gold, the Schoolmarm, the Town Tough, the Gambler, the Law Man, the
Outlaw, the Villain Businessman, the Drunk. We needed to have them all,
for they represent the variety of values we have developed in the West.
Alongside the Chaste Schoolmarm and the Moral Minister, the Helpful
Doctor, and the Brave Upholder of the Law—roles we have liked to see
ourselves in and have thus cast many of our heroes and relatives in-we
have also gambled on moving west, have sold ourselves (not always to the
highest bidder), have prided ourselves at being tough, independent, and
outside the Law (one of the reasons why Outlaws are more positively viewed
than are criminals in our folklore: we fear Dillingers, but we kind of think
that Jesse Jameses are all right; in any case we take no chances and hang a
good high-powered rifle in our pickup truck). And although we may disap-
prove of drunkenness, somehow the drunk performs something of great sen-
sitivity for us, perhaps because he becomes almost an icon of human weak-
ness, indulgence, and pathetic frustration (preferable, in our society, to the
suicide that would be considered the honorable response in other cultures).
And especially when the drunk can be contrasted with others more “nor-


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mal” who nonetheless fall below our expectations, the folk narratives have
a way of articulating a mixture of irony, social criticism, and optimism for
reform that quite stuns the imagination. In more recent years, Red Skelton
and Jackie Gleason have capitalized on these traditional responses in the
American audience; oral tradition has used the motif without pause. Still
current in Reub Long’s repertoire was the story of a frontier judge who was
such a drunkard that one of the local businessmen, a prissy newcomer from
the East, was moved to run against him in an election. On election day, as
the citizens gathered to begin voting, the judge staggered out onto the
porch in front of his office and said, “I really feel sorry for you people today.
You haven’t got much of a choice, because you’ve got to decide between a
drunkard and a fool. There’s only one thing that’s worth remembering as
you vote today, friends, and it’s this: with a drunkard, you know that at least
sometimes he’s sober.” And of course this is the same cluster of motifs
cleverly brought together in Lee Marvin’s portrayal of the drunken gun-
fighter in the film Cat Ballou, an excellent example of the modern relation-
ship between a popular medium and folk tradition.
                         LEGENDS AND OTHER TRUTHS

     Unlike Münchausens, legends are stories, or idea clusters, passed along
by people who actually believe either that they are true or that at least they
are very likely to be true, usually because they have come from unimpeach-
able sources like one’s spouse or colleague. In some regards, legends are like
rumors, and they pass through the same channels of the culture, propelled
by our fascination with the almost unbelievable. Poodles are exploded in
microwaves by old ladies ignorant of modern appliances, spiders are found
in uncombed hairdos, escaped mental patients with hooks on arms accost
people on lovers’ lanes, countless innocent women from the country are
embarrassed by urban chefs into paying for recipes to Red Velvet Cakes, and
so on. I speak in the plural here, for unlike rumors—which after all usually
die out after a while—legends live on and propagate themselves astro-
nomically. It would be hard enough to believe that some old lady blew up
her poodle in her microwave unless I had heard the original account of it
from the wife of the doctor in Seattle who was summoned to treat her for
the resultant heart attack. Even if I had an unquestionable report on the
incident (well, the doctor, under close questioning by his wife, recanted
and said that it was actually a colleague on the other side of Seattle), the
reader has undoubtedly also heard an original account, also from someone
who knows one of the principals. What are we to conclude, then: that there
is an epidemic of little old ladies stuffing their poodles into ovens all over
the country, or that the story—even if it is based on a real occurrence—has
somehow gotten away from the act and has begun to have a life of its own?


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     A Literary History of the American West

A folklorist would opt for the latter, carefully not calling the original a lie
(or, God forbid, a “myth,” as it would be called by a journalist to indicate its
“falsehood”), but noting, and then analyzing, its currency and function in
oral tradition. Clearly the story has some function in our society, or it would
not persist. Among other things, it portrays an older woman as ignorant of
a newer electronic way of life, both a sexist and an “agist” stereotype which
is found abundantly on other levels and in other kinds of expressions in our
      Without going further into the fascinating array of modern “urban”
legends—already well discussed by Jan H. Brunvand—let me focus this
kind of attention on an earlier, yet persistent legend of the West, that of
Bigfoot, or Sasquatch. In this constellation of motifs and narratives, one
central idea continues to emerge: alive in the mountains of the West is a
kind of primate creature with shaggy hair and primitive build, one who is
reminiscent of gorillas or larger apes but who apparently has some kind of
social system like our own. The Bigfoots (the plural form is unclear, but I
use here a parallel to the plurals of “Webfoot” and “Tenderfoot”) try to keep
to themselves, but they are troubled by our civilization, and are often de-
scribed as performing selected deeds of revenge (an empty oil barrel is found
crushed by a logging crew, a Bigfoot steps out of the bushes and scratches
the top of a government pickup truck, unsuspecting campers are scared off
by a screaming Bigfoot, and so on). On occasion they kidnap a human,
taking the prisoner back to their “camp.” Both male and female humans are
usually forced to accept Bigfoot sexual attentions, and are seldom released
afterwards. Police and others who have gone in search of missing persons
are said to have had mysterious accidents, or to have disappeared themselves.
The stories seem to cluster along certain mountain areas: the Siskiyous in
northern California, the Cascades in West Central Oregon and Washing-
ton, and the coastal ranges of British Columbia, including Vancouver Is-
land. One explanation for the persistence of these stories which cannot be
ruled out—especially since there are many eyewitness reports by very cred-
ible persons, and since a number of anthropologists have busied themselves
with the details of the issue—is that there is such a creature.
      Holding this possibility in one hand, however, let us still look into the
question of what function such a character would have in the folklore of the
West, for it may be that we have somehow needed this creature, whether it
actually exists or not, for the expression of something important in our cul-
ture. The reader will probably already have remembered the existence of
similar creatures in the Old English Beowulf, and a few minutes’ reflection
will also scare up from memory the Yahoos of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan
Swift. What may not be readily known is that there is a wealth of “wild man
of the forest” stories across northern Europe dating from very early times;


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one sees reference to them in medieval woodcuts, in tapestries, and even
in statuary. The wild men are depicted as covered with wavy, unruly hair,
matted with twigs and bits of grass and leaves; the wild women are a bit less
hairy and very voluptuous. They are shown as intruding on the affairs of
civilized human beings by angrily rushing out of the woods to kidnap people.
It may be that they represent, at least in some cases, a metaphorical state-
ment about non-Christian or non-religious people, or even incarnations of
the Devil; in other cases, they may represent earlier gods of the field and
wood who were put into the shade (or out of business) by the advent of
Christianity. But in all cases, they actually pictorialize a clash between the
civilized and cultivated world and the uncivilized, uncultivated world. In
other words, one of their functions seems to be to epitomize a condition of
human existence against which civilization measures itself, and without
which it has little meaning. Indeed, the image is at least as old as the Gilga-
mesh epic.
       In New England, especially in Maine, the legend of Yoho Cove (cer-
tainly not named by Jonathan Swift) tells how a local geographical area re-
ceived its name when one of those Yohos came out of the woods and kid-
napped a human girl who was out huckleberrying with her family. She was
forced to mate with the Yoho, and escaped some years later, the Yoho run-
ning after her, ripping their child in half and throwing one half after her
departing boat. The same story is told in Kentucky, according to Leonard
Roberts, where the creature is called Yeahoh. All of the American stories
stress the ape-like qualities of the animal, in contrast to the distinctly hu-
man attributes of the European variety, and they all have much in common
(viewed in retrospect) with the images which have made King Kong such a
compelling character in the popular media. What is there in the American
West that would nurture such stories as if they had local roots? Well, for one
thing, the West, with all its reducing of the land (and people) to cultivated
properties, also featured a number of distinctly uncivilized central episodes,
among them the treatment of the Indians during the change of ownership.
In addition, the frontier was a mixture of excitement and danger, a kind of
tenuous boundary between the known and the unknown. There were in-
deed Boggarts and Boogers which would come and get you; at least the
imagination seems to have created that scene, and the paranoid, almost fa-
natic way in which wolves, rattlesnakes, and Indians were ruthlessly at-
tacked, when for the most part they kept trying to move out of the way, is a
vivid indication that the Order brought about on the frontier was paid for
with a large dose of mental disquietude. It is also worth saying that many of
the common motifs of the Bigfoot stories are also common in racial/racist
narratives, beliefs, and jokes: uncivilized and aggressive behavior, strong
and offensive smell, ape-like looks and movements, primitive culture, and


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     A Literary History of the American West

a taste for white women, to name only a few. Yes, whether there really
are Bigfoots or not, we would have reinvented and reused them in the
West, I believe, for our “ghosts” seem to require animation and narrative
      Legends allow the scholar a chance at least to speculate about what
sorts of emotions lie under the western surface nicely mythologized by histo-
rians but uncorked and set loose every now and then in oral narratives and
by good writers. Not coincidentally, many of the local legends in the West
have to do with monsters or mysterious animals who live under lakes (again,
European antecedents come easily to mind, and they must surely have pro-
vided the cultural willingness to believe in the phenomenon), and what a
strikingly appropriate image for further reflection and deeper scrutiny: the
unfathomed lake with its hidden monster which comes into view every now
and then and eats someone or bashes a boat to smithereens (or, more re-
cently, swallows up a flight of Air Force jets without a belch). Jung would
have been more than pleased to find this dream-stuff so widespread in oral
tradition presented as living truth, for in psychological terms, that’s pre-
cisely what it is. Bear Lake, Mono Lake, Crater Lake, Lake Chelan, even
fresh water lakes along the Oregon coast: there is hardly a lake in the West
that does not have its monster, or at least a subterranean passage that links
it to another lake that does.
      Legends about founding fathers and the origins of place names are
long-lived and similarly widespread. Is it really true that Brigham Young, on
seeing the Salt Lake Valley for the first time, said “This is the place”? We
may never know, but a vignette of Young’s prophetic spirit is certainly por-
trayed in the story (never mind that he had already heard about the place
and had a bet on with Jim Bridger), and it is that element of course which
gives the legend its force. It is also that which gives non-Mormon detrac-
tors, perhaps jealous of Young’s alleged sexual energies, the opportunity
to say the line was actually spoken by one of Young’s wives, who really
said, “Brigham! This is not the place !” We may never know; fortunately for
the folklorist, both utterances are important documents of real feelings in
the area.
      Other place names have equally curious stories about them. Is it “true”
that the French voyageurs and trappers were so starved for feminine com-
pany that in their fantasies the Grand Tetons had a symbolic force still car-
ried by their name? What about other geographical features in the West
which were given their names before anyone ever thought a woman or
a preacher might read a map? Rooster Rock on the Columbia was clearly
named for its phallic form, but by coincidence that word does not carry
the automatic sexual association it did in earlier times. Not so lucky are the
various Squaw-Teat Buttes about the West; most of them have been changed


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                                       FOLKLORE IN THE AMERICAN WEST

by polite boards of geographers solicitous of formal standards of public de-
cency, and are now known by more antiseptic, if less objectionable names.
Probably because changing a name tends to change or qualify our deeper
sense of feeling in local history, local people almost always reject these re-
finements, and go on using the older “original” terms along with the legends
which provide their pedigree. A spot in Harney County, Oregon, is known
by the term “Whorehouse Meadows,” because in earlier times an entrepre-
neur brought temporary quarters and fancy ladies out to provide for the
wants of cattle and sheep men in the vicinity. In more recent years, the
Bureau of Land Management quietly substituted “Naughty Girl Meadows”
on its maps, and the U.S. Geographical Names Board tried to adopt the
change officially, but an objection was lodged by the Oregon Names Board,
which won its case in federal arbitration. Besides the fact that the “girls”
were no naughtier than the “boys,” everyone locally thought the name
change was idiotic because it took away the meaning of the place.
      Names (and their attached legends) have played a large cultural role in
states like Utah, with its distinctive mixture of Indian and Book of Mormon
names. The principal cities of Washington are named after Indians or In-
dian tribes, while the principal cities of Oregon are named after white
settlers or the New England towns they came from. Even the brief legend
told of Francis W. Pettigrove from Maine and A. L. Lovejoy from Massa-
chusetts tossing a coin to decide if their city would be called Portland or
Boston gives us a feel for the times: who was making the decisions, and
what was the range of alternatives they allowed themselves? Here is the es-
tablishment of a solid New England male protestant stamp on Oregon, por-
trayed in a tableau scene of incredible economy of image. The various Mur-
der Creeks, Bloody Washes, Bear-tooth Runs, and so on throughout the
West also have their legends to give flesh to the name, and in each area the
legends do not necessarily agree: Murder Creek, Oregon, was named be-
cause of a murder which occurred there, but there are at least six different
accounts of who was murdered, and who was guilty (each one, of course, its
narrator aware of the others, presents itself as the “real” one, passed on by a
grandfather who knew the sheriff, or who was a school friend of one of the
culprits and heard a private confession). The genre has also been used to
make fun of places one especially does not like, or to praise places of special
value. Walla Walla is supposedly the place they loved so well they named it
twice; but one also hears that the name came about during a ritual bathing
after the local tribe’s annual bean festival: the chief, waist-deep in water,
broke wind, and the resulting sound, taken to be the chief’s command, was
ever after applied to the spot (needless to say this is neither a real Indian
legend nor a favorite anecdote of the Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce).
Another story from Arizona tells how two grizzled prospectors argued for


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      A Literary History of the American West

years about what they would name their desert home. They finally decided
to shoot the first person who came their way, then name the place after his
last word. The unlucky visitor turned out to be a black cowboy who was
duly shot and approached; he raised his head and with his last breath said,
“You muh. . . .”
      Some of the prominent beliefs found in western folklore include the
assumptions behind the legends already cited (that monsters can, and thus
probably do, live in deep lakes; that ape-like creatures can exist out of sight
of human searchers for one hundred and fifty years; that there are ghosts,
haunted houses, lost treasures and mines), as well as constellations of be-
lief and custom like dowsing (finding water, oil, or minerals, even lost ob-
jects, by using an object held in the hand). Witching for water is still a
widespread phenomenon in the West, sometimes being done by professional
well-drillers, whose income, after all, depends on their success. Some west-
ern dowsers use two welding rods bent pistol-like, one in each hand, and
watch to see where they suddenly move together or cross. Some claim that
by using a piece of metal spring or a stick they can witch water from a map
(moving in their imaginations over the area depicted there), or while riding
along in a car, and some believe they can locate uranium and other metals,
and even tell how deep they are. Other belief systems in the West include
those of the fishermen along the coast, who still pass on and use a combina-
tion of the most ancient and modern beliefs imaginable. Many will not
leave post on a Friday, one of the oldest of seafarers’ beliefs; some place a
golden or silver coin under the radar housing (a modern variation of insur-
ing or buying wind by placing a coin under the mast); and almost all fisher-
men honor Lady Luck in one fashion or another, chiefly by not “pushing
their luck,” too far. If it’s raining, someone will note that since salmon love
fresh water, the fishing will be bound to get better; if the weather starts to
clear, someone will just as cheerfully point out that since salmon like warm
weather and a rising barometer, the fishing will start to pick up. Neither
belief really indicates what the fishermen think about fish behavior (be-
sides, the two “beliefs” are contrary to each other), but both are based on a
shared set of beliefs that encourage fishermen to speak only in positive
terms about a change in the fishing; no matter what happens, the fishing
will get better.
      Attitudes toward such animals as the rattlesnake, the coyote, and the
wolf must be seen as principally cultural rather than based on cold rational
observation, for the same animals appear in Native American tradition
with totally different values, and one cannot rationally suggest that the In-
dians did not observe animals closely. The despised coyote, so expendable
that he is trapped and shot in great numbers just to get rid of him, is none-
theless so symbolic of something ferocious in nature that his pelt is hung


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                                       FOLKLORE IN THE AMERICAN WEST

ceremonially on fences in the West (is it simply a warning to other coyotes,
à la Reub Long’s whitewashed rat? or is it, as Richard Poulsen surmises, a
deeper matter?).
      The “good animals,” that is, the ones which have cheerfully under-
gone domestication, are treated differently: note the traditional appearance
of horses, cats, dogs, and even cows on the tombstones of westerners. Some
ranching families in Montana place a cow or steer on every tombstone, and
while a large Hereford steer standing over the word “MOTHER” may at first
look a bit odd, it comes into better focus when we see the graves of neigh-
boring ranchers with their singletrees used as flowerpot holders, and brand-
ing irons as grave decorations. Inscriptions including the names and pic-
tures of animals indicate the locally valid occupations, interests, hobbies
and talents of those buried there. These are not messages to outsiders, least
of all to visiting professors, but to members of the local community who can
read the language.

                                               2 3
                            FAMILY FOLKLORE

      Family folklore is found throughout the country, of course, but in the
West, families are often also the contexts for occupational lore: prominent
in the West is the family-operated ranch, where all family members par-
ticipate in roundup, roping and tying, castration, and branding. One sees a
ranch wife on horseback roping an escaping calf, another wife with ciga-
rette dangling sitting on a calf while it is branded and castrated, while her
ten-year-old son comes dragging another calf by its neck and forelegs, tak-
ing time only to shift his snoose to the other cheek and spit. These would be
rare sights in a western movie, but they are not rare in the daily reality of
ranchers, especially today, when ranch hands are hard to find and salaries
hard to pay. But such a matter is not only a part of reality, it becomes also a
part of custom, jargon, gesture, anecdote, and legend. It may not fit the
public image of “the cowboy,” but it accurately expresses local community
values about both occupation and family. Women, traditionally discouraged
or prevented from coming aboard fishing vessels, are often found as integral
units on family-owned and operated fishing boats in the West Coast fishery.
This in turn has led to the employment of single women on board otherwise
male-operated boats. Skippers who will still assure the listener that one
never allows a woman on board are discovered nonetheless to have em-
ployed women on their very own boats. One can conclude from such evi-
dence that fishermen are lying, of course, but it is far more likely that their
oral traditions are simply carrying a set of values which still exist on one
level, even though they may have begun to disappear on another. Attitudes
and customs about family relationships can thus affect traditional attitudes


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     A Literary History of the American West

on other matters. Folk belief and custom seldom remain static in function,
although the spirit of a region may persist for generations.
       Family legends found all over America testify to the seriousness with
which people take their own family myth, or sacred story (the term is not
too forced here, I think): stories of how ancestors crossed the ocean or
crossed the Plains, why they settled in a certain place, why they left their
original homeland, and so on, are not simply homey attempts to capture a
few facts of history, but are usually delicately structured cameos of family,
regional, religious, and cultural values. Succeeding generations who try to
keep their hands clean delight in detailing how their grandparents had to
learn to cook with buffalo chips, for it puts a slight reek of sainthood into
their own plastic lives. Descendants of the Aurora Colony in Oregon re-
count how their founder, Dr. Wilhelm Keil, transported the body of his
dead son Willie westward in a casket lined with lead and filled with alcohol;
it is no wonder that his wagon train, preceded by a German band, had no
trouble with the Indians, but in any case their sense of having come on
a mission of religious peace and friendship—in contrast to many of their
secular contemporaries—is a strong feature of their own subsequent evalua-
tion of themselves, even though the Colony as such no longer exists.
       A number of families in the West tell legends of close calls with the
Indians or with large animals. An innocent child is followed all the way to
the cabin door by a nice kitty whose footprints later identify it as a large and
heavy cougar. A young boy living in the mountain West with no playmates
keeps referring to his best friend Amos, who turns out to be not a fantasy
friend but a giant rattler who threatens all who dare to come near the boy.
A legend found in more than a dozen Northwest families was called “Goldi-
locks on the Oregon Trail” by Professor Francis Haines, who spent a large
part of his life tracing the story. He found that most of the early families in
Oregon had a version of the story in their oral traditions, while none of
them was able to find any account of it in the otherwise detailed journals
that had been kept on the way West. The story, in its broadest outlines,
goes something like this: On their way across the Plains, our family’s wagon
train was visited several times by the braves of Chief Joseph’s (or Sitting
Bull’s or Geronimo’s) band, who were always trading for provisions, am-
munition, or horses. The Chief kept coming back to the wagon train day
after day, and it turned out that his attention had been drawn to the cute
little blond four-year-old girl who was to become our grandmother. He kept
offering the little girl’s father more and more ponies for her, but the answer
was still no. The father kept acting as though an eventual trade might be
made, but finally, of course, he told the Chief that it had all been in fun,
and that the girl was not for sale at any price. The Chief departed in great


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sorrow, and the family says to this day that “Grandma was almost sold to the
       It does seem strange that in families where a journal record was kept of
daily temperatures, miles covered, trees sighted on the horizon, rivers
crossed, and so on, there would have been no mention of this rather strik-
ing event. Even so, we are not entitled to make the snap decision that
it must never have happened. On the other hand, as with the exploding
poodle story of more recent times, we would be foolish to overlook the fact
that the story is told by more families than coincidence would suggest could
have been approached by that busy Chieftain. Moreover, the story has other
familiar elements to it: dark, powerful, aggressive male is believed to be in-
fatuated with a small, prepubescent, white girl. Aside from its misunder-
standing of Indian canons of beauty, its stereotypical presentation of the
cliché of interracial sexual threat, so common in race-based stories, plus the
common theme of a young female saved from doom by a male represen-
tative of the adult world (cf. policemen rescuing the stranded girlfriend
from the back seat of the murdered boyfriend’s car in countless lovers’ lane
legends) should suggest to us that at least the continued telling of the nar-
rative does something more culturally complex than merely recalling an in-
teresting incident in Grandma’s early years, one which we now all chuckle
over. Why do we chuckle at it, indeed? And why do we assume that Grandma
would not have liked life among the Indians, especially in the company of
so illustrious a leader as Chief Joseph?—Why, the family could have been
really famous then! With this suggestion, we begin to hear the hum of pio-
neer ancestors spinning in their cerements, for that’s not what they had in
mind, we may well imagine. The story seems to function, among other
things, as a hallmark of early arrival on the scene, for most of the later pio-
neers, though they had no easy time of this journey into rain and mud, did
not get confronted by the Indians in such an intimate way. There is a heady
quality to being first in line for the spoils that no amount of fact-finding will
ever eradicate.

      The spirit of the West has been, inevitably, that of the imagined fron-
tier, and its feeling remains in the air today. The way people perceived the
frontier gave rise to recognizable types who could flourish and prevail there.
These character types, and the customs by which they related to each other,
naturally became enshrined in the oral traditions of a people who felt a need
to create their own myths, their own testimonies of conquest and ownership,
their own icons of meaning, and who felt driven to impress these human di-
mensions upon a land which already held a depth of symbolic meaning for


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      A Literary History of the American West

those who had inhabited it earlier, those who were now expected—along
with their religion, culture, and languages—to commence vanishing. Per-
haps it is this drive for establishment, and not simply the weight of superior
numbers, that eventually assured that Euro-American regionalization would
become the main thread of traditional culture in what we now recognize as
the Mythic West. The Asians, after all, did not need to replace older
Native American roots with their own, for they brought their own with
them, and used these to intensify their cultural sense of who they were. The
French trappers in the North and the Hispanic ranchers in the Southwest
married in with the Indians and formed mestizo cultures which combined
disparate models of cultural world view into new constellations. The blacks
came, of course, but were mostly employed in establishing white power over
the land and its inhabitants; not until the twentieth century was the land in
any way to be viewed as “theirs.” For the Indians, the losers, cultural sym-
bols still animated a deep relation with the area, but steady and unrelenting
erosion by teachers and missionaries helped to destroy much of what was
left after they had been separated from their land. It was mainly the white
settlers from families whose traces go back to north-central Europe (the En-
glish, Irish, Scottish, the Germans, the Scandinavians, the Swiss—indeed,
one is tempted to say “the Protestants,” but that would be too simple) who
needed to sweep away what had been there before them, who needed to
believe that the frontier was a place of great hazard and disarray which they
had been heroic enough to have brought into order, and who needed to
create a blood bond with the land which would have the power to supersede
everything prior to itself.
      The themes, topics, and motifs discussed in this essay are among the
many lively stereotypes of the western life in America, and are to be found
in virtually all levels of expression, from the everyday to the elite. The psy-
chological costs of these traditions are suggested by the apparent schizo-
phrenia of the themes themselves, as well as in the subtlety and delicacy of
their expression in the folklore: kindness, independence, piety, naivete,
charity, and hospitality, all in the same context as racism, pillage, plunder,
conquest, and exploitation; an insistence on both roots and mobility; pride
in family and rugged individualism; hyperbole and understatement. The
westerner is an unabashed combination of outlaw and preacher, pioneer
mother and dance-hall girl, buckaroo and oil baron, iconoclast and chau-
vinist. Perhaps it can be said of western folklore that, like all good poetry, it
mediates, foregrounds, and makes palpable the most bothersome of these
discrepancies in a way that not only entertains and edifies, but somehow as
well gives voice to the otherwise inarticulate features of the culture. Every-
thing done and said by and in a culture is unavoidably a part of its larger
language, has meaning in its larger picture. In this sense, each cowboy, each


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settler, each pioneer mother—either in real life or in song and story—is a
metaphor for some important aspect of the western cultural view. Thus, the
aggregate of everyday expressions available to us in the living record of folk-
lore provides us the poetic grammar through which the emotional realities
of America in its penultimate phase are articulated and understood.

                                    B ARRE T OELKEN , Utah      State University


1. Suzi Jones, “Regionalization: A Rhetorical Strategy,” Journal of the Folklore In-
    stitute 13 (1976): 105–120. Attitudes toward the land which later appear as
    cultural expressions are discussed in Yi-Fu Tuan, Topophilia (Englewood Cliffs,
    N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1974).
2. For a basic discussion of primary folklore genres, see Jan H. Brunvand, The
    Study of American Folklore: An Introduction, 2nd. ed. (New York: Norton,
    1978). A description of the processes of tradition is given in Barre Toelken,
    The Dynamics of Folklore (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979). Two helpful col-
    lections of essays on folklore, both edited by Richard M. Dorson, are Folklore
    and Folklife: An Introduction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972), and
    Handbook of American Folklore (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983).
3. See Austin E. Fife and James M. Fife, “Hay Derricks of the Great Basin and
    Upper Snake River Valley,” Western Folklore 7 (1948): 225–239; this seminal
    article on a regionalized article of material folk culture is being reprinted in
    Louie W. Attebery, ed., Idaho Folklife (Salt Lake City: University of Utah
    Press, 1985), a volume of central importance for those interested in the tradi-
    tions of the American West.
4. Collected from Herbert Arntson, Pullman, Washington, in December 1958;
    text and tune are found throughout the West with only minor variations. The
    original broadside may have appeared as early as 1597, according to Hyder E.
    Rollins, in The Pepys Ballads (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
    1930), vol. 3, p. 57. The ballad became so popular that it inspired parodies of


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      A Literary History of the American West

    itself, some of which may be found in John Ashton, Modern Street Ballads
    (London: Chatto and Windus, 1888), pp. 124–127.
5. A good start would be her “Memories of a Mormon Girlhood,” in Journal of
    American Folklore 77 (1964):195–219.
6. A text and tune for this song are found in Austin and Alta Fife, Saints of Sage
    and Saddle: Folklore Among the Mormons (Bloomington: Indiana University
    Press, 1956), pp. 330–331. This work is an obligatory text for studying the
    traditions of Mormon settlers in the West.
7. There are, of course, exceptions to this generalization. Folklorist Alan Dundes,
    for example, has continually tried to employ the perspectives of Freud in the
    analysis of folklore; others, like Joseph Campbell, have preferred a Jungian ap-
    proach. But the main body of folklore discussion has been descriptive, func-
    tional, historical.
8. This text was collected by students Marion Cupp and F. C. Michel, from Henry
    Tams, a retired logger living in Moscow, Idaho, during the summer of 1959.
    Other song texts cited were collected by the author, unless otherwise noted.
    Other folksongs related to life in the Northwest can be found in B. Toelken,
    “Northwest Ballads: A Collector’s Dilemma,” Northwest Review 5 (1962):
    9–18; and in B. Toelken, “Northwest Regional Folklore,” in Edwin R. Bing
    ham and Glen A. Love, eds., Northwest Perspectives: Essays on the Culture of the
    Pacific Northwest (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979), pp. 21–42.
    For Utah, Lester A. Hubbard’s Ballads and Songs from Utah (Salt Lake City:
    University of Utah Press, 1961) is a standard. Folksongs from many other areas
    of the West are to be found in standard cowboy song collections, some of which
    will be referenced in the following note.
9. A full text and tune for “No Use for the Women” is given in Austin E. and
    Alta S. Fife, Cowboy and Western Songs: A Comprehensive Anthology (New
    York: Potter, 1969), pp. 177–178; this is a fine collection with more detailed
    notes and deeper scholarship than John A. and Alan Lomax, Cowboy Songs
    and Other Frontier Ballads (New York: Macmillan, 1938)) itself a standard. The
    Fifes have also produced a critical edition of N. Howard (“Jack”) Thorp’s Songs
    of the Cowboys (New York: Bramhall House, 1966), a collection of cowboy reli-
    gious songs, Heaven on Horseback (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1970),
    and a gathering of western verse from newspapers, personal journals, and west-
    ern popular print entitled Ballads of the Great West (Palo Alto: American West,
     1970). The Fifes have been indefatigable scholars in the field of western folk-
    lore, and have been ahead of most of their American colleagues in insisting
    that popular media (records, cowboy journals, etc.) be included in the raw ma-
    terials of folklore scholarship.
10. Text and tune collected by Barre Toelken from Lewis Gordon at Logan, Utah,
    December 1955.
11. Reub Long’s hyperboles are found throughout The Oregon Desert (Caldwell,
    Idaho: Caxton, 1969), which he edited and wrote with E. R. Jackman. Tall
    tales and other exaggerations which were his personal trademarks are still in
    healthy oral tradition in central Oregon.


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                                          FOLKLORE IN THE AMERICAN WEST

12. Jan H. Brunvand, “Len Henry: North Idaho Münchausen,” Northwest Folklore
     I (1965): 11–19.
13. Susan Mullin, “Oregon’s Huckleberry Finn: A Münchausen Enters Tradition,”
    Northwest Folklore 2 (1967): 19–27.
14. Recurrent single elements of folklore, called motifs, are catalogued for con-
    venience in comparison and analysis in Stith Thompson, Motif-Index of Folk-
    Literature: A Classification of Narrative Elements in Folktales, Ballads, Myths,
    Fables, Mediaeval Romances, Exempla, Fabliaux, Jest-books, and Local Legends
     (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1955–58). Within cate-
    gory X, Humor, Thompson especially designated the numbers X900 to X1899
    for the classification of Lies and Exaggerations in traditional narratives. In an-
    other work designed to categorize entire narrative clusters (groups of motifs in
    recurrent use, recognizable plots), Thompson and Antti Aarne provide Tale-
    Type numbers for a similar range of materials: The Types of the Folktale, Folklore
    Fellows Communications 184 (Helsinki, 1961). The section called “Tales of
    Lying” uses Type numbers 1875 to 1965, and includes such well-known “lies”
    as 1882A, Man Caught in Tree Goes Home to Get Axe; 1889F, Frozen Words
    Thaw; 1889L, The Split Dog; 1889M, Snakebite causes Object to Swell; 1913,
    The Side-Hill Beast (short legs on one side); 1917, The Stretching and Shrink-
    ing Harness; 1920B, “I Have Not Time to Lie”; 1960M, Large Mosquitos Fly
    off with Kettle. Motif and Type numbers have not been given for most of the
    texts quoted in this article, for their appearance here is relatively unsystematic;
    standard practice in folklore analysis, however, would require a survey of all
    texts of a given item, and an account of their traditional provenance through
    reference to these basic research tools.
15. Dorson’s commentary may be most easily found in his American Folklore (Chi-
    cago: University of Chicago Press, 1959), in Chapter 6, “A Gallery of Folk
    Heroes,” pp. 199–243.
16. The best printed collection of the J. Golden Kimball stories is Thomas E.
    Cheney, The Golden Legacy: A Folk History of J. Golden Kimball (Salt Lake
    City: Peregrine Smith, 1974). A version of the Jordan River story is given on
    pp. 120–121. Because of Kimball’s peculiar high-pitched voice, it is even more
    illuminating to hear the stories told by a gifted raconteur who can approximate
    the original (as many indeed can do, because they remember hearing Kimball
    himself); a tour de force example is Hector Lee’s performance of J. Golden
    stories before a live audience on the record, J. Golden Kimball Stories, by Folk
    Legacy Records (#FTA-25), Sharon, Connecticut.
17. See Jan H. Brunvand, The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and
    Their Meanings (New York: Norton, 1981), and The Choking Doberman and
    Other “New” Urban Legends (New York: Norton, 1984).
18. The Yoho Cove story can be found in Dorson’s American Folklore, pp. 130–131.
19. Leonard Roberts, South from Hell-fer-Sartin: Kentucky Mountain Folk Tales
    (Berea, Kentucky: Council of Southern Mountains, 1964),p. 162, with the
    title “Origin of Man.”
20. Unfortunately, not every western state has a work like Lewis A. McArthur,


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      A Literary History of the American West

    Oregon Geographic Names, 5th ed. (Portland: Oregon Historical Society, 1982);
    its pages are a compendium of western folklore, history, and local legends.
21. This point is one of several issues taken up in Barry Lopez’s Of Wolves and Men
    (New York: Scribner, 1978).
22. See Richard C. Poulsen, The Pure Experience of Order: Essays on the Symbolic in
    the Material Culture of Western America (Albuquerque: University of New Mex-
    ico Press, 1982). His chapter, “Hawks and Coyotes on Western Fences: The
    Symbolism of Slaughter,” suggests that the ancient custom of protecting one-
    self against lightning, hail, plague, and other misfortune by hanging the car-
    casses of certain animals on an entry or fence may still be an undercurrent
    emotional/cultural factor in the killing and display of predators in America.
23. A good place to start consideration of family folklore is with Steven J. Zeitlin,
    Amy Kotkin, and Holly Cutting Baker, eds., A Celebration of American Family
    Folklore (New York: Pantheon, 1982).
24. Francis Haines, “Goldilocks on the Oregon Trail,” Idaho Yesterdays 9 (1966):
25. I would like to express my deepest thanks to friends and colleagues whose con-
    versation provided perspective and content for this chapter: Edwin Bingham,
    Jan H. Brunvand, Suzi Jones, Roger Welsch, and William “Bert” Wilson.

                            Bibliographical Note
In addition to the works cited in the footnotes to this chapter, those interested in
the subject of western folklore should consult back issues of the Journal of American
Folklore, the regional folklore journals Western Folklore and Northwest Folklore, and
the historical society quarterlies of the various western states. Parts of Dorson’s
American Folklore (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959) and Buying the
Wind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964) are given over to the West, and
much of the material in Duncan Emrich’s Folklore on the American Land (Boston:
Little, Brown, 1972) is drawn from western sources. Less helpful than its title
would imply is John Greenway, Folklore of the Great West (Palo Alto: American
West, 1969), but it does bring together a variety of essays which originally appeared
 in the Journal of American Folklore. The many works published and edited by J.
Frank Dobie and others connected with the Publications of the Texas Folklore So-
ciety are basic works for that region; all of them, of course, provide bibliographical
resources for still further particular research. Especially useful is Mody C. Boatright’s
 Folk Laughter on the American Frontier (New York: Macmillan, 1949). A sampling of
Oregon traditions, with fine photographic illustrations, is Suzi Jones, Oregon Folk-
 lore (Eugene: University of Oregon Press, 1977); Jones also edited a catalog, Web-
foots and Bunchgrassers: Folk Art of the Oregon Country (Salem: Oregon Arts Com-
mission, 1980), which provides a rich selection of material traditions from the area.
A similar exposure to Idaho material culture is given in Steve Siporin, ed., Folk Art
of Idaho: “We Came to Where We Were Supposed to Be” (Boise: Idaho Commission


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                                          FOLKLORE IN THE AMERICAN WEST

on the Arts, 1984). In Louie Attebery, ed., Idaho Folklife: Homesteads to Headstones
(Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1985) appear more than twenty essays on
various aspects of folklore in that area—much of it, of course, analogous to consid-
erations which can and should be made for all western states. Jan H. Brunvand
offers a collector’s guide in his Folklore in Utah (Salt Lake City: University of Utah
Press, 1971); beyond that, the book is as well a small compendium of some of the
most common folk traditions of the area. Works on particular genres of western
folklore are not numerous, and have appeared with no consistency of coverage.
A fine study of the Münchausen is Roger Welsch’s Catfish at the Pump: Humor and
the Frontier (Lincoln, Nebr.: Plains Heritage, 1982). Another work on local place
names is Erwin G. Gudde, California Place Names (Berkeley: University of Califor-
nia Press, 1969). For an early compendium of essays on western folklife, see Austin
and Alta Fife and Henry H. Glassie, Forms upon the Frontier (Logan: Utah State
University Press, 1969). To appear in 1985 is Wayland D. Hand’s large edition of
Utah Folk Beliefs (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press); it will surely become
the standard upon which similar collections of beliefs in the other western states
will be developed. Since nearly every western state now has, or is planning, a state-
funded folklife or folk arts program, we can expect a number of works over the
coming years to bring forth the kinds of materials which Suzi Jones, Steve Siporin,
Louie Attebery, Hal Cannon, and Michael Korn have produced for Oregon, Idaho,
Utah, and Montana. Virtually every major university has a folklore program of
some sort, and several have fine archives; an updated directory may be obtained
from the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.,
20540). Also available from the same source are bibliographies, discographies, find-
ing lists, general information about folksongs and instruments, and the like; al-
though these lists are nationwide in scope, they contain much that is regional
in orientation. The American Folklife Center and the Folklife Program at the
Smithsonian Institution, moreover, have sponsored various collecting, study, and
publishing projects in the West; these two programs, plus the National Council for
the Traditional Arts (1346 Connecticut Ave., N. W., Suite 1118, Washington,
D.C. 20036) and the Folk Arts Program of the National Endowment for the Arts
(Washington, D.C., 20506), are reliable ongoing resources for information con-
cerning projects in western American folklore.


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                             SECTION II
              The Written Donnée of Western Literature


B      EFORE ITS MAJOR SETTLEMENT,   the West was crossed by a succession of
        explorers, fur trappers, merchants, soldiers, European noblemen, and
        eastern health seekers. So many of these sojourners wrote about their
western adventures that their accounts make up a sizeable body of litera-
ture, most of it entertaining and some of it quite well written. In his chapter
on that literature, J. Golden Taylor explains that those adventure narratives
are the source for much later western literature. It bears repeating that The
Journals of Lewis and Clark are the headwaters of western American lit-
erature in the same way that William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation is
one of the fountainheads of American literature. And just as Nathaniel
Hawthorne read Cotton Mather, so twentieth-century western writers seek-
ing inspiration and substance for their novels have turned to the works of
Francis Parkman, George Frederick Ruxton, and Lewis H. Garrard.
      Our perception of western literature can be sharpened not only by
studying the early adventure narratives, but also by examining later ac-
counts of western experience. To that end, there are chapters in this section
on “The Military” and on “Lawmen and Outlaws.” From each of these stud-
ies, as well as from Barre Toelken’s earlier chapter on western folklore,
emerge several axioms about the relationship between western American
life and literature.
      First, western themes and jokes can be traced to prototypes that were
venerable among the Greeks and Romans. Second, the literary treatment of
a historical theme or a folklore motif changes with variations in social
thought and attitudes. As Kent Steckmesser notes in his chapter on “Out-
laws and Lawmen,” before 1900 Billy the Kid generally entered the litera-
ture only as a consummate villain, but after the turn of the century, he was
resurrected as a noble and persecuted demigod. The shift in the literary
treatment of Billy seems to coincide with the closing of the frontier and the
onset of rapid technological acceleration. Third, the rise of western myths
calls forth a crusade of historians and novelists who live to debunk the
myths in order to rescue their Holy Grail (i.e., Western Fact). Finally, wit-


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nessing the clash between the forces of Myth and the armies of Fact, a third
type of writer suggests the relative, pluralistic, shifting bases of truth. The
western mind begins to recognize the historical process, and that recogni-
tion is expressed in increasingly ironic, modernistic forms. Even the legions
of formula writers have sometimes shown an awareness that the Western is
no monolithic, unshifting myth or fact, but a combination of both that var-
ies with one’s perspective.
      Other types of frontier writing have helped awaken us to that more
complex view of western experience. Letters, diaries, journals, autobiogra-
phies, and biographies provide the basis for much western fiction and po-
etry. Although few of these sub-genres have been studied as they have de-
veloped in the West (Michael Koury’s chapter on the military is a first
attempt at such a study), a number of recent books on pioneer women use
letters, diaries, and journals as evidence. Western writing in the areas of
history, anthropology, archaeology, and social protest also often influences
the literature, yet we have no historical survey of any of those forms as they
evolved in our region. Some idea of how many hundreds of western books
have been written in these sub-genres can be gathered by reading the chap-
ters on “History and Interpretation,” “Biography and Autobiography,”
“Archaeological and Anthropological Writings,” and “Narratives of the
Cattle Country” in Southwest Hetitage (University of New Mexico Press,
1970) by Mabel Major and T. M. Pearce. The output of such books as are
listed in those chapters by Major and Pearce is as voluminous in the West’s
other sub-regions as it is in the Southwest.
      Studies of those other sub-genres could aid us in better understand-
ing western writing of the “middle ground,” to use the term that Wallace
Stegner applies to writing that falls somewhere between fiction and history.
“I defend the middle ground,” Stegner says, “as one who has strayed there
several times—in The Preacher and the Slave, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian,
The Gathering of Zion, and Wolf Willow” (“On the Writing of History,” in
Western Writing, ed. Gerald Haslam [University of New Mexico Press,
1974], p. 27). Stegner is not the only western writer who has explored the
middle ground between two genres. George R. Stewart’s Storm, Fire, and
Sheep Rock, Wright Morris’s The Home Place, N. Scott Momaday’s The Way
to Rainy Mountain, Mari Sandoz’s Old Jules, Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fish-
ing in America, and Leslie Marmon Silko’s Storyteller are other examples of
western writing that combines several genres or explores the territory be-
tween them.
      Literary works of the middle ground provide strong evidence of the
value to the literary historian of studying western works that might not be
classified as belles-lettres. Even so early a western book as Mark Twain’s


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      A Literary History of the American West

Roughing It (1872) relies on even earlier books such as The Vigilantes of Mon-
tana (1866) by Thomas J. Dimsdale. Since our response to a work of litera-
ture is conditioned by what we bring to that work, some knowledge of the
West’s written donnée must necessarily help to shape a response to a work of
western belles-lettres, resulting in an aesthetic experience which is different
from the response of a reader ignorant of the extra-literary background.

                              J AMES H. MAGUIRE ,   Boise State University


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                   Across the Wide Missouri
        The Adventure Narrative from Lewis and Clark to Powell


F    ROM THEIR VERY EARLIEST TIMES,      native Americans have been creat-
        ing, evolving, and transmitting their vast store of varied sacred tradi-
        ons to succeeding generations. The chapter on Native Oral Tradi-
tions has shown the affinity these peoples felt to all nature, the land itself
and all that was upon it, and the infinity of the sky and moon and all its
other mysterious manifestations. They saw themselves in true transcenden-
tal perspective as an integral part of the whole. The great Everywhere Spirit
pervaded all.
       Many mariners, such as Drake, and overland adventurers such as the
Russians at Fort Ross and the French coureurs de bois had made desultory
observations of a few Indian tribes; but until the nineteenth century vir-
tually nothing was known about western geography, flora and fauna, and
climate and natural resources, and any significantly detailed knowledge of
the native Americans was nil. Jefferson’s letter of June 20, 1803, to Meri-
wether Lewis confirms this total ignorance of the West, and his instructions
to Lewis mark the real beginning of systematic studies of the West, which
have continued to multiply to the present day. Even as late as 1826, many
people believed in the fiction that a great river, the Buenaventura, flowed
from the Great Basin to the Pacific. Jedediah Smith on his first exploration
of southern California intended to find out whether or not it existed.
       It is remarkable, then, that in a mere seven decades (the Biblical life-
span of a man)—the period from the Lewis and Clark expedition to the
explorations by John Wesley Powell of the Colorado River and its plateaus
and canyons—the unknown, fabulous West should become the known—
and largely exploited—West. In discovering the last unknown river, the Es-
calante, and the last unknown mountains, the Henry Range, Powell re-
moved the last blank space from the map of the West. In addition to the
extensive Lewis and Clark materials and Powell’s reports, hundreds of no-
table books by and about mountain men, dudes, artists, explorers, scien-
tists, describe the West during that seventy-year period of exploration. This
chapter identifies some of the major western adventurers during this period
and describes from both primary and secondary sources the nature of their
responses to this experience.


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      A Literary History of the American West

      There are numerous historical accounts of the maneuvering of Spain
and France to consolidate their empires in the New World. It is likewise
well known that the United States needed New Orleans as a water outlet for
its produce from the whole eastern drainage area of the Mississippi River.
Jefferson’s emissaries who were negotiating to buy New Orleans actually fell
into a totally unexpected prize when Napoleon, his schemes of riches in the
West Indies failing, offered to sell the United States the whole of Louisiana.
This acquisition made it possible for Jefferson to carry out his desire of more
than a decade, to explore the vast unknown northwest.
      The fortunate—but likely unconstitutional—purchase of Louisiana
in 1803 seems to have whetted the American appetite not just to ask what
the West was but to ask whose it was—and perhaps, more accurately, to de-
vise pleasant conjectures about whose it ought to be. These speculations
and rationalizations grew into the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, whose un-
abashed continental ambitions were realized in the notorious year of deci-
sion, 1846. The young nation (which had developed from the minds of
those ever westward-imagining founders of Atlantic Coast plantations) thus
found itself in two centuries embarked on conquering and supplanting the
native inhabitants (while incidentally repudiating four hundred treaties with
them) and exploiting its rich natural resources.
      Jefferson, who had first dreamed and planned the exploration of the
West in 1792, finally saw its realization in 1804. He hoped the expedition
would discover trading opportunities with the Indians and even with traders
who were known to frequent the Pacific Coast in ships from the Orient,
Europe, and elsewhere. In opening the West he did not foresee the oppor-
tunities for devastation of the physical land and the natives that the expedi-
tion unfortunately opened up to hordes of exploiters. But the expedition
remains the greatest American adventure, and the journals are the most
stirring and significant of their genre in American literature. Not only the
expedition itself but also the particular excellence of the journals he in-
structed Lewis to keep originated in the fertile, universally inquiring mind
of the American Leonardo, who wrote in 1790: “. . . there is not a sprig of
grass that shoots uninteresting to me.”
     The general reader, particularly anyone who does not know the West,
would likely find Ingvard Henry Eide’s American Odyssey: The Journey of
Lewis and Clark (1969) a fascinating introduction to a study and apprecia-
tion of The Journals of Lewis and Clark, the greatest American epic. This
would be especially true for readers who have no familiarity with the spec-
tacular displays of nature these explorers saw and described along the upper


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                                             THE ADVENTURE NARRATIVE

Missouri River, across the Rocky Mountains, and down through the Colum-
bia River country they traversed.
      American Odyssey is an abridgement of the journals of both Lewis and
Clark supplemented by a few passages from diaries of other members of the
expedition. Eide travelled 57,000 miles during two years, taking thousands
of photographs and tracing and retracing the entire route of the expedition
from Silver Creek, Indiana, through final outfitting in St. Louis, to the Pa-
cific Ocean. Selecting one out of twelve of the photographs and extensive
passages from the journals to accompany them, he has produced what he
calls a “photographic chronicle.” The pictures present with fidelity scenes
described in the journals, even as to season, time of day, and the weather
conditions. The result is both a realistic and a poetic evocation of the expe-
riences Lewis and Clark had with nature in the West in its pristine state.
      Not in the book, because the falls were no longer there for Eide to
photograph, is Lewis’s ecstatic 1500-word account of the great falls which
he discovered on Tuesday, June 13, 1805, epitomized by his phrase, “the
greatest sight I ever beheld.” The falls were flooded by a dam placed in the
middle of Great Falls, Montana, an instance to remind readers that many
spectacular displays of nature in the West have been lost to “progress.”
Eide’s book is still a rare achievement, and a delight for anyone who wishes
to approximate Lewis and Clark’s great experiences.
      An edition of the Lewis and Clark Journals more widely known than
Eide’s is that of Bernard DeVoto, an authentic Rocky Mountain westerner
who, ironically, loved Harvard and the East—yet wrote on nothing but the
West. He wrote three very highly regarded histories focusing on the West:
The Year of Decision: 1846 (1943), Across the Wide Missouri (1947)) and The
Course of Empire (1952). These works reveal his obsession with the West,
his high historical standards, and his moral stance as a critic. DeVoto was
most fascinated with the great adventure, the Lewis and Clark expedition,
and the accounts recorded by the two leaders and other members of the
party. Thus, the publication of DeVoto’s edition of The Journals of Lewis and
Clark (1953) was inevitable. He had dealt with it in The Course of Empire
and used some passages from that book in the introduction to the Journals.
He repeated, for example, “It is generally agreed that the Journals are an
American classic, and certainly they are by far the most interesting as well
as the most important original narrative of North American exploration.”
      DeVoto’s principles in preparing his “condensation” for the general
reader clarify exactly what the reader can expect: “I have omitted no impor-
tant event and no incident of more than passing interest. I have included as
much as seemed possible of the daily routine and the continuous direct ob-
servation of the new country the expedition was traveling. I have also in-


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     A Literary History of the American West

cluded representative descriptions of the flora and fauna and all important
descriptions of Indian life, omitting anthropological details.” He has inter-
polated appropriate passages from the journals of Private Whitehouse and
Sergeants Ordway, Gass, and Floyd. “My job,” he says, “was clearly to pre-
serve Lewis and Clark, not to approximate Nicholas Biddle’s History.” While
DeVoto was studying the Lewis and Clark route and preparing this edition of
the journals, he often camped in a majestic grove of cedars along the Lewis
and Clark trail. It has been dedicated to his memory as the DeVoto Grove,
and, by his request, his ashes were scattered there.
      DeVoto drew upon Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition,
1804–1806 ( 1904–1905), which consists of seven volumes of text and one
of maps, edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites; History of the Expedition Under
the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark (1814), two volumes by Nicholas
Biddle; and The History of the Expedition Under the Command of Lewis and
Clark (1893), four volumes, edited by Elliott Coues. Though Thwaites and
Coues are indispensable to students, much scholarship since their time has
shaken some of their interpretations. DeVoto concedes that “we have had
no greater editor [of Lewis and Clark] than Coues, but it is well known that
he had a highhanded way with texts, altering them as he saw fit . . .
[making] changes in spelling, grammar, and wording.” Nevertheless, Coues’s
edition is likely the most readable narrative of the expedition and is recog-
nized for its accuracy and authenticity; it is complete and readily available.
      Scholarship on the extensive Lewis and Clark materials has been im-
pressive. Of central concern here is a meticulously edited volume which
brings together all the basic documents that relate to the expedition itself:
Donald Jackson’s Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Related Docu-
ments, 1783 to 1854 (1962). The American Historical Review wrote of this
book: “This man-sized volume of just under 750 pages presents 428 docu-
ments covering all aspects of the great Lewis and Clark expedition: its au-
thorization, planning, and outfitting; foreign reaction to it; Indian policy
and diplomacy in connection with it; the natural history resulting from it;
its financing; and Lewis’ tragic death (with an opinion as to whether it was
murder or suicide) . . . a stupendous job.”
      Jackson’s volume can enrich one’s understanding of the purpose of the
expedition but even more importantly it can show why the journals bring
such an all-seeing eye and intelligence to experience. Meriwether Lewis was
Jefferson’s close neighbor, friend, and protégé; they spent many hours dis-
cussing political, philosophical, scientific, and other subjects. Jefferson regu-
larly hung a mirror in a tree in front of Monticello when he had some free
time, and Lewis, seeing it, would come over to talk. As private secretary to
President Jefferson, Lewis was his confidant, and he proved, to Jefferson’s


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                                              THE ADVENTURE NARRATIVE

immense satisfaction, that he had the intelligence, integrity, resourcefulness,
and courage to lead the expedition to the West Coast. This rapport between
Jefferson and Lewis made Lewis highly responsive to Jefferson’s famous letter
of instructions of June 20, 1803. As instructed, Lewis punctiliously mapped
the route, noted fully the plants, animals of all sorts, the land and its soil
and other resources. Lewis observed Jefferson’s instructions to treat the In-
dians well, yet not to take any unnecessary risks with the safety of his men.
It is, then, Lewis’s commitment to follow Jefferson’s instructions explicitly
and fully that gives the journals the richness of detail and the breadth of
scientific data they have.
       It was likewise Lewis’s absolute confidence in his good friend William
Clark, and Clark’s reciprocation of that trust and friendliness, that ensured
the success of this great adventure. Lewis’s letter of June 19, 1803, invites
Clark to join him in equal command of the expedition, and Clark’s reply of
July 18, 1803, is a hearty acceptance. Lewis had written to Clark: “. . . be-
lieve me there is no man on earth with whom I should feel equal pleasure in
sharing them [“it’s fatiegues, it’s dangers and it’s honors”].” Clark replied:
“My friend I do assure you that no man lives with whome I would prefur to
undertake Such a Trip. . . .” Jackson’s volume, making readily available in
carefully edited form such materials as these, is invaluable.
       Another specialized book, magnificently edited, indispensable for se-
rious readers of the journals, is Lewis and Clark: Pioneering Naturalists ( 1969)
by Paul Russell Cutright. Cutright has retraced many times the route Lewis
and Clark followed and has described in careful detail what they saw. They
left careful descriptions of animals, birds, fish, plants, forest trees, and the
first significant scientific study of the various Indian tribes. Cutright por-
trays the two captains as no editor before has done, as important precursors
of specialized scientific scholars in such fields as botany, zoology, cartogra-
phy, meteorology, and ethnology. While with Sacagawea’s people, the Sho-
shoni, Lewis wrote the first ethnological study of consequence of any tribe
in the West; and this and his study of the Chinooks on the Pacific are now
considered classics. In identifying Lewis and Clark’s pioneering efforts, Cut-
right has surely created here a book which many readers of Lewis and Clark
had been hoping for.
       Each chapter recounts a portion of the expedition, summarizing the
action of the group, but especially making note of natural phenomena men-
tioned in the records. At the end of each chapter are carefully documented
lists: Animals New to Science; Plants New to Science; Lewis and Clark
Herbarium; Indian Tribes Encountered; and Topographic Features Named
and/or Discovered. Cutright has succeeded admirably in presenting in a
clear, orderly fashion the vast body of natural history discovered by Lewis


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      A Literary History of the American West

and Clark. This book is likely the last word in establishing Lewis and Clark
as pioneering scientific naturalists, and their journals show that they were
the first, and still two of the best, western nature writers.
      As Lewis and Clark embarked from St. Louis in 1804, they recognized
it as the natural gateway west and set the pattern for the immense western
traffic that was to follow. In approaching St. Louis through a region with
few, and very poor, roads, immigrants found the covered wagon was the last
resort. The huge homemade raft was the most practical conveyance for
those determined to go west. It was relatively simple and inexpensive for
the immigrant to construct a raft and load his wagon, cattle, horses, and
other goods and his family on it and float down the Mississippi or the Ohio
Rivers and their tributaries, and then to make their way on land either from
Cairo or St. Louis to Westport or one of the other final outfitting towns
along the Missouri.
      Walter Havighurst’s River to the West: Three Centuries of the Ohio (1970)
is the best volume to recount the adventure and document the significance
of the river traffic in the westward movement. Thoroughly researched, par-
ticularly well illustrated, it is a book that is satisfying, full and informing,
and a pleasure to read. Satan’s Ferryman: A True Tale of the Old Frontier
(1968) by W. D. Snively, Jr., and Louanna Furbee makes a realistic supple-
ment to Havighurst, for it presents the dark story of one James Ford, who
operated a ferry across the Ohio on the western route and a store where
immigrants could get supplies. It was really a front to which Ford lured
his victims and then robbed and murdered them. The evidence is well-
documented, and enhanced by photographs and rare old illustrations.
      A third invaluable study of rivers important in the western migration is a
monumental book, The Great Platte River Road (1969) by Merrill J. Mattes.
In twenty years of research, Mattes consulted over seven hundred original
overland journals, and from these and other sources he records how many
people traveled the road each year from 1841 to 1866 to an estimated total
of 350,000. The book is divided into several sections with maps, illustra-
tions of landmarks, and impressions made by the immigrants. Mattes pro-
vides massive documented detail with knowledgeable comment and analy-
sis. No one could conceivably want to know more about this great primitive
superhighway between 1841 and 1866 than he will find here.
      The Boston Newton Company Venture: Crossing to California in 1849
(1969) by Jessie Gould Hannon is an interesting account of one company’s
adventures moving west along the now very busy Platte corridor along with
30,000 others that year. Two popular illustrated volumes of travel along
the Platte are Lambert Florin’s Western Wagon Wheels (1970) and Albert


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                                             THE ADVENTURE NARRATIVE

and Jane Salisbury’s Here Rolled the Covered Wagons (1948). These books
present hundreds of excellent photographs of historic buildings, graves,
and monuments—and even wagon ruts—along the Oregon Trail. Both
books indicate ingenious and resourceful research in the pictures and in the
commentaries. John Francis McDermott’s Travelers on the Western Frontier
(1970) is a collection of twelve essays by such notable scholars as Archibald
Hanna, Jr., Dale L. Morgan, John T. Flanagan, and John Porter Bloom.
McDermott’s essay is entitled “Up the Wide Missouri: Travelers and Their
Diaries, 1794–1861,” containing an annotated checklist of ninety-five
      A somewhat lesser-known trail west has been mapped and knowl-
edgeably described by Ferol Egan in his book The El Dorado Trail (1970).
Starting from several gulf towns from Brazos Santiago to Galveston, the
trail proceeds by a variety of routes, usually through Chihuahua or El Paso
del Norte to the Pima villages to Alta California. It was especially impor-
tant during the Gold Rush. Many also contrived to get to California around
the Horn, as did Richard Henry Dana. His masterpiece, Two Years Before
the Mast (1840), vividly describes his life as a merchant sailor and is one of
the best accounts of life in California. He helped load cow hides and barrels
of tallow on the ship bound back to Boston. Dana views the Spanish life in
California askance, much as had Jedediah Smith, who had made the trip to
California overland some eight years before Dana arrived.
      Whether they came around the Horn or overland on one of the routes
that had proliferated after Lewis and Clark, a really amazing diversity of im-
migrants, both permanent settlers and adventurous visitors, arrived from all
parts of eastern America and Europe. Many of them were moved to write
about their western experiences, often very effectively. The first western
writings of major significance were, of course, the journals kept by several
members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. But many readers of the jour-
nals may well have come away wishing there had been more biographical
detail, particularly about Sacagawea and the regular soldiers and guides.
There is no lack of biographies of Lewis and Clark, although the mystery of
Lewis’s untimely death still remains. Much attention has been given to
Sacagawea in the century and three-quarters since her arduous trek to the
Pacific Ocean and return. More statues have been erected to honor her
memory than to any other American woman. There have been countless
sketches of her life, but until recently they have been almost entirely senti-
mental, unsupported legend, and very crass fiction.
      There has finally appeared what claims to be—and certainly seems to
be—a carefully documented biography of “the Indian woman,” as she was
usually referred to in the journals (or “Janey,” as Clark liked to call her). It
is Sacagawea of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1980) by Ella E. Clark and


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     A Literary History of the American West

Margot Edmonds. This study traces her life from her abduction by the
Minnetarees at age eleven from her Shoshoni village on the Salmon River
far down the western slope of the Rocky Mountains. As one of Charbon-
neau’s wives, she met the expedition leaders at Fort Mandan and there on
February 11, 1804, gave birth to a baby, Jean Baptiste, whom she carried to
the Pacific Ocean and back to Three Forks. The high point of this section of
the book is her meeting her brother Cameahwait, chief of her Shoshoni
tribe. Her good will ensured Lewis and Clark a friendly acceptance and en-
abled them to obtain horses and guides to the Columbia River. Though she
recognized Beaverhead Rock and a few other landmarks near her old home,
she was never in any sense a guide for Lewis and Clark as the myth has
long held.
     The third part of the book is based on largely new sources and deals
with her leaving Charbonneau and living among the Comanches where she
married Jerk-Meat, with whom she raised a family. The final part shows
Sacagawea on the Wind River Reservation living with Bazil (the son of
Charbonneau and Otter Woman), who always called Sacagawea his mother.
She and Bazil made a memorable appearance and were helpful at the 1868
peace treaty at Fort Bridger, when she was about eighty years old. In her old
age, witnesses aver she was a pleasant, interesting person, yielding to the
young people’s request to tell them about the great expedition and show
them her Jefferson medal, which she cherished. She died on April 9, 1884,
at about ninety-six, and Bazil arranged with the Reverend John Roberts to
conduct a Christian burial service for her. She had been as brave and endur-
ing of hardship as any soldier on the expedition and had been infinitely su-
perior to her cowardly and brutal husband, Charbonneau. However, she
was not a guide. Her great service was as the most convincing possible sym-
bol of peace to any Indian tribe the expedition encountered, for no war
party would ever have brought along a woman and her baby.
      Another significant recent volume is intended to rescue the ordinary
people of the great expedition from the oblivion in which they have lain
since they were paid off and discharged in St. Louis on October 10, 1806.
The Men of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1970) by Charles G. Clarke has
also the rather instructive subtitle “a biographical roster of the fifty-one
members and a composite diary of their activities from all known sources.”
Clarke has discovered many elusive biographical details of the forty-five
men known to have comprised the party and has discovered six more men
not on the usually accepted roster. He has ferreted out lost details of many
of the men by searching beyond various journals, biographies, and articles
into archival documents, court records, genealogies, and personal corre-
spondence. Clarke’s is thus the first work to concern itself exclusively with
the biographical data of the men. It further makes clear their personalities


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                                             THE ADVENTURE NARRATIVE

and activities with a 252-page “Personnel Diary,” an abridgment from the
journals which brings alive all the participants in the greatest of American
exploring adventures.
      One of those participants, John Colter, is also the most likely candi-
date for the title of archetypal mountain man. When he was honorably dis-
charged from the Lewis and Clark expedition at the Three Forks on Thurs-
day, August 15, 1806, the captains outfitted him from their supplies for two
years of trapping and agreed to sell the furs he had gathered privately during
the return journey. To have been accorded this special favor indicates that
Colter had served valiantly on the expedition.
      Two days later Colter “set out up the river in company with Messrs,
Dickson & Handcock,” two Illinois trappers the party had met. Colter’s
partnership with them lasted only six weeks, and after wintering with the
Mandans he trapped with Manuel Lisa’s men for a while. In October, 1807,
while on a five-hundred-mile trip to invite various friendly tribes of Indians
to come and trade at the post Lisa had established on the Yellowstone at the
mouth of the Bighorn, Colter discovered the famous geysers. He was the
first white man to see these natural wonders of what is now Yellowstone
National Park.
      In the fall of 1808 Colter was joined by his expedition friend, John
Potts, and they decided to risk trapping in the Three Forks region, home of
the dreaded Blackfeet. Though they were careful and watchful, they were
surprised by a band of Blackfeet who killed Potts and captured Colter. Im-
pressed by Colter’s show of bravery, they decided to give him a sporting
chance to run for his life. Stripped of his equipment and clothes, he was
given a head start before the Indians started after him. A. B. Guthrie has
developed this stirring episode into an excellent short story, “Mountain
      The two decades following Colter’s famous run saw the heyday of
the trans-Missouri fur trade. Enterprising men from business and the mili-
tary, not really trappers at all, decided to learn the fur trade and try to meet
the intense competition from the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and the
Hudson’s Bay Company, which was making increasing incursions into the
Oregon country. His trading post on the Yellowstone having proved an un-
successful trapping and trading base, Manuel Lisa organized a larger com-
pany to meet the competition. Called the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company,
it chose Major Andrew Henry as its field captain. In 1809 this company
sent a well-equipped expedition up the Missouri, met Colter coming down,
persuaded him to return with them as guide, and built a fort at the Three
Forks in April, 1810. But Major Henry was not fortunate in his trapping
endeavors. Indian traders and competing trappers caused him to divide the
company’s men into two brigades. He led one across the divide and built


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     A Literary History of the American West

his own fort on the Snake River in July, 1810. He kept no journal and little
has been written of him. His most famous exploit was in joining General
William H. Ashley in the 1822 Missouri expedition.
       Even more famous and influential than Ashley and Henry was John
Jacob Astor, who immigrated to America from Germany in 1784 and opened
a fur store in New York City. He soon became obsessed with entering the fur
trade in the far West. In 1811 he sent a ship with men and supplies around
the Horn to the mouth of the Columbia River, to be joined there by Wilson
Price Hunt, Astor’s “field marshal,” who had led another group of Astor-
ians overland. These two crews built Astor’s first fur trading post, which
was named Astoria. It was actually on the site of Fort Clatsop, which Lewis
and Clark had built for the winter of 1805-1806. Astor later encouraged
Washington Irving to write the account of his fur exploits in the West: it is
frankly a celebration of Astor and his prowess. He allowed Irving access to
all his records of the business which were in his home in New York. Irving
issued the book in 1836. There have been several editions since but by far
the best is Washington Irving, Astoria, or Anecdotes of an Enterprise Beyond
the Rockies (1964), edited and with an introduction by Edgeley W. Todd.
       Irving wrote another book based on the adventures of a fur trader.
Irving’s source for this book was Captain Benjamin Louis Eulalie de Bonne-
ville, who, at the suggestion of Joseph Reddeford Walker, took leave of the
Army in 1832 to make a three-year try for a fortune in furs—and inciden-
tally to experience the unparalleled adventure to be found in the West. He
was conspicuously unsuccessful at fur, but he traveled extensively through-
out the Northwest. The journals he kept reveal him as a careful observer
with a rare ability to portray the charm of the western landscape and the
excitement he felt in the stirring adventures with mountain men and In-
dians. Though he labored to transform his journal into an adventure nar-
rative, he could find no publisher. Finally, at the home of John Jacob Astor
he met Washington Irving, who was just finishing Astoria (1836). Bonneville
offered to sell his manuscript and maps; Irving bought them for $1,000.00.
The best edition is Washington Irving, The Adventures of Captain Bonneville
(1961), edited and with an introduction by Edgeley W. Todd. Todd expres-
ses a very high opinion of Irving’s re-working of Bonneville’s manuscript:
“ . . . certainly Bonneville’s name will continue to stand in the minds of
most people as the subject of the finest literary and historical account con-
temporaneous with the great days of the western fur trade in the 1830s.”
Hiram Martin Chittenden, a later historian of the fur trade, cites Irving’s
Knickerbocker statement that Irving had rescued Bonneville from the “wide-
spread insatiable maw of oblivion.” Most of Bonneville’s fur-trading con-


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temporaries had to wait for writers from later generations to save them from
oblivion. And there were many mountain men who deserved such rescue.
     St. Louis was showing signs of prosperity from the added wealth the fur
trade was bringing when General William H. Ashley’s now famous adver-
tisement appeared in the St. Louis Missouri Gazette & Public Advertiser on
Wednesday morning, February 13, 1822. It read:

                           Enterprising Young Men
     The subscriber wishes to engage one hundred men, to ascend the
     river Missouri to its source, there to be employed for one, two or
     three years. For particulars enquire of Major Andrew Henry, near
     the Lead Mines, in the County of Washington (who will ascend
     with and command the party) or to the subscriber at St. Louis.
                                                       Wm. H. Ashley

      Few of the thousand or so men who were attracted to the wild life of
trapping beaver in the West following John Colter’s time had any more liter-
ary propensities than Ashley. A good many, such as Jim Bridger, were illiter-
ate. A very small number, such as Jedediah Smith, kept journals with some-
times daily entries for extended periods. Others, such as Jim Beckwourth,
dictated memoirs of varying degrees of credibility. Thus, what is most cer-
tainly known about the vast majority of mountain men is found in biogra-
phies based on historical research in fur company records, government ar-
chives, newspaper files, deeds, wills, and letters.
      The mountain men, understandably preoccupied with survival in a re-
gion of some singularly hostile Indians, also experienced incredible hard-
ship in securing adequate food and shelter, particularly in winter; in many
regions through which they pursued the beaver, these basic necessities were
scarce or not to be found at all. At chance meetings of mountain men—or
especially at a rendezvous—much of the conversation of these men who
had chosen to live in harm’s way was certainly about who had “gone under.”
Ironically, because of their very success as mountain men, in little more
than a generation their way of life had gone under.
      Within forty years after Colter’s first beaver trapping in the Three Forks
area, the trappers had virtually exterminated the beaver in the streams of
the West. They had come west not only from the frontier states and territo-
ries such as Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas, but also
from Virginia, the Carolinas, and everywhere else in the East, even from
New England. They explored the great gates through the mountains, made
friendly alliances of marriage in some Indian tribes and fought others with
total abandon. Some mountain men returned to their homes to enjoy the


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     A Literary History of the American West

quiet life, but many remained all the rest of their lives in the West, drifting
into such related occupations as trading with Indians or working in fur trad-
ing posts. Since they knew more than any others about the trails, streams,
and mountain passes, it was natural that they would be sought as guides for
the hordes of people who were heading west. They served as guides for mis-
sionaries, forty-niners, immigrants of all sorts, and the United States Army.
Particularly attractive were the positions of guide and hunter for that mar-
velous gallery of dudes that found the West such a “splendid playground”
from about 1830 to 1850.
      It is possible that many of the mountain men who became guides did
not realize that, ironically, they were aiding in the destruction of the wild,
free West they had left civilization to enjoy. Nor did they see that they were
rushing American history inexorably from one age into another—that of
settlers with plows and cows and barbed wire and law. And again it is ironic
that perhaps they made their greatest contribution to the United States by
their explorations in a region coveted by France, Spain, Russia, and En-
gland. The claims of these nations were severely mitigated by the mountain
man’s mere presence in the disputed territory.

      The era of the mountain men comes to life in the works of a number of
twentieth-century historians and biographers. Prominent among them is
General Hiram M. Chittenden, graduated from West Point in 1884 and as-
signed to the Corps of Engineers with which he served with great distinc-
tion till his retirement in 1910. His The American Fur Trade in the Far West
(2 vols., 1902, 1973) is considered one of the best comprehensive sources
by most knowledgeable students of the mountain men and the fur trade.
Hardly a scholar who has written on this subject since the appearance of
Chittenden’s work has failed to cite him as an authority. An outstanding
feature of the work is the skilled organization of the vast research into a
coherent exposition of the mechanics of the fur business and the lucid, co-
herent narrative of the trade during the period it flourished from Lewis and
Clark to the building of Fort Bridger in 1843.
      Another very useful history is David J. Weber’s The Taos Trappers: The
Fur Trade in the Far Southwest, 1540–1846 (1971). The mountain men cen-
tered at Taos contributed importantly to the wealth that flowed along the
Santa Fe Trail. Even churchmen and government officials illegally entered
this lucrative trade. In tracing this complex enterprise through more than
three centuries, Weber has performed a feat of organization. Gordon Speck’s
Breeds and Half-Breeds (1969) gives an excellent view of one aspect of the
fur trade elsewhere treated only tangentially. He concentrates on the In-


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dians, Negroes, French, and other racial groups and mixtures who were
trappers. He presents a very good treatment of George Drouillard, Ed Rose,
and Jim Beckwourth, for example. The Knopf prizewinning history, Amer-
ica’s Western Frontiers (1967) by John A. Hawgood, a scholar from England
who has spent extended periods researching his subject in America, is a
highly readable study of the West the mountain men and settlers won.
       Bernard DeVoto’s The Course of Empire and Across the Wide Missouri
are indispensable. The former concentrates largely on showing how the
United States relentlessly extended its boundaries from the Atlantic to the
Pacific. DeVoto traces the ever-growing feeling of Americans that they
must become “a single society occupying this continental unit.” The last
half of the book describes the barriers to this progress and the violent com-
petition of various national groups to win in what became a race for very
high stakes. The twenty-three excellent maps which accompany the text
are particularly elucidating. They show clearly “The Spanish Entrances,”
“Early Ideas of North America,” “Hudson Bay Region,” “Vérendrye’s Prog-
ress, ” “Escalante’s Journey,” “Santa Fe Trail,” “The Gates of the Conti-
nent,” and several others. The last two chapters—“Westward the Course of
Empire,” and “The Passage to India”—are a marvelously climactic expres-
sion of DeVoto’s unique enthusiasm about the West.
       Across the Wide Missouri restricts its main narrative to the seven-year
period, 1832–1838, when the Scottish dude, Sir William Drummond
Stewart, with his lavish retinue, trekked about the West. The Dramatis
Personae DeVoto prefaces to the book indicates that he incorporated almost
every major mountain man with each fur company from Colter to the dying
out of the fur trade by mid-century. “The Chronology of the Mountain Fur
Trade” and the notes and bibliography make the most congenial, reliable,
concise guide to the general reader—as the book itself will make him an
enthusiast and a well-oriented amateur.
      Although the significance of mountain men has been recognized in
many histories, they are seen in all their infinite variety in biographies, dic-
tated memoirs, and personal journals. The most comprehensive collection
of biographies is that edited by LeRoy Hafen, The Mountain Men and the Fur
Trade of the Far West (1965–1972) (nine volumes of text and one of bibli-
ography). It consists of a 160-page account of the fur trade by Hafen and
biographies of some three hundred mountain men written by more than
seventy-five scholars. There are the notables like Jim Beckwourth, the five
Bents, Kit Carson, Henry Chatillon (Francis Parkman’s guide), Thomas
Fitzpatrick, Hugh Glass, Moses “Black” Harris, Andrew Henry, Dr. John
McLaughlin, Peter Skene Ogden, Daniel Potts, Etienne Provost, Osborne
Russell, the four Robidouxs, Jedediah, “Peg Leg,” and three other Smiths,
the five Sublettes, “Old Bill” Williams, Nathaniel J. Wyeth, Ewing Young,


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     A Literary History of the American West

and others. The biographies individualize these men of every capacity and
      A number of the mountain men treated in the Hafen set are also the
subject of first-rate biographies. Notable among these is that of William
“Old Bill” Williams. Old Bill Williams, Mountain Man (1936) by Alpheus H.
Favour, is one of the earliest and best of the biographies of mountain men.
Favour (1880–1939) was born of Puritan ancestry in Natick, Massachusetts,
and as a young lawyer went to practice in Prescott, Arizona. He early devel-
oped an interest in the fabulous adventures of William Shirley Williams.
Born in North Carolina, brought up in Missouri near St. Louis, Williams
was at first an itinerant preacher and missionary to the Osage Indians. Ironi-
cally, they converted him, and after acting as guide with the Lt. Sibley sur-
vey of the Santa Fe Trail, he went to the Southwest where he became ac-
knowledged by others—as well as himself—as “the master trapper.” His
long life was filled with hazardous adventures. He was a close friend of the
noted Joseph Reddeford Walker, and he went trapping with and knew well
the most famous trappers in the West.
      In view of Williams’s usual integrity it is surprising to learn of his
absconding with the money he received for selling some furs for the Utes.
But it is as a guide in the southern Colorado Rockies with John Charles
Frémont in Frémont’s disastrous 1849 expedition that the worst-but to-
tally unsubstantiated—charges were made about him. Frémont charged
that Williams cannibalized his companions in their desperate attempt to
reach safety. Frémont proved himself ruthless in driving his men in that
fateful attempt to cross the impassable southern Colorado Rockies in winter
exactly as Zebulon Montgomery Pike had tried to do forty years before.
Favour’s thoroughly researched account of Old Bill Williams was his life-
long endeavor, and in it he leaves a convincing portrait of Williams as a
natural leader in whatever group he found himself. Favour notes with satis-
faction that a river and a mountain and a city were named after him.
      Another especially noteworthy mountain man of varied accomplish-
ments was William Sublette, partner of Jedediah Smith and David Jackson
in the fur company they purchased from General Ashley in 1826. He had
begun trapping as an Ashley man, joining the second expedition in the
spring of 1823. John E. Sunder’s Bill Sublette, Mountain Man ( 1959) is com-
prehensive and detailed. One reviewer of this book has said: “. . . the au-
thor shows a fine gift for bringing life to events long past; and several of
Sublette’s near-brushes with death find the reader holding his breath. . . .”
Sublette was a skilled trapper himself and the effective leader of brigades of
company traders. He actually kept the company going while Smith was
away on his two exploring expeditions along the Pacific coast. With unusual
acumen he conducted the company business with suppliers in St. Louis. He


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helped develop the rendezvous system, laid out the first wagon route through
South Pass, and established what was later Fort Laramie. He helped to
break John Jacob Astor’s early monopoly on the fur trade. Returning to Mis-
souri, he amassed a great fortune in business and was influential in the
founding of Kansas City.
      Jim Beckwourth, another Ashley man, must be at once the most color-
ful and controversial of the mountain men. Jim Beckwourth: Black Mountain
Man and War Chief of the Crows (1972) by Elinor Wilson is a most meticu-
lous study. Beckwourth was known as “the Gaudy Liar” largely because of
the elaborate tales of his valor he dictated to T. D. Bonner, who published
them as The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth (1856). The 1972
biography is based on evidence gleaned from records of Beckwourth’s travels
in all parts of the West. The chief excellence, however, is the care with
which Wilson has assessed these materials, distinguishing between what can
be documented and corroborated from other sources and what is inherently
contradictory or unlikely. She concludes Beckwourth was not nearly “the
Gaudy Liar” he has been thought.
      Stanley Vestal in his Joe Meek: The Merry Mountain Man (1952) sees
this Ashley man not as the chief liar but as the chief jester among mountain
men. He did extensive trapping and Indian fighting with such stalwarts as
Jim Bridger, Tom Fitzpatrick, Louis Vasquez, Moses “Black” Harris, and Kit
Carson, to name a few. After the last rendezvous in 1840, he went on to
Oregon as a settler, became a peace officer, a legislator, and an envoy from
Oregon to consult President Polk. He was notorious for his practical jokes,
tall tales, Jacksonian democracy—and Indian women. He felt the old-time
Indians were truly religious. Vestal’s account of Meek is highly informative,
analytical, and pleasant reading.
      One of the most famous of the mountain men is the subject of J. Cecil
Alter’s Jim Bridger (1962), a revised and enlarged edition of James Bridger: A
Historical Narrative (1925). In this lifelong study Alter has compiled a com-
prehensive, coherent narrative of every known event in Bridger’s life, in-
cluding good detail of his relations with everyone else he met. For example,
Alter describes the 1826 encampment on the Bear River, in Willow Valley,
named Cache Valley by Beckwourth, who tells of the trappers’ caching
seventy-five packs of beaver pelts. At this time Bridger was sent down the
Bear River to find its mouth; in doing so he discovered the Great Salt Lake.
Tasting the water he supposed it was an arm of the Pacific Ocean. The
book, of course, describes Dr. Whitman extracting an arrowhead from
Bridger’s back at the Green River camp on August 12, 1835. It also re-
counts his troubles with the Mormons. Especially valuable are the numer-
ous descriptions of Bridger: his speech, skill in sign language, his intuitive
geographic sense, his character, and his values. Alter cites the evaluations


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      A Literary History of the American West

of Bridger made by Father De Smet, Casper Collins, General Dodge, and
others. This is a rich and satisfying account of one of the most skilled of
mountain men.
      Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West by Dale L. Morgan (1953) is
the preeminent biography of a mountain man by a western historian who
has no superior. In a mere eight years in the West Smith became the moun-
tain man à outrance. For him this meant not only trapping beaver and lead-
ing successful brigades of trappers. It meant his becoming an entrepreneur
and explorer, and seeing more of the West than any other man of his time.
He had joined the Ashley party in 1822 and survived the 1823 massacre of
thirteen of Ashley’s ninety-man second Missouri expedition by the Arikara
Indians. Within a year he was head of an Ashley party; in two years he was
Ashley’s partner, and a year later he bought Ashley’s company as senior
partner along with David Jackson and Bill Sublette.
      Smith and his men were at the 1825 rendezvous in Cache Valley and
the area north of Salt Lake, which he considered his “home of the wilder-
ness. ” He set off for California in the spring of 1826, proceeding south
through Utah and across Nevada and the Mojave Desert to the incredibly
rich San Gabriel Mission with its vast meadows and fields, vineyards, and
orchards. Smith and his men were astounded to see the herd of 40,000
cattle, 2,000 horses, 400 sheep, and all the rest. Smith records in his diary
that he approached this Catholic stronghold with great trepidation, for he
had heard tales that aliens had been detained and persecuted for their hereti-
cal religion or prosecuted as spies. He received from Father Jose Sanchez,
however, a bountiful hospitality, new clothes, excellent food and lodging,
wine, and even “Segars.” This stay at the mission is a rare portrayal of the
meeting of three radically diverse racial groups: the Catholics with their com-
bination of piety and earthiness, the Indians superficially converted and
essentially enslaved, and the American mountain men, intruding aliens.
Smith, with his Protestant sternness and austerity, was ill at ease in the
presence of the Mexican and Indian women whose dress and behavior
seemed improper.
      With chapter twelve, “The California Quagmire,” Morgan recounts the
trials and tragedies of Smith’s second (1827) expedition to California and on
to Oregon. Following the same route as the year before, Smith approached
the Mojave villages not suspecting that they “dissembled well.” Suddenly
raising a war cry they fell upon the party and “within seconds Brown,
Campbell, Cunningham, Deromme, Gobel, Lacross, Ortago, Ratelle, Relle,
and Robiseau were dead.” Smith escaped. After visiting San Gabriel again,
he picked up his men who had stayed in California the previous year and
headed north for the Oregon country. Here he was set upon by the Umpqua
Indians, who slaughtered nineteen of his men. Surviving this third mas-


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                                             THE ADVENTURE NARRATIVE

sacre, he and his three remaining men straggled into Fort Vancouver on the
Columbia River. There “Big Doctor” John McLaughlin, his ardent Hud-
son’s Bay rival, generously took care of all the needs of Smith and his men
 that winter and in the spring sent a party out to recover what could be
found of Smith’s goods. (A total of ninety-four mountain men of the Smith
and Ashley brigades were killed by Indians between 1823 and 1829.)
       Smith sold his share in the company, left the rendezvous of 1830, and
returned to St. Louis, where he reinvested his capital in trade goods and
“twenty-two mule-drawn wagons” to enter the Santa Fe trade. Riding off
some distance from the wagon train looking for desperately needed water,
he was killed by Comanches on May 27, 1831.
       Everybody knows Smith was a religious man—likely one of the very
few in this calling; he was most affectionately attached to his family, often
referring to himself in letters as “your unworthy son”; he was especially so-
licitous of the welfare of his men. On one occasion when crossing the Ne-
vada desert one of his men dropped to the sands dying of thirst, and Smith
took a little brass kettle and trudged miles till he found water and came back
to revive him. Morgan’s biography of Smith concludes with a passage by an
unknown eulogist: “. . . yet was he modest, never obtrusive, charitable
‘without guile’ . . . a man whom none could approach without respect, or
know without esteem . . . . he must not be forgotten.” Having used every
known source about Smith and given more than one hundred pages of
notes, Morgan has here produced a masterpiece.
       The long-lost manuscript journal of Smith’s first expedition to Califor-
nia, which Dale Morgan had confidently predicted would some day be
found, was recently discovered and published: The Southwest Expedition of
Jedediah S. Smith: His Personal Account of the Journey to California 1826–1827,
 (1977) edited with an introduction by George R. Brooks. It contains also
the Daybook, both accounts and narrative, by Harrison G. Rogers, Smith’s
clerk, on which Brooks suggests Smith evidently drew occasionally to fill in
details and events he had neglected to record. Jedediah Smith’s journal is
surely the best kept by a mountain man. Its genius lies in its meditative
quality, its philosophic inquiring into the meaning of his actions and his life
      Journal of a Trapper (1965) by Osborne Russell, edited by Aubrey L.
Haines, is another notable mountain man document. Born in a little town
in Maine, Russell found himself in Independence, Missouri, in April 1834,
at the age of twenty, where he joined the Columbia River Fishing and Trad-
ing Company, which was fitting out for an expedition to the mouth of the
Columbia. His book is particularly well written and is fascinating because of
the author’s intense interest in the new western environment. He is ecstatic
about the Wind River Mountains and the mountains in the Yellowstone


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      A Literary History of the American West

and Three Forks regions. He is fascinated to find petrified sea shells on the
mountains and geysers and an oil spring on a fork of the “Popo-azia” River,
as he calls it. He takes books out of the Fort Hall Library when he goes
trapping and meditates on politics, literature, religion, and the risks of death
in the mountains.
      A few mountain men were so adept at avoiding death in the mountains
that their exploits inspired legends, and none of the western adventurers was
more legendary than Kit Carson. In Dear Old Kit: The Historical Christopher
Carson (1968) Harvey Lewis Carter has tried “to set the record straight,” to
replace the hero worship and legend with documented fact, and especially
to repudiate one of the most egregious creators of a pseudo-Carson, Oliver
P. Wiggins. In pursuing his task of presenting the historical Carson, he has
let Carson speak for himself accurately for the first time. Carson’s reminis-
cences were dictated, Carter has discovered, to John Mostin. But the in-
accurate elaborations included by Dr. Dewitt C. Peters have here been ex-
cluded. Every person, place, and event Carson mentions is identified. The
double column format adds to the ease of understanding the materials. The
Kit Carson Memoirs, 1809–1856 are in one column and Carter’s extensively
researched notes and comments are adjacent. Carter’s essay, “Carson the
Man: A New Appraisal” is a concise summary of Carson as trapper, trader,
army guide, and man of character. This last is a view that few Navajos, at
least, have held of him since 1864 when he helped the Army defeat them
and drive them on the Long March to Fort Sumner.
      Fort Sumner was a military post, but some forts such as Bent’s Fort and
Fort Laramie began as fur trading posts that figured importantly in the lives
of the mountain men. In the 1830s such outposts began to serve the trav-
elers that flooded over the Oregon Trail and the Santa Fe Trail. By mid-
century the demise of the fur trade was evident, and many of these trad-
ing posts were bought and made into forts by the army as the incursions of
whites into Indian territories promoted hostilities. Histories of some of
these forts, memoirs, and letters of soldiers, journalists, and travelers of all
sorts bring to life the interrelationships of mountain men, Indians, soldiers,
immigrants, missionaries, dudes, scientists, surveyors, and others. Brief
mention of a few of these histories will clarify the major confrontations and
conflicts that characterized life beyond the frontier during the period of
      Bent’s Old Fort was built on the Arkansas River in 1833 by the broth-
ers Charles and William Bent and their partner, Ceran St. Vrain. It served
on the Santa Fe Trail much as Fort Laramie did on the Oregon Trail. The
southwestern Indians and mountain men traded their furs and pelts for sup-
plies brought to the fort from St. Louis. Santa Fe traders, adventurers, and
soldiers found the old fort a welcome place of accommodation, rest, and


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celebration. David Lavender in his Bent’s Fort (1954) delineates the history
and brings alive the people and activities associated with it. Kit Carson,
Old Bill Williams, and Jim Beckwourth frequented the place, and travelers
like Francis Parkman, George Frederick Ruxton, and Lewis Garrard stayed
there briefly and left interesting descriptions. Many extolled the flapjacks,
pumpkin pies, and other delectations prepared by Black Charlotte.
       With the murder of his brother Charles, governor of New Mexico, in
an uprising in Taos, the decline of the fur trade, and the rising Indian hos-
tilities, William Bent loaded his goods, employees, and family into wagons
in 1849 and set fire to the fort. He moved down the Arkansas a few miles
and built a new fort which he operated for eight years and finally leased to
the army. He retired to his ranch on the Purgatoire where he died in 1869.
It has been said by one scholar that no other book on the Santa Fe Trail can
match Lavender’s work. Lavender communicates a “blend of narrative
power, pictorial sense, scrupulous scholarship, and awareness of the great
American melodrama.” Some place Lavender’s history alongside the works
of Parkman and Prescott. The Old Bent’s Fort was reconstructed in exact
detail and is now operated by the National Park Service.
       George E. Hyde’s Life of George Bent, Written from his Letters (1967),
adds significantly to an understanding of the complicated relationships and
often violent encounters between the Cheyennes and other Indians and the
whites in the vicinity of Bent’s Fort. The subject of this biography is not
William Bent’s young brother by that name, but his son by Owl Woman, his
Cheyenne wife. She was the daughter of Gray Thunder, one of the most
powerful of the Cheyennes. The fascinating study of authentic Indian-
white relations is based on George Bent’s letters to Hyde over a period from
1905 to the eve of his death in 1918.
       Bent’s Fort was only one of the more than two hundred civilian and
military posts in the West. A good study of a number of those outposts is
Robert G. Athearn’s Forts of the Upper Missouri (1967). Action-filled with
struggles and danger, it was written by one of the most knowledgeable schol-
ars on this subject: it makes a unique contribution in bringing together a
diverse body of history, and explains the role these forts played over about
eighty years in developing trade in furs, encouraging and protecting settlers,
and in subduing hostile Indians, especially the Sioux.
       The soldiers were not just Indian fighters. Indeed, so important and
pervasive was the military’s role in the exploration of the West that western
military memoirs and histories constitute a vast body of literature which is
discussed in a separate chapter in this volume. But several military memoirs
and histories must also be mentioned in this chapter, because they dem-
onstrate so well that soldiers were among the major western adventurers.
George Winston Smith and Charles Judah’s Chronicles of the Gringos: The


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      A Literary History of the American West

U. S. Army in the Mexican War, 1846–1848 (1968) consists of five hundred
pages of accounts of eyewitnesses and combatants and is totally unlike any-
thing else published on the Mexican War. Orrin H. and Lorraine Bonney’s
Battle Drums and Geysers (1970) presents the life and journals of Lt. Gus-
tavus Cheney Doane, a soldier who seems to have volunteered for every
exploring assignment in western Wyoming and Montana, the Yellowstone
area and the Snake River country. Agnes Wright Spring’s Caspar Collins:
The Life and Exploits of an Indian Fighter of the Sixties (1927, 1969) is an ac-
count of a genuine hero who led his 120 men on a charge into a force of 600
Cheyennes, 1,800 Sioux, and 200 Arapahoes.
      Soldiers were not, of course, the only government officials who helped
to explore the West, and one of the most noted of the government’s civilian
employees was J. Ross Browne. A very welcome addition to western litera-
ture is J. Ross Browne: His Letters, Journals, and Writings (1969), edited,
with an introduction and commentary, by Lina Fergusson Browne. Browne
spent twenty-five years in the West, about twice as long as Bret Harte, Mark
Twain, Francis Parkman, Richard Dana, and Bayard Taylor combined.
He traveled extensively throughout California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas,
Oregon, and Washington; and his letters, journals, articles, and reports
constitute the fullest and most reliable account of life in the West left by a
single person in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. Browne was
surely one of the most honest and fearless federal agents in American his-
tory. There is something poignant in seeing this immigrant heir to Ameri-
can democracy encountering in California’s own Gilded Age a luxuriant
flowering of graft among government officials—and who with no apparent
disillusionment was dismissed from his position for arguing relentlessly for
its abatement. He was a compulsive writer, and his articles, forty-two of
which appeared in Harper’s alone, were some of the most popular of the
time. His cartoons portray as no words can the ironic view he had of himself
and the turbulent life in the West he experienced so fully.
     During the nineteenth century hundreds of notable visitors came to
America to play, observe, or study. A large number were attracted to the
West, and many have written perceptively about it. In 1870 Viscount James
Bryce, English statesman and historian, made the first of five extended visits
to study American government and civilization. Bryce was particularly in-
terested in the West, about which he wrote in his classic work, The Ameri-
can Commonwealth (1888, 1978): “The west is the most American part of
America: that is to say, the part where those features which distinguish
America from Europe come out in the strongest relief.”
     Bryce’s opinion was shared by many other Europeans who wrote about


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                                             THE ADVENTURE NARRATIVE

their adventure in the West. George Frederick Ruxton, a young English
military man, explorer, and adventurer, crowded a great deal of adventure
and literary achievement into his twenty-seven years. His name is familiar
to and highly regarded by western scholars because he kept notebooks and
diaries rich in authentic detail, from which he could distill superb scholarly
articles on the ethnology of Indians and graphic accounts of his adventures.
He captured the character and vernacular of mountain men and traders
better than anyone else has done. No novelist could presume to achieve
verisimilitude in portraying fictional mountain men without drawing upon
       He was certainly no greenhorn when at twenty-five he finally added
the American West, Mexico, and Canada to his explorations. He had al-
ready served as a soldier in Ireland and Spain, had explored in Morocco and
South Africa, and had considered exploring Borneo and the Indian Archi-
pelago. Wallace Stegner observed in The Uneasy Chair (1974) that Bernard
DeVoto had “correctly” suspected that Ruxton was a British agent—and
that Sir William Drummond Stewart may have been one too. However that
may be, Ruxton’s great affection for the wilderness West was genuine: “Al-
though liable to an accusation of barbarism, I must confess that the very
happiest moments of my life have been spent in the wilderness of the Far
West; and I never recall but with pleasure the remembrance of my solitary
camp in the Bayou Salado, with no friend near me more faithful than my
rifle, and no companions more sociable than my good horse and mules, and
the attendant coyote which nightly serenades us.”
       There are two books, both edited by LeRoy Hafen, which scholars
agree are indispensable to an understanding of Ruxton and an appreciation
of his contribution to western literature. The pieces in Ruxton of the Rockies,
collected by Clyde and Mae Reed Porter (1950), are autobiographical writ-
ings, almost all of which were never before published. Ruxton’s best-known
work is Life in the Far West (1849; 1951, with a foreword by Mae Reed Por-
ter). Though Ruxton would assert that “Life in the Far West is no fiction,” it
is nonetheless fictionized history, for he admits about the incidents por-
trayed: “I have invented not one out of my own head. They are all matters
of history in the mountains, but I have, no doubt, jumbled the dramatis
personae one with another, and may have committed anachronisms in the
order of their occurrence.” Actually little of the narrative consists of Rux-
ton’s own experience; most consists of campfire tales he heard. The result is
the liveliest and, in a sense, the truest historic portrayals of the mountain
men; the analysis of the character of the mountain man indicates close ob-
servation. The mountain man, he says, has a loathing of the restrictions of
civilization; according to Ruxton he makes “quick determination and re-
solve in cases of extreme difficulty and peril.” He has “fixedness of purpose”;


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     A Literary History of the American West

“dash and daring with equal subtlety and caution”; “energy, enterprise, and
hardihood of character”; “gaiety and dissipation.” He concludes that these
traits are basic in the American character. In the uninhibited West they are
simply given full expression.
      Another Englishman, Thomas H. Gladstone, came to the United
States in 1856, with John T. Delane, the editor of The Times—the mighty
London newspaper for which Gladstone was a correspondent. A kinsman of
the eminent English statesman, Gladstone was deeply interested in the
antebellum conflict over “bleeding Kansas.” Kansas, he said, seemed buried
beneath “a mass of contradictory assertions.” In Washington he listened to
congressional debates about the problem and determined to go to Kansas
and make his own inquiry. After spending several months in the South
studying its culture and racial attitudes, he went first to Missouri and finally
to Kansas. He observed very closely and disinterestedly and reported what
he saw there from the burning of Lawrence through a whole year of the
depredations of the Border Ruffians. He compiled factual reports on every
aspect of Kansas: the character of the settlers, their economy, the natural
resources, its place as the beginning of both the Santa Fe Trail and the
Oregon Trail. The Englishman in Kansas (1857, 1971) consists of the letters
Gladstone sent to The Times.
      Marshall Sprague’s A Gallery of Dudes (1966) is an interesting collec-
tion of nine informative and entertaining sketches of European travelers (as
well as Theodore Roosevelt), all of whom between 1833 and 1890 sought
adventure or profit in the West. “My dudes,” says Sprague, “were comic,
but they had more than comedy to offer. They were highly educated, and
they had traveled widely. Most of them saw the West in a broad and fresh
      One of Sprague’s best sketches is “Scotsman on the Green,” an ac-
count of Sir William Drummond Stewart’s fabulous adventures from 1833
to 1843 in the heart of mountain man country. During this period he at-
tended every rendezvous. He saw Dr. Marcus Whitman remove the iron
arrowhead from Jim Bridger’s back at the 1835 rendezvous on the Green.
No doubt one of the most important things Stewart did was to take along
the young New Orleans artist, Alfred Jacob Miller, on his 1837 excursion.
Miller’s paintings, genre scenes, landscapes, and portraits of Stewart with
mountain men, Indians, and buffaloes in the Rocky Mountain settings are
generally believed to be some of the best portrayals of early western life.
Stewart traveled usually with a retinue of at least fifty people, guides, hunt-
ers, gentlemen, and an immense amount of equipment. He met Chouteau,
Bridger, Sheridan, Custer, Frémont, William Sublette, Ashley, Baptiste
Charbonneau, and almost everyone else of importance in the West of
his time.


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      In Stewart’s 1843 “hunting frolic” he invited Matthew C. Field, as-
sistant editor of the New Orleans Picayune, and a former actor, to join his
party. Field’s journal and reports to his newspaper, Prairie and Mountain
Sketches (1957), edited by Kate L. Gregg and John Francis McDermott,
show Field was an excellent reporter of everything of human interest, espe-
cially the ironic or humorous. He filled at least six notebooks with such
happenings as an uproarious Fourth of July celebration six hundred miles
beyond the frontier, three days of horse racing ten thousand feet above sea
level across the Great Divide, and performing Romeo and Juliet and The
Taming of the Shrew for a large audience of Shawnee Indians. Field is as con-
fident as he is humorous and sprightly. Sir William provided the best of food
and drink, entertainment, and hunting. He seems, however, to have been
rather arbitrary in keeping with the habitual exercise of his noble pre-
rogatives. Some of his American guests resented this, since Field says he
heard muttering in camp, including some sarcastic epithets for Sir William
as “His Omnipotence.” He confided in a letter to his wife: “I do most
frankly beleive [sic] that I can eclipse Irving, Lewis & Clark, Farnham, Fa-
ther De Smet, and all other writers in describing the grand and wonderful
scenes of this region.” Field’s sketches are rich in content and delightful
in style.
      Marshall Sprague has also written the introduction to the 1967 reprint
of the Earl of Dunraven’s book, The Great Divide: Travels in the Upper Yellow-
stone in the Summer of 1874 (1876, 1967). Twenty-eight years after Parkman
scouted about Fort Laramie with the Oglala Sioux and hunted buffalo east
of the Rockies, the Earl of Dunraven and his companions disembarked from
the Union Pacific train in Corinne, Utah, with their famous guide, Jack
Omohundro, and made their way north past Fort Hall to Virginia City,
Bozeman, and the Yellowstone River. In recounting his hunting adven-
tures, in carefully analyzing the Crow Indians, in describing the natural
wonders of the Yellowstone Park region, Dunraven proved himself a writer
of considerable talent. In analyzing Indian-white relations and in provid-
ing sparkling, ironic humor, his book is likely the best of all the reports left
by European dudes about their western experiences.
      Europeans were not the only sojourners in the West. Many Americans
from the eastern regions went west for adventure or for their health. In the
spring of 1831, Josiah Gregg, a young medical doctor, joined a trader’s cara-
van setting out for Santa Fe, because he had been advised to take a trip for
his health. He became a merchant in the Santa Fe trade for the next nine
years, all the while recording in his notebooks the most insightful observa-
tions of the land and its people, Mexicans and Indians, that have been writ-
ten. He served as a correspondent in the Mexican War, but in 1849 he
joined the Gold Rush to California, where he died, on an ill-supplied expe-


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     A Literary History of the American West

dition, of exposure and starvation. His book, Commerce of the Prairies
(1844), edited in 1967 by Milo Milton Quaife, has been regarded as a clas-
sic since its publication. Quaife’s edition is an abridgment containing only
those chapters which comprise his personal narrative. About half of the
original book (which contained his treatises on geography, minerals, ani-
mals, Indian tribes, etc. of the Southwest) has been omitted.
       Susan Shelby Magoffin had a copy of Dr. Gregg’s Commerce of the Prai-
ries, and her own book is, after his, one of the best accounts of the Santa Fe
trade. Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico (1926), edited in 1962 by
Stella M. Drumm with a foreword by Howard R. Lamar, is the diary of
Magoffin’s trip down the Santa Fe Trail in 1846–1847. She was accustomed
to ease and comfort, being from a wealthy and historically noteworthy fam-
ily. At eighteen she married Samuel Magoffin (twenty-seven years her se-
nior), for sixteen years a prosperous merchant in the Santa Fe trade. She
traveled in style: a mule-drawn carriage with driver and two servant boys,
her dog, books and all comforts; and she had a maid with a separate car-
riage. Her diary is a very personal response to the daily routine of swearing
teamsters, frightening visits by Indians, as well as her accounts of nature—
roses and antelopes and buffaloes. The notes by the editor and foreword by
Lamar make clear the political and economic situation in 1846.
       In that “year of decision” which saw Susan Magoffin, George Ruxton,
and Francis Parkman on the Santa Fe Trail, a seventeen-year-old Phila-
delphia youth named Lewis Hector Garrard also traveled along that route,
and he later described his adventures in Wah-To-Yah and the Taos Trail
(1850; 1955). At Westport Garrard outfitted himself for the trip, buying a
“paint” horse for fifty dollars. He traveled the Santa Fe Trail in the company
of Ceran St. Vrain’s merchant caravan heading for Bent’s Fort. Unlike
Susan Magoffin, who was offended by the colorful epithets of the French
Canadian teamsters—“sacre enfant de garce!”—Garrard was amused. Like
her, he observed the method of burial on the prairie; like her, he noted the
“pasó por aquí” signatures on Pawnee Rock, herds of buffalo, and skulking,
begging, or spying Indians. He had a sensitive ear for the vernacular of the
mountain men and traders and was immensely amused to find a trader with
the Cheyennes named, of all things, John Smith. He was fascinated by the
Indians’ pipe ceremony and wrote a rhapsody on the “enlivening delights”
of the untaught savages. The character of the New Mexican interests him,
but unfortunately he proves to have the typical American racist bias of the
period: “The New Mexicans, when weakest, are the most contemptible,
servile objects to be seen; and with their whining voices, shrugs of the
shoulder, and dastardly expression of their villainous countenances, they
commend themselves unreservedly to contempt.”


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      Just as unflattering as Garrard’s descriptions of the New Mexicans are
Francis Parkman’s sketches of the Indians. Parkman was not yet twenty-
three when he left his prolonged studies at Harvard in the spring of that
critical year 1846 for a “tour of curiosity and amusement” in the wilderness
far beyond the Missouri River frontier towns.
      Parkman, who had received his LL.B. degree in 1846, was very well
educated and widely traveled; he was no greenhorn—like Magoffin at eigh-
teen and Garrard at seventeen—when he started West. He was an expert
rifleman and after his three summer seasons of roughing it through the
woods, mountains, rivers, and lakes of New England and eastern Canada
was a master at the arts of survival in the wild. All of this—and the trip
west—were part of Parkman’s preparation for realizing his life’s work. At
eighteen he had dedicated himself to writing the comprehensive history of
the long struggles between Britain and France, with their Indian allies, for
control of North America. His purpose, then, was not just a pleasure excur-
sion: he wanted to observe the least-tamed of Indians, particularly to see
how skilled they were in battle, both in strategy and execution of coopera-
tive plans.
      Along with his cousin, Quincy Shaw, Parkman arrived at St. Louis by
train and put up, of course, at the Planters’ House while outfitting for the
trip. He had the good fortune to hire Henry Chatillon as guide and hunter.
He hired another French Canadian, Deslauriers, as muleteer, cook, and
camp tender. They took the steamboat to Westport and made a brief stop at
Fort Leavenworth. Here they were right on the very frontier; and what Park-
man was soon to see was a surprising and ironic array of the contradictions
between civilization and the wild brought together. They sought out the
trader to the Kickapoo Indians (almost certainly William H. Hildreth).
“The trader,” Parkman says, “was a blue-eyed, openfaced man who neither
in his manner nor his appearance betrayed any of the roughness of the fron-
tier. . . .” His home was clean, cool, and neatly carpeted and his wife, a
charming Creole beauty who “lived on the sunny side of life,” served them
excellent claret and lunch. There Parkman saw with something near as-
tonishment “a very mischievous looking knife” resting on a set of Milton in
a well-stocked bookcase.
      DeVoto has observed that it is strange Parkman should have been to-
tally oblivious to the Mexican War going on at the time. Virtually his only
allusion to the war is about a derelict soldier he found at Bent’s Fort, whom
he dubbed Tete Rouge, and helped to get back to Fort Leavenworth. Many
have wondered, also, at Parkman’s total lack of appreciation for the flood of
immigrants he saw headed west. Parkman could see no sense in their aban-
doning their homes to risk their lives trying to get to Oregon or California.


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     A Literary History of the American West

He was disgusted with the Mormons he met because they always wanted to
preach their religion to him, an agnostic, or as his sister said “a reverent
      The Oregon Trail by Francis Parkman, edited by E. N. Feltskog in 1969,
is the only edition a scholar or serious general reader would use. It is defini-
tive in its collating the carefully considered changes Parkman made from his
field notes (which he first dictated to Shaw) through subsequent editions.
Feltskog traces meticulously what Parkman did with the manuscript through
the serial publication in Knickerbocker Magazine (1847, 1849), and in each
of the eight book editions to follow to the 1892 edition, which he uses as his
copy text.
      Feltskog has noted and compared some seven thousand substantive
variants comprising three hundred pages, plus one hundred more pages of
introduction and bibliography. Having access to the scholarship of Mason
Wade and others, in addition to Parkman’s original field notes, Feltskog
shows how Parkman consciously adopted changes in style and point of view.
In the notebooks Parkman records his adventures and dangers with unin-
hibited exuberance and delight; but, as Feltskog demonstrates, in his rewrit-
ing he removes himself successively into a more objective, less personal
point of view.
      Back in St. Louis Parkman gave Chatillon his fine rifle as a parting gift
and wrote a beautiful rhapsodic passage on his natural grace and sterling
character. It is the culmination of a great book, and Feltskog has made it
available to readers as it has never been before.
      Twenty-three years after the adventures of Parkman, Ruxton, Garrard,
and Magoffin on the Santa Fe Trail, a one-armed Civil War veteran traveled
down the last great stretch of unexplored territory in the American West.
That veteran’s achievements as an explorer, scientist, dedicated public ser-
vant, and writer are widely recognized today and give Major John Wesley
Powell heroic stature. Piercing through misconceptions to reality, Powell
enunciated entirely new concepts about the arid West at least seventy-five
years before they were generally accepted and acted upon. Powell’s en-
cyclopedic knowledge of the arid plateau region was not even approximated
by anyone else of his time. And the wonder of it all is that he was largely
self-taught. He emerged from a desultory, miscellaneous attendance at a few
schools and colleges, to take a position as professor of geology, and he soon
became the outstanding geographer, enthnologist, and explorer of his time.
      On May 10, 1869, a Union Pacific locomotive and a Central Pacific
locomotive drew up nose-to-nose at Promontory Point, Utah, to celebrate
the completion of the transcontinental railroad. Just two weeks later Powell


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                                             THE ADVENTURE NARRATIVE

got off a Union Pacific train at Green River, Wyoming. He brought with
him four specially designed boats, built of oak in Chicago, partially decked
with air-tight compartments for buoyancy and watertight storage spaces.
Powell’s flagship, so to speak, had a captain’s chair bolted to its deck and
was named the “Emma Dean.”
       The Indians of the region had long held the river in dread and warned
Powell not to enter that Great Unknown with its mysterious evils. The
people of Green River cheered as the party pushed their boats into the swift
water. The walls of the canyon narrowed. The travelers noted the chiseled
names of some who had crossed: Escalante in 1776; Ashley some fifty years
later; and Frémont and Gunnison. Buried in darkness and gloom the men in
the boats must have reflected that those men whose names they saw were
merely crossing the river in carefully selected safe places. Powell and his
men repeatedly heard the roar of falls ahead—often at places where there
were no friendly beaches for landing and portage. Damage to boats, loss of
equipment, spoilage of food, and constant anxiety were routine.
       In 1874 the editors of Scribner’s magazine persuaded Powell to write a
series of four articles, but it was not till 1875 that the full account of the
river adventures, and the ethnographic, geographic, and geological chap-
ters were published as The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Tribu-
taries. Powell must rank as one of the most reluctant of authors, for it was
only after Mr. Garfield, Chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the
House of Representatives, refused to consider Powell’s request for more
funds for scientific explorations that Powell agreed to write the book. Powell
reported this interesting genesis of his book: “Thereupon Mr. Garfield, in a
pleasant manner, insisted that the history of the exploration should be pub-
lished by the government, and that I must understand that my scientific
work would be continued by additional appropriations only upon my prom-
ise that I would publish an account of the exploration. I made the promise,
and the task was immediately undertaken.”
       Ironically (since Powell said he “had no interest in that work as an
adventure”), The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Tributaries, as it
was revised and enlarged in 1875, became one of the best adventure nar-
ratives in American literature. The exploration on which it was based “was
not made for adventure but purely for scientific purposes, geographic and
geologic, and I had no intention of writing an account of it, but only of
recording the scientific results.” It is fortunate for American literature that
he kept and preserved a journal. “My daily journal,” he wrote, “had been
kept on long narrow strips of brown paper, which were gathered into little
volumes that were bound in sole leather in camp as they were completed.”
      Powell’s most valuable scientific publication was Report on the Lands
of the Arid Regions (1878). He worked effectively with politicians and was


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     A Literary History of the American West

the chief moving force in getting the government to establish in 1870 the
Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region with
himself in charge. His major accomplishment here was to map the Plateau
Province. He took a leading part in founding the U.S. Geological Sur-
vey. He founded and became director of the Bureau of Ethnology in the
Smithsonian Institution. He promoted the establishment of the Bureau of
      The best way to put the famous 1869 run of the Green and Colorado
in context with the other explorations in the Plateau Province is to read
Wallace Stegner’s Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the
Second Opening of the West (1954; 1982). Stegner traces Powell’s 1867–1868
exploration from Cheyenne south to Denver, across the Rockies at Middle
Park, to Brown’s Hole, and on the Green River. He makes a detailed factual
and literary analysis of Powell’s narrative of the 1869 run of the Colorado.
This is followed by recounting Powell’s 1870 expedition of the region and
the 1871–1872 second run. Stegner considers that Powell took undue liber-
ties in the published account of what purports to be only the 1869 adven-
ture by freely interpolating materials from the 1871–1872 trip. Powell has
taken exactly the same kind of liberty with his notebook as did Parkman,
Garrard, and Ruxton before him. Stegner says: “. . . it contains some pecu-
liar suppressions, alterations, and additions of fact that would be thoroughly
justified in fiction . . . but have a sinful and hangdog look in a scientific
monograph.” Stegner is a harsh critic of Powell’s style as well as the content
of his book. He says Powell overdramatizes by rhetoric and tone the dan-
gers encountered. But it is interesting to conjecture how a staid and deco-
rous literary critic might report the experience if he had been ensconced in
the bow of the “Emma Dean” clinging to those oak rails as the boat plunged
and bucked her way between jagged boulders down the white rapids of the
Colorado. He might have evoked a tone of greater anxiety and supported it
with stronger diction than Powell used.
      Down the Colorado: John Wesley Powell: Diary of the First Trip Through
the Grand Canyon, 1869 (1969) is an abridged reprinting of Powell’s The
Exploration of the Colorado River. Numerous photographs and drawings
made of both the 1869 and 1871 expeditions are included with annotations
accompanying the text. The outstanding feature of this edition, however, is
the forty-eight-page gallery of four-color photographs by Eliot Porter, one of
America’s leading photographers of nature. Passages focusing on the cour-
age, hardship, and determination of Powell and his men recounted in the
narrative are effectively juxtaposed in this edition with photographs of
breathtaking beauty of the world of color, light, and gloom through which
they traveled—and survived. Porter’s photographs give an entirely new and
pleasurable dimension to reading Powell.


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                                            THE ADVENTURE NARRATIVE

      In summary, this sampling of some sixty volumes bearing directly or
indirectly on western adventure reveals that a great diversity of people with
varied aims were involved. The significance, and even the basic meaning,
of some of these primary documents left by the adventurers has been made
more apparent to readers by later historical, biographical, and scientific
      The Journals of Lewis and Clark for example, generally admitted to be
the premiere classic in the genre, have been greatly clarified and enhanced
by the historical study by Jackson and the scientific study by Cutright. Mor-
gan did equally well in his exhaustively researched Jedediah Smith and the
Opening of the West. Feltskog’s literary analysis of the nine editions of Park-
man’s The Oregon Trail is a masterful piece of research. Finally, an excellent
historical study of the arid Plateau Province, the region of Powell’s explora-
tions and writings, has been made by Stegner in his Beyond the Hundredth
Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West.
      It has been a long time since Jefferson instructed Lewis to map his
route, to describe and, when possible, take specimens of natural resources,
and to treat the Indians well. Many Americans today look back—or about
them—and wonder what went wrong with Jefferson’s ideals for the West.
One who wondered was the late Archibald MacLeish. His poem “Burying
Ground by the Ties” deals with immigrant laborers who worked on railroads
and in mines and other enterprises. “Wildwest” is about Crazy Horse and
the battle on the Greasy Grass. And in “Empire Builders,” in a bitterly sar-
castic tone, MacLeish presents Harriman, Vanderbilt, Morgan, Mellon,
and Barton:
            You have just beheld the Makers Making America:
            They screwed her scrawny and gaunt.
He repeats “makers making America” eleven times. All but a few readers in-
nocent of American vernacular would realize with a shock what MacLeish
means. Interspersed between the passages about the empire builders is what
purports to be a letter from Lewis to Jefferson in which the explorer de-
scribes the beauty and richness of the western land “waiting for her West-
ward people!”

                    J. GOLDEN T AYLOR , late   of Colorado State University


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      A Literary History of the American West

                          Selected Bibliography

Alter, J. Cecil. Jim Bridger. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962. (First
    published by author under title James Bridger, Trapper, Frontiersman, Scout and
    Guide: A Historical Narrative, in Salt Lake City by Shepard Book Co., in 1925.)
Athearn, Robert G. Forts of the Upper Missouri. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1967.
Biddle, Nicholas, ed. Travels to the Source of the Missouri River and Across the Ameri-
    can Continent to the Pacific Ocean. Performed by Order of the Government of the
    United States, in the Years 1804, 1805, and 1806 [by Lewis and Clark]. London:
    Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, 1814.
Bonner, T. D. The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, Mountaineer, Scout,
    and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians. London: S. Low and Son,
    and New York: Harper and Brothers, 1856.
Bonney, Orrin H. and Lorraine. Battle Drums and Geysers: The Story and Journals of
    Lieutenant Gustavus Cheyney Doane, Soldier and Explorer of the Yellowstone and
    Snake River Regions. Chicago: Swallow, 1970.
Brooks, George R., ed. The Southwest Expedition of Jedediah S. Smith: His Personal
    Account of the Journey to California 1826–1827. Western Frontiersmen Series,
    vol. 18. Glendale, California: Arthur H. Clark, 1977.
Browne, Lina Fergusson, ed. J. Ross Browne: His Letters, Journals, and Writings. Al-
    buquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1969.
Bryce, James Bryce, Viscount. The American Commonwealth. Folcroft, Pennsyl-
    vania: Folcroft Library Editions, 1978. (First published by Macmillan of Lon-
    don and New York, in 1888.)
Carter, Harvey Lewis. Dear Old Kit: The Historical Christopher Carson. Norman:
    University of Oklahoma Press, 1968.
Chittenden, Hiram Martin. The American Fur Trade of the Far West: A History of the
    Pioneer Trading Posts and Early Fur Companies of the Missouri Valley and the Rocky
    Mountains and of the Overland Commerce with Santa Fe. Fairfield, New Jersey:
    Augustus M. Kelley Publishers, 1973. (First published in 3 volumes in 1902 by
    F. P. Harper of New York. )
Clark, Ella E., and Margot Edmonds. Sacagawea of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
    Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.
Clarke, Charles G. The Men of the Lewis and Clark Expedition: A Biographicul Roster
    of the Fifty-one Members and a Composite Diary of Their Activities from All
    Known Sources. Western Frontiersmen Series, vol. 14. Glendale, California:
    Arthur H. Clark, 1970.
Coues, Elliott. The History of the Expedition Under the Command of Lewis and Clark, to
    the Sources of the Missouri River, Thence Across the Rocky Mountains and down the
    Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean, Performed During the Years 1804–5–6, by
    Order of the Government of the United States. 4 vols. New York: F. P. Harper,
Cutright, Paul Russell. Lewis and Clark: Pioneering Naturalists. Urbana: University
    of Illinois Press, 1969.


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Dana, Richard Henry. Two Years Before the Mast. Boston: H. M. Caldwell, New
      York: A. L. Burt, and New York: Harper, 1840.
DeVoto, Bernard. Across the Wide Missouri. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1947.
——. The Course of Empire. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1952.
——. The Journals of Lewis and Clark. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1953.
——. The Year of Decision: 1846. Boston: Little, Brown, 1943.
Dunraven, Earl of. The Great Divide: Travels in the Upper Yellowstone in the Summer
      of 1874. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967. (First published by
      Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quin Dunraven in London by Chatto and
     Windus, and in New York by Scribner, Welford & Armstrong, both in 1876.)
Egan, Ferol. The El Dorado Trail: The Story of the Gold Rush Routes Across Mexico.
      American Trails Series. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970.
Eide, Ingvard Henry. American Odyssey: The Journey of Lewis and Clark. Chicago:
     Rand McNally, 1969.
Favour, Alpheus Hoyt. Old Bill Williams, Mountain Man. Chapel Hill: University of
     North Carolina Press, 1936.
Feltskog, E. N., ed. The Oregon Trail by Francis Parkman. Madison and Milwaukee:
     The University of Wisconsin Press, 1969. (First published by author in 1849
      under the title The California and Oregon Trail: Being Sketches of Prairie and
     Rocky Mountain Life by G. P. Putnam of New York.)
Field, Matthew C. Prairie and Mountain Sketches. Edited by Kate L. Gregg and John
      Francis McDermott. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1957.
Florin, Lambert. Western Wagon Wheels. Seattle: Superior Publishing, 1970.
Garrard, Lewis Hector. Wah-To-Yah and the Taos Trail: or, Prairie Travel and Scalp
     Dances, with a Look at Los Rancheros from Muleback and the Rocky Mountain
     Campfire. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1955. (First published in
      1850 by H. W. Derby of Cincinnati and A. S. Barnes of New York.)
Gladstone, Thomas H. The Englishman in Kansas, or, Squatter Life and Border War-
     fare. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1971. (First published in 1857 by
     Miller and Co., and G. Routledge and Co., both of New York.)
Gregg, Josiah. Commerce of the Prairies. Edited by Milo Milton Quaife. Lincoln:
     University of Nebraska Press, 1967. (First published in 2 volumes by author
     under the title Commerce of the Prairies: or, The Journal of a Santa Fe Trader,
     During Eight Expeditions Across the Great Western Prairies, and a Residence of
     Nearly Nine Years in Northern Mexico, in New York by H. G. Langley in 1844.)
Hafen, LeRoy, ed. Life in the Far West. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press,
      1951. (First published under the same title, by author George Frederick Ruxton,
     in Edinburgh and London by W. Blackwood and Sons, in 1849.)
——. The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West. 10 vols. Glendale,
     Calif.: Arthur H. Clark, 1965–1972.
——. ed. Ruxton of the Rockies. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1950.
      (First published by author George Frederick Ruxton under the title Adventures
     in Mexico and the Rocky Mountains. London: J. Murray, 1847.)
Hannon, Jessie Gould. The Boston-Newton Company Venture: Crossing to California
     in 1849. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1969.


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     A Literary History of the American West

Havighurst, Walter. River to the West: Three Centuries of the Ohio. New York: G. P.
     Putnam’s, 1970.
Hawgood, John A. America’s Western Frontiers: The Exploration and Settlement of the
     Trans-Mississippi West. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1967.
Hyde, George E. The Life of George Bent, Written from His Letters. Norman: Univer-
     sity of Oklahoma Press, 1967.
Jackson, Donald, ed. Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Related Docu-
     ments, 1783–1854. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1962.
Lavender, David Sievert. Bent’s Fort. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1954.
McDermott, John Francis. Travelers on the Western Frontier. Urbana: University of
     Illinois Press, 1970.
Magoffin, Susan S. Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico. Rev. ed. by Stella
     Drumm. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962. (First published by editor
     under the title Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico: The Diary of Susan
     Shelby Magofin, 1846–1847, by Yale University Press of New Haven and Ox-
     ford University Press of London, both in 1926.)
Mattes, Merrill J. The Great Platte River Road: The Covered Wagon Mainline via Fort
     Kearny to Fort Laramie. Lincoln: Nebraska State Historical Society, 1969.
Morgan, Dale L. Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West. Lincoln: University of
     Nebraska Press, and Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1953.
Powell, John Wesley. Down the Colorado: John Wesley Powell: Diary of the First Trip
     Through the Grand Canyon, 1869. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1969.
——. The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Tributaries. Explored in 1869,
     1870, 1871, and 1872 Under the Direction of the Secretary of the Smithsonian In-
     stitution. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1875.
——. Report on the Lands of the Arid Regions of the United States, with a More
     Detailed Account of the Lands of Utah. Washington: Government Printing
     Office, 1878.
Russell, Osborne. Journal of a Trapper. Edited by A. L. Haines. Lincoln: University
     of Nebraska Press, 1965. (First published by author under the title Journal of a
     Trapper; or, Nine Years in the Rocky Mountains: 1834–1843 : Being a General De-
     scription of the Country, Climate, Rivers, Lakes, Mountains, etc., and a View of the
     Life Led by a Hunter in Those Regions. Boise: Syms-York, 1914.)
Salisbury, Albert and Jane. Here Rolled the Covered Wagons. Seattle: Superior Pub-
     lishing, 1948.
Smith, George Winston, and Charles Judah. Chronicles of the Gringos: The U.S.
     Army in the Mexican War, 1846–1848. Albuquerque: University of New Mex-
     ico Press, 1968.
Snively, W. D., Jr., and Louanna Furbee. Satan’s Ferryman: A True Tale of the Old
     Frontier. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1968.
Speck, Gordon. Breeds and Half-Breeds. New York: Clarkson Potter, 1969.
Sprague, Marshall. A Gallery of Dudes. Boston and Seattle: Little, Brown, 1967.
Spring, Agnes Wright. Caspar Collins: The Life and Exploits of an Indian Fighter of the
     Sixties. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1969. (First published in New
     York by Columbia University Press in 1927.)


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Stegner, Wallace. Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second
    Opening of the West. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1982. (First published in
    Boston by Houghton Mifflin in 1954.)
Sunder, John E. Bill Sublette, Mountain Man. Norman: University of Oklahoma
    Press, 1959.
Thwaites, Reuben Gold, ed. Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition,
    1804–1806. 8 vols. New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1904–5.
Todd, Edgeley W., ed. The Adventures of Captain Bonneville, U. S. A. by Washington
    Irving. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961. (First published by au-
    thor Washington Irving under the title: The Rocky Mountains: or, Scenes, Inci-
    dents and Adventures in the Far West; Digested from the Journal of Capt. B. L. E.
    Bonneville in Philadelphia by Carey, Lea, and Blanchard in 1837. At the same
    time, under the title The Adventures of Captain Bonneville; or, Scenes Beyond the
    Rocky Mountains of the Far West in London by R. Bentley and in Paris by Baudry’s
    European Library and A. W. Galignani. )
——. Astoria, or Anecdotes of an Enterprise Beyond the Rocky Mountains by Wash-
    ington Irving. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964. (First published
    by author Washington Irving under the title Astoria; or Enterprise Beyond the
    Rocky Mountains in Philadelphia by Carey, Lea and Blanchard in 1836. At the
    same time, by Richard Bentley of London and Baudry’s European Library and
    A. W. Galignani, both of Paris.)
Vestal, Stanley. Joe Meek: The Merry Mountain Man, a Biography. Lincoln: Univer-
    sity of Nebraska Press, and Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, 1952.
Weber, David J. The Taos Trappers: The Fur Trade in the Far Southwest, 1540–1846.
    Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971.
Wilson, Elinor. Jim Beckwourth: Black Mountain Man and War Chief of the Crows.
    Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971.


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                                The Military

T      HE MILITARY LEGACY    of the West, as represented in its literature, is
        rich in both scope and detail. As C. L. Sonnichsen wrote in From
        Hopalong to Hud: “All our wars and feuds from Canada to Mexico
have been fictionalized, exposing our secret thoughts about ourselves and
our friends and enemies” (p. 177). Since nearly every major officer in the
Indian Wars left at least one memoir, since enlisted men wrote a number of
outstanding narratives, and since quite a few officers’ wives left remarkably
readable accounts of life on the army frontier, western American novelists
and dramatists have long been able to turn to that rich donnée when por-
traying the military. One battle alone, “Custer’s Last Stand,” has generated
over 2,500 books and pamphlets, a record unequalled by any other Ameri-
can battle.
      So important and pervasive was the presence of the Army in the
nineteenth-century West and so massive and influential has been the out-
pouring of books about the frontiersmen in blue that the mind and liter-
ature of the West cannot be fully understood without some knowledge of
that military legacy. The many excellent histories of the Indian wars give
the background necessary for understanding what led to frontier conflicts
and what happened when the troops saw action. Records left by officers and
enlisted men tell the reader what that military experience was like for those
who lived it, while reports by scouts and war correspondents add detail and
variety to those accounts. By virtue of fine writing, some primary accounts
have risen above the level of mere factual reporting and have become im-
portant works of western American literature in their own right. Other pri-
mary accounts have formed the basis of novels and dramas about the mili-
tary in the West.
      Warfare with Indians began during the years of Puritan settlement and
was almost continuous in the West during the nineteenth century. So many
scholars have turned their attention to those dramatic conflicts that a list of
the military histories of the American West would constitute an entire
book, though no such bibliography has yet been published. Such a mass of
historical material could provide a lifetime of reading, and it has already
proven to be a rich resource for authors who have wanted their fictional
portraits of the West to be historically accurate.
      Of the hundreds of historians of the western military, Robert M. Utley


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has written the best compilation of the experiences of the frontier army.
Utley’s Frontiersmen in Blue: The United States Army and the Indian, 1848–
1865 (1967) and Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indian,
1866–1890 (1973) also offer the best assessment of the Army’s value, for
Utley has the knack of seeing beyond detail to understand and relate impor-
tant general historical patterns. In The Last Days of the Sioux Nation (1961),
for example, he explains the inevitability of that final conflict at Wounded
Knee, showing that it was not only a massacre, but also a tragedy which
initiated the death throes of an entire nation.
      In addition to Utley’s studies, there are military histories of the Ameri-
can West that (I) study a single encounter (J. W. Vaughn’s With Crook on
the Rosebud and The Reynolds Campaign on Powder River) ; (2) cover an entire
campaign such as that on the Little Bighorn (Edgar I. Stewart’s Custer’s
Luck and John S. Gray’s Centennial Campaign: The Sioux War of 1876) ;
(3) provide a synthesis of previous works, drawing reliable conclusions from
them (Dan L. Thrapp’s The Conquest of Apacheria and General Crook and the
Sierra Madre Adventure and Odie B. Faulks’s The Geronimo Campaign) and
(4) popularize the subject, making it come to life by using a novelist’s tech-
niques (Fairfax Downey’s Indian Fighting Army and Paul I. Wellman’s Death
on Horseback).
      Many other histories of the frontier army are difficult to categorize.
One good example is William H. Leckie’s The Buffalo Soldiers (1967), a
readable and concise account of the part played by the black cavalry in the
Indian Wars. Leckie builds a strong case for the black cavalry, which could
point to fewer desertions, an outstanding combat record, and better disci-
pline than that of any white regiment, yet which suffered the indignities of
the worst post, the worst food, the poorest weapons, and the bitterest duty.
      Histories such as Leckie’s give the reader valuable background informa-
tion, but any author who desires first-hand material for his work of fiction
can turn to a multitude of sources written by actual participants. The most
famous of the western officers is George Armstrong Custer, whose many tal-
ents also included writing. My Life on the Plains (1874) has been regarded
since its publication as one of the most graphic accounts of nineteenth-
century military life. Custer also wrote for the leading magazines of the day,
beginning with his contribution of fifteen articles to a sportsman’s peri-
odical called Turf, Field and Farm. Seldom one to shy from any form of pub-
licity, in this case Custer may have chosen to write under the pen name
“Nomad” because he criticized superior officers. The Nomad letters were
edited by John M. Carroll and republished in a privately printed edition of
fifty copies in 1978, and two years later the University of Texas brought out
another edition with a commentary by Brian Dippie. Although My Life on
the Plains has remained in print almost continuously since its original pub-


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     A Literary History of the American West

lication, Custer’s Nomad is his unique contribution to written accounts of
the military in the West.
       Although their names never became household words, three other
generals—Nelson A. Miles, O. O. Howard, and George Crook—also took
part in major campaigns against western Indians, and wrote down their
       Unfortunately, neither of the two autobiographies by Miles carries any
hint of the numerous controversies his naked ambition provoked. Although
a real account of his battles would have been more entertaining as well as
illuminating, Miles wrote idealized versions with a view toward furthering
his political aspirations, which included the White House. Serving the Re-
public (1911) is merely an abridgement, with a bit of updating, of his previ-
ous volume, Personal Recollections and Observations (1896), which is the
better of the two. In spite of their weaknesses, both of Miles’s autobiogra-
phies are invaluable contributions to western military history and lore, for
no other officer could match his list of successes, which included the Red
River Campaign in Texas, the conquest of the Sioux and Cheyenne in the
aftermath of Little Bighorn, the surrender of Geronimo in Arizona, and the
surrender of Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce.
       In contrast to Miles’s political ambitions, General O.O. Howard’s ma-
jor concerns were spiritual. Called “the praying general,” Howard had lost
an arm at the Civil War battle of Fair Oaks. His Indian experiences took
him from the Seminole War in the steaming Florida Everglades to the frigid
expanses of Alaska, and he numbered among his adversaries Cheyenne,
Sioux, Nez Perce, Apache, Piute, and Bannock. Yet, in keeping with his
nickname, Howard wrote with compassion about the Indians and also
served as a peace commissioner, learning the frustrations of such a position.
That he was more a student of Indian life and custom than most of his fel-
low officers is reflected in the complete title of his major book: My Life and
Experiences Among Our Hostile Indians: A Record of Personal Observations,
Adventures, and Campaigns Among the Indians of the Great West with Some
Account of Their Life, Habits, Traits, Religion, Ceremonies, Dress, Savage In-
stincts, and Customs in Peace and War (1907).
       Unlike those of Howard and Miles, the military experiences of Gen-
eral George Crook are not remembered because of his own record of them.
Instead, the essence of Crook’s campaign against the Apache was captured
in the writing of John Gregory Bourke, Crook’s aide-de-camp from 1872
to 1893. President of the American Folklore Society and an amateur an-
thropologist, Bourke wrote two books which alone would attest to his skill
as a writer: In the Sierra Madre (1883) and MacKenzie’s Last Fight with the
Cheyennes (1890). But the crown jewel of his work is On the Border with
Crook (1891).


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      Reading works by and about leaders such as Crook, Howard, and Miles
gives one the commanding generals’ views of the Indian campaigns. To gain
a sense of the more mundane details of being an officer in the western
army, a reader must turn to other, though equally deserving, memoirs of
officers from lieutenants to major generals. In fact, so rich is the field with
first-hand views of command during the Indian Wars that probably no other
war in United States history is so thoroughly represented by accounts of
      For an account of the monotony, boredom, and tedium of the real
Indian wars, few books can stand beside Captain Eugene F. Ware’s The In-
dian War of 1864 (1911). Although it is easy to dismiss Ware’s experiences
simply because he participated in no great events, saw no action, and per-
formed no great deeds of valor, such a dismissal is short-sighted because it is
his detailed account of frustration and fear which marks The Indian War of
1864 as an outstanding source. In truth, Ware’s experiences lie much closer
to the norm than do those depicted in most other books written about this
period of western history. In his account, too, one can read the prejudices
that were so prevalent in our frontier army. It is often said that love for the
Indian in the frontier years was in inverse proportion to distance from him.
Ware saw no “noble Red man,” no “sadly vanishing heritage,” but he re-
corded in his memoir the attitude of many line officers.
      Like Ware’s account, the most striking impressions of Lieutenant John
Bigelow, Jr.‘s On the Bloody Trail of Geronimo are those of the frustration and
boredom that an Indian campaigner had to endure. Although the Apache
Wars of Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico had many chroniclers, Bigelow’s
book is not only an invaluable account of this type of warfare, but it also
provided the artist Frederic Remington with his first major assignment as an
illustrator. Originally published in Outing Magazine (a popular periodical
of the day), Bigelow’s On the Bloody Trail of Geronimo was rescued from
obscurity by Arthur Woodward and Westernlore Press in 1958. It is a story
worth reprinting again.
      With the exception of Custer’s Last Stand, no incident in the In-
dian Wars became more clouded in controversy than did the surrender of
Geronimo, for both Crook and Miles fostered champions espousing their
rights to the honor of vanquishing the Apache leader, and many a good case
was presented for both generals. None of those writers, however, had cre-
dentials superior to those of Britton Davis, one of the promising junior
officers selected to serve with the Apache scouts. When Davis wrote The
Truth About Geronimo (1929), his characterization of Geronimo as “a thor-
oughly vicious, intractible [sic] and treacherous man” was supported by first-
hand knowledge; and his contention that it was Crook who really defeated
Geronimo will probably stand muster also. A key participant in many of the


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     A Literary History of the American West

important events of the last Apache campaigns, Davis writes of them with
surprising skill.
       Honors for the most unusual memoir must certainly go to George A.
Armes, an officer who was court-martialed seven times. Although few with
a record such as that amassed by Armes would want to see their story in
print, he details his own Army career with incredible candor in the aptly
titled Ups and Downs of an Army Officer (1900). Courts-martial were not
uncommon in the Army of the West, but Armes’s seven must be near the
record. He provides the reader with an accurate picture of the tendency to
indulge in courts-martial almost as a diversion—a tendency which was one
of the effects of distance, boredom, and danger on the frontier army. Many
of the charges were petty and tied up numerous senior officers for months on
end. Ups and Downs gives the researcher an insight into a side of the army
that is not usually exhibited.
       Officers such as Armes, Davis, Bigelow, and Ware had first-hand knowl-
edge of western campaigns, but even more striking was the experience of
the army’s scouts. One of these, Luther S. “Yellowstone” Kelly, revealed his
education and modesty in his memoirs, Yellowstone Kelly (1926), edited by
Milo M. Quaife. In his foreword to Kelly’s book, Nelson Miles described his
first meeting with the scout whose military career spanned the period from
the Civil War through the Spanish-American War: “He had recently killed
a large bear and cut off one of its huge paws, and upon this he inscribed
his name and sent it to my tent, as he had no cards at the time!” Miles’s
comparison of Kelly to Daniel Boone, David Crockett, Kit Carson, and
William F. Cody may be dramatic, but it is hardly exaggerated. Kelly re-
membered most fondly the time he spent on the frontier, and it is that pe-
riod which is covered in his memoirs.
       Enlisted men, as well as officers and scouts, gained their share of im-
mortality by leaving written accounts, though fewer of their records exist.
Any study of the enlisted man’s part in this drama must begin with Forty
Miles a Day on Beans and Hay (1963). By any standard, Don Rickey has
provided a basic book for students of the Indian Wars. By interviewing over
three hundred living veterans, Rickey produced Forty Miles, which provides a
look at the life of the frontier soldiers that could not be experienced by just
one person. Rickey examines every detail—from campaigns, clothing, and
food, to education and morals—and establishes a landmark contribution.
       When Rickey wrote Forty Miles, he said of a slim and very rare volume
called Fighting Indians in the 7th United States Cavalry: “The book contains
more material on rank and file than does any other. . . .” First published in
1879, the book was reprinted sometime in the late 1920s. There can be
little doubt that the author, Ami Frank Mulford, has illuminated the en-
listed man’s daily life. Mulford was one of the “Custer avengers,” those men


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                                                             THE MILITARY

who enlisted in the wave of patriotism following the 7th Cavalry’s near de-
struction at Little Bighorn. The army was not, as many others have discov-
ered before and after him, all he expected. But, because he faithfully re-
corded all that he saw, Fighting Indians in the 7th United States Cavalry is
indispensable to a study of the enlisted man and the Indian Wars.
      In Rekindling Camp Fires (1926), Lewis Crawford tells the story of Ben
Arnold (Connor). Arnold was an enlisted man in the 11th Ohio Volunteer
Cavalry, and much of his duty saw him in the small posts and stage stations
of Wyoming during the Civil War. His experiences there compare to those
recorded by Eugene Ware. In Rekindling Camp Fires there are few spec-
tacular Indian fights—even few skirmishes. Mostly what comes through is
the boredom, the loneliness, and the tedium of frontier duty. Of course, the
enlisted man had less time than the officer to be bored. It fell to his lot to
build the forts or outposts, often grow his own food, clean the stables, man
the guard posts, and do all other necessary tasks that ensured simple sur-
vival in the often hostile environment.
      Old Neutriment (1934) also details the day-to-day life of the enlisted
man. In addition, it provides what is unquestionably the most personal ac-
count of the Custers that exists. As history, Old Neutriment is often un-
reliable, because it is colored by the unshaken devotion that its author,
John Burkman, gave to the Custers. By that same token, this book explains
how Custer led men, how he came to be loved by some, hated by others.
Though not intentionally, the book even details Custer’s faults.
      Of John Burkman, Elizabeth Custer wrote, “His horizon was encom-
passed by two horses, some dogs and one yellow-haired officer.” Perhaps
modesty would not permit Mrs. Custer to admit herself to John Burkman’s
horizon, yet she was certainly a part of it. Second only to Elizabeth Custer
in his admiration of her husband, Burkman, who could neither read nor
write, devoted his life to the Custers. In his later years he had but one
friend, D. D. O’Donnell, who wrote Burkman’s reminiscences in note form
and turned to Glendolin Damon Wagner, a novelist living in Billings,
Montana, to write the book. Fortunately, Mrs. Wagner remained true to
the spirit and letter of old John Burkman.
      “The honor of himself and his country weighed lightly in the scale
against the ‘glorious?’ name of Geo(rge) A. Custer, the hardship and danger
to his men, as well as probable loss of life were worthy but little considera-
tion when dim visions of an ‘eagle’ or even a ‘star’ floated before the excited
mind of our Lieut. Colonel.” Thus does Private Theodore Ewert, in the first
paragraph of his diary, clearly show that all enlisted men did not share John
Burkman’s high regard for George A. Custer. Ewert’s diary is a bitter invec-
tive against officers in general and the Custers in particular. Private Theodore
Ewert’s Diary of the Black Hills Expedition of 1874 (1976) gives an insight into


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     A Literary History of the American West

the feelings of the enlisted man and paints a picture of his existence that is
starkly real.
      Ewert’s own character was complex, and his education far exceeded
that of the average enlisted man in the frontier army. He had managed
to attain the rank of Captain in the Civil War, but drunkenness brought
him a dishonorable discharge. His affinity for the military apparently un-
diminished, Ewert enlisted several more times. He gained the rank of ser-
geant on two different occasions. During his enlistment in the 7th Cavalry,
he kept this remarkable diary, which accurately reflects the attitude of num-
bers of enlisted men toward their officers, civilians, and the “system” that
kept them in such lowly status. Ewert’s diary cannot be overlooked by se-
rious researchers.
      Something about George A. Custer drove or inspired men to write
about him. David L. Spotts, in Campaigning with Custer and the Nineteenth
Kansas Volunteer Cavalry (1928), gives his impressions of Custer, which co-
incide with those of Theodore Ewert. Spotts does give a good first-hand nar-
rative of the exasperation and difficult conditions faced by the soldier of the
field. He served in a volunteer regiment, and his account records the differ-
ence in attitudes of the volunteer soldier and the professional one.
      Another enlisted man, William White, was notably intelligent and
observant. He was often selected from among the ranks of the 2nd Cavalry
for special assignments, such as Lieutenant Gustavus C. Doane’s explora-
tion of the Snake River, escort duty for Secretary of War Belknap, and
other unusual duties. White was not typical of the enlisted ranks, being
both better educated and a member of the International Order of Good
Templars, an early-day temperance organization. His observations show
none of the bitterness of Ewert, and are broader-based than those of Spotts.
He saw much action, including the Sioux War of 1876, and left a thor-
oughly delightful memoir. White told his story in the 1930s to Thomas B.
Marquis, author of two previous books: Memoirs of a White Crow Indian
(1928), an account of frontiersman Thomas H. Leforge; and Wooden Leg, a
Warrior Who Fought Custer (1931), an Indian account of the Custer battle.
Marquis maintained his reputation as a skillful writer when he wrote down
William White’s story in Custer, Cavalry and Crows, but the book was not
published until 1976.
      An enterprising newspaper correspondent could sometimes gain al-
most as much first-hand battle experience as a scout, enlisted man or officer.
Newspaper reports written by “the gem of the lot,” as General Charles King
aptly described correspondent John F. Finerty, were collected and published
in 1955 as War-Path and Bivouac: The Big Horn and Yellowstone Expedition. In
the tradition of all great war correspondents, Finerty wrote from the point
of action, often setting aside his pen for his rifle. He earned the honor of


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                                                            THE MILITARY

 being praised by George Crook in his dispatches to General Sheridan.
 A classic, Finerty’s War-Path and Bivouac has been reprinted several times,
 making this outstanding account readily available.
      Another collection of newspaper reports, Pine Ridge 1890 (1971) is un-
 fortunately almost unknown because of its limited printing of only two
 thousand copies. Written by William Fitch Kelley for the Nebraska State
Journal of Lincoln, these daily dispatches stood as the only relatively un-
 biased appraisal of this most tragic affair until recent times. Kelley was the
 only reporter with the 7th Cavalry at the actual engagement; and while it
 may never be definitely established who initiated the tragedy of Wounded
 Knee, here is Kelley’s account: “As this task was about completed the In-
 dians, surrounded by Companies K and B, began to move. All of a sudden
 they threw their hands to the ground and began firing rapidly at the troops,
 not twenty feet away.”
      With renewed interest in the role played by women, more accounts of
individual wives of the frontier army continue to see print, although the
only attempt, to date, to create an overall picture of the role played by the
wives and dependents of the Indian-Fighting Army is that of Patricia Y.
Stallard’s Glittering Misery (1978). The title of her book well describes the
lot of the majority of army dependents, most not nearly so fortunate as
Elizabeth Custer, nor, perhaps, so exceptional.
      Widowed by the fight on the Little Bighorn, Elizabeth Bacon Custer
faced life with but a small insurance policy and an ambitious plan. She
wanted to devote the rest of her life to perpetuating her image of George
Armstrong Custer, and found the answer to both her problem and her goal
in writing books about him. The income derived from the sales of these
books allowed her to devote her energy to the promotion of her husband’s
image. Her experiences on the frontier have been read by more people than
all other accounts by wives of the frontier army put together. She authored
three books: Boots and Saddles, or Life in Dakota with General Custer (1885);
Following the Guidon (1890); and Tenting on the Plains, or Gen’l Custer in
Kansas and Texas (1893)—all still in print today. All three give an excellent
look at the duties and responsibilities, as well as the privileges, of a senior
officer’s wife. As such, her experiences differ considerably from those of a
lieutenant’s wife. Since Mrs. Custer moved in a rather elite circle, even for
a lieutenant colonel’s wife, her books abound with interesting people. She
gives the picture of an idyllic existence, writing of her entire lifetime on the
frontier as one of enjoyable, though occasionally trying, circumstances.
Through her eyes, Custer emerges as a knight in armor mounted on a white
charger, right out of a fable of old. Even given this rather glaring lack of
objectivity, Elizabeth Custer left some of the most readable, as well as reli-
able, accounts of frontier life as seen by a woman. That George Armstrong


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     A Literary History of the American West

Custer dominates American thought and writing on the Indian Wars is her
achievement no less than his.
      Another fine account of army life penned by a frontier wife is that of
Frances M. A. Roe. Since Mrs. Roe’s husband was a second lieutenant,
her experiences differ markedly from those of Elizabeth Custer. No more
accurate picture has ever seen print, however, than Army Letters from an
Oficer’s Wife (1909). From her initial introduction to army rank, leaving
her sorely confused, to her sophistication as the wife of a captain, Frances
Roe leaves a complete view of army life as seen by dependents. Sadly, Army
Letters from an Officer’s Wife has never been reprinted.
      However, Martha Summerhayes’s Vanished Arizona: Recollections of the
Army Life of a New England Woman (1908) has been reprinted. Martha was
brought to tears when her first efforts at cooking with giant mess equipment
failed. Tears gained her nothing but a stern reprimand from her husband,
who admonished her: “You are pampered and spoiled with your New En-
gland kitchens. ” As would other wives, Martha soon learned to cook in tin
cans and to improvise. In Southwest Classics, Lawrence Clark Powell calls
her book “a story that is peerless in the literature of that time and place.
Not only is Martha Summerhayes’s Vanished Arizona a primary source for
that period when the Apaches had been only temporarily contained, it is
also a love story unique in the literature of the Southwest. Not the kind of
unreal story seen on the screen or told by Zane Grey, but nonetheless roman-
tic in its evocation of the life led by a frontier officer’s young bride” (p. 273).
      Two wives of Colonel Henry B. Carrington also left their memoirs. The
first, Margaret I. Carrington, wrote Ab-Sa-Ra-Ka, Land of Massacre: Be-
ing the Experience of an Officer’s Wife on the Plains (1879), while the sec-
ond, Frances C. Carrington, wrote My Army Life and the Fort Phil Kearney
Massacre (1910). Though separated by thirty years, both women shared
the same publisher as well as the same husband. As revealed in her mem-
oirs, the life of Frances Carrington was embittered by the loss of her first
husband, Captain William Grummond, in the Fetterman Massacre. Ironi-
cally, his commanding officer at the time was Colonel Carrington. It was a
small army.
      Regardless of its diminutive size, the army’s adventures loomed large in
the popular imagination. Fiction seized upon the Indian Wars as a popular
topic even before the conflicts themselves had ended. Certainly no one had
a better background for writing military fiction set in the West than Charles
King (1844–1933), who had participated in actions against the Apache,
the Sioux, the Cheyenne, and the Nez Perce. Although he never wrote a
major work of fiction, he was prolific and his books were widely read. King
retired from active duty in 1879, and began writing books which enjoyed
instant popularity. His first novel, The Colonel’s Daughter, appeared in


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 1883. In subsequent novels, King moved from the Northwest (A Daughter
of the Sioux, 1903) to the Southwest (An Apache Princess, 1903). Perhaps
his best work is The Queen of Bedlam: A Story of the Sioux War of 1876, pub-
lished in 1889. The object of the title, “Old Bedlam,” stands today in re-
constructed glory as the bachelor officers’ quarters at Fort Laramie.
       More recently, novels about the military in the West have been writ-
ten both by popular and by “serious” western authors. Popular author Ernest
Haycox, for example, wrote the first significant “Custer” novel, Bugles in the
Afternoon (1944)—a classic Western. Haycox’s book was surpassed as the
best Custer novel by Will Henry’s No Survivors (1950). Actually, Will
Henry is a pseudonym for Henry W. Allen, who also writes under the name
of Clay Fisher. Besides No Survivors, Allen as Will Henry has written Chi-
ricahua (1972), I, Tom Horn (1975), and From Where the Sun Now Stands
(1960). While Allen’s work ranges from Montana to Arizona, perhaps his
most unusual work is titled To Follow a Flag ( 1953), later republished as Pil-
lars of the Sky, which is a fictionalization of Edward J. Steptoe’s Washington
Territory campaign. As Clay Fisher, Allen’s best military work is Red Bliz-
zard (1951).
      Whether as Will Henry or as Clay Fisher, Allen has often made use of
a simple but effective device that makes the reader believe he is reading
history. In I, Tom Horn it is the discovery of Horn’s handwritten autobiogra-
phy in a Wyoming cabin; in Pillars of the Sky it is a monument to a forgotten
battle; and in No Survivors it is the footnote that explains that what follows
is the journal of John Buell Clayton, from the papers of the Clayton family
of La Grange, Georgia. In each case the reader is given enough detail to
enhance the credibility of the story.
       Luke Short is the pen name of Frederick D. Glidden, another author of
popular Westerns who has also written novels about the military West, in-
cluding Station West (1947) and Ambush (1950). In The American Western
Novel, James K. Folsom has written of Station West that “where the tradi-
tional detective is seen as one whose profession requires of him the ability to
discover the truth beneath enigmatic facts which others find completely
baffling, the Western hero is conversely seen as one whose ability to under-
stand the significance behind often confusing facts enables him, should oc-
casion require, to assume successfully the role of detective” (p. 116).
      Luke Short’s Ambush is a novel about the Indian-Fighting Army. Ap-
pearing first in serial form beginning on January 1, 1949, in the Saturday
Evening Post, Ambush was published by Houghton Mifflin and later made
into a motion picture starring Robert Taylor. The setting is the Southwest,
and the foe the implacable Apache, ever a favorite subject of popular writ-
ers of Westerns.
      “Serious” novelists have also found the military in the West an inter-


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     A Literary History of the American West

esting subject. In 1960 Paul Horgan published his classic of Apache warfare,
A Distant Trumpet. While it does not strictly adhere to history, it is a fine
account of that particularly savage episode of American history. Horgan’s
book was also to see life on the big screen, but not with the same success as
Short’s Ambush, perhaps because Horgan’s novel focuses more on character-
ization than on action. In Paul Horgan, James M. Day says of A Distant
Trumpet that “the heart of the book lies in the maturing of Matthew Hazard
from an inexperienced company commander to a mature man and soldier.”
Day adds that Horgan’s characterization of Kitty Mainwaring “is convinc-
ingly done-—the only woman Horgan ever has effectively portrayed. The
wife of the third-ranking officer in the post, her life is centered on bitter
frustration at her social position and her husband’s failure to better it, and
most of her time is spent in daydreaming about sexual conquests she plans
and revenge she hopes to take on the other officers’ wives for imagined so-
cial slights” (p. 25).
      Horgan’s use of the military-Indian conflict as a backdrop for his psy-
chological character studies is proof that an imaginative writer can breathe
new life into subjects that have already been written about in scores of
books. That the last fictional word on Custer has not yet been written is
demonstrated by Douglas C. Jones in his masterful The Court Martial of
George Armstrong Custer ( 1976). Jones’s book is all the more remarkable be-
cause it is his first work of fiction. Each previous novelist approaching the
Battle of the Little Bighorn has had one seemingly insurmountable prob-
lem to overcome; since no white man survived, how could the story be told
and credibility maintained? The device most often used (as in No Survivors)
is the persona of a renegade fighting with the Indians. However, since to
have any white survivor is to depart from the facts, Jones took this device to
its ultimate conclusion. His survivor is Custer himself. Even in the telling
of the story, Jones has devised a brilliant ploy: a court martial. Here each
person can relate his own tale, and even Custer has his say. That each char-
acter, or in this case each witness, performs with great historical fidelity, is
testimony to the fact that Jones has researched the era and the event in
depth. From bestseller in hardcover, to mass market paperback, to a tele-
vision production as a program in the fine Hallmark Hall of Fame series,
The Court Martial of George Armstrong Custer will unquestionably be a major
influence on future fiction about the West.
       As if to prove that he was no one-shot author, Jones went on to write
 two more excellent works in the field of military western fiction. The first
 was Arrest Sitting Bull (1977), followed by A Creek Called Wounded Knee
 (1978). Both can be considered part of the Custer story, for Sitting Bull is
 the last major survivor from the Custer tragedy, and many consider Wounded
 Knee the final act in the drama begun on the Little Bighorn in 1876.


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                                                             THE MILITARY

      Twelve years before Jones’s first Custer novel was published, an eastern
author had already conclusively shown the value to novelists of the huge
number of primary accounts and of secondary histories of the Indian Wars
in the West. Written in the New York Public Library, where its author sup-
ported his fictional creations with a historical background gathered from
primary and secondary sources, Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man (1964) “is
one of the best American western novels,” as Delbert Wylder contended in
a Western American Literature article. Berger’s solution to the no-survivor
problem was to create Jack Crabb, a white character who was raised by In-
dians, but who was one of Custer’s scouts at the Little Bighorn, being
saved only because one of the Indians recognized him.
      Both Berger and Jones changed some historical facts in order to make
their readers see an overall historical truth; their fictions provide interpreta-
tions of western history. The vast treasury of histories and primary accounts
of military life in the nineteenth-century West is bound to stimulate new
fictional works with new interpretations. But since succeeding generations
of western novelists will have for models novels like those by Berger and
Jones, western military fiction, growing in complexity and allusiveness, will
become a body of historically grounded literature as philosophically and
aesthetically resonant as that based on the Trojan War or the War of the

                                  M ICHAEL K OURY , Fort    Collins, Colorado


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      A Literary History of the American West

                           Selected Bibliography

Primary Sources
Armes, George A. Ups and Downs of an Army Officer. Washington, D.C.: n.p.,
Bigelow, John. On the Bloody Trail of Geronimo. Edited by Arthur Woodward. Los
    Angeles: Westernlore, 1958.
Bourke, John Gregory. An Apache Campaign in the Sierra Madre. New York: Scrib-
    ner’s, 1886.
——. MacKenzie’s Last Fight with the Cheyennes. New York: Military Services In-
    stitution, 1890; rpt. Fort Collins: Old Army Press, 1970.
——. On the Border with Crook. New York: Scribner’s, 1891.
Carrington, Frances C. My Army Life and the Fort Phil Kearney Massacre. Phila-
    delphia: Lippincott, 1910.
Carrington, Margaret I. Ab-Sa-Ra-Ka: Being the Experience of an Officer’s Wife on the
    Plains. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1879.
Crawford, Lewis. Rekindling Camp Fires. Bismarck, North Dakota: Capital Book
    Co., 1926.
Custer, Elizabeth B. Boots and Saddles, or Life in Dakota with General Custer. New
    York: Harper and Row, 1885; rpt. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press,
——. Following the Guidon. New York: Harper, 1890; rpt. Norman: University of
    Oklahoma Press, 1976.
——. Tenting on the Plains, or Gen’l Custer in Kansas and Texas. New York:
    Charles L. Webster & Co., 1893; rpt. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press,
Custer, George A. My Life on the Plains. New York: Sheldon & Co., 1874.
——. Nomad. Edited by Brian Dippie. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980.
Davis, Britton. The Truth About Geronimo. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1929.
Ewert, Theodore. Private Theodore Ewert’s Diary of the Black Hills Expedition of 1874.
    Edited by Lawrence Frost & John M. Carroll. Piscataway, N.J.: CRI Books,
Finerty, John F. War Path and Bivouac The Big Horn and Yellowstone Expedition. Chi-
    cago: Donohue & Nenneberry, 1890; rpt. Norman: University of Oklahoma
    Press, 1961.
Howard, Oliver O. My Life and Experiences Among Our Hostile Indians. Hartford:
    A. D. Worthington & Co., 1907.
Kelley, William Fitch. Pine Ridge 1890. San Francisco: P. Bovis, 1971.
Kelly, Luther S. Yellowstone Kelly. Edited by Milo M. Quaife. New Haven: Yale
    University Press, 1926.
Marquis, Thomas B. Custer, Cavalry and Crows. Edited by John A. Popovich. Fort
    Collins: The Old Army Press, 1976.
——. Memoirs of a White Crow Indian. New York: The Century Co., 1928.


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                                                              THE MILITARY

——. Wooden Leg, a Warrior Who Fought Custer. Minneapolis: The Midwest Co.,
Miles, Nelson A. Personal Recollections and Observations. New York: The Werner
    Co., 1896.
——. Serving the Republic. New York: Harper, 1911.
Mulford, Ami. Fighting Indians in the 7th United States Cavalry. Corning, New York:
    Paul Lindsay Mulford, 1879; rpt. Fort Collins: The Old Army Press, 1970.
Rickey, Don. Forty Miles a Day on Beans and Hay. Norman: University of Okla-
    homa Press, 1963.
Roe, Frances M. A. Army Letters from an Officer’s Wife. New York: D. Appleton &
    Co., 1909.
Spotts, David L., ed. Campaigning with Custer and the Nineteenth Kansas Volunteer
    Cavalry. Los Angeles: Wetzel Publishing Co., 1928.
Summerhayes, Martha. Vanished Arizona: Recollections of the Army Life of a New
    England Woman. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1908, 1963.
Wagner, Glendolin Damon. Old Neutriment. Boston: Ruth Hill, 1934; rpt. New
    York: Sol Lewis, 1976.
Ware, Eugene F. The Indian War of 1864. Topeka, Kansas: Crane, 1911.
Secondary Sources
Carroll, John M., ed. The Black Military Experience in the American West. New York:
     Liveright, 1971.
Downey, Fairfax. Indian-Fighting Army. New York: Scribner’s, 1941; rpt. Fort Col-
     lins: The Old Army Press, 1970.
Faulk, Odie B. The Geronimo Campaign. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969.
Gray, John S. Centennial Campaign: The Sioux War of 1876. Fort Collins: The Old
     Army Press, 1976.
Leckie, William H. The Buffalo Soldiers. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press,
Smith, Rex Allan. Moon of Popping Trees. New York: Readers Digest Press, 1975.
Stallard, Patricia Y. Glittering Misery: Dependents of the Indian Fighting Army. Fort
     Collins: The Old Army Press, 1978; and San Rafael: Presidio Press, 1978.
Stewart, Edgar I. Custer’s Luck. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1955.
Thrapp, Dan L. The Conquest of Apacheria. Norman: University of Oklahoma
     Press, 1967.
——. General Crook and the Sierra Madre Adventure. Norman: University of
     Oklahoma Press, 1972.
Utley, Robert M. Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indian, 1866–
     1890. New York: Macmillan, 1973.
——. Frontiersmen in Blue: The United States Army and the Indian, 1848–1865.
     New York: Macmillan, 1967.
——. The Last Days of the Sioux Nation. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961.
Vaughn, J. W. The Reynolds Campaign on the Powder River. Norman: University of
     Oklahoma Press, 1961.
——. With Crook on the Rosebud. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole, 1956.
Wellman, Paul I. Death on Horseback. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1947.


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      A Literary History of the American West

Berger, Thomas. Little Big Man. New York: Dial Press, 1964.
Fisher, Clay. Red Blizzard. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1951.
Haycox, Ernest. Bugles in the Afternoon. Boston: Little, Brown, 1944.
Henry, Will. Chiricahua. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1972.
——. I, Tom Horn. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1975.
——. No Survivors. New York: Random House, 1950.
——. To Follow a Flag. New York: Random House, 1953.
Horgan, Paul. A Distant Trumpet. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy, 1960.
Jones, Douglas C. Arrest Sitting Bull. New York: Scribner’s, 1977.
——. The Court Martial of George Armstrong Custer. New York: Scribner’s, 1976.
——. A Creek Called Wounded Knee. New York: Scribner’s, 1978.
King, Charles. An Apache Princess. New York: Hobart, 1903.
——. The Colonel’s Daughter. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1883.
——. A Daughter of the Sioux. New York: Hobart, 1903.
——. The Queen of Bedlam: A Story of the Sioux War of 1876. London: F. Warne,
Short, Luke. Ambush. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1950.
——. Station West. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1947.


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                                Lawmen and Outlaws

L      AWMEN AND OUTLAWS have     been subjects for literature since before the
       time of Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Those famous
       characters perfectly exemplify the essential ingredient for successful
dramatization: conflict. And their counterparts in western American litera-
ture have been popular for the same reason. Stories about American sheriffs
and outlaws, whether featuring historical characters or wholly fictional
ones, are variations on a time-tested and classical theme.
     The outlaw has a larger role in literature than does the lawman. His
exploits seem to offer more in the way of dramatic possibilities, and as
Eugene Manlove Rhodes said, “outlaws are more interesting than in-laws.”
Novelists, playwrights, and folk singers have been much more sympathetic
to the outlaw than have historians. Indeed, they have helped carry on a
romantic tradition that contrasts sharply with ascertainable historical data
about crime and criminals. Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief”
seems applicable as an explanation for the continuing popularity of stories
about Romantic Outlawry.
     The plots and character portrayals in outlaw narratives fit into familiar
patterns. Often we have a basically decent man who becomes the victim of
one or another kind of persecution. After insufferable provocation, he turns
on the persecutors and makes revenge his raison d’être. His enemies, who
are corrupt officials and sheriffs, evil politicians, or land-grabbers, ordinarily
have the law on their side. Powerful and immoral, they manipulate the legal
machinery for their own selfish ends. Implicit in such plots is the assump-
tion that legal law can be and often is divorced from moral law. In such
situations the outlaw may be seen as a hero, since he defies corrupt au-
thority in defense of the “higher” cause of social justice.
      Despite his crimes, the outlaw is a humane character. He is kind to
women and children, and he does not mistreat animals. He has a sense of
humor, is loyal to his friends, and gives to the poor what he has taken from
the rich. This idealized outlaw or “good badman” is the most prominent
character-type in both folklore and literary tradition. The contrasting pic-
ture of the outlaw as a vicious psychopath and “back-shooter” is much less
in evidence.
     Many of the narratives that fit into this pattern are quasi-historical.
An early example is seen in the literary treatment of the California bandit
Joaquin Murieta. * As an historical personage, Murieta is almost as shadowy

      *The name has been spelled in various ways, though the presumed descendants of the family in
Sonora use Murrieta, which is the common Spanish spelling.

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     A Literary History of the American West

a figure as Robin Hood himself. Scant records provide only sketchy docu-
mentation for crimes committed by a Spanish-speaking outlaw in the early
months of 1853. Yet a down-on-his-luck newspaperman, John Rollin Ridge,
decided to make him into a hero. Hence The Life and Adventures of Joaquin
Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit (1854) is largely an imaginative work
written for commercial purposes. Like many subsequent books about outlaws,
it could be classed as either historical novel, or fictionalized biography.
      The formula employed by Ridge is almost prototypical. His Murieta is
not innately depraved, but is a victim of persecution. A mob of Anglo-
American gold seekers rape his sweetheart, hang his brother, and beat him
into unconsciousness. Thus revenge becomes Murieta’s main pursuit, and
he exacts a retribution by means of a series of holdups and killings. But de-
spite these crimes, the outlaw retains his humanity. He has “a frank and
cordial bearing which distinguished him and made him beloved by all with
whom he came in contact.” Many acts of generosity as well as bravado re-
veal him to be one of the most accomplished outlaws of all time.
      Ridge’s formulaic book was not immediately successful, but in the long
run it created one of the West’s “Robin Hoods.” This was evidenced by the
appearance of Murieta “folklore” (much of which is of questionable authen-
ticity), dime novels, plays, novels, and other “biographies.” By the 1880s,
even respected historians were using Ridge’s Life as the source for extended
discussions of the outlaw. None of the novels, such as Charles Park’s Play-
thing of the Gods (1912), did much to make Murieta known to the Anglo-
American audience. But ultimately one writer, Walter Noble Burns, did
help to popularize the legend. His 1932 opus, The Robin Hood of El Dorado,
ran to 304 pages compared to Ridge’s ninety. The difference is accounted for
by a “lot of ginger bread work”: old timers’ reminiscences; a number of in-
vented episodes; the conversations and “philosophical reflections” of the
outlaws. Written much like a movie script, Bums’s book was in fact made
into a film which made Murieta known to the national audience.
      During the post-Civil War era, the sub-literature of the dime novels
featured many stories about outlaws. In 1877, the firm of Beadle & Adams
began the cycle when it issued such a novel about Deadwood Dick, a fic-
tional road agent in the Dakotas. The eighties then saw hundreds of other
novels based on the exploits or imagined exploits of Jesse and Frank James,
Billy the Kid, Sam Bass, Murieta, the Dalton gang, and other less well-
known criminals. Such subject matter was logical for this peoples’ litera-
ture, which was addressed to farm boys and workers for whom the polite
literature of the day had no meaning.
      Ambivalent attitudes toward the outlaw are revealed in these stories,
the clearest examples being those about the James brothers. Such publishers


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                                                 LAWMEN AND OUTLAWS

as Frank Tousey and Street & Smith issued numerous “James Boys” titles,
and the portrayals vary from the villainous to the heroic. Early issues fre-
quently depict Jesse James as a murderous enemy of society, who deserved
his death at the hands of turncoat Bob Ford. But then the writers transform
him into a saintly do-gooder. In this role he is seen paying off farm mort-
gages, bouncing children on his knee just before bank robberies, and saving
young women from lustful “bad” outlaws. He also becomes the traditional
avenger, finishing off the cowardly Pinkerton detectives who, in bombing
the James farm, had injured Jesse’s revered mother. However, the moral is-
sues involved in depicting outlaws in a favorable way are ever-present. In-
deed, public pressure seems to have caused both Tousey and Street & Smith
to terminate their respective James Boys series in 1903.
       In nineteenth-century accounts, Billy the Kid is a fiendish execu-
tioner, a smirking psychopath, in virtually all the stories about him. In The
True Life of Billy the Kid by “Don Jenardo” and in John W. Morrison’s Life of
Billy the Kid, A Juvenile Outlaw (both 1881), he is a “demon” who “has a
heart only for anatomical purposes.” He takes sadistic delight in each of the
twenty-one murders with which the authors credit him. The Kid’s reputa-
tion as the “Robin Hood of New Mexico” was created in post-1900 inter-
pretations, a most impressive example of literary turnabout.
       In some of the myriad dime novels, the writers depict lawmen as ap-
pealing personalities. Often there is a detective from the East, such as “Old
King Brady,” who comes west and tangles with the James Boys or Billy the
Kid. However in the “Diamond Dick” novels, published between 1878 and
1911, we have a more identifiably western figure. Diamond Dick, Junior, is
a crack shot and an expert cowhand. Tall, blond, and handsome, he dresses
in a semi-Mexican costume. The plots show him and his father justifying
their reputations for “maintaining law and order on the Western plains.” In
one series of stories, Diamond Dick enters Hole-in-the-Wall and takes
Butch Cassidy into custody, but the wily outlaw eventually escapes.
       The best-known historical lawman to appear in the dime novels is
James Butler (“Wild Bill”) Hickok. He was well known to the New York
writers, having been featured in a Harper’s magazine article and having
acted in a touring stage play with Buffalo Bill Cody. Hickok’s brief tenure as
a law officer in Kansas prompted some stories about him in which he brings
various miscreants to book. Such is the case in Prentiss Ingraham’s Wild
Bill, the Pistol Prince, an 1881 paperback that combines actual biographical
details with fictional episodes. Wild Bill successfully grapples with Indians
and bears, and cleans up on hooligans at Hays City and Abilene. One legend
which enlivens the narrative is Hickok’s encounter with the McCandless
gang. “For this desperate affray, in which one man whipped ten despera-


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      A Literary History of the American West

does, killing eight of them, the title of ‘Wild Bill’ was bestowed upon the
famous borderman.” This kind of exaggeration showed the potentialities for
making lawmen into heroes.
     Yet the outlaw dominated in popular literature, and folklore did as
much as printed fiction to keep him in sharper focus. Some of the “folklore”
about outlaws is of dubious authenticity, because it derives from commercial
and literary sources rather than oral tradition. But some of the folktales and
songs are genuine, including those about Sam Bass and Jesse James. Bass was
a cowboy who turned train robber. He held up a Union Pacific express and
returned to East Texas with the loot. The squatters there made a hero out of
him because, so folk tradition maintains, he was quite liberal in handing
out the stolen twenty-dollar gold pieces. Bass was gunned down by the
Rangers in 1878, after being betrayed by gang member Jim Murphy. Almost
immediately a folk song appeared that made the outlaw into a Robin Hood.
It praised his character: “A kinder-hearted fellow you seldom ever see”; and
it condemned Jim Murphy: “Oh, what a scorching Jim will get when Gabriel
blows his horn.”
     The “Ballad of Jesse James” was probably percolating through folk
channels shortly after that outlaw’s death in 1882, although printed ver-
sions don’t appear until about 1900. There are some three dozen variants of
the ballad, but they all make Jesse a folk hero. Most of them include a
stanza in which he “took from the rich and gave to the poor.” They also
humanize him: “he had a hand, and a heart, and a brain.” And not surpris-
ingly they castigate his slayer, Bob Ford, as “a dirty little coward.”
     Folktales, many of them embodying classic motifs, also began to be at-
tached to Jesse’s name. Jesse and Frank encounter a widow who is about to
lose her home because she can’t meet the mortgage. The kind-hearted
brothers lend her the necessary money, and then retrieve it by holding up
the banker as he rides back to town. Jesse’s trickery is highlighted as much
as his generosity. He reverses the shoes of his horses to lead posses in the
opposite direction; assuming a disguise and a bumpkin’s demeanor, he joins
a posse searching for himself. And the outlaw’s primitive sense of humor is
also revealed. Seated on a train next to an unsuspecting detective, he tells
the man that he is in the tombstone business.’
     Unconsciously, the creators of such lore were helping fashion Ameri-
can counterparts of Old World folk figures. As Theodore Roosevelt ob-
served, “there is something very curious in the reproduction here on this
continent of essentially the conditions of ballad growth which obtained in
medieval England, including, by the way, sympathy for the outlaw, Jesse
James taking the place of Robin Hood.” The Trickster, for example, is a
well-known figure in world folklore. While real-life outlaws do pull tricks to


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                                                 LAWMEN AND OUTLAWS

escape capture, folklore expands such episodes (or invents them) for an au-
dience which evidently enjoys seeing the pursued outwit the pursuer.
       Folklore in Missouri and elsewhere also saw Jesse and Frank James as
rebels-with-a-cause. The post-war policies of the Republican administration
seemed vindictive to some of the former Southern adherents. Hence the
James gang’s robberies of what were presumed to be Yankee-owned banks
and trains seemed heroic rather than criminal to many. The “Boys” left
farmers alone, so folk tradition said, and robbed only pot-bellied monopo-
lists. Identification of any outlaw with such concepts is one sign of an
emergent Robin Hood legend.
      The post-1900 period saw the “Western” emerge from its paperback
origins into the respectability of hardbound publication. Owen Wister’s
The Virginian (1902), which marked the changeover, incorporated a sub-
plot involving rustling. The title character’s friendship with the rustler
Steve introduced the dilemma of personal loyalty in conflict with the obli-
gations of social and legal codes. This dilemma was to be explored in many
later novels where outlawry was the theme.
      A group of writers headed by Zane Grey, and including William MacLeod
Raine and Charles Alden Seltzer, began to fill in what would become the
classic format of the Western. Their fictional heroes, regardless of occupa-
tion, were larger than life size. Grey strove for authentic historical back-
ground in his novels, but his characters were all superheroes. There never
was an actual gunfighter to match Jim Lassiter in Riders of the Purple Sage.
The rustler Oldring in that same novel was extraordinarily humane, too
much so to reflect the outlaws of the real world.
      Yet Grey’s novels, populated as they were with robbers and rustlers,
reveal many aspects of western development. Historically, there was a thin
line between lawmen and outlaws, and such personalities as Frank Canton
or Henry Brown might be cited as examples of those who stepped from one
side to the other. Fiction writers used this situation quite frequently. What
might be called the mixed-identities plot, reminiscent of Restoration drama,
is a recurrent one. The suave and respectable banker or rancher is secretly
the mastermind of a rustling operation. The desperate outlaw on the other
hand is actually a cattle detective or a U.S. marshal working “under cover.”
Such is the case in one of Grey’s most popular novels, Nevada (1928). This
is the story of gunman-outlaw Jim Lacy, who, it turns out, is really a detec-
tive for the Cattlemen’s Association. Or in Shadow on the Trail (1946),
Wade Holden is a survivor of the Sam Bass gang. However his “good bad-
man” status is achieved when he breaks up a rustling gang in Arizona, with
the result that the pursuing Texas Rangers decide to let him go free.
      Another standard for Grey and others is the “frame-up” plot. The hero


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     A Literary History of the American West

is forced into outlawry, at least temporarily, by an ingenious villain who
traps him with a murder indictment or a rustling charge. The protagonist
must clear himself of the frame-up, because the legal machinery is either
inoperative or under the control of the villain. In the novels, characters
placed in such situations always express their admiration for the common
law which is administered through the courts. But they also recognize that
the unsettled conditions of the frontier society in which they live make this
law inapplicable. Consequently, the hero of the story, whether nominally
lawman or outlaw, must accomplish what the official legal system cannot.
This extreme freedom of action, the absolute individualism, is what makes
many Westerns part of a romantic tradition.
      While Grey and others were shaping the main tradition in novelistic
fiction, some authors were reinterpreting the characters of actual outlaws.
In 1903, Walter Woods wrote a play entitled Billy the Kid. The drama
viewed this outlaw sympathetically, as a wronged and misunderstood youth,
thus reversing the dime novel portrait of a smirking psychopath. Woods
used the dramatist’s prerogative of rearranging history, allowing the Kid to
escape to Mexico in the final act instead of being killed by Pat Garrett.
      Interestingly, Garrett himself had helped lay the foundation for this
more favorable depiction by co-authoring The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid,
published in 1882. Garrett was politically ambitious, so in this biography he
would hardly say that the outlaw he’d shot was an insignificant punk. In-
stead, the Kid becomes “the peer of any fabled brigand on record.” At any
rate, the Woods play marked the beginning of a revisionist cycle which was
to see Billy the Kid transformed from a self-centered mercenary into a ro-
mantic idealist.
      The major contributor to this changed interpretation was Walter Noble
Burns. His pseudo-biographical Saga of Billy the Kid (1926) is often placed
on the fiction shelf by discerning librarians. Burns did indeed interview
New Mexicans who had known the outlaw some forty-five years before. But
time had softened memories of that violent era, and in addition Burns fully
intended to make the outlaw a legendary figure. So the Kid is “under mystic
protection,” and “destined for a genial immortality.” The novelistic quali-
ties of the Saga were fully appreciated by a Hollywood studio, which pur-
chased the film rights and produced the first major Billy the Kid in 1930.
      Burns also stimulated the creation of “folklore” about the outlaw. A
music publisher sent a copy of the Saga to the Reverend Andrew Jenkins,
and suggested that he compose a song based on it. The result was the ballad
Billy the Kid, which is thus of commercial and literary rather than folk ori-
gins. However, most of those who hear renditions of it, most notably that
recorded by Woody Guthrie, assume that it dates from the cow camps of the
1880s. This ballad helped to circulate some of the legends about the Kid;


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                                                     LAWMEN AND OUTLAWS

viz., “There are twenty-one men I have put bullets through / And Sheriff
Pat Garrett will make twenty-two.”
      The lawmen of history also received literary attention in the twenties.
Garrett and Hickok were the best known of these, and both were interest-
ing because of controversial aspects of their careers. In Garrett’s case this
was the view (held by Bums among others) that he had been a Judas for
shooting his erstwhile friend, the Kid. But Eugene Manlove Rhodes in his
fiction cast the lawman in a favorable light. Pasó por Aquí (1926) is a novel-
ette about an outlaw, Ross McEwen. After robbing a store, he is pursued
across the New Mexico desert by a relentless posse. Stopping at a small
ranch, he finds the inhabitants ill with diphtheria. McEwen elects to give
up his chance to escape, and instead stays to nurse the family back to health.
Pat Garrett finally catches up with the fugitive, but instead of turning him
in, permits him to go free, having decided that McEwen has atoned for his
crime by being the Good Samaritan. The theme of this story, the relation-
ship of moral justice to formal justice, is what gives it its near-classic quality.
      As for Hickok, biographers in the twenties had begun to pick apart his
legendary fight with the so-called “McCandless gang.” Novelists, on the
other hand, depicted him in a more traditional way, as a stock western hero.
Emerson Hough’s North of 36 (1923) for example, is about a cattle drive
from Texas to Kansas. It features a heroine, Taisie Lockhart, who finds all
kinds of trouble along the way. In Abilene, where Wild Bill is the marshal,
he helps her out of yet another scrape by capturing a band of rustlers. This
and other fiction helped to make Hickok, despite the historical revisionism,
the personification of the virtuous law-bringer.
      In the twenties and thirties a new crop of writers began working with
western themes. Quite a few of these authors, such as Ernest Haycox and
Max Brand (pseudonym for Frederick Faust), served an apprenticeship in
the “pulps.” Such magazines as Western Story and Triple X attracted a huge
readership during this period. And a composite picture of the western law-
man was drawn in the hundreds of these stories in which he was often the
central character.
      Physically, he is tall, broad-shouldered, and narrow-hipped. Of North
European descent, he is often described as blondish and blue-eyed. The eyes
are an unusual feature. They are “friendly” until danger appears; then they
“blaze, ” “smolder,” or “glint” with steely determination. The lawman’s re-
flexes are always lightning-like or “cat-quick.” Extraordinarily adept with
weapons, especially the six-shooter, he invariably outdraws and outshoots
the thugs who challenge him. He has a physique that makes him well-nigh
indestructible, for in story after story he suffers up to a half dozen bullet
wounds without any crippling effects.
      Morally, the men are thoroughly dedicated to the law. They uphold it


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     A Literary History of the American West

with a seriousness that comes from knowing that they carry the burden of
establishing “civilization” in an untamed land. Fiction’s lawmen personify a
Puritan-like concept of Absolute Good as they tangle with villains who rep-
resent Absolute Evil. And observing a code of fair play, they give the law-
less all the breaks in the inevitable gunfight.
      There is little correlation between this character-type and the actual
law officers. Aside from the great variety of physical types represented in the
group, the gun-wielding feats in Westerns are clearly exaggerated. Modern
tests with weapons of the 1865–1890 period, such as the Colt .45, have
proved the impossibility of many exploits described in fiction. “Fanning”
the gun, bull’s-eye accuracy, and the lightning draw are among the conven-
tions which have had to be discarded.
      Similarly, the actual peace officers seldom took big risks for the sake of
law and order. And many of them lived in something of a moral shadow-
land. Individuals like Hickok or Wyatt Earp were only semi-professionals,
working as lawmen on an irregular basis. Like others they supplemented
their incomes by engaging in private enterprise on the side, such as gam-
bling or saloon-keeping. This conduct, rather questionable by present-day
standards, contrasts markedly with the absolute dedication and profes-
sionalism of the lawmen in western fiction.
      Nevertheless, the popularity of the mythical lawmen was proved by
the widespread acceptance of novels such as those written by Max Brand.
Brand published dozens of Westerns, some under other pseudonyms, and
was Zane Grey’s rival in commercial success. Like Grey, he was known for
his king-sized heroes. Typical of the mythological cast of his novels would
be Singing Guns (1938). In this one, Sheriff Caradac enters the hole-in-
the-wall country to kill the feared outlaw Rhiannon. But the latter wounds
Caradac, and then nurses him back to health. In return, the sheriff helps
Rhiannon to go straight. The two thwart an effort by villains to seize a long-
buried treasure, and, at the conclusion, Rhiannon is cleared of all charges
against him.
      Brand’s choice of language indicates that he sees the two characters as
demigods. Caradac observes at one point: “That thrust of the eyes, far off,
gave him a feeling of omniscient divinity. So the Homeric gods glanced
down from snowy Olympus to the plains where men lived. So he and Rhi-
annon lived among the clouds until the winds parted them as with a hand
and let their looks go dizzily down. ” Rhiannon, like Caradac, is a superman.
In one day he shoots and skins a deer in five minutes, shoots a running horse
through the head at thirty feet, and picks up a man and jumps with him out
of the way of a falling derrick. The hazy, idealized locale of the story also
suggests the mythic quality of Brand’s novels.
      By 1940, the Western had reached its maturity, and the lawman-


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outlaw theme had been thoroughly explored. A model of popular fiction’s
achievements at this point might be Law Badge, published under the pseud-
onym of Peter Field. The story is loosely based on New Mexico’s famous
Lincoln County War of 1878. The two major characters, Fay Dutcher and
Clark Rayburn, correspond to Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett (although Gar-
rett was not a participant in the War). The mercantile firm of Shane &
Purcell resembles history’s Murphy and Dolan partnership. Rayburn and
Dutcher are cowboys employed by Cass Gunnison, who is contesting Shane
& Purcell’s efforts to dominate the territory. But with the law on their side,
and aided by the Army, Shane & Purcell drive Gunnison and his men into
the hills. There Gunnison is killed, and his employees scatter. Dutcher
turns outlaw, forced into it, he argues, by the injustices committed in the
name of the law. Rayburn, however, obtains a pardon from Santa Fe, and
then becomes a marshal in Arizona.
      A year after leaving New Mexico, Rayburn is persuaded to return. He
is elected sheriff on a reform ticket. But on the day of the election, Fay
Dutcher holds up the local bank, killing Purcell in the process. Rayburn is
thus forced to hunt down the outlaw band made up of his former comrades.
He finally kills Dutcher in a gunfight, and then resigns as sheriff.
      Aside from its artful adaptation of an historical episode, the novel
satisfactorily explores the complexities of law in a frontier society. Clark
Rayburn questions the value of that law when it requires him to shoot his
old friend. But he decides that “it was all in accordance with his faith in the
intangible symbol of the law. None had been more quick than he to learn
that the law had a way of forcing a man to one side or the other in the
unrelenting fight it waged for supremacy over the range. Rayburn had seen
to it that he got on the right side in time. For better or for worse, the die was
cast and he must go on.” This is in many ways a paradigm of the situations
mirrored in countless novels about the West.
      By this period also, the legends of the more notorious outlaws con-
tinued to unfold in media other than the novel. Jesse James was the subject
of Elizabeth Beall Ginty’s play, Missouri Legend. First acted on Broadway in
1938, it portrays a clean-living outlaw who loves his wife, is religious, and
has a sense of humor. He is also the “Robin Hood of the Ozarks,” a charac-
terization exemplified by his gift of money to a helpless widow. And that
same year, Billy the Kid, a nimble-footed cow thief in real life, became the
subject of an Aaron Copland ballet.
      The Kid inspired more literary attention than did Jesse James. Among
the possible reasons for his appeal to the imagination are his youth, his com-
paratively small size (5'8" and 140 pounds), his frequent light-heartedness,
and his association with an idealistic cause, i.e., the losing side in the Lin-
coln County War. The Mexican background also lent an aura of romance to


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     A Literary History of the American West

his exploits. The result may be seen not only in numerous biographies but
also in a succession of novels which portray him as a likeable youth who
became a victim of persecution. In this group are Edward Beverly Mann’s
Gamblin’ Man (1934) and Charles Neider’s Authentic Death of Hendry Jones
(1956), the latter a thinly disguised “California” version of the Kid’s career.
      There is also a smaller body of fiction which harkens back to the dime
novel stereotype of the devil-in-human-form. Nelson Nye’s Pistols for Hire
(1941) makes the Kid a cold-blooded mercenary who shoots people in the
back. Edwin Corle’s Billy the Kid (1953) also makes him a steely-eyed execu-
tioner, with “subzero emotions.” He threatens to gun down the husband of a
Mexican woman with whom he’s having an affair. However, the author’s
claim that this novel “tells the story of Billy the Kid with veracity” would
have to be challenged.
      There is a similar counter-tradition in the case of Jesse James, although
that individual has been less extensively (or successfully) featured in litera-
ture. Will Henry’s (pseudonym for Henry Allen) Death of a Legend (1954)
reversed the usual rebel-with-a-cause interpretation, replacing it with the
picture of a psychotic gunman, “an incredibly wicked man.” In this novel
the outlaw shoots without reason—or remorse. However, the legend had
become so well-established that its death was an impossibility.
      In the post–World War II period, Louis L’Amour emerged as the suc-
cessor to Zane Grey and Max Brand in popular appeal. Like Grey, L’Amour
takes great pains to achieve accuracy in such details as clothing, weapons,
and locale. But his characters belong in the same mythic land with those of
Brand’s. His outlaws are likeable rogues of the “good badman” type, while
his lawmen are the traditional lantern-jawed paragons of dedication and du-
rability. Catlow (1963) is a good example of the reworking of the ageless
hounds-and-hares theme. The title character is nominally a criminal, striv-
ing to steal a Mexican gold shipment. His antagonist, Marshal Ben Cowan,
doggedly pursues the outlaw on both sides of the border. But ultimately,
after they take turns rescuing each other from Indians and gunmen, Catlow
is able to ride off to live a redeemed life.
      While L’Amour may be said to represent the traditional type of West-
ern, the 1960s and '70s also saw a different brand of fiction being published.
This was the tongue-in-cheek story where satire and humor were principal
ingredients, although the humor was often of an ironic or even bitter kind.
Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man (1964) devotes two chapters to a Wild Bill
Hickok whom readers had never encountered before. He is portrayed as a
paranoid individual plagued with self-doubts. Hickok teaches the narrator
 (Jack Crabb) the finer points of gunfighting, but he is ultimately revealed
as an unhappy hero suffering from eye trouble as well as psychological


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                                                  LAWMEN AND OUTLAWS

      In True Grit (1968), Charles Portis wrote a novel which may have the
universality to become a classic. The teenager Mattie Ross is the main
character, but much of the action is dominated by U.S. Marshal Rooster
Cogburn. His character certainly deviates from the traditional lawmen of
earlier fiction. He is fat, one-eyed, and often liquored-up. He does conform
to literary precedent by killing the principal outlaw (Ned Pepper), and then
saving the life of the young heroine. But instead of ending with these vir-
tuous acts, the novel describes Cogburn’s sordid subsequent career: he loses
his badge after killing a man under dubious circumstances; he hires on with
the infamous Texan invasion of Wyoming’s Johnson County; and at his
death he is working with a carnival sideshow. This tarnished figure seems to
reflect some of the scepticism about the western experience that was surfac-
ing during the period of the Vietnam War.
      At the same time, other writers continued to create serious Westerns,
using the by-now-familiar historical episodes and personalities with consid-
erable sophistication. Amelia Bean’s Time for Outrage (1967) was a novel
based on the Lincoln County War, and showed great knowledge of the finer
points in the historiography of that affair. Billy the Kid plays a minor role,
for as an “Author’s Note” explains: “Bonney never was at any time during
the war a leader of any group or contingent.”
      Ron Hansen’s Desperadoes (1979) is a historical novel about the Dalton
gang. “Most of this novel is based on verifiable fact,” says the author in his
preface. The story does indeed parallel history as it follows the brothers
from their early days as Indian Territory lawmen to the bloody bank robbery
fiasco at Coffeyville, Kansas. This book demonstrated the possibilities of re-
alistic rather than romantic fiction about outlaws. The hardscrabble farms,
muddy roads, and one-horse towns of the time are recreated in merciless
detail. Novels like this illustrate the continuing possibilities for experimen-
tation with the outlaw character type.
      It is noteworthy that some of history’s better-known lawmen and out-
laws have not been well developed in literature. Butch Cassidy and Wyatt
Earp come to mind, since both have received considerable exposure in tele-
vision and film. It appears that certain conditions must be met before a lit-
erary tradition can emerge. These include a gestation period in which the
individual’s exploits can be seen as usable for purposes of imaginative
      Wyatt Earp was not a well-known personality before 1931. But before
he died in 1929, Earp had related his life story to Stuart M. Lake, who pub-
lished it as a biography, Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal. This promoted the
lawman as a notable figure in western history, and he has been the subject of
much non-fiction. But there has been no comparable development of a lit-
erary tradition like those featuring Garrett or Hickok. Among the few


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     A Literary History of the American West

efforts in this direction is the ubiquitous Will Henry’s Who Rides with Wyatt
(1955). This portrays a vengeance-bent Earp who “takes the law into his
own hands” as he tracks down his brother’s slayers.
      Similarly, Cassidy (Robert Leroy Parker) appeared late in the history
of western outlawry, with a corresponding delay in literary recognition.
Cassidy was featured in some of the dime novels at the turn of the century.
He also was the subject of folktales in the Rocky Mountain states. Like Jesse
James, he helps the proverbial Poor Widow pay off her mortgage. But these
beginnings were not followed by a cycle of biographies and novels com-
parable to those devoted to James or Billy the Kid. Perhaps Cassidy had
been born a bit too late for the usual legend to jell.
      The outlaw and lawman have endured as subjects for literature since
they embody that elemental conflict which has always been part of the hu-
man condition. They are characters in a kind of primitive literature, akin to
the Icelandic sagas, which seems to be formulaic rather than innovative.
Max Brand exaggerated only slightly when he described his technique:
“The basic formula I use is simple: good man turns bad, bad man turns
good. Naturally, there is considerable variation on the theme . . . There
has to be a woman, but not much of a one. A good horse is much more
important.” But uncomplicated though most of the narratives have been,
they still seem to speak to universal concerns. They depict a kind of maxi-
mal freedom of decision and action which many readers find appealing.
Since most people live under a variety of constraints, they can experience
this freedom only vicariously. Furthermore, such stories in their American
settings have nostalgic qualities. They take place in the late 1800S, a less
complex period in the national history and one when industrialization had
not yet affected the West in a major way. So the outlaw in particular repre-
sented a pastoral ideal. In a sense, he served as surrogate for all those other
westerners who disliked industry, corporations, and progress. His crimes
seemed excusable when the victims were wealthy exploiters of the land and
its people. For such reasons, it is safe to predict the continued appearance of
these figures in western literature.

            KENT L. STECKMESSER, California    State University, Los Angeles


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                                                      LAWMEN AND OUTLAWS


1.   Such folktales are printed passim in B. A. Botkin, ed., A Treasury of Western
     Folklore: The Stories, Legends, Tall Tales, Traditions, Ballads, and Songs of the
     People of the Great Plains and Far West (New York: Crown Publishers, 1951),
     Wayne Gard, Sam Bass (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1936), Homer
     Croy, Jesse James Was My Neighbor (New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1949))
     and William Anderson Settle, Jr., Jesse James Was His Name: or, Fact and Fic-
     tion Concerning the Careers of the Notorious James Brothers of Missouri (Colum-
     bia: University of Missouri Press, 1966).

                            Selected Bibliography
Primary Sources
Bean, Amelia. Time for Outrage. Garden City: Doubleday, 1967. Interesting novel
    about New Mexico’s Lincoln County War, with Billy the Kid playing a minor
Beldon, H. M. Ballads and Songs Collected by the Missouri Folklore Society. Colum-
    bia: University of Missouri Press, 1955. Contains a standard version of the
    ballad about Jesse James.
Berger, Thomas. Little Big Man. New York: Dial Press, 1964. Novel with an uncon-
    ventional depiction of Wild Bill Hickok.
Botkin, B. A. A Treasury of Western Folklore. New York: Crown Publishers, 1951.
    Includes a useful section on “Law and Order, Ltd.”
Brand, Max. Singing Guns. New York: Dodd, Mead Company, 1938. A typical
    popular Western using the outlaw vs. lawman theme.
Burns, Walter Noble. The Robin Hood of El Dorado. New York: Coward-McCann,
     1932. A fictionalized “biography” of the California bandit Joaquin Murieta.
——. The Saga of Billy the Kid. Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1926. Represented
     as a biography, this book has a great deal of fictional material.
Corle, Edwin. Billy the Kid. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1953. A novel
     which depicts the Kid as a cold-blooded killer.
Field, Peter. Law Badge. New York: William Morrow, 1940. A well-written novel
     which explores the conflict between obligations to the law and personal
Garrett, Pat. The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid. 1882. Reprint, Norman: University
    of Oklahoma Press, 1954. Garrett helped create the legend of Billy the Kid.
Ginty, Elizabeth Beall. Missouri Legend. New York: Random House, 1938. A play
     with a sympathetic characterization of Jesse James.
Gray, Carl. A Plaything of the Gods. Boston: Sherman & French, 1912. A preten-
     tious novel about Joaquin Murieta.
Grey, Zane. Nevada: A Romance of the West. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1928.


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      A Literary History of the American West

     One of Grey’s most popular novels, it tells of an outlaw who is really on the
     side of the law.
——. Shadow on the Trail. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1946. Another of
     Grey’s novels dealing with a good badman.
Hansen, Ron. Desperadoes. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979. An historical novel
     about the Dalton gang.
Henry, Will. Death of a Legend. New York: Random House, 1954. A novel in
     which Jesse James is the embodiment of evil.
——. Who Rides with Wyatt: The Strange and Lonely Story of the Last of the Great
     Lawmen. New York: Random House, 1955. One of the few efforts at fictional
      interpretation of Wyatt Earp.
Hough, Emerson. North of 36. New York: D. Appleton, 1923. A traditional West-
     ern with Wild Bill Hickok as one of the characters.
Ingraham, Prentiss. Wild Bill, the Pistol Prince. New York: Beadle & Adams, 1881.
     A quasi-biographical narrative.
Jenardo, Don. The True Life of Billy the Kid. New York: Frank Tousey, 1881. A pur-
     ported biography with many imaginative details.
L’Amour, Louis. Catlow. New York: Bantam Books, 1963. An outlaw-against-
     lawman story by a best-selling novelist.
Mann, Edward Beverly. Gamblin’ Man. New York: William Morrow, 1934. A novel
     with a sympathetic portrayal of Billy the Kid.
Morrison, John. The Life of Billy the Kid, a Juvenile Outlaw. New York: John W.
     Morrison, 1881. A typical early dime novel featuring a bloodthirsty Billy
     the Kid.
Neider, Charles. The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones. New York: Harper and Broth-
     ers, 1956. A novel set in California, but based on the Lincoln County War and
      the career of Billy the Kid.
Nye, Nelson. Pistols for Hire. New York: Macmillan, 1941. Billy the Kid is a despi-
     cable back-shooter in this story.
Portis, Charles. True Grit. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968. A classic novel
      involving a memorable character who is a U.S. marshal.
Rhodes, Eugene Manlove. Once in the Saddle and Pasó por Aquí. Boston and New
      York: Houghton Mifflin, 1927. The second of these is Rhodes’s classic tale of
      an outlaw and the lawman Pat Garrett.
Ridge, John Rollin. The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated Cali-
     fornia Bandit. 1854; rpt. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1955. This
     book started the whole Murieta legend.
Woods, Walter. Billy the Kid. In America’s Lost Plays. Vol. 8. Edited by Garrett
     Leverton. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1940. This 1903 melodrama
     did much to romanticize Billy the Kid.

Secondary Sources
Adams, Ramon. Burs Under the Saddle. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press,
   1964. A combined bibliography and critique which evaluates a number of
   books about outlaws and lawmen for their historical accuracy.


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                                                        LAWMEN AND OUTLAWS

——. Six Guns and Saddle Leather: A Bibliography of Books and Pamphlets on West-
    ern Outlaws and Gunmen. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969. The
    standard, exhaustive bibliography on the subject.
Boatright, Mody C. “The Western Bad Man as Hero.” Publications of the Texas Folk-
     lore Society 27 (1957): 96–105. Perceptive essay.
Cawelti, John G. The Six-Gun Mystique. Bowling Green, Ohio: The Popular Press,
     1971. A sophisticated analysis of plots and characters in western fiction and
Clough, Wilson. “The Cult of the Bad Man of the West.” Texas Quarterly 5 (Au-
     tumn 1962): 11–20. Westerners seem to exult in their badman traditions.
Deutsch, James I. “Jesse James in Dime Novels: Ambivalence Towards an Outlaw
     Hero.” Dime Novel Roundup 45 (February 1976): 13–19. Discusses the chang-
     ing interpretations of the outlaw’s character in the sub-literature.
Dobie, J. Frank. Guide to Life and Literature of the Southwest. Dallas: Southern
     Methodist University Press, 1942. Includes a short chapter on the badman
Dykes, J. C. Billy the Kid: The Bibliography of a Legend. Albuquerque: University of
     New Mexico Press, 1952. An informative, extensively annotated study of the
     Billy the Kid interpretations.
Easton, Robert. Max Brand, the Big “Westerner. ” Norman: University of Oklahoma
     Press, 1970. Fine discussion of the work of one of the most popular of western
Folsom, James K. The American Western Novel. New Haven: College and University
     Press, 1966. Has an illuminating chapter on “Good Men and True” which is
     about sheriffs and badmen.
Inciardi, James A., et al. Historical Approaches to Crime. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage
     Books, 1977. Contains a good section on “The Wild West Industry”; how dime
     novelists and magazine writers exploited western themes, especially outlawry.
Jackson, Carlton. Zane Grey. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1973. Excellent critical
     analysis of Grey’s works, including those with rustlers and sheriffs as characters.
Jones, Daryl E. “Clenched Teeth and Curses: Revenge and the Dime Novel Outlaw
     Hero.” Journal of Popular Culture 7 (Winter 1973): 652–665. Astute analysis of
     revenge theme.
——. The Dime Novel Western. Bowling Green, Ohio: The Popular Press, 1978.
     Good survey of the major themes in the genre.
Lee, Hector. “Tales and Legends in Western American Literature.” Western Ameri-
     can Literature 9 (February 1975): 239–254. Discusses some of the legends about
Leithead, J. Edward. “The Outlaws Rode Hard in Dime Novel Days.” American
      Book Collector 19 (December 1968): 13–19. Useful analysis of novels about the
     James brothers.
Settle, William A., Jr. Jesse James Was His Name. Columbia: University of Missouri
      Press, 1966. Good discussion of folklore and fiction about the outlaw.
Sonnichsen, C. L. “The Wyatt Earp Syndrome.” American West 7 (May 1970):
      26–28, 60–62. An examination of contemporary Westerns, with special at-
      tention to Earp.


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      A Literary History of the American West

Steckmesser, Kent L. The Western Hero in History and Legend. Norman: University
    of Oklahoma Press, 1965. Traces the legends of Wild Bill Hickok and Billy the
    Kid in literature and folklore.
——. “Robin Hood and the American Outlaw: A Note on History and Folk-
    lore.” Journal of American Folklore 79 (June 1966): 348–356. Discusses the pro-
    totypical pattern for the Robin Hood type of outlaw.
Wilgus, D. K. “The Individual Song: Billy the Kid.” Western Folklore 30 (July
    1971): 226–234. Discusses the authorship and recording history of the ballad.


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                             SECTION III

                 Beginnings of Genres in the West


W           H A T RENÉ WELLEK and Austin Warren have said of literature in
            general is now especially true of western American literature:
            “The history of genres is indubitably one of the most promising
areas for the study of literary history” (Theory of Literature [New York: Har-
court, Brace, and World, 1956], p. 251). What varieties, or genres, of litera-
ture have flourished in the West? To answer that question to everyone’s satis-
faction, one would have to settle the continuing and probably unresolvable
argument about what constitutes a genre and about how many genres there
are. Nevertheless, while remaining aware of the disagreements about the
nature and number of genres, one can proceed to study the evolution of the
categories or kinds of literature that have traditionally been viewed as iden-
tifiable groups. The chapters in this section of A Literary History of the
American West trace the early development of the western novel and story,
western poetry, drama, the nature essay, and movies.
      Most western American literary criticism has been devoted to the
novel. Critics offer various reasons to explain the focus of attention on that
one genre: I) novels are the only genre of western literature worth studying;
2) the West is too vast to treat in a short work; 3) the novel comes closest to
giving a sense of the West’s most distinctive feature—its wide open spaces;
4) since 1890, the western novel has served as a repository for the frontier
spirit; and 5) not only the western novel, but all American novels have en-
joyed great popularity. Whatever the reason for their popularity, frontier
and western novels evolved through the stages in the history of all Ameri-
can novels: from the beginnings until 1810, a stage of imitating the Gothic
and sentimental novels of Europe; from 1810 to 1865, the more philosophi-
cal fiction of romanticism; from 1865 to 1890, novels of local color and re-
alism; from 1890 to 1920, the stage of naturalism; from 1920 to 1960, mod-
ernism; and from 1960 to the present, postemodernism, including the
fiction of “fabulators” who attempt to replace the former rationalist sense of
time with a mythic sense. In following that broad evolutionary pattern, the
western novel has obviously not been unique, but it has been distinctive


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      A Literary History of the American West

because it treats the particular landscape and history of the West. From
Mary Austin to Edward Abbey, from Willa Cather to Leslie Silko, from
Mary Hallock Foote to Wallace Stegner, western novelists have depicted
the West as a land of little rain, a land of mountains and deserts and prai-
ries, a land of Anglos and more than a dozen other ethnic groups, and—
above all—a land of wide open spaces.
      Frontier and western novels are also distinctive in having as their pro-
totypes a series of novels by one author: James Fenimore Cooper. In his
chapter on Cooper and other precursors of the western novelists, James K.
Folsom says that Cooper explored the “pull between two contrary sets of
values, represented on the one side by civilization and on the other by
wilderness.” Folsom adds that the “combination of the novel of action with
the novel of reflection is Cooper’s greatest single legacy to subsequent west-
ern story, both philosophically and from the point of view of technique.”
Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, along with the works of other early frontier
novelists such as Timothy Flint, David H. Coyner, and Emerson Bennett,
provided the inspiration for the avalanche of dime novels that poured off
the presses from 1860 until 1895. Following Cooper and the dime novelists,
Owen Wister’s The Virginian (1902) and the works of Zane Grey served as
models for the popular western novel, which is discussed by Michael T.
Marsden and Jack Nachbar in Part Three of A Literary History of the Ameri-
can West. “It seems fairly clear,” according to John R. Milton, “that the se-
rious Western novel (as distinguished from the popular western) is de-
scended from the western travel narratives and journals of exploration,
from the nonformulaic side of Cooper, and from the mixture of determinism
and mysticism as found in the naturalism of Frank Norris” (The Novel of the
American West [University of Nebraska Press, 1980], p. 106).
      The serious western novel had become a distinct class of fiction at least
by the 1920s, and writers labeled western were usually Anglo males who
wrote mostly about the Old West, Willa Cather being one of the few excep-
tions. Unfortunately, so much attention has been paid to Anglo male writ-
ers and so little to other groups that many readers are unaware of the many
excellent western novels written by women, by immigrants, by ethnic
groups, by Mormons, and by contemporary writers who have created what
William Bloodworth calls the “literary Western.” As those groups of novels
are studied from new theoretical perspectives such as the reader response
approach, we may soon gain a significantly enlarged and altered view of the
western novel.
      A new view of the novel may also usher in new approaches to the
novella and the short story and to sub-genres of the western novel. For years
western short stories have been collected in anthologies of all sorts, the best
among the most recent being J. Golden Taylor’s Great Short Stories of the


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                                     BEGINNINGS OF GENRES IN THE WEST

West (1967) and Philip Durham and Everett L. Jones’s The Western Story:
Fact, Fiction, and Myth (1975). Gerald Haslam offers in his chapter an his-
torical survey of the genre as it has developed in the West. So many western
writers (Bret Harte, Hamlin Garland, Jack London, Willa Cather, Katherine
Anne Porter, and John Steinbeck, among others) figure so prominently in
the history of the American short story that a critical history of its western
branch should reveal it to be one of the richest cultural assets of the region.
And, in another somewhat neglected field, who can consider the work of
L. Frank Baum, Will James, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Mary O’Hara, and Fred
Gipson without seeing how great has been the West’s contribution to Ameri-
can children’s literature? A similar point can be made about detective
fiction just by mentioning Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross
MacDonald, and James M. Cain; and many science fiction writers are west-
erners whose works often have a western setting.
      The western novel is not, however, the exclusive property of western-
ers, nor even of Americans, as Richard H. Cracroft explains in his chapter
on world Westerns. From the days of Cooper to the present, Europeans and
other foreigners have written novels about the American West. Reading
such fiction enables us to see ourselves as others see us; and the existence of
so many hundreds of world Westerns confirms the wide and enduring popu-
larity of western fiction.
      Although western fiction of all sorts is regarded as among the region’s
assets, some critics think our poetry is among our liabilities. However, while
contending that fewer than a dozen pre-1960 western versifiers can be
called poets, most critics will admit that many recent western poets have
written outstanding works. Why did it take the West so long to find its po-
etic voice? In the absence of a critical history of western poetry, many stu-
dents of western American literature have arrived at the view that Jay
Gurian expresses:
          We have plenty of Western American verse, but little po-
     etry—and no poetics. We have no attitudes by which poets can
     discipline their imaginative responses to the West’s landscape,
     history, folklore, language, or simply its humanity. From before
     Bret Harte till after John Neihardt, western verse has lacked wit,
     irony, paradox, metaphor, or symbol. Instead, it has been a single
     dimension response to a giant landscape and a noisy history. Ex-
     cepting Thomas Hornsby Ferril and Yvor Winters, the consciously
     “western poet” has not attempted to transmute this landscape,
     or its history, into troubling emotion or complex idea. As a
     cause, and as a result, western poetry is without literary criticism.
     (Western American Writing: Tradition and Promise [Deland, Florida:
     Everett/Edwards, 1975], p. 95)


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     A Literary History of the American West

      In a brief note about Gurian’s essay, A. Thomas Trusky says that “like
most critics of western American poetry, [Gurian] overlooks women poets
and critics and the influence of Native American and Hispanic poetics as
well.” Trusky’s “Western Poetry, 1850–1950,” included in this section
of A Literary History of the American West, shows that by the 1930s Ferril,
Winters, Robinson Jeffers, Sharlot Hall, Alice Corbin, Genevieve Taggard,
Mary Austin, Hildegarde Flanner, Peggy Pond Church, and Norman
Macleod had found a western voice that could express itself in poetry. Al-
though Trusky says that “The history of early western poetry . . . [is] no
more a record of failure and obscurity than is the history of any other re-
gion’s early poetic efforts . . . ,” he explains in some detail why fine poets
like Hall, Corbin, Macleod, and Church have been neglected. Thanks to
Trusky’s literary sleuthing and his efforts as one of the founders and editors
of Boise State University’s Ahsahta Press, the possibility of a western poet-
ics now seems much greater than it appeared to Gurian in the 1970s.
      The development of western drama has lagged behind that of poetry
and the novel. Although at least a dozen outstanding plays constitute the
basis for a nascent tradition, by rights, drama should be far more advanced
than any of the other genres in the West, since most western cities built
theaters almost before they constructed churches, schools, or jails. In Salt
Lake City, for example, the theater built by the Mormons in 1862 was widely
regarded as one of the best in the entire country; and almost from their be-
ginning, the Mormons had enthusiastically staged great world dramas. The
would-be dramatist of Salt Lake, or of any other western city, had few good
contemporary models for inspiration, however. Most nineteenth-century
American dramas were mediocre.
      It was, in fact, a western play—William Vaughn Moody’s The Great
Divide (1906)—that is said to have signaled the beginning of modern
American drama. Though many promising western playwrights succumbed
to the lure of Broadway, the strong regional movement of the 1930s kept
some of them at home, including E. P. Conkle, Virgil Geddes, and Lynn
Riggs. Of those three, Riggs came closest to rivaling easterner Eugene
O’Neill, but most audiences know only Oklahoma! and not the play it is
based on: Riggs’s Green Grow the Lilacs. In the 1940s and 1950s, Hollywood
and Freudianism left their mark on the plays of western dramatists such as
William Saroyan and William Inge. From the absurdist Beatnik plays of the
late 1950s and early 1960s to the wild surrealism of Sam Shepard in the late
1960s and early 1970s, post-Sputnik western drama seemed to have little
connection with earlier regional plays that dramatized historical events or
the lives of local, often rural, westerners. Shepard’s recent fame and a sud-
den surge of new ethnic plays by westerners are signs of a new phase in the
development of western drama: an attack on the petrified, popularized for-


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                                      BEGINNINGS OF GENRES IN THE WEST

mula myths of the Old West and on the technological junkland that much
of the contemporary West is rapidly becoming.
      While western drama attacks the present by surrealism, and the tradi-
tional western novel shows its disgust by ignoring the Space Age West in
favor of a mythic past, the twentieth-century western nature essay criticizes
our industrial-technological throw-away culture by showing us what we are
destroying in our onslaught against the land. In his chapter in this section,
Thomas J. Lyon writes that the western nature essay is like poetry in that
both genres “seek to establish continuity between man and nature.” In their
most recent stage, then, most of the genres in western American literature
picture our present way of life as leading in the direction of destruction.
      The nature essay, according to Lyon, did not begin as one of the
prophets of doom. Instead, it emerged from passages of descriptions in the
reports of western exploration and fur trapping, reports written by Lewis
and Clark, Prince Maximilian, Osborne Russell, and John Charles Frémont;
and it grew to encompass whole pictorially accurate books on aspects of
western nature, books such as Thomas Nuttall’s A Journal of Travels into the
Arkansas Territory (1821). Around the turn of the century, John Muir and
Mary Austin brought the western nature essay to a new and higher stage,
one that not only saw nature clearly, but also pondered its philosophical
      After World War I, a new school of western nature essayists appeared-—
government scientists such as Aldo Leopold, Robert Marshall, and Olaus
Murie—who recorded the essence of thousands of hours of in-the-field ob-
servations of wildlife and the natural environment. And when Joseph Wood
Krutch moved to the deserts of the Southwest, western American literature
was blessed with a twentieth-century Thoreau. Lyon says that current west-
ern nature essayists such as Edward Abbey write with an urgency forced
upon them by their sense that time is running out because of our destruction
of the natural world.
      Given the importance of its message, why hasn’t western nature writ-
ing been studied before? It has been, not so much as literature —as Lyon
discusses it—but as documents in the history of the idea of wilderness—as
Roderick Nash examines it in his Wilderness and the American Mind. Nash
does not restrict his study to the West, but Peter Wild does so restrict his in
Pioneer Conservationists of Western America, a collection that includes a
wealth of biographical details. What Lyon emphasizes is that the best of the
nature essays should be read not simply as scientific reports, but more im-
portantly as literature that can, through the aesthetic process, reshape our
perception and thereby help us to achieve greater harmony with nature and
with ourselves. Paradoxically, a study of this genre can give us a better
understanding of other western genres. To understand the poetry of Robinson


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     A Literary History of the American West

Jeffers or Gary Snyder, for example, one needs to have some sense of how
they see the land. Those critics who see only heartless inhumanism in
Jeffers and only naive primitivism in Snyder fail to recognize in their work
the wisdom that comes from a close and perceptive look at the land and its
      Perhaps such critics have also been unduly influenced by western
movies. From its beginning, Hollywood has given us various versions of the
West, as William T. Pilkington explains in his chapter on western movies.
In fact, one of the first American movies was Edwin S. Porter’s The Great
Train Robbery (1903). More than three-quarters of a century and thousands
of western movies later, English departments have added film courses to
their curricula, and scholarly journals such as PMLA and Western Ameri-
can Literature have published critical studies of movies—signs that this
twentieth-century celluloid form of popular entertainment has been ac-
cepted for what it is: an art form so closely akin to drama and the novel that
the criticism of it has found its natural home among literary studies. West-
ern radio and television programs are also beginning to receive critical at-
tention, as in Ralph Brauer’s The Horse, the Gun, and the Piece of Property:
Changing Images of the TV Western (1975).
      Additional genres or sub-genres exist in western American literature.
But in seeing literature only in terms of dozens of generic divisions, one runs
the risk of sounding like Shakespeare’s Polonius with his labels: “tragedy,
comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-
historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral.” To avoid that risk and to
shed more light on the literature, the following chapters treat only the ma-
jor types of western literature; in the second part of A Literary History of the
American West, there are chapters on major authors and on the sub-regions
of the West; and in the third part, chapters on current trends in western
literature. Our intention is that this variety of approaches—a sort of critical
triangulation—will establish more cogently the nature and value of western
American literature. As one part of that method of triangulation, the fol-
lowing study of the early development of genres in the West is essential,
since, to return to Wellek and Warren, “The literary kind is not a mere
name, for the aesthetic convention in which a work participates shapes its
character” (p. 215).

                              J AMES H. MA G U I R E ,   Boise State University


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                     Precursors of the Western Novel


T      HE SEMI-ARID REGIONS   of the North American continent which lie
         within the boundaries of the United States and are conventionally
         referred to as the American West posed a cultural challenge to the
westering Anglo-European settlers of which the magnitude has only fairly
recently been realized. Only since Walter Prescott Webb’s epoch-making
study The Great Plains (1931) have systematic attempts been made to
understand the enormous cultural adaptations made inevitable by the stag-
gering environmental differences between the trans-Mississippi West and
the well-watered area east of the Father of Waters. These differences are
most obviously seen in terms of the striking contrasts among the inhabitants
of both regions: the Horse Indians, though ethnically related to their east-
ern cousins, are culturally totally divorced from them; differences between
the agricultural Pueblo Indians and their eastern agricultural counterparts
are more striking than are similarities; the eastern farmer has been meta-
morphosed into the western rancher; and his prosaic farmhand into the ro-
mantic cowboy, “the hired man on horseback,” in Eugene Manlove Rhodes’s
evocative phrase.
       Yet these obvious differences, striking and important as they admit-
tedly are, have caused many observers to rush into the tempting but un-
sound conclusion that the trans-Mississippi American West—especially in
its literary reflections—has absolutely nothing to do with that eastern Amer-
ica which preceded, and in a sense produced it. In fact, many of the same
factors which drove Americans across the wide Missouri had brought them
across the Big Water some centuries before. Horace Greeley’s famous re-
mark “Go West, young man, go West” is, from this perspective, only an
echo of Bishop Berkeley’s almost equally well-known line, “Westward the
course of empire takes its way,” of a century earlier: and though present resi-
dents of California may unthinkingly assume the line was written with their
university in mind, in actuality it was written much earlier, in honor of an-
other infant western college—Yale.
       In one sense, of course, fascination with the strange and novel is a pe-
rennial human trait. The equally reliable tales of humans abducted by gods
and spacemen (in some modem versions the two are equated) have prob-
ably fascinated Homo sapiens since he first learned that a fire was just as


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     A Literary History of the American West

desirable a place to socialize as it was to roast his dinner; but at least in the
European imagination these traditional tales had, over the centuries, devel-
oped a kind of presumed historicity more or less unique to western society.
Prester John had given way to Marco Polo, and the stories “of the cannibals
that each other eat, / The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads / Do
grow beneath their shoulders,” though they may have beguiled Desdemona
did not fool Othello for one minute. The reason behind this is not far to
seek. One need remember only that that same Renaissance which produced
one of the greatest cultural awakenings the West was ever to know produced
a scientific revolution as well, of which a disciplined curiosity was its intel-
lectual expression and an age of exploration its technological offshoot.
Richard Hakluyt’s Voyages (1589–1600) had proved so popular that they
had been continued by Samuel Purchas (d. 1626) in several further volumes
as Purchas his Pilgrimes and imitated by a host of others. The prestigious
British Royal Society had been founded in 1660 with the encouragement of
navigation and discovery as one of its primary aims, and with the New World
as one of its primary targets.
      Yet the New World explored by the English was substantially different
from the other lands discovered by them, if only because it was not the seat
of an older and more sophisticated civilization, but quite the reverse: it was,
to their eyes at least, a virgin land on which their destiny might be writ
afresh without the hindrances of the past. What chronicle to write on this
tabula rasa was the problem, then as now, facing the literary recorder.
      In this regard it is important to remark that, although the early colo-
nists might well know what they were fleeing from, there was little agree-
ment concerning what in fact they were fleeing toward. The most articulate
view, at least at first, stemmed from the notions of eighteenth-century primi-
tivism, for which Jean Jacques Rousseau was the most widely quoted, though
by no means unique, spokesman. Rousseau’s famous remark that man is
born free, and yet is everywhere in chains had an obvious political implica-
tion: remove man from his chains and he would again be free. Once free,
the nobility of his nature would emerge and then, again to quote Bishop
 Berkeley, “there shall be sung another golden age.”
      Perhaps the clearest American spokesman for this view was a trans-
planted Frenchman, one J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, whose Letters
from an American Farmer (1782) painted an optimistic picture of what man
might make of himself in this New World, freed from the artificial restraints
imposed on him by a landed gentry, a whimsical aristocracy, and an estab-
lished church. Although the Letters are not primarily fiction (except perhaps
in the sense that Huckleberry Finn uses the term when he claims that Mark
Twain told, in Tom Sawyer, the truth mostly, except for a few “stretchers”),
they do contain fictional elements, most notably in the third letter, signifi-


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                                    PRECURSORS OF THE WESTERN NOVEL

  cantly titled “What Is an American?” This letter contains the story of one
  Andrew the Hebridean, an imaginary immigrant whose person is the arche-
  type of the American colonizer and whose history is the archetype of the
  American success story. Thus early in American writing the longing for a
  new start and the rewards it will bring—two themes of primary importance
  to subsequent western writing—have become inextricably entwined in
  American myth.
       Yet this optimistic view of the flowering of human destiny in the Gar-
den of the Lord, a new Eden untainted by artificially imposed restraints,
though persuasive, by no means carried the day. It rang peculiarly hollow in
the ears of the American Puritans, many of whom had selected the infant
colonies as a desirable position from which to view the Battle of Armageddon
which they presumed to be imminent. In 1741, only forty years prior to
Crèvecoeur’s Letters, Jonathan Edwards in his famous sermon “Sinners in
the Hands of an Angry God” had darkly warned that “probably the bigger
part of adult persons that ever will be saved, will be brought in now in a
little time,” a clear prophecy that the end was near. Nor did one have to be
of Edwards’s millennial persuasion to discover the logical flaw in Rousseau’s
views: for if man was born free, but is everywhere in chains, who made the
       The lines of the debate were clearly drawn and passionately argued
throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The prime metaphor
in the controversy was “nature,” and the debate, which often discussed ex-
ternal nature, equally often concerned itself with two contrary views of hu-
man nature. Was man basically a noble creature whose innate goodness was
entrapped within a cage of artificial and whimsical social restraints? Or was
he, as William Bradford had warned in Of Plymouth Plantation (1630), a
being whose nature was hopelessly corrupt, and to whom liberty was merely
a euphemism for license?
       The obvious focus for this debate was the native inhabitant of the New
World, the Indian. Was this classic “man in a state of nature” a “noble sav-
age, ” as good primitivist theory would have it, or was he, as actual contact
in the field suggested, merely a savage whose nobility was presumed rather
than demonstrated? Mary Rowlandson’s extremely successful Narrative
(1682) of her earlier captivity among the Indians during King Philip’s War
(1675–76) had established a durable literary genre still popular today, the
so-called “captivity narrative” which details the harrowing experiences of
white captives among fiendish Native Americans. Timothy Flint, whose
first novel Francis Berrian, or The Mexican Patriot ( 1826) can make a good
claim to being the first Western ever written, later penned The Shoshonee
Valley: A Romance (1830) specifically to refute “the wild and pernicious
sophism of Rousseau, that the savage is happier, than the social state,” a


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      A Literary History of the American West

philosophical position firmly adhered to by the novel’s protagonist William
Weldon, who discovers the magnitude of his logical error when he and his
family are murdered by the supposedly peaceful Shoshoni. By 1830 Flint is
working within a well-established tradition, pioneered most successfully by
Charles Brockden Brown in Edgar Huntly; or Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker
(1799), in which the Indians are ruthless and implacable enemies.
      Somewhat unfairly, James Fenimore Cooper was viewed by his nine-
teenth-century compatriots as the primary American literary spokesman for
Rousseau’s position, and it is not surprising then that many attacks on
Rousseau focus on Cooper. Perhaps the best example is Robert Montgomery
Bird’s excellent novel, now unfortunately generally ignored, Nick of the
Woods or the Jibbenainosay: A Tale of Kentucky (1837), which is written, he
tells us, to set the record straight, for Cooper “had thrown a poetical illu-
sion over the Indian character” by depicting him as “a new style of the
beau-ideal.” Not so: “in his natural barbaric state” the Indian “is a barbar-
ian,” and that’s that.
      This contrary tradition was from its inception representative of a west-
ern rather than an eastern point of view, serving an avowedly political pur-
pose in justifying harsh policies toward the Indian opponents of American
westward expansion. The point is interesting in another way as clearly ex-
emplifying a further legacy to modern western American writing—the pro-
found western regional distrust of what Vardis Fisher was much later to call
“the Eastern establishment.” Even when East and West were both east of
the Mississippi, the westerner’s sense of himself as markedly different from
his eastern compatriots had emerged and was clearly reflected in his writing.
      A serious literary argument pitting easterner against westerner erupted
very early in American letters. This debate, which is with us yet today, ex-
pressed itself primarily in terms of an apparently straightforward question:
who, it was asked, was better able to express the facts of western life, the
easterner working from book knowledge or the westerner who knew the
western experience at first hand? The western position, simplistically stated,
was that the eastern writer simply got his facts wrong, and since he knew
nothing of the bases of western life could not possibly be expected to say
anything sensible about it. As early as 1827, in a review of James Fenimore
Cooper’s recently published The Prairie, Timothy Flint clearly articulates
what is to become a perennial western American literary complaint. The
Prairie, it will be remembered, represents Cooper’s one extended literary
foray into the Great Plains, an area which Flint knew well, and about
which he had written Francis Berrian only one year previously. Flint, as an
avowed proponent of that progress he feels inevitable when the Great
Plains are opened to the benefits of civilization, has little use for the more
tragic view of history proposed by Cooper, and the basic thrust of his argu-


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                                      PRECURSORS OF THE WESTERN NOVEL

ment is that Cooper’s profound reservations about the course of “progress”
are not well taken. Philosophically, the point is certainly arguable, yet
Flint’s line of attack is curious. Basically, he dismisses Cooper’s argument
because Cooper has gotten his facts wrong. “Of all natural scenery,” Flint
sniffs, “one would think, a prairie the most easy to imagine, without having
seen it,” but apparently even this simple task is beyond Cooper’s abilities.
“We shall read him with pleasure only,” Flint concludes, “when he selects
scenery and subjects, with which he is familiarly conversant.” The analogical
reasoning behind this line of argument is, though tempting, implicitly mis-
leading; for Flint has adduced, as the sole criterion for literary merit, simple
and absolute fidelity to literal fact.
      Flint’s argument is certainly valid to a degree, and Mark Twain, also
writing from a western perspective, is later (1895) to expand it in “Fenimore
Cooper’s Literary Offenses,” justifiably one of his most famous essays. Twain
mercilessly exposes what Flint had also noted in another place ( 1828), that
in Cooper’s writing “probability is violated at every step.” Twain’s account
of how, in The Deerslayer, five of six Indians miss an easy jump into a passing
boat must strike a sympathetic chord in any readers who have felt their en-
joyment of much western story nullified by the sheer preposterousness of the
action. The litany is familiar, and needs no more than brief mention: in-
credible feats of marksmanship and woodcraft, impossible coincidences,
and the like which fill much western fiction can be traced back, in some
cases specifically, to eastern misapprehensions about the West in general
and to the legacy of Cooper in particular.
      At the same time, the case is not so open and shut as Flint and Twain
make it appear. The difficulty goes to the heart of the whole concept of
western literary “realism,” and indeed to a more wide-ranging discussion of
the nature of realism in American fiction generally. The question finally
comes down to an ambiguity in the American literary experience existing
from its origins. Is reality primarily definable in external terms, or is it in-
stead the expression of some kind of internal state? In his 1851 preface to
The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne was to see the di-
lemma clearly. He, following a nineteenth-century critical commonplace,
divided imaginative literature into two types, exemplified by what he called
the “Novel” and the “Romance.” The novel, he said, aims at “a very
minute fidelity . . . to the probable and ordinary course of man’s experi-
ence.” The romance, contrariwise, although it too must present “the truth
of the human heart,” may “present that truth under circumstances . . . of
the writer’s own choosing or creation.” To the nineteenth-century novelist,
one great literary problem becomes that of how to present these two con-
trary aspects of “the truth of the human heart” within one story, to find a
vehicle which combines the reality of factual detail with that other reality


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      A Literary History of the American West

represented by the romance. The magnitude of the problem may be seen in
Hawthorne’s handling of The Scarlet Letter (1850), which he prefaces with a
long essay, “The Custom House,” ostensibly explaining how the manuscript
of the romance came into his possession, but actually an attempt to provide
a novelistic balance to his romantic story, thus arriving at a fictional truth
combining both novelistic and romantic aspects of fiction. Whatever his
actual beliefs, Hawthorne liked to adopt the literary stance that the separa-
tion of novelistic and romantic elements in his own fiction was not com-
pletely fortunate. Each perspective was valid, he would argue, but each by
itself incomplete.
       To the student of western literature, Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851),
often mentioned as a kind of frontier novel of the sea, is perhaps more inter-
esting. Melville attempts the same union of these two different aspects of
the “truth of the human heart” by combining the romantic story of the
monomaniac Captain Ahab’s pursuit of the Great White Whale with the
novelistic cetology chapters which fill much of the novel. Of particular sig-
nificance for western story is the fact that in Moby-Dick the cetological
(novelistic) chapters become less evident as the story progresses, while the
(romantic) story of the hunt becomes more important. In one sense, then,
Moby-Dick represents a penetration through the external world of everyday
reality into a realm equally real in another, mythical sense, yet not pri-
marily factual. The Great White Whale may finally be understood only in
terms of the contradictory meanings we project upon him.
       Something of this penetration through the comfortable surface world
we know into a more sinister internal world we only sense is at the “heart of
darkness” in many western novels which can superficially be dismissed as
blood-and-thunder or pure escape. Mary Rowlandson’s Narrative of her In-
dian captivity, mentioned earlier, depends upon precisely this effect of
penetration through the comfortable surface to an understanding of that
malevolence which lies concealed beneath it. She has, literally and meta-
phorically, gone West to grow up with the country, and her newly won ma-
turity is achieved only at the price of her loss of innocence. The reality she
has discovered in the West is a reality of terror, one which she would just as
soon forget. Offhandedly she tells us, after her safe return to her family, “I
can remember the time, when I used to sleep quietly without workings in
my thoughts, whole nights together, but now it is other ways with me.” Her
dream of westering has turned into a nightmare.
        Penetration through experience, then, rather than travel over it is the
 perspective romantic western fiction offers which novelistic fiction cannot.
  It is useless to condemn Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans on the grounds
  that it is unrealistic, in the sense of being shaky in its factual bases. The
 point can readily be conceded without denigrating Cooper’s genius, for his


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                                    PRECURSORS OF THE WESTERN NOVEL

purpose in that novel is not primarily to take us on a journey across country;
rather the journey takes us finally to an apocalyptic vision of inner space, a
vision true to our internal perceptions of reality in which identities merge
and things become their opposites rather than to the external world where
Mingoes, Delawares, French, and English are easily labeled.
      In the last analysis, the most important legacy of earlier American
writing to western fiction is one of ambiguity. The great debate which had
gone on ever since the first English explorers penetrated into the Great
Plains—the debate over whether this new land was the Garden of the Lord
or, contrariwise, the Great American Desert—is one to which presumably
there is a factual answer. In fact, as Henry Nash Smith pointed out in Virgin
Land ( 1950), the answer depends as much on the predispositions one brings
to the problem as it does on the alleged facts. Whether what we see is a
reflection of the world outside or a projection instead of our inner wishes
and, on occasion, hidden fears is a philosophical problem at least as old as
the Republic. From its forebears western writing inherits a method of ex-
ploring this problem in terms of discussion of a series of profound and unset-
tling paradoxes. What is the West itself—the Garden of the Lord or the
Great American Desert? Who inhabits the West—noble savages or merely
savages? Most important of all, what—realistically considered—are the
chances for a new start when you bring your old self with you?
      This discussion has attempted a brief overview of the very different and
often contradictory strands in American culture which were later to de-
velop into the western novel, which even in its earlier and not specifically
western forms occupied an important place in American letters. Neverthe-
less, in any discussion of precursors of the western novel one name, that of
James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851), is clearly preeminent.
      The biblical statement that a prophet is not without honor save in his
own country is nowhere better applied in American letters than to this first
great American novelist. While Americans, particularly those of a literary
bent, have spent the century and a quarter since his death engaged in red-
faced apologies for his work, Europeans have acclaimed him as a serious
philosophical novelist. Moreover, while Americans have uniformly regretted
Cooper’s legacy to subsequent western story as escapist and juvenile, Euro-
pean writers have done him the honor of copying almost slavishly his treat-
ment of American western themes. Indeed, it has only been comparatively
recently that the “West” of the European Western has followed its Ameri-
can model from the Mississippi Valley to the Great American Desert. The
Europeans may have a point: only the most fanatic Cooper-phobe would
seriously claim that the so-called “spaghetti Western” represents a great leap


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     A Literary History of the American West

forward, at least from the standpoint of speculative philosophy, over the
model pioneered by Cooper more than a century and a half ago.
      Cooper, in common with many subsequent western writers, was not
himself a child of the frontier, a fact which has been adduced by unsym-
pathetic readers to explain his alleged lack of ability. Born in Burlington,
New Jersey, in 1789, he removed to Cooperstown, New York, in 1790,
where his father William Cooper had, five years previously, acquired a pa-
tent of thousands of acres of land at the headwaters of the Susquehanna
River. The story goes that Cooper’s mother, unenthusiastic about the move,
was carried bodily from her Burlington home and deposited in the wagon
which was to take the family to their new western residence, clutching the
infant James in her arms. The specific anecdote may well be apocryphal,
though it is clear enough that his mother opposed the move; when coupled
with the unsympathetic portrayal of his father (as Judge Temple) and of
Cooperstown (Templeton) in The Pioneers (1823), the first written of the
Leatherstocking Tales, and the fact that Cooper was later to adopt his
mother’s family name of Fenimore as part of his own, the inference that his
mother’s skepticism about the West was at least partially Cooper’s is in-
escapable. Indeed, this pull between two contrary sets of values, repre-
sented on the one side by civilization and on the other by the wilderness, is
basic to Cooper’s fictional exploration of the American West, which he sees
as a trope of the ironies in the human condition and, more profoundly, as a
master metaphor for his ultimately tragic vision of the world.
      Cooper drifted into a literary career by chance. Disgusted with a novel
he was reading aloud to his wife, he remarked that he could write a better
one himself, and when challenged to do so produced Precaution (1820), a
novel based partially upon Jane Austen’s Persuasion (1818), whose themes,
as well as title, are echoed in Cooper’s work. Although Precaution is no
masterpiece, its modest success encouraged Cooper, who quickly produced
three of his best novels which among them surveyed those literary territo-
ries he was later to explore at length and ultimately bequeath to subsequent
literary investigators: The Spy (1821) is a revolutionary war romance; The
Pioneers (1823), a novel of the frontier; The Pilot (1823), a story of the sea.
Common to all is the general method of organization: the novelistic ter-
ritory of each is a symbolic location where two sets of opposed values
struggle for domination. In The Spy, set in revolutionary Westchester
County, New York, this territory is “the neutral ground,” contested by both
British forces and American rebels; in The Pilot a similarly conceived ter-
ritory, neither land nor sea, is evocatively named “the shoal waters”; and in
The Pioneers the location is the recently settled Templeton (Cooperstown),
a frontier hamlet symbolically located midway between civilization and

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                                    PRECURSORS OF THE WESTERN NOVEL

      Let us consider The Pioneers in more detail, since it is both the first of
Cooper’s “western” novels and of his Leatherstocking Tales, on which his
subsequent reputation almost entirely depends. The Pioneers, though in
many respects a flawed novel, is nonetheless a fascinating one, for in it we
can watch Cooper, almost unawares, writing himself into the theme which
will preoccupy his literary world for nearly twenty years, through four more
Leatherstocking Tales—The Last of the Mohicans (1826), The Prairie (1827))
The Pathfinder (1840), and The Deerslayer (1841)—and a multitude of other
novels and shorter works, not all strictly western in their subject matter.
      Cooper’s first thought in writing The Pioneers was obviously satirical.
Modeling himself on Hugh Henry Brackenridge’s enormously popular re-
cent polemic novel Modern Chivalry (published at intervals between 1792
and 1815), Cooper intended to poke none-too-good-humored fun at what
he saw as the ridiculous buffoons inhabiting Templeton. All the stock char-
acter types are present: the uneducated doctor, the comic-opera French-
man, the sailor ashore, the drunken Indian, the boorish backwoodsman,
and more. Yet soon the fable Cooper tells develops a life of its own, and
imparts its own pattern to the sterile caricatures with which he had begun.
The drunken Indian is metamorphosed into Chingachgook, the last chief of
the Delawares, a once-proud people whose destiny has come to nothing; his
funeral speech, modeled upon the famous oration of Chief Logan, remains
even today one of the most masterful and moving set pieces in all American
western writing. The boorish backwoodsman is transformed, in the course
of The Pioneers, from a figure of fun originally conceived as the comic
“Natty Bumppo,” into the dignified “Leatherstocking,” the tragic hero of an
American myth, trapped by the ironies of “progress” in a world he never
made. The general thrust of the novel itself has been altered from relatively
superficial satire to a thoughtful investigation of the ironies inherent in the
American errand into the wilderness. The tale’s master images have be-
come those of spoliation and death. No longer a light-hearted (however
heavy-handed) attempt to reform manners through laughter, The Pioneers
finally echoes Tacitus’s somber comment on the brutal Roman conquest of
Britain, which might almost serve as the novel’s motto: desertum faciunt et
pacem vocant-—they make a desolation, and call it peace.
      In order to understand a further dimension of the Leatherstocking
Tales, it is important to note one other aspect in Cooper’s original concep-
tion of his hero: that Natty Bumppo is initially visualized as an old man.
Indeed, in none of the Tales except the last is Natty a youthful hero, and his
advanced age offers an important clue to Cooper’s novelistic craft. For by
presenting his spokesman as one more advanced in years than those around
him, Cooper is able to introduce a reflective dimension into his story, in
which the wisdom of age may (and in candor it should be admitted, far too


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      A Literary History of the American West

often does) comment upon the inchoate and apparently incomprehensible
world of the action itself. This combination of the novel of action with the
novel of reflection is Cooper’s greatest single legacy to subsequent western
story, both philosophically and from the point of view of technique. The
problem faced by the author of western tales, then as now, has always been
how to assimilate the raw materials of a blood-and-thunder story into a
novel of some philosophical respectability. Failures to do so have been le-
gion, enough so that their mere enumeration serves in some quarters as a
ritualistic denial, in lieu of thoughtful criticism, of even the possibility of a
significant literature dealing, as western American literature in part inevi-
tably must, with stories of adventure. Successes, however, are also to be
found, and in most of them Cooper’s legacy is plain. Though Cooper may
presently be without critical honor in his own country, he is not forgotten
there except, alas, by those too much at ease in Zion.

                                 J AMES K. FO L S O M ,   University of Co!orado

                           Bibliographical Note

      Although many studies of midwestern life and culture exist, most are pri-
marily of interest to the social historian rather than to the literary critic. The best
overview of the development of midwestern literary culture is still William H.
Venable’s Beginnings of Literary Culture in the Ohio Valley (1958), originally pub-
lished in 1891. Henry Nash Smith’s pioneering investigation of the mythic Ameri-
can West, Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth (1950), contains
many useful insights about the American West generally and a brilliant assessment
of the importance of James Fenimore Cooper to subsequent western writing. The
literary Indian has been the focus of many studies. Albert Keiser’s The Indian in
American Literature (1933) is still useful, although it should be supplemented with
Roy Harvey Pearce’s The Savages of America: A Study of the lndian and the Idea of
Civilization (1953), a brilliant analysis of European cultural attitudes toward Indian


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                                         PRECURSORS OF THE WESTERN NOVEL

life. Leslie Fiedler’s discussions of Indians in Love and Death in the American Novel
(1960) and The Return of the Vanishing American (1968) are inevitably thought-
provoking, although controversial.
       The works of James Hall and Timothy Flint are often hard to find, although
good biographical and critical studies exist of both. In addition to Venable (above),
the student of Hall should consult John T. Flanagan, James Hall: Literary Pioneer of
the Ohio Valley (1941) and Randolph C. Randall, James Hall: Spokesman of the New
West (1964); of Timothy Flint, John E. Kirkpatrick, Timothy Flint: Pioneer, Mission-
ary, Author, Editor, 1780–1840 (1911) and James K. Folsom, Timothy Flint (1965).
       James Fenimore Cooper’s phenomenally high reputation in nineteenth-
century America and his relative neglect in the twentieth have led to a curious
anomaly in scholarship dealing with his work. In contrast to the case of most major
American writers, critical interpretations of Cooper are better than modern edi-
tions of his writing. In view of the lack of any definitive critical edition of Cooper’s
works, the Leatherstocking Tales are best approached through the one-volume
abridgement The Leatherstocking Saga (1954), edited with a superb introduction
by Allan Nevins. Robert E. Spiller’s Fenimore Cooper: Critic of his Times (1931)
contains the best study of Cooper’s social thought. The various essays in M. E.
Cunningham, ed., James Fenimore Cooper: A Re-appraisal (1954) offer a fascinating
study of modern attempts to restore Cooper to literary respectability. Finally, the
best short study of Cooper of primarily literary rather than biographical emphasis is
Donald A. Ringe’s James Fenimore Cooper (1962).
       Biographies of Cooper are generally of limited value to the literary scholar
because of their bias toward justifications of Cooper’s thorny and difficult person-
ality and the limitations placed on biographers by nineteenth-century codes of de-
corum toward “official” biographies. Best is Thomas R. Lounsbury’s James Fenimore
Cooper (1883), to be supplemented by James Grossman’s James Fenimore Cooper
 (1949). The 1922 edition of Cooper’s Correspondence is unsatisfactory; in its place
the student should consult the two-volume Letters and Journals of James Fenimore
Cooper (1960), edited by James F. Beard. Beard is presently engaged in writing
Cooper’s biography which, upon appearance, should prove definitive. A long-
overdue scholarly edition of Cooper’s works is presently in progress. The Leather-
stocking Tales, together with the four revolutionary war novels and the European
travel books will appear shortly, with the rest to follow.


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                            The Western Story

D      ESPITE ITS ANCIENT    and international antecedents, the short story is
         conceded to be both the youngest and most American of major liter-
         ary forms. The “western story,” as a particular variation on that
form, has been among the most popular in literary history, a haven for read-
ers trapped in an increasingly urban and complex world. As Jack Schaefer
noted in 1955, “while not all western stories are escape fiction, the over-
powering majority of them are.”
      Throughout the twentieth century, however, as Schaefer further rec-
ognized, some gifted writers of short fiction have abjured the compelling
formula of “code Westerns” and sought to produce significant literature set
in the West. Until the recent past, however, they were often trapped by
readers’ assumptions. In the three decades since Schaefer’s observation, the
post–World War II generation has emerged, a generation that has deepened
and broadened the ranges of subject and technique. There are, in effect,
two traditions of western stories, one popular and commercial, the other
literary and less commercial. Both can be traced to the early nineteenth
      The initial systematic examination of the short story is conceded to be
an article by Brander Matthews, “Short-Story,” which appeared in The Sat-
urday Review of July 5, 1884. Matthews pointed out that the new form was
not merely brief fiction, but brief fiction of a particular type. “The differ-
ence between a Novel and a Novelette is one of length only . . . . But the
difference between a Novel and a Short-story is a difference in kind,” he
wrote. “A true Short-story differs from the Novel chiefly in its unity of im-
pression.” He also gave credit to Edgar Allan Poe: “by his precept and by his
practice [he] had revealed the possibilities of the short-story and [he] had
known what it ought to be.”
      Poe had, in an 1842 review of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales
published in Graham’s Magazine, contrasted the characteristics of the novel
with those of the tale, noting that the latter could be read at a single sitting,
thus achieving “the immense force derived from totality. ” He suggested, fur-
ther, that skillful writers seek “a certain unique or single effect to be wrought
out” of a tale. Matthews was correct in asserting that Poe did not formulate
a system for evaluating stories, but Poe nonetheless did clearly offer the first
significant attempt to define the developing genre, and his definition is es-


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                                                    THE WESTERN STORY

sentially as old as the form and may have been a significant factor in its
       Poe, himself, Robert Marler has convincingly argued, wrote tales, not
short stories. The former were products of romantic imaginations, so they
emphasized the supernatural over the natural; moreover, their characters
tended to be stylized, sometimes archetypal figures, not infrequently alle-
gorical in intent, while figures in short stories tend to be recognizably hu-
man first, then perhaps symbolic. Another major distinction, as William
Peden explains, is that “the short story, brief and unwinking, tends to ask
questions rather than suggest answers, to show rather than to attempt to
solve. ”
      Popular tales being published in America during the mid-nineteenth
century had, Marler argues, degenerated into formulaic, romantic, often
stereotypical patterns in which characters showed no internal life and were
frequently employed to illustrate popular ideals and values; they had, in
fact, taken on many of the characteristics that popular western stories in
this century displayed, and that is no coincidence, since most code Western
short fiction is not a variety of short story but of the simpler tale. The short
story was the product of not mere literary experimentation, but of a real-
istic, often painful recognition of the individual’s place in an increasingly
urban, industrialized world. It represents, that is, a literary birth of modern
      The more complex form emerged in the eighteen fifties, when Herman
Melville, who had produced tales (“The Bell Tower”), moved beyond
that form in concept and style to produce short stories (“Bartleby the
Scrivener”). Marler points out “that the critical commentary of the three
masters of short fiction (Poe, Hawthorne, Melville) describes a smooth
transition from the tale to the short story.” Melville, with his almost con-
temporary theory of fiction-he sought to create a readable surface for his
stories that would conceal deeper, more important meanings-and with his
recognition of encroaching dehumanism in the modern world “stands at a
crossroads in the history of American fiction.” It has continued to be a busy
intersection in western writing, as writers have traveled both the West-that-
never-was and its fictive evocations, and the harsher reality of many con-
temporary short stories. The difference between the tales of B. M. Bower or
Clarence E. Mulford or Charles Alden Seltzer and the stories of Dorothy
Johnson or Walter Van Tilburg Clark or Raymond Carver illustrates this
       Washington Irving’s sketches were also important components in the
development of short fiction in the American West, for many modern writ-
ers employ variations of that form to recreate regional experiences; the
Texas sketches of Elroy Bode, for example, or the “stories” of Chester


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     'A Literary History of the American West

Seltzer (Amado Muro) are obvious examples. In The SketchBook (1819–20),
which included “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,”
Irving built a link between eighteenth-century essayists and the short story
tradition that was to follow. “I consider a story merely a frame on which to
stretch the materials,” Irving explained, mentioning also “the familiar and
faithful exhibition of scenes in common life” and “the half-concealed vein
of humor that is often playing through the whole. . . .” By emphasizing set-
ting, scene, and atmosphere in his work, Irving set the stage for local color
writing and the tendency to stress description that would dominate the
western story as it developed in the second half of the nineteenth century.
      Two other nineteenth-century factors were important in the develop-
ment of the western story. Most obvious was the recognition and employ-
ment of elements of oral literature-particularly the tall tale—by gifted
writers. The stories of Bret Harte and Mark Twain brought together ele-
ments of native humor and western regionalism in a manner that Irving had
only hinted was possible. Harte himself believed folk humor was the single
most important element in the emerging short fiction of his time:
     Crude at first, it received a literary polish in the press, but its
     dominant quality remained. It was concise and condensed, yet
     suggestive. It was delightfully extravagant, or a miracle of under-
     statement. . . . It gave a new interest to slang. . . . It was the
     parent of the American short story.
      The second factor was less evident but nonetheless vital: American
publishing. Ian Reid explains that the absence of international copyright
regulations led to a proliferation in America of cheap reprints from over-
seas. As a result, “American publishers were seldom keen to sponsor work
by local novelists. . . . The short story, on the other hand, could find a
ready public through the gift annuals and periodicals” of the time. The
commercial story, cradle of the popular “code” Western, was born as a
      By the turn of the century, then, five traditions had emerged, not mu-
tually exclusive-indeed, frequently blended—yet each individually im-
portant: the oral yarn, the sketch, the tale, the short story, and that com-
pendium of subject and style that has come to be called the commercial or
popular story. It was the merging of these forms with the unique and fre-
quently fantasized subjects offered by the Great West that led to the western
story or, more accurately, western stories, for two traditions evolved.
      An awareness of the West and its literary potential had evolved even
before the maturation of the short story. Irving and James Fenimore Cooper
are generally conceded to be the first major writers to recognize and effec-
tively employ western settings and subjects. In 1832 Irving wrote his West-


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                                                   THE WESTERN STORY

ern Journals after a journey to the frontier. He followed with A Tour of the
Prairies ( 1835), Astoria ( 1836), and The Adventures of Captain Bonneville
(1837). Even more important were Cooper’s Leatherstocking novels, the
first (The Pioneers) appearing in 1823, the fifth and last (The Deerslayer) in
1841; James K. Folsom has convincingly argued that Cooper captured the
epic scope and mythic power of frontier experiences. Ironically, myth-in
the popular sense-came to be the range of commercial Westerns a century
later. In any case, the West as literary material was established by mid-
century, as were the pressures of urbanization and industrialization which
created both audience and attitude.
      In the sixty-plus years following the publication of Cooper’s final
Leatherstocking novel, two other major events presaged modern western
stories. First, following the Civil War, was the development of the popular
western hero in dime novels, a figure that seems to have extended little al-
tered from Natty Bumppo to Rooster Cogburn; indeed, most of the original
versions bore a striking resemblance to Leatherstocking, a hunter and
trapper. Observes Henry Nash Smith: “the persona created by the writers of
popular fiction was so accurate an expression of the demands of the popular
imagination that it proved powerful enough to shape an actual man in its
own image.”
      Second, Owen Wister published The Virginian in 1902; a large, rela-
tively sophisticated audience read it and altered, however slightly, the im-
age of the western hero, adding gentility to temper the preexistent tough-
ness, courage and cleverness, but the centrality of that epic figure, by now
transformed into the cowboy rather than the trapper, was undisturbed.
What is more, the audience itself broadened; Wister’s West was acceptable.
      During the three decades that followed, a gifted cadre of writers
emerged. Some, like Zane Grey and William Sydney Porter (O. Henry),
wrote and further defined the commercial story. Others, such as William
MacLeod Raine and Steward Edward White, worked most effectively with
variations on the oral tradition combined with aspects of both the literary
and commercial short stories. Still others—Eugene Manlove Rhodes is the
classic example here-continue to confound critics who cannot decide
whether they were major writers or merely gifted commercial authors.
      A surprising number of writers from that period had lived on or near
the frontier. Rhodes had been a working cowboy, as had W. C. Tuttle,
Henry Herbert Knibbs, and James B. Hendryx. Willa Cather knew first
hand the rigors of life on the plains; so did Hamlin Garland. Jack London
had been an oyster pirate. As Harry E. Maule notes, these writers and
others of their generation, “conscientious craftsmen all, some of them art-
ists, were above all natural story tellers and for the most part wrote out of
experience and direct observation.”


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     A Literary History of the American West

      It was during this period that popular literature merged with a new me-
dium, motion pictures, to solidify the stereotypical western story, the horse
opera. It might be fairly stated that while one school of writers explored the
possibilities of the “code Western” with its constant setting, melodramatic
characters, and rich appeal to popular myth, history and nostalgia, another
sought to write fiction that reflected the complexity and drama of human
existence in a western setting. Of course, many writers have done both, but
among the more distinguished modern practitioners of the former have
been Frederick Faust (Max Brand), Henry Wilson Allen (Will Henry),
Frederick D. Glidden (Luke Short), Ernest Haycox, and Louis L’Amour,
while William Saroyan, Jarvis Thurston, William Eastlake, Johnson, Clark,
and Schaefer have been among the celebrated writers in the latter tradition.
      Popular Westerns, with their many variations, benefited from the de-
velopment of two twentieth-century versions of dime novels: pulp maga-
zines and the twenty-five-cent paperbacks, both of which provided writers
with ready markets and an arena for apprenticeships. Slick magazines—
Colliers, Saturday Evening Post and Argosy, among others—also published
Westerns, with writers such as Rhodes, Schaefer, and Johnson featured; it is
no coincidence that those three work in the tradition of the literary West-
ern, a tradition that has grown in importance since World War II.
      Louis L’Amour, the most successful modern writer of commercial West-
erns, has over his thirty-plus years of publishing increasingly deepened his
products, moving away from formulaic presentations. He explains, “My in-
tention has always been to tell stories of the frontier, the sort of stories I
heard when growing up”; that is, L’Amour has added elements of the oral
tradition to commercial roots-which include components of the sketch,
the tale and the story-as his work has matured. In fact, literary Westerns
have created an awareness of complexity and of formal variations that have
elevated the level of popular Westerns and moved the finest commercial
practitioners toward more original, perhaps more significant work, blurring
boundaries between the two. Observes Henry Wilson Allen, “Everybody
suddenly wants to be the Boris Pasternak of the Purple Sage.” It must also be
pointed out that the large numbers of older, formula western stories con-
tinue to be reprinted, so their appeal appears little diminished.
      Wallace Stegner has written of the dilemma of western writers who feel
trapped by a history that may be more popular fantasy than reality; he ob-
serves that “you don’t choose between the past and the present, you try to
find the connections, you try to make the one serve the other.” Michael
Marsden and Jack Nachbar have suggested that one reason the popular
Western has endured is that writers like Haycox, Faust, and L’Amour “are
really telling versions of one, long epic tale unfolded over an extended pe-
riod of time through the efforts of a number of skilled storytellers.”


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                                                          THE WESTERN STORY

     The popular western story remains just that, popular. But it has
changed. More accurately, it has been changed by the persistence of literary
storytellers who have rejected formulas and insisted upon bringing the varia-
tions of modem writing to western materials in their continuing quest for
truth. If the “code” Western has been a vehicle for escape, the literary story
has been a vehicle for exploration. As the two traditions move together, it
is the literary Western-progeny of the classic short story and the modern
consciousness that produced it—that dominates and deepens the western

                            G E R A L D W . HA S L A M,   Sonoma State University

                           Selected Bibliography

Durham, Philip, and Everett Jones, editors. The Western Story: Fact, Fiction, and
    Myth. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975. This anthology divides its
    contents into three sections: Fact, Fiction, and Myth, an interesting if not en-
    tirely successful approach.
Elder, Gary, editor. The Far Side of the Storm: New Ranges of Western Fiction. Los
    Cerrillos, N.M.: San Marcos Press, 1975. Controversial, revisionist collection
    which seeks to expand both subjects and styles. Contains interesting, if over-
    written, introduction.
Henry, Will. Will Henry’s West. Edited by Dale L. Walker. El Paso: Texas Western
    Press, 1984. Along with a generous sampling of Henry’s fiction, this volume
    contains a revealing introduction.
Kopp, Karl, and Jane Kopp, editors. Southwest: Towards the Twenty-First Century.
    Corrales, N.M.: Red Earth Press, 1981. Among the finest of revisionist an-
    thologies. Valuable introductory essay.
Marler, Robert. “From Tale to Short Story: The Emergence of a New Genre in the
    1850’s.” American Literature 46 (May 1974): 154–57. Traces the pivotal devel-
    opment of the short story as a unique form, suggesting that Herman Melville is
    the key figure.
Maule, Harry E., editor. Great Tales of the American West. New York: The Modern


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     A Literary History of the American West

    Library, 1945. This collection contains most of the best magazine writers from
    the first half of this century, plus Maule’s own revealing introductory essay.
    A classic anthology.
Pattee, Fred Lewis. The Development of the American Short Story. New York: Harper
    and Row, 1923. Classic study of the most American of literary genres. Surveys
    earlier scholarship.
Schaefer, Jack, editor. Out West. London: Transworld Publishers, 1959. This two-
    volume collection features two insightful Editor’s Notes. Volume One contains
    the original 1955 note, while the second volume has an updated version.
Taylor, J. Golden, editor. Great Western Short Stories. Palo Alto: American West
    Publishing Company, 1967. This comprehensive anthology is enlivened by
    Taylor’s chapter introductions, and also includes Wallace Stegner’s “History,
    Myth, and the Western Writer.”
West, Ray B., Jr. Short Story in America 1900–1950. Freeport, N.Y. : Books for Li-
    braries Press, 1968. A valuable survey by a distinguished western editor. Sum-
     marizes much earlier scholarship.


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                       World Westerns
          The European Writer and the American West

                                   by the shock of seeing western films in

          translation—on hearing the white-Stetsoned cowman growl “Hände
         Hoch! ” while his lips are forming the English words, “Better put
up your hands”—or when confounded by the greater shock of seeing Ger-
man actors playing “Cowboys und Indianer” in German-written, German-
produced western films, do some Americans experience an intellectual
epiphany, a realization that Europeans (along with Asians, South Ameri-
cans, Australians, and nearly everyone else) have distinctive, indigenous,
deep-seated literary and cultural traditions regarding life in the American
West. This literature-based mythos has shaped their thinking—in Europe
at least—for more than 150 years and continues to shape non-American
thinking about the American West, the United States, and its inhabitants.
The occasional American who probes beneath postcard views of Europe
may witness the Karl May Festival of the West at Bad Segeberg, watch Span-
ish youth don sombreros and play at rancheros, or read over the shoulder of
an engrossed commuter on the Paris Métro as he enjoys a George Fronval
Western—perhaps the popular Les Prospecteurs de la Sonora—or observe
English school-children as they exchange school uniforms for after-school
play in plastic buckskins and fake coonskin caps. Such an observer soon
understands that the myth of the American West belongs not only to North
Americans, but to all mankind. And the origins and continuity of that
myth lie in the literary milieu of several countries, only one of which is the
United States.
      In fact, a closer examination of the reading habits of men and women—
and boys and girls-in nearly any literate nation will demonstrate the
power of the American Western, regardless of geo-politics, to sweep its
readers into exotic adventures beyond the borders of their own land and
time into a Never-Never land in the American Far West. And an even
closer examination of the literature of European nations reveals that most of
these nations have a longstanding Wild West literary tradition which rivals
and in some ways exceeds that of the United States. The sheer weight of
the thousands of western novels and stories written by European authors has
evolved a European-American western literature which, while little known
and even less understood by North Americans, and though often more awk-
ward than its American counterparts in its attempts at artistry and at cul-

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     A Literary History of the American West

tural, anthropological, and topographical authenticity, not only mirrors na-
tionalistic pride and national values, but often depicts a West stranger and
more fantastic than the West evoked in the wildest American dime novel.
      It was not long after the discovery of America that European writers
began to shape exotic images of the garden of the New World and its savage
but courtly inhabitants. By the eighteenth century such images had become
received cultural traditions as Europeans thought of America as an Arcadia
inhabited by Noble Savages possessed of Edenic manners and civilization,
an image enhanced not only by titillating Indian captivity narratives, but
by countless persuasive “America Letters”—epistles sent home to friends
and relatives by hordes of European emigrants to America, especially to-
wards the end of the eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth
      This distorted and romantic vision of the New World was heightened
by François-René Vicomte de Chateaubriand (1768–1848), a disciple of
Rousseau, who gave America a special touch of gloire. Drawing upon his
own six-month-long visit to the United States, Chateaubriand wrote Atala
(1801), René ( 1802), and Les Natchez (1826), and popularized, throughout
Europe, in many translations and editions, his highly imaginative, romantic
rendering of the American landscape and the Noble Savage. The beautiful
garden of Chateaubriand’s paradise was peopled by savages who combined
Edenic simplicity with all of the attributes of the best of European culture—
including a surprising frequency of blushing, weeping and fainting—to
present, in statuesque poses, beautifully chiseled bronze bodies topped with
hair as fine as a “veil of gold. ” 1 The impact of such splendor on nineteenth-
century European readers was equally remarkable, and they turned avid lit-
erary attention to this “brave new world, / That has such people in ’t!”
      Chateaubriand’s enormous success in touching this mythic chord pre-
pared the European reader for the works of James Fenimore Cooper. After
The Pioneers, Cooper’s first work published in Europe, burst upon the conti-
nental consciousness in 1823, each of his works met with a phenomenal
reception. In his excellent study, Ray Allen Billington writes that Cooper-
mania raged “at fever heat for more than a decade” in Europe; and such
enthusiasm continues to the present, with only a slightly abated intensity.
The Pioneers, for example, was published in France and England in 1823,
almost simultaneous with its publication in the United States, and within a
year it was translated into two German editions and, shortly thereafter, into
Spanish, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish, and, during the next decade,
into other European languages. Through the remainder of the nineteenth
century, many additional translations of Cooper’s works appeared regularly


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in Germany, Italy, France, Spain, and in every other European nation, as
well as in Turkey, the Middle East, and North Africa. The Russians com-
pared Cooper to Shakespeare, the Germans compared him to the Teutonic
knights, the French called him “le Walter Scott des sauvages,” and an early
Spanish review of The Last of the Mohicans praised him for his ability to
awaken in the reader “a voluptuous feeling of noble sensibility.”
     Cooper’s enormous popularity and the reception of Chateaubriand’s
American novels combined, then, with a vigorous romanticism, unrest
evoked by widespread political upheaval, and testimonials from the increas-
ing horde of emigrants to the New World to stir in Europe, especially in
Germany, Norway, France and England, an appetite for a fiction which
would satisfy the ravenous hunger of Europeans for things American, things
western. This appetite would attract to the American West the attention of
some of the best—and the worst—European writers and begin an outpour-
ing of literature (and, later, films) which continues to the present. The col-
lected impress of such fiction on the European imagination has shaped and
continues to shape a distinctively European, mythically powerful, but often
distorted image of the American West and its inhabitants. A few limited
examples from representative European nations will make this point clear.
      It seems to have been the Germans who were most nearly affected by
the Europamüdigkeit that seemed to flood Europe in the wake of the political
and social unrest of the nineteenth century. Such restiveness, stirred by a
vigorous German romanticism, turned German minds to effecting literal or
imaginative escape into the American West, the “land vaguely realizing
westward,” where thousands of Germans found focus for Johann Wolfgang
von Goethe’s poetic declaration, “Amerika, du hast es besser.” German
response to the myth of the West as exploited in the exotic novels of
Chateaubriand and the Leatherstocking (L e d e r s t r u m p f ) Saga of Cooper
spawned a host of imitators, and it was not long, as D. L. Ashliman notes,
until “stories of Western adventure constituted a substantial portion of
nineteenth century Germany’s recreational reading.“ Hundreds of Ger-
man, Austrian, and Swiss writers—most typically and notably Charles
Sealsfield, Friedrich Armand Strubberg, Friedrich Gerstäcker, Balduin
Möllhausen, and Karl May—drew upon first-hand (and imaginary) experi-
ences in the Far West to produce a body of uneven but exciting western
fiction which not only influenced and continues to shape German attitudes
but had a profound impact upon the thought of other European readers and
writers as well. Even the German Boy Scout movement, Die Pfadfinder
(Pathfinders), takes its name and some of its philosophy from the works of
this influential band of German Western writers.


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     A Literary History of the American West

       One of the earliest and most important of these writers is Karl Postl
(1793–1864)) a Moravian monk who wrote under the name of “Charles
Sealsfield.” During his lifetime Sealsfield was called “der grosse Unbekannte”
(the great unknown one) because of his success in keeping his identity se-
cret from the time he fled his monastery until after his death in Switzerland.
Sealsfield’s eighteen volumes, most of them about life in the American
Southwest, began appearing following the first of his five visits to the
United States. Though Sealsfield insisted that he had not been influenced
by Cooper, his popular first novel, Tokeah; or, the White Rose (1829), fol-
lowed the publication of Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans by three years
and follows Cooper in relating the poignant story of the last chief of a once-
powerful tribe. Sealsfield’s best-known work is Das Kajütenbuch (The Cabin
B o o k, 1841), which contains his best-known story, “The Prairie on the
Jacinto,” a tale of the Texas war for independence.
       An important link in the European novel between Cooper and the
popular western works of Karl May at the end of the nineteenth century,
Sealsfield criticizes American materialism and coarseness, especially in
comparison to a superior German culture, but he glorifies the westward
movement and the hardy American frontiersman and is full of praise for
American liberties, especially the freedom of the press, and he underscores
the importance of such freedom for Germans who were struggling through a
troubled era of repression and reaction. His works became best sellers not
only in his native land but in France, England, Austria, Hungary and the
Scandinavian countries—as well as in the United States. He is, claims Carl
Wittke, a novelist of merit who “rightly deserves the place belatedly ac-
corded him as an important figure, both in the history of literature and the
history of immigration.”
       Following the lead of Sealsfield, Otto Ruppius, and others who trans-
formed American adventures into German fictional fantasies, Friedrich Ar-
mand Strubberg ( 1806- 1889) hammered away on one key-his own ad-
venturous life in Texas during his quarter of a century in the Southwest.
Strubberg, who wrote his novels under the pen-name of “Armand,” fled
Germany in 1826 following an illegal duel to become an agent for a number
of German princes who quixotically sought to establish a feudal state in
America. The results of his long years in the Southwest are found in his
subsequent fifty-seven novels and his popular book of western adventures,
Amerikanische Jugd- und Reiseabenteuer aus meinem Leben in den westlichen
lndianergebieten Amerikas (Hunting and Travel Adventures from My Life in
Western Indian Territory, 1858).
       It is Friedrich Gerstäcker (1816–1892), however, who is often cred-
ited with being the first writer—anywhere—of “pure” Westerns. In 150
volumes of travel accounts and adventure novels, nearly all of which deal


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with the American West, Gerstäcker may have been the first to portray a
West “conditioned by terrain, frontier social organization, and the realities
of time and place.” After Gerstäcker’s first period of residence in the
United States (1837–1842), during which he left a job as a clerk in a New
York City cigar store to hunt game and travel from Niagara and Ontario to
Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana, he returned to Bremen, where,
in 1844, he published his first book, Steif- und Jugdzüge durch die Vereinigten
Staaten Nord Amerikas (Rambling and Hunting Trips Through the United States
of North America). Gerstäcker’s many volumes are distinctive, for they fuse
authentic experiences from his three trips to the United States with an in-
tensive interest in outlawry to create a coarsely naturalistic picture of the
American frontier which reflects the real lives of farmers and frontiersmen
who live amidst outlawry and frontier justice. His most popular novels, for
example, Die Flusspiraten des Mississippi (River Pirates of the Mississippi,
1848)) Die Moderatoren (The Moderators, n. d.) , and Die Regulatoren in
Arkansas (The Regulators in Arkansas, three volumes, 1846), all loosely
string many bloody adventures in plots which feature outlaw depredations,
organized pursuit, apprehension, and swift retribution. In Die Regulatoren in
Arkansas, Gerstäcker glorifies lynch law with the vivid mass execution, at
the end of the novel, of sixty-four outlaws! Though Gerstäcker’s novels are
artistically inferior to Sealsfield’s works, they were immensely influential in
promoting German emigration to the American West and they continue
popular even today.  11

         Like Gerstäcker, Balduin Möllhausen was an authority on life in the Far
West. He drew on his experience as an artist-topographer on Paul Wilhelm
von Wurrtenberg’s expedition to the Rocky Mountains (1851–1852), on
the Whipple expedition (1853–1854), and on the Ives expedition up the
Colorado River (1858), to create a western fiction grounded in authen-
t i c i t y. Möllhausen’s first novel, Der Halbindianer ( The Half-Breed ), ap-
peared in 1861, and was followed by an outpouring of 178 volumes of travel
accounts, narratives and novels, books so widely read that Möllhausen
became the most popular German writer in Europe during the decades of
the 1860s and 1870s. His most highly praised and best-known novel is Das
Mormonenmädchen (1864)) in which he rails against the Mormon Church
in Utah and solemnly warns European girls against the seductive entice-
ments of Mormon missionaries. More typical of his adventure novels, how-
ever, is Der Halbindianer, in which the half-breed son of a southern planter
attempts, through a series of thrilling adventures, to prove himself the
rightful heir to his father’s estate. Crammed with authentic information
and anthropology about the West and its inhabitants, this novel illustrates
Möllhausen’s sustained ability to tell a fast-paced, exciting tale.
         It is, however, Karl May (1842–1912) who combines the best traits of


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      A Literary History of the American West

all these—and many other—German writers to triumph and to endure. It
is May’s distinctive image of the American West, spun through nearly forty
volumes of western lore translated into twenty languages, including Braille
and English, which led Der Spiegel, a Geman newsweekly, to proclaim that
“May has advanced to be a kind of Praeceptor Germaniae, whose influence,
without doubt, is greater than that of any other German author between
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Thomas Mann.” May’s influence on
the German and European mind is phenomenal, perpetuated as it is in more
than forty-five million copies of his works sold in Germany alone since his
death and an estimated current sales of one million volumes each year. His
readers have come from every social and educational level and include
Adolf Hitler, Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer and Thomas Mann, and
since 1970 the Karl-May-Gesellschaft has published an annual Karl May
Jahrbuch in which scholars probe every aspect of May’s personal life and lit-
erary development.
      May’s life was an unlikely one to lead to such prominence. Born in
Saxony to a poor weaver family, May overcame a period of blindness to ex-
cel in school. His ambition of becoming a teacher, however, was destroyed
when he was convicted of the theft of a watch. Unable thereafter to gain a
teacher’s certificate, May drifted into crime and was arrested for fraud and
for impersonation of a Leipzig secret service agent. Convicted several times
of fraud, May spent a total of eight years in prison. It was during his prison
terms that he turned his lively imagination to outlining, writing, and even
publishing adventure tales for sensational German tabloids, and on his re-
lease from Zwickau prison in 1874 he began a new career as an editor for
family magazines and as a free-lance writer. May published volume after vol-
ume about the adventures of his two alter egos, Kara ben Nemsi, in Arabia,
 and Old Shatterhand, in the American West. His collected works, still in
print, in paper- and hardback, fill seventy volumes, nearly half of which are
set in the American West.
      Steeped in the western writings of his forerunners, May combined ex-
 tensive reading with a fecund imagination and exhaustive research in at-
 lases, geographical and ethnological journals, encyclopedias and diction-
 aries to depict an “authentic” American West. May himself never visited
 the United States until shortly before his death, but increasingly he drifted
 into the error of insisting that his tales were true-to-life accounts of his own
adventures. He began signing public relations photographs of himself taken
 in sombrero, buckskins, and hip boots, armed with his famous Henrystutzen
 (Henry Rifle) and Bärentöter (Kill-Bear), weapons which, in Europe, are
better known than Natty Bumppo’s Kill-Deer. May’s insistence on per-
petuating this fraud on his readers led skeptics to expose his prison back-
ground and May found himself, like Cooper, involved in numerous libel


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lawsuits which would continue for the rest of his life. His stormy career,
further threatened by a scandalous divorce and rapid remarriage, did not,
however, impair book sales, and his influence continues unabated. Today,
thousands of fans gather at Bad Segeberg in Schleswig-Holstein to enjoy the
annual Karl May Festival, established in 1952. Karl May films continue to
be produced and patronized by millions of Europeans, and a variety of prod-
ucts, from “Old Shatterhand” card games and dolls to “Winnetou” camping
equipment, continue to attract the European buyer.
      Indeed, Old Shatterhand and Winnetou have become tangible and
universal European symbols of the American western experience. In Win-
netou I May introduces his readers to Old Shatterhand, a short, blond, cigar-
smoking German named Karl (called “Scharlih” by his sidekick, Winnetou).
Karl, a staunch and brilliant young Catholic, has come to the United States
as a tutor. He soon joins a railway surveying party, carrying the two amazing
rifles given him by Mr. Henry, the famous gunmaker, who perceives in Karl
the makings of an unparalleled Westmann, as May calls his frontiersmen.
Tutored by other German Westmänner, Karl soon earns his nickname in
hand-to-hand battle with a band of Kiowa Indians. Disdaining weapons,
the powerful Karl lays out his opponents with one blow of his fist and is
immediately christened with the battlename of “Old Shatterhand.” “So
there I was,” Karl-Old Shatterhand says, “equipped, without my assent,
with a war name that I have carried ever since. That is the custom in the
West.” May’s works are packed with such “authentic customs,” and genera-
tions of Europeans have grown to maturity certain that Americans christen
each other with such names as those found in May’s works: Old Surehand,
Old Death, Old Firehand.
      As the surveying party moves West, Old Shatterhand and his compan-
ions are captured by the Mescalero Apaches and are taken to the tribal
pueblo, where Shatterhand, through strength and wits, saves himself and
his party and becomes a blood brother to Winnetou, the son of Intschu-
tschuna, the Apache chief. Winnetou educates the brilliant Shatterhand in
the ways of the Indian, and Shatterhand thus adds Apache and Navajo
to his astounding store of languages, which eventually includes English,
French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic (six dialects), Sioux, Comanche, Snake,
Ute and Kiowa. But that is not all: at one point Shatterhand foils a robbery
by two Chinese coolies who plot their crime, alas, within earshot, not real-
izing that “Old Shatterhand had also spent time in China during his long
and far-flung world travels, and had an excellent command of Chinese.”
      Winnetou and Shatterhand (and his wonder horse Hatatitla) enter
into a classic relationship which will last fourteen remarkable years and
make them more famous through the German West than Deerslayer and
Chingachgook or the Lone Ranger and Tonto in the United States. It is a


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      A Literary History of the American West

noble companionship, in which Winnetou is almost an equal to his white
brother. Winnetou is, sadly, the last chief of his tribe, a tribe which is being
destroyed in the Götterdämmerung which May sees as being played out be-
tween the white and red man. Winnetou, however, is more than a mere
Indian; he is a red demigod. Handsome, brilliant, educated and sensitive,
he has “an earnest, manly, beautiful face, the cheekbones of which barely
stood out; [it] was almost Roman, and the color of his skin was a dull, light
brown, with a breath of bronze floating over it.” When Shatterhand first
sees Winnetou at home, he is stunned by the Indian’s gentle and civilized
     [Winnetou] was dressed in a light, linen robe, wore no weapons
     and held a book in his hand. On the cover of the book, in great
     gold letters, the word “Hiawatha” was legible. This Indian, this
     son of a people that many consider as “savage,” could appar-
     ently not only read, but possessed the mind and taste for culture.
     Longfellow’s famous poem in the hand of an Apache Indian! I
     would never have dreamed of such a thing!
     Nscho-tschi, Winnetou’s sister, falls deeply in love with Shatterhand.
Though he has strong feelings about miscegenation, Shatterhand holds out
hope for her, if she will become an educated Christian. En route to St.
Louis and a Catholic school, Nscho-tschi and her father, the chief, are mur-
dered by Santer, an evil Yankee. Shatterhand is thus relieved of the hin-
drance of May’s only heroine and is launched into two additional volumes
of Winnetou, both devoted to the pursuit and destruction of Santer—and
the pathetic death of Winnetou. So, from St. Louis to San Francisco, from
Yellowstone to Mexico, Shatterhand and Winnetou roam the West, lend-
ing assistance and moral admonition, defending the oppressed, restoring or-
der, avenging murders and rescuing captives from unenlightened savages,
perverted Yankees, evil half-breeds, and scheming Mormons.
     And through it all, Germania is triumphant. May thoroughly Teu-
tonizes the West—and Winnetou—filling the region with transplanted
German customs and hearty Westmänner who, on doffing their coonskin
caps, reveal their origins through German songs, German reading, and Ger-
man customs. May’s transplanted Germans radiate the spirit of nationalism
that had moved von Fallersleben to pen the stirring “Lied der Deutschen,”
with its ringing refrain, embodied in May’s German West, “Deutschland,
Deutschland über alles, / Über alles in der Welt.”
     From Sealsfield through May, “Howgh,” “Uff uff” and “Ich habe gespro-
chen” join with “Hände hoch!” as ubiquitous “western” counterphrases as fa-
miliar to modern Europeans as “When you call me that, smile,” or “Hi-ho
Silver” are to Americans. And modern German writers, from Franz Kafka


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                                                      WORLD WESTERNS

and Friedrich von Gagern to the mysterious B. Traven, have continued to
turn to the West for subject matter and background.” In whatever form,
Germans have responded deeply for nearly two centuries to western exotica,
escape, entertainment and art, and have demonstrated the truth of Herbert
Frenzel’s assertion that the epochs of European knighthood and the Ameri-
can frontier are the two “realms of fantasy” most attractive to German writ-
ers. Sensitive to this attraction, such German writers have transformed “die
                        l 9
Heldensaga Amerikas”        into a powerfully mythic and heroic epoch which
continues to speak to our time-—auf Deutsch!
      From the steppes of Russia and the cities of Poland and Italy to the
villages of the Spanish plains, the zest for literature of the American West
continued through much of the nineteenth century. This fervor, centered
primarily in Germany, spilled over the borders of German lands into every
nation of Europe. In every case, the western works of popular German writ-
ers, including those already considered, and others not considered (such as
the fifty-nine western adventures of Wilhelm Frey, or Fricks), thrilled Euro-
peans from Holland to Greece. Nineteenth-century Norwegians, for ex-
ample, elevated Frey and Möllhausen to top position among their nation’s
most popular writers and read the translations of English Western author
Mayne Reid as well. And in the twentieth century Karl May continues a
best seller in many European nations.
      Such German success stimulated writers throughout Europe to turn
their pens to western subjects. Emilio Salgari, in Italy, and Ferenc Belányi,
in Hungary, joined France’s Gustave Aimard and England’s Mayne Reid in
producing hundreds of sensational western adventures. And the enthusiasm
endures. A recent Hungarian anthology, Vadnyugat (Wild West) featuring
stories by Owen Wister, Bret Harte and Vardis Fisher, sold fifty thousand
copies-one for every five hundred citizens —and France’s George Fronval
published six hundred books about the American West—fifty-four of them
about Buffalo Bill—between 1925 and his death in 1975. Several Spanish
writers continue to produce as many as sixty titles each year, titles such as
                                                           2 2
The Gallows Can Wait and Two Men Too Many in Tucson.
      Norway is typical of Scandinavian—and European-response to the
West. After the nineteenth-century fervor for travel accounts gave way to
Westerns toward the end of the century, Norwegians turned to foreign—
generally German—fiction about the West. It was not long, however, until
Norway’s own Rudolf Muss began a career in which he would write more
than five hundred accounts of wildly fictitious Indian fights, accounts read
with such zest that Muss has earned a place among the five top-selling au-
thors in the history of Norwegian literature. Professor Billington notes


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     A Literary History of the American West

that western titles were so much in demand in Norway that some authors,
such as the writer of Among the Gold Prospectors of California, falsified their
titles in order to gain readers. This book, for instance, is really about gold
prospecting in Australia.
      The Norwegian’s love affair with the Western continues. Few modern
Scandinavians have been able to resist the attraction of Westerns by Nor-
way’s Kjell Halbing (1935– ), who writes under the pen name of “Louis
Masterson.” Masterson, formerly a banker, has published over sixty nov-
els—most of them written before he made his first visit to the United
States. One of Norway’s most widely read authors, he has sold nearly twenty
million books about a hero named Morgan Kane, an Old Shatterhand kind
of scout-Westmann, but with a sex life, and thus a difference. Masterson’s
books have become popular in British Commonwealth countries since they
first began appearing in English translation in 1970. His works, along with
the popularity of a number of Wild West magazines, attest to the continuing
interest of Scandinavian readers in the phenomenon of the American West
in Europe.
      It is the French, however, who are probably second only to the Ger-
mans in their zest for western fiction. Since the era of Rousseau, the French
have manifested a nostalgia for the primitive life. And while the French
were generally immune to the “America fever” of nineteenth-century emi-
gration, they were not immune to the lure of the West, which La Salle had
called the “best land in the world,” and which Chateaubriand praised with
such vigor. The French West, whether in the modern fiction of George
Fronval, or in the traditional French Westerns of Paul Duplessis, Gabriel
Ferry, or Gustave Aimard, transforms the American West into a region mir-
roring French customs, values and desires, and the result is a West which is
just as exciting—and just as distorted—as the German and Scandinavian
      Two of the best-known writers of French Westerns are Paul Duplessis
and Gabriel Ferry. In Les Mormons (1859), Duplessis joined Möllhausen,
Karl May, Mayne Reid, and others in distorting Mormonism by recounting
how the president of the Mormon Church persuades two Parisian sisters to
enter his harem. They must be rescued by their brother, who bravely follows
them across two continents. Duplessis’s other well-known works, such as
Les Peaux-Rouges (The Redskins, 1864), are also chase novels packed with
ambushes, scalpings and Indian warfare. Even more popular, however, were
the works of Gabriel Ferry, especially his famous Les Coureurs de bois ( Trail-
blazers of the Woods, 1850), about Apaches, buffaloes fighting bears, and fa-
mous chases—a book made equally popular in Germany through Karl May’s


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redaction—and Les Squatters (The Squatters, 1858), set in savannahs which
resemble more the early American wilderness of Chateaubriand’s Atala than
the authentic topography found in the works of Gustave Aimard.
      It is, however, in the more than eighty western novels of Gustave
Aimard, the pen name of Oliver Gloux (1818–1883), that French Wild
Western tales reached their peak. Aimard, whose works were equally popu-
lar in other European countries, was called the “French Fenimore Cooper,”
and wrote with an authority gained by spending nearly twenty years in
North and South America. An awkward writer, a clumsy creator of flawed
plots and painful deus ex machina endings, Aimard conveyed to the Euro-
pean reader copious amounts of authentic information about Indian cus-
toms and folkways and generally inaccurate information about American
attitudes towards the Indian. His books, which swarm with alligators and
fights between man and cougar, portray the Yankee as pious, hypocritical
and greedy—and Mexicans are not much better. Again, it is the French
who leaven the lump of the world.
      Aimard’s novels, written between 1848 and 1875, had enormous sales,
even in England. His first success, and one of his best novels, is Les Trap-
peurs de l’Arkansas (The Trappers of the Arkansas, 1858); thereafter he pro-
duced an astounding number of books, such as Les Pirates des Prairies (Pirates
of the Prairies, 1858), often at the rate of one book a month; these were
then translated automatically into several European languages. Aimard re-
peats his protagonist from volume to volume, sometimes slightly changing
the name. Valentine Guillois, his most important character, is, like Old
Shatterhand, Aimard’s alter ego. Valentine is a Parisian who wanders the
West doing good, fighting for principles, and engaging in thrilling adven-
tures. But whether the character is Valentine or Loyal Heart, who pursues
Indians and villains with two giant bloodhounds, Aimard’s characters do
not live. His creative strength lies not in believable characters or art, but in
stirring narration coupled with apparent authenticity. The result thrilled
Europe for most of three decades.
      But if the European response to the American West is of a pattern, the
English response followed a slightly different cut. Unlike the continental
nations, the British were not really weary of themselves; the British Empire
was riding the crest of rampant nationalism and imperialism, and Britons,
full of dreams, looked at the American West less through the eyes of seekers
than through the eyes of exploiters; less as settlers than as conquerors. In
England, material progress was ascendant, and the American West was the
place to prove one’s mettle, to sink or swim, with pluck and luck. English
Westerns thus seem to have been based on the assumption that no one


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      A Literary History of the American West

would really want to leave England permanently—though many did—just
as no one would really want to live in the cultural slough that was the
United States—or the American West—though many did.
       Little influenced by the works of Cooper, Englishmen were over-
whelmed by Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and by the flood of dime novels
in Beadle’s American Library and Beadle’s Sixpenny Tales. This flood moved
British interest in the frontier from Cooper’s forests to the prairies of the
plainsman, where, probably because of shared culture and language, British
Western authors showed more awareness than their European neighbors of
current American western history, from mountain men and Mormons to
the Gold Rush and the hard life of the settler.
       A further incentive to look Far West were the contributions of George
Frederick Ruxton, the first and one of the major novelists of the fur trade.
Ruxton, a lieutenant in the British army, travelled extensively in the Ameri-
can Southwest, and, in his incomparable Life in the Far West, which he first
published serially in Blackwood’s Magazine (1848), he became the first writer
to utilize the mountain man for the stuff of fiction. His portrait of the ways
of the mountain man has had remarkable influence upon the imaginative
literature of the fur trade, and his transcription of mountain man lingo has
become part of the lingua franca of the literary trapper as found in the works
of Fergusson, Manfred, White, and Guthrie.
       Unlike continental writers, however, most English writers about the
West directed their fiction at a juvenile audience. Captain Marryat, Brace-
bridge Hemyng, Robert M. Ballantyne, G. A. Henty, and Mayne Reid are
typical of British writers who wrote about the American West during the
latter part of the nineteenth century. Again and again they recount how a
young man, falsely accused of improper conduct, clears his name by a trip to
the American West, a trip fraught with manly danger and rewarded by
eventual restoration of his name and wealth. But while these writers por-
trayed English manners and life, on desert and prairie, as superior to all
others, they made every attempt to educate their youthful audiences, filling
their pages with fact and geography, often at the expense of plot and art.
       Captain Frederick Marryat (1792–1848), famous for his nautical
novels, turned from his seafaring tales to write the popular The Travels and
Adventures of Monsieur R. Violet in California, Sonora, and Western Texas
(1843), an exciting story heavily plagiarized from Josiah Gregg’s Commerce
                                                                                3 0
of the Prairies and G. W. Kendall’s Narrative of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition.
Robert M. Ballantyne ( 1825–1894), who lived in the Canadian West for
six years, far exceeded Marryat as a Western writer in producing seventy-
one popular books about the West, each laden with Scottish-Presbyterian
strictures against alcohol and tobacco and insisting upon the white man’s
responsibility to convert the red man to Christ. His accomplishment was


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book after book of exciting adventure couched in less-than-exciting prose.
Equally popular were Bracebridge Hemyng’s (1841–1901) stories in the
Jack Harkaway series: Jack Harkaway on the Prairie, Jack Harkaway out West,
and many others.
     G. A. Henty (1832–1902), however, raised the juvenile Western to a
higher artistic level in transforming his visits to the gold fields of California
and his ability to write good historical novels into exciting western tales
laden with British pluck, intelligence, tenacity, and breeding. Typical of
Henty’s western works is The Golden Canyon, about two young Englishmen
who, with a mysterious map as their guide, pack into the badlands of Ari-
zona in search of a lost gold mine. Overcoming Indians and other obstacles,
they return home wealthy, buy shares in a shipping company, and never
return to the golden West. Captain Bayley’s Heir likewise recounts how
Frank Norris, who is wrongly accused of theft, flees England for adventures
in the West which enable him to achieve wealth, restore his name, marry
his sweetheart, and stand for Parliament.
     Most important among British Western writers, however, is Captain
Mayne Reid ( 1818–1883), often called the “Giant of the Westerns” be-
cause of his more than fifty books about the American West, books which
earned him the reputation of being the foremost British adventure writer of
his day. Reid was born in Ireland but turned from his apparent destiny as a
Presbyterian minister to serve with distinction as a captain in the U.S.
Army (1840–1849), seeing action with General Winfield Scott during the
Mexican War. Returning to England full of qualified love for Americans
and their institutions, Reid published his first book, The Rifle Rangers,
in 1850. His second novel, The Scalp Hunters (1851), called by Bernard
DeVoto “one of the best Wild West novels,” firmed up his resolve to write
for “a somewhat more sophisticated audience” and attempt “to do more
than tell an exciting story.” The Scalp Hunters is the tale of a Creole who
has been hired by a Scalp Hunter to hunt Navajos and Apaches; he enjoys
many harrowing adventures which culminate in the rescue of the Scalp
Hunter’s daughter from the Indians. He leaves hundreds of dead bodies in
the wilderness as testimony of his skill, and more than a million copies of
the book sold in Britain alone during the next forty years testify to the con-
tinuing thrills the novel has generated among readers.
     Reid’s many novels, including those he wrote for Beadle between
 1868 and 1877, are usually set in the Llano Estacado and southern Texas,
where lovely, wooden heroines and noble, static heroes soon find their
courses of true love interrupted by villains who steal the heroines. The hero
then sets off in pursuit, the thrills of which become the major thrust of the
book, culminating in a last-minute rescue, after which the deserving hero
marries the lovely girl. This plot is authenticated by the appearance of a


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      A Literary History of the American West

variety of villains—intellectually and morally inferior Indians, wicked
Catholic priests, and dastardly Mormons, all of whom must eventually bow
to the superior skills of the English hero. Reid’s mountain men, however,
speak the argot established by Ruxton, and Reid’s liveliest character, Old
Rube, hero of The Scalp Hunters and The War-Trail (1857), is a profane, sin-
ful character reminiscent (in his disappearances) of Old Bill Williams. He
has a distinct air of reality about him. Once, for example, when telling
about eating turkey buzzard, Old Rube recounts how he seized the bird by
the leg, killed and then skinned it; an eager listener then asks, “And ate
it?” To which Old Rube replies, in time-honored trapper fashion, “No. It
ate me.”
     Through all these hundreds of English novels about the American
West, “Rule, Brittania” sounds loudly, as the British follow their conti-
nental counterparts in turning the alkali deserts and sagebrush flats of the
American West into a British moor. Thus “By Jove,” “I say,” and other
manifestations of the King’s English dot the pages of English western fic-
tion, and one very British adventurer, explaining the West to the young
heroes of G. Manville Fenn’s To the West (1891), says:
     Nothing like a good tea meal out in the wilds to put life into one.
     Why I’ve known days when we’ve been ready to break down, or
     give up, or go back; then we’ve formed camp, got a bit of fire on
     the way, boiled the kettle with a pinch of tea in it, . . . and been
     fit to do anything after.
Such is the British-American West!
      The enduring fascination of European and British readers and writers
with the stuff of the Wild West seems to obviate Carl Wittke’s assertion that
the phenomenon is “nothing more than a phase of nineteenth-century ro-
manticism.” It is much more. The fascination for the West endures un-
abated and has now spread to South America, Japan, Australia, Turkey,
Egypt, and Israel. The non-American American West has in recent decades
received yet additional impetus through the western film, and Westerns-
in film and book-are produced and enjoyed today not only in Turkey and
Japan, but in the German Democratic Republic, in Czechoslovakia and
Italy, and are seriously studied in France.
      With a literary interest which is now approaching two centuries in du-
ration, it is apparent to even the most chauvinistic American westerner
that other nations have a literary and cultural claim on the American West
which is every bit as significant as that of the American nation itself. There
is and continues to be something attractive in that mythic complex of ro-


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                                                            WORLD WESTERNS

mance and adventure, of confrontation and flight, that is the American
West. This delightful attraction may be sensed, though not defined, in a
passage from Les Coureurs de bois, by Gabriel Ferry as redacted by Karl May.
The narrator, speaking of the threat of lurking Indians and wild animals,
says, “No one could imagine more terrible enemies; the silent forests and
the immeasurable prairies are witnesses of heroic deeds which our new Euro-
pean history could never display—deeds which are reminders of the terrible
battles of which we read in our sagas and legends.” From Chateaubriand
and Charles Sealsfield and Gustave Aimard to Karl May, Mayne Reid and
Louis Masterson, these terrible battles are revitalized and reenacted in a re-
gion which seems ever destined to exert mythic power as the Garden of the
World, the Battleground of the Gods—the, in whatever language or ac-
cent, American West.

                       R ICHARD H. CRACROFT , Brigham          Young University


1. Carl Wittke, “The American Theme in Continental European Literature,”
    The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 28 (June 1941): 6.
2. Billington, Land of Savagery, Land of Promise: The European Image of the Ameri-
    can Frontier (New York: W. W. Norton, 1981), p. 3. I am indebted to the late
    Professor Billington for his studies of the European response to the American
    West and for this exhaustive study, a landmark in the field.
3. See Haldvan Koht, The American Spirit in Europe: A Survey of Transatlantic In-
   fluences (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1949), p. 108.
4. John D. L. Ferguson, American Literature in Spain (New York: AMS Press, 1966
    [1916]), p. 39.
5. D. L. Ashliman, “The American West in Nineteenth-Century German Litera-
    ture” (Ph.D. diss., Rutgers University, 1969), p. 142. This is the best study to
    date of the German image of the American West.
6. Wittke, pp. 10–11.


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      A Literary History of the American West

 7. For more on Otto Ruppius see Frederick F. Schrader, “Otto Ruppius, a Career
     in America, ” American-German Review 9 (Feb. 1943): 28–33; also Ashliman,
    pp. 28–39. Several of Ruppius’s fifteen volumes are Wild Westerns in the style
    of Gerstäcker and May; the best known of these is his Der Prärieteufel (T h e
    Prairie Devil, 1861 ) .
 8. See Preston A. Barba, “Friedrich Armand Strubberg,” German American An-
    nals 14 (Sept.–Dec. 1912): 175–225; 15 (Jan.–Apr. 1913): 3–63; 15 (May–
    Aug. 1913): 115–142. Barba, “Emigration to America Reflected in German
     Fiction,” German American Annals 16 (Nov. –Dec. 1914): 202–212.
 9. Harrison R. Steeves, “The First of the Westerns,” Southwest Review 53 (Winter
     1968): 82.
10. This title has occasionally been mistranslated and published as Wild Sports in
     the Far West.
11. See Alfred Kolb, “Friedrich Gerstäcker and the American Frontier” (Ph.D.
    diss., Syracuse University, 1966); also Wittke, p. 11.
12. See David H. Miller, “The Ives Expedition Revisited: A Prussian’s Impres-
     sions,” Journal of Arizona History 13 (Spr. 1972): 1–25; Ashliman, “The
    American West in Twentieth-Century Germany,” Journal of Popular Culture 2
     (Summer 1968): 82–92.
13. “Karl der Deutsche,” Der Spiegel 16 (Sept. 12, 1962): 73. See also Richard H.
    Cracroft, “The American West of Karl May” (M.A. thesis, University of
    Utah, 1963), and “The American West of Karl May,” American Quarterly 19
     (Summer 1967): 249–258.
14. May, Winnetou I (Vienna: Carl Ueberreuter Verlag, 1951; first published
     1897), p. 154; trans. Richard H. Cracroft.
15. May, Der Schwarze Mustang (The Black Mustang; Vienna: Carl Ueberreuter
    Verlag, 1951; first published 1896), p. 51. Trans. by Cracroft.
16. May, Weihnacht im Wilden Westen (Christmas in the Wild West; Vienna: Carl
    Ueberreuter Verlag, 1953; first published 1897), p. 250. Trans. by Cracroft.
17. May, Winnetou I, p. 154.
18. See Ashliman, “The American West in Twentieth-Century Germany,” p. 85.
    Note that von Gagern, an Austrian, treats the West in three of his major
    works, Der Marterpfahl (1925), Der Tote Mann (1927), and Das Grenzerbuch
     (1927). B. Traven’s major theme, claims Ashliman, is “the conflict between
    contemporary Mexican Indians and the ruthless advance of civilization” (Ibid.,
    p. 86).
19. Herbert Frenzel, introduction to Western Saga: Klasische Wildwestgeschichten
     (Cologne and Berlin, 1964), pp. 23–24.
20. Billington, “The Wild West in Norway, 1877,” Western Historical Quarterly 7
     (July 1976): 273.
21. Billington, Land of Savagery, p. 317.
22. Land of Savagery, p. 318.
23. Billington, “The Wild West in Norway,” p. 273.
24. Billington, Land of Savagery, p. 37.
25. Billington, “The Wild West in Norway,” p. 272.


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                                                           WORLD WESTERNS

26. Virgil L. Jones, “Gustave Aimard,” Southwest Review 15 (Summer 1930): 465.
27. Aimard’s success in England is due, in part, to the effective translations of his
     work by Sir F. C. Lascelles Wraxall, the translator of Les Misérables.
28. See Richard H. Cracroft, “‘Half-Froze for Mountain Doin’s’: The Influence
     and Significance of George F. Ruxton’s Life in the Far West,” Western American
     Literature 10 (May 1975): 29–43. Also Neal E. Lambert, George Frederick
     Ruxton, Western Writers Series No. 15 (Boise: Boise State University, 1974).
29. James K. Folsom, “English Westerns,” Western American Literature 2 (Spring
     1967): 3–13.
30. See J. Glen McKellar “A Study of Captain Frederick Marryat and His Contri-
     butions to the English Nautical Novel” (Ph.D. diss., University of Colorado,
31. See Eric Quayle, Ballantyne the Brave: A Victorian Writer and His Family (Lon-
     don: Hart-Davis, 1967); Billington, Land of Savagery, p. 51.
32. See Joan D. Steele, “The Image of America in the Novels of Mayne Reid: A
     Study of a Romantic Expatriate” (Ph.D. diss., University of California at Los
     Angeles, 1970); and Roy W. Meyer, “The Western American Fiction of Mayne
     Reid,” Western American Literature 3 (Summer 1968): 115–132.
33. Bernard DeVoto, The Year of Decision: 1846 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1943),
     p. 404.
34. Meyer, p. 115.
35. Meyer, p. 117.
36. Albert Johannsen points out (II, 235) that it is difficult to determine the pre-
     cise number of novels written by Reid; some were issued under different titles,
     and some books may have been only edited by him, though he has received
     attribution. Johannsen credits Reid with seventy-five “tales of adventure.”
     Most bibliographies list between fifty and sixty titles. (See Meyer, p. 115.)
     In fact, England was flooded by dime novels (“penny dreadfuls”) about the
     American West. As Johannsen has noted, over 144 titles in the Beadle series
     were available in England, not to mention the hundreds of titles from the
     presses of Beadle imitators. Johannsen, The House of Beadle and Adams and Its
     Dime and Nickel Novels, 3 vols. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press,
     1950); see especially, I, 113–120; II, 48, 235. Billington, Land of Savagery,
     p. 48.
37. Meyer, pp. 118–119.
38. Folsom, p. 7.
39. Wittke, p. 26.
40. Bobi Wolf, “Westerns in Eastern Europe,” The Pacific Historian 21 (Spring
     1977): 29. Kent L. Steckmesser, “Paris and the Wild West,” Southwest Review
     54 (Spring 1969): 168ff.
41. Gabriel Ferry, Les Coureurs de bois; trans. by Karl May, Der Waldläufer (Bam-
     berg: Karl May Bücherei, 1959), p. 41.


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      A Literary History of the American West

                           Selected Bibliography
Primary Sources
May, Karl. Der Schwarze Mustang. Vienna: Carl Ueberreuter Verlag, 1951. First
   published 1896.
      . Ich: Karl May’s Leben und Werk. Edited by Roland Schmid. Bamberg: Karl
   May Bücherei, 1959. Karl May’s autobiography.
————. Weihnact im Wilden Westen. Vienna: Carl Ueberreuter Verlag, 1953. First
   published 1897.
      . Winnetou I. Vienna: Carl Ueberreuter Verlag, 1951. First published 1897.
   See also English trans. of Winnetou I, II by Michael Shaw. New York: Seabury
   Press, 1977.
Secondary Sources
Arnesen, Finn. “Why Norwegians Love Westerns.” The Roundup 24 (Oct. 1976):
      1–4. The editor of Norway’s leading Western magazine tracks the popularity of
     the Western in Norway.
Ashliman, D. L. “The American West in Nineteenth-Century German Litera-
     ture.” Ph.D. diss., Rutgers University, 1969. This is the most important work
     to date on the German Western, a point of departure for future studies.
———. “The American West in Twentieth-Century Germany.” Journal of Popu-
     lar Culture 2 (Summer 1968): 82-92. An important, focused summary of
     Ashliman’s dissertation.
Barba, Preston A. “The American Indian in German Fiction.” German American
     Annals 15 (May–August 1913): 143–74. An important early study of the In-
     dian in German fiction, somewhat dated but still valid.
———. Balduin Möllhausen, the German Cooper.” Americana-Germanica Mono-
     graph Series 17 (1914): 1–144. An early but very helpful, though laudatory,
     treatment of Möllhausen.
———. Cooper in Germany. Indiana Univ. Studies No. 21.. Bloomington: Indiana
     University Press, 1914. A still useful survey of Cooper’s immense popularity in
———. “Friedrich Armand Strubberg.” German American Annals 14 (Sept. -Dec.
      1912): 175-225; 15 (Jan.–April 1913): 3–63; 15 (May–Aug. 1913): 115–
      142. A good bibliographical sketch focusing on Strubberg’s extended residence
     in the United States.
Betts, Raymond F. “Immense Dimensions: The Impact of the American West on
     Late Nineteenth Century European Expansion.” Western Historical Quarterly
      10 (April 1979): 149–166.
Billington, Ray Allen. Land of Savagery, Land of Promise: The European Image of the
     American Frontier. New York: W. W. Norton, 1981. A definitive work of
     scholarship, Billington’s last effort. The bibliographical notes and careful
     scholarship are the springboard for any study of the American West in Euro-
     pean literature and culture.
———. “The Wild West in Norway, 1877.” Western Historical Quarterly 7 (July


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                                                           WORLD WESTERNS

      1976): 271–278. Reprints portions of “The Frontiersman’s Daughter,” a Nor-
     wegian western drama.
Bohm, Viktor. Karl May und das Geheimnis seines Erfolgs. Vienna, 1962. A fine
     study, in German, of May’s popularity in Germany.
Cracroft, Richard H. “The American West of Karl May.” American Quarterly 19
     (Summer 1967): 249–258. A useful summary, in English, of Cracroft’s M.A.
———. “The American West of Karl May.” M.A. thesis, University of Utah,
     1963. The most helpful and useful study, to date, in English, of May’s western
——— “‘Half-Froze for Mountain Doin’s’: The Influence and Significance of
     George F. Ruxton’s Life in the Far West.” Western American Literature 10 (May
     1975): 29–43. Traces the very specific impact of Ruxton’s Life in the Far West
     on later mountain man novels.
Dworczak, Karl Heinz. Karl May, Das Leben Old Shatterhand. Salzburg: Pfad Verlag,
     1950. A laudatory but important biography of Karl May.
Fairchild, Hoxie N. The Noble Savage: A Study in Romantic Naturalism. New York:
     Columbia University Press, 1928. A study of the development of the Indian
     image in European thought.
Folsom, James K. “English Westerns.” Western American Literature 2 (Spring 1967) :
     3–13. An interesting treatment of the difference between American and En-
     glish novels about the West.
Fullerton, Ronald A. “Creating a Mass Market in Germany: The Story of the ‘Col-
     porteur Novel,’ 1870–1890." ]ournal of Social History 10 (March 1977): 265–
     283. A discussion of those changes in popular German reading tastes which
     enabled a mass-market interest in the Western.
Haertl, Paul. “Cooper in Germany.” American-German Review 3 (June 1937):
      18–20. Cooper’s significant impact in Germany.
Heller, Otto, and Leon H. Theodore. Charles Sealsfield: Bibliography of His Writings.
     St. Louis: Washington University Press, 1939. A bibliography of Sealsfield’s
     (Postl’s) many works.
Hewett-Thayer, Harvey W. American Literature as Viewed in Germany, 1818–1861.
     Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1958. A useful survey of U.S.
     literature in early nineteenth-century Germany, including copies of a number
     of reviews.
Jackson, John B. “Ich bin ein Cowboy aus Texas.” Southwest Review 38 (Spring
      1953): 158–163. A humorous description of differences in German and Ameri-
     can comic book Western heroes and villains.
Johannsen, Albert. The House of Beadle and Adams and Its Dime and Nickel Novels.
     3 vols. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1950. The definitive work on
     the dime novel, a number of which were published in Europe.
Jones, Virgil L. “Gustave Aimard.” Southwest Review 15 (Summer 1930): 452–468.
     An interesting survey of Aimard’s life and western works.
Koht, Haldvan. The American Spirit in Europe. Philadelphia: University of Pennsyl-
     vania Press, 1949. The effect of U.S. migration on European thought and


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      A Literary History of the American West

Kolb, Alfred. “Friedrich Gerstäcker and the American Frontier.” Ph.D. diss., Syra-
     cuse University, 1966. A study of the mythical elements in Gerstäcker’s work.
Lambert, Neal E. George Frederick Ruxton. Western Writers Series, No. 15. Boise:
     Boise State University, 1974. An excellent, brief treatment of Ruxton’s life,
     including solid analyses of his western travel narratives.
McDermott, John. The Frontier Re-examined. Urbana: University of Illinois Press,
     1967. A collection of helpful essays on the shifting image of the frontier—in
     Europe and the United States.
Mann, Klaus. “Cowboy Mentor of the Führer.” Living Age 352 (Nov. 1940): 210.
     Thomas Mann’s brother attempts to link May’s attitudes on race and Germany
     to Hitler.
Meyer, Roy W. “The Western American Fiction of Mayne Reid.” Western American
     Literature 3 (Summer 1968): 115–132. A good introductory survey of Reid’s
     life and western works.
Miller, David H. “A Prussian on the Plains: Balduin Möllhausen’s Impressions.”
     Great Plains Journal 12 (Spring 1973): 175–193. Interesting detail concerning
     Möllhausen’s experiences in western survey parties.
Pearce, Roy H. The Savages of America: A Study of the Indian and the ldea of Civiliza-
     tion. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1953. A landmark study of
     the American Indian’s impact on western thought.
Prahl, Augustus J. “America in the Works of Gerstäcker.” Modern Language Quar-
     terly 4 (June 1943): 213-224. A survey which probes Gerstäcker’s attitudes
     about American riff-raff and backwoodsmen.
Quayle, Eric. Ballantyne the Brave: A Victorian Writer and His Family. London: Hart-
     Davis, 1967. An important biography of a little-known British writer, some of
     whose works are set in the Far West.
Read, Helen Appleton. “Karl May, Germany’s James Fenimore Cooper.” The
     American-German Review 2 (June 1936): 4–7. A dated introduction to May; of
     historical interest only.
Rieupeyrout, Jean-Louis. La Grande Aventure du Western. Paris: Editions du Cerf,
      1964. An important history of the western film in Europe.
Robinson, Jeffrey. “Le Cowboy.” Westways 66 (April 1974): 40–41. A brief discus-
     sion of the career of French Western writer George Fronval.
Russell, Don. The Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill. Norman: University of Okla-
     homa Press, 1960. An account, among other things, of Buffalo Bill’s Wild
     West Show tours of Europe.
Steckmesser, Kent L. “Paris and the Wild West.” Southwest Review 54 (Spring
     1969): 178–184. A popular but thoughtful appraisal of the Wild West vogue in
Steele, Joan D. “The Image of America in the Novels of Mayne Reid: A Study of a
     Romantic Expatriate.” Ph.D. diss., University of California at Los Angeles,
      1970. An excellent survey and analysis.
Thorp, Willard. “Cooper Beyond America.” In James Fenimore Cooper: A Reap-
     praisal, ed. Mary E. Cunningham. Cooperstown, N.Y.: New York National


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                                                           WORLD WESTERNS

    State Historical Assoc., 1954. A thorough summary of Cooper’s influence in
Uhlendorf, Bernard A. Charles Sealsfield: Ethnic Elements and Problems in His Works.
    Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1922. In this very helpful study, the au-
    thor reprints passages from Sealsfield’s western works.
Wechsberg, Joseph. “Winnetou of der Wild West.” Saturday Review, Oct. 20, 1962,
    pp. 52–53, 60. A light survey of the Karl May phenomenon, reprinted, with
    notes by Richard H. Cracroft, in American West 1 (Summer 1964): 32–39.
Wittke, Carl. “The America Theme in Continental European Literature.” The
    Mississippi Valley Historical Review 28 (June 1941): 3–40. An important pio-
    neering article on the impact of the West in European letters.
Wolf, Bobi. “Westerns in Eastern Europe.” The Pacific Historian 21 (Spring 1977):
    24–38. A sketchy review of the impact of the Western in Slavic countries.


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                   Western Poetry, 1850–1950

T       HEORIES EXPLAINING THE OBSCURITY which has cloaked many early
        poets of the West are numerous, yet none provides an explanation
        for the anonymity which has shrouded the efforts by western poets of
the Victorian Age and the contributions of twentieth-century western poets
like Sharlot Hall, Alice Corbin, Norman Macleod, Peggy Pond Church,
and their counterparts. Perhaps eastern publishers have favored their own
region’s poets, but it is not clear that they have done so at the expense of
poets in the West. In fact, powerful eastern publishing houses have issued
works by the great majority of noteworthy western poets, often establishing
or insuring what reputations they had in their day. It is also true that these
eastern firms have published flocks of forgettable western thrushes.
     The California poet and essayist, Hildegarde Flanner, has observed
that no westerner has ever been forced to leave the region in order to write
poetry. Nor has it been necessary to make pilgrimages east to publish. The
westerner seeking to publish a book of poems during the century from 1850
to 1950 had a variety of outlets close at hand. Commercial firms, like
Anton Roman’s in San Francisco, Binford and Mort in Portland, or Caxton
Printers in Caldwell, Idaho were ready to serve, as were the “small,” pri-
vate, or “literary” presses, like those of the Grabhorns in San Francisco,
Vaida and Whitney Montgomery’s Kaleidograph Press in Dallas, the Ward
Ritchie Press in Los Angeles, or Alan Swallow’s firm in Denver. Western
university presses also provided crucial outlets for regional poets. Some
poets in the West even banded together to publish, as a cooperative ven-
ture, their own works. Yet it must be admitted that few western publishers
commanded national attention as powerful and prestigious eastern firms did,
conspiracies of commerce, geography, and population being what they were.’
      Another explanation of the early western poets’ obscurity holds that
prerequisites for good poets are good readers and good critics, that the West
has provided neither requisite and, therefore, has had few—if any—poets
of immortal note. There may be some merit in this syllogism, although im-
mortal poets may be a rare commodity, regardless of time or place. Many
westerners in the nineteenth century were preoccupied with manifesting
their destinies, destinies which involved trapping, panning, ranching, and
plowing—not necessarily poetry readings. Because he was virtually ignored
at home, Cincinnatus Hiner Miller, the splendid poseur known to San
Franciscans as Joaquin Miller, had to sail to England in 1870 to earn his


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                                               WESTERN POETRY, 1850–1950

popular and critical sobriquet, “Byron of the Sierras.” Yet most students of
western poetry agree today that our English cousins—presumably good
readers and critics—erred in their approbation of Miller. These same stu-
dents would point out, paradoxically, that Robinson Jeffers’s great poems
were produced in the glamorous isolation of Big Sur, and that critical bulls
issued by Yvor Winters at Stanford still provoke discussion.7
      Some early western poets seem to have chosen or been fated for ob-
scurity. Mary Barnard published one volume of poetry in the 1930s, but
then directed her energies to translating Greek poetry and writing a highly
regarded study of myth. Peggy Pond Church (Mrs. Margaret Church) and
Hildegarde Flanner (Mrs. Hildegarde Monhoff) decided to meet the de-
mands both of family and of Muses. Other poets, like Thomas Hornsby
Ferril, have had families and, simultaneously, multiple business careers. Still
other western poets, like Hazel Hall and Norman Macleod, have battled
personal health problems while striving to maintain literary activities. 8
      The nature of the genre suggests yet another reason why many early
western poets are not better known. Those writing in the second half of the
nineteenth century were perhaps unduly burdened with excess Old World
baggage: classical mythologies, “poetic” vocabularies, and traditional poetic
forms unsuited to the American, specifically trans-Mississippi, experience.
In time, however, twentieth-century poets like Sharlot Hall, Alice Corbin,
Peggy Pond Church, Hildegarde Flanner, and H. L. Davis wrote poems in
language appropriate to the new land and its ancient and emerging cultures.
At the same time, poets like Hall, Corbin, Mary Austin, Genevieve Taggard,
Norman Macleod, and Thomas Hornsby Ferril were successfully interpret-
ing the West in light of New World and modem mythologies.
      Finally, it is possible the reputations of western poets are, in truth, no
more wrapped in winding sheets than are those of their contemporaries
from other regions. Or are they wrapped at all? After all, untold numbers of
readers around the globe have had their social consciences stirred by Edwin
Markham’s “Man with a Hoe,” while generations of Americans have memo-
rized Joaquin Miller’s “Columbus.” Seattle’s young Audrey Wurdemann
won the 1935 Pulitzer Prize for poetry amidst a scandal as fine as any ever
concocted by Tammany. 9 Thomas Hornsby Ferril of Colorado and Ted
Olson of Wyoming were selected as winners of the Yale Younger Poets
Award (in 1926 and 1928, respectively). Ferril and Montana’s Gwendolen
Haste had poems selected as Nation poetry award winners in the twenties,
the same period Braithwaite selected work by Oregon’s Hazel Hall for inclu-
sion in his annual anthology of best poems, And Oregon’s H. L. Davis was
awarded Poetry magazine’s Levinson Prize in 1919. Too, these poets have
been honored within the region as well as without. California named Ina
Coolbrith its poet laureate in 1915, the nation’s first state laureate. 10N e -


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      A Literary History of the American West

braska’s John Neihardt became that state’s laureate in 1921, while Colo-
rado, the nation’s second state to establish the position, crowned Nellie
Burget Miller laureate in 1923, the same title recently bestowed upon
Denverite Ferril.
      The history of early western poetry—which is, then, no more a record
of failure and obscurity than is the history of any other region’s early poetic
efforts—has its origins in the closing years of the eighteenth century, though
its substantial development did not begin until after 1850. The earliest
poems by whites in the West were international in flavor. William Shiels
reprints in Seward’s Icebox the Russian original and a translation of the 1799
“Song” which was composed and chanted by A. A. Baranov at the dedica-
tion of the first European settlement, Fort St. Michael (Old Sitka), in
Alaska. While the Russian poem was apparently first published in Moscow,
a Spanish poem, “Al Bello Sesco,” printed in 1836 on the Zamorano press,
the first in California, is the first poem composed and published in the West
by a white. T. M. Pearce has drawn attention to Albert Pike’s ode, “The
Fall of Poland,” written in Santa Fe February 1, 1832, and printed in Pike’s
Prose Sketches and Poems Written in the Western Country (Boston, 1834). In
the 1840s Samuel Lucas (The Sandwich Islands, 1841) and Robert Grant
(Kapiolani, with other Poems, 1848) sent their volumes of verse to England
for printing,” as did John Lyon (The Harp of Zion, 1853) and one of Brigham
Young’s wives, Eliza Roxy Snow, from Utah.
      The first volume of serious poetry written by westerners and printed in
the West is generally held to be the 1865 Bret Harte–edited Outcroppings;
being a Collection of California Verse; aside from being the first western poetry
anthology, it is a totally undistinguished collection of nineteen versifiers,
mainly San Franciscans. In response to the outcry from overlooked bards,
May Wentworth was selected to edit a more inclusive anthology and, in
1866, the West’s first multi-state anthology, The Poetry of the Pacific, was
published. Containing work of a quality dismayingly similar to that found in
Harte’s collection, Wentworth’s had the supposed virtue of including al-
most three times as many poets. Together, these two volumes represent the
first of a type of publication which became a fixture in western literary his-
tory: the poetry anthology. By the 1930s, when the country, deep in the
Depression, hearkened back to its regional roots for solace and strength, a
torrent of western anthologies was published. State and regional antholo-
gies, regardless of their uneven literary merit, are valuable in that they often
contain poems by poets whose volumes have disappeared (John Knox’s, for
example), or poems that only appear in hard-to-locate periodicals (Norman
Macleod’s early poems, for example). Furthermore, these anthologies not
only provide a record of the development of individual writers, but they also
illustrate changing attitudes towards landscape, cultures, and poetry itself.


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      After Harte’s and Wentworth’s anthologies, and into the first decade of
the twentieth century, the best poets in the West—with one exception—are
largely unremarkable poets. (The exception—Joaquin Miller—is merely no-
torious.) Technically, thematically, and stylistically their verse illustrates
an ability to rise sometimes to the literary conventions of the Victorian
Age. Bret Harte, Ina Coolbrith, Charles Warren Stoddard, John Rollin
Ridge, Frances Fuller Victor, Edwin Rowland Sill, Ella Higginson, and
George Sterling are such poets. Today, Harte is admired chiefly for his
prose; Coolbrith, for her early, slender, personal lyrics—and for surviving
not only San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake and fire but also her contempo-
raries (born in 1841, named laureate in 1915, she died in 1928). Victor is
esteemed for her historical research and writings. Ridge, known as “Yellow-
bird,” was one-quarter Cherokee, although his posthumous Poems (1868)
“passes” perfectly as white. Born in the Midwest and raised in Oregon,
Joaquin Miller published first Specimens (1868) and then Joaquin et al (1869).
They are now collector’s items only because of Miller’s flamboyant later ca-
reer in England and California. Miller’s performances at Byron’s grave, in
London literary salons, and on Oakland’s “Hights” (as the poet spelled it)
have been well documented; his contribution to western ars is that he
drew the first serious national and international attention to poets of the
      Most attempts to translate the Old West into memorable verse failed
because the early poets ignored their unique locale and experiences, writing
ethereal, abstract, universal poems, and because they dressed and/or ad-
dressed their locale and experiences inappropriately, using language and lit-
erary conventions suitable for Greeks given to epithets at sunrise or Brit-
ishers given to elegies in a Stoke Poges churchyard. On the other hand, the
versifiers in the West who did strive to use the region’s poetic possibilities
and did express themselves in the “American” tongue also failed.
      Arizona’s Sharlot Hall is one of the first poets to somewhat successfully
use the physical and cultural environments of the West. Westering with her
family to Arizona from Kansas in the early 1880s, Sharlot Mabridth Hall
was thrown from her horse and suffered a serious, lingering spine injury
which, in the ’90s, confined her to bed. During this period she began writ-
ing. Throughout the next twenty years, at the urging and with the advice of
her mother, Hall wrote her best poems. In addition, she managed two
ranches (hers and her parents’), wrote for and edited Charles F. Lummis’s
magazine Land of Sunshine (later retitled Out West), served as Arizona’s Ter-
ritorial Historian, and undertook various historical society projects and ex-
peditions (see her published diary, Sharlot Hall on the Arizona Strip). She
later founded what is now the Sharlot Hall Historical Society and Museum
in Prescott, Arizona. In 1910, when her first volume of poems, Cactus and


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     A Literary History of the American West

Pine, was published in Boston, it received enthusiastic reviews and sold out.
      Hall was apparently intent on establishing regional verisimilitude, for
she wrote poetic headnotes which set the scene or stated the theme in
evocative language, thereby providing not only a historic context for the
poem, but also a literary one. Two poems typical of Hall’s most interesting

efforts are “Sheep Herding” and “The Occultation of Venus.”
                                Sheep Herding
           Many years ago a herd of sheep was feeding its way down
     from the region around the San Francisco peaks by way of the
     Verde valley to the desert for the winter. The shepherd sickened
     and died alone with his sheep.
           For some weeks thereafter a shepherd dog very wild and thin,
     came once in a while to a ranch house on Clear Creek and
     snatched a little food set out by the woman of the ranch and hur-
     ried away. At last he was found to be herding the sheep and guard-
     ing the dead body of his master. He had taken the sheep in a small
     circle to feed and water but had always returned to bed them
     where he could watch his master’s body.
           In the early and more lonely days of sheep herding it was not
     uncommon to find the solitary herder insane from loneliness and
     one poor man in the state asylum long ago would throw himself
     on the ground and try to eat grass like a sheep. Another counted
     incessantly, over and over, keeping tally on imaginary sheep.
            A gray, slow-moving, dust-bepowdered wave,
              That on the edges breaks to scattering spray,
            Round which the faithful collies wheel and bark
              To scurry in the laggard feet that stray.
            A babel of complaining tongues that make
              The dull air weary with their ceaseless fret;
            Brown hills akin to those of Gallilee
              On which the shepherds tend their charges yet.
            The long, hot days; the stark, wind-beaten nights;
              No human presence, human sight or sound;
            Grim, silent land of wasted hopes, where they
              Who came for gold have oft times madness found;
            A bleating horror that foregathers speech;
              Freezing the word that from the lip would pass;
            And sends the herdsman grovelling with his sheep,
              Face down and beast-like on the trampled grass.
                               . . . . .


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                                       WESTERN POETRY, 1850–1950

     The collies halt; the slow herd sways and reels,
       Huddled in fright above a low ravine,
     Where wild with thirst a herd unshepherded
       Beats up and down—with something dark between;
     A narrow circle that they will not cross;
       A thing to stop the maddest in their run—
     A guarding dog too weak to lift his head
       Who licks a still hand shriveled in the sun.

                      The Occultation of Venus
      In March, 1899, I saw the occultation of Venus and the
moon from the high hilt behind the old mining camp of Congress.
It was about three o’clock in the morning when we climbed the
hill to wait, wrapped in Indian blankets for the wind was cold off
the northern ranges.
      The sky was an inky blue, with stars like needle points; the
desert below was a sea of black shadow, with a few lights in the
town, where others were getting up to see the star and moon
meet. The beat of the huge stamps in the mill shook the air and
seemed to make the stars quiver and twinkle.
      Down in the cañon a camp of Mohave-Apache Indians
crooned and sung as they waited—for some one had told them
that the moon would eat the big white star. When star and moon
touched and the star disappeared they begun wailing their wild
death songs, and when after what seemed a long time the star
shone out on the other side of the moon they shouted and fired
their guns in rejoicing.
        A jeweled crown for an old man’s brow,
        That mystical, splendid tropic sky
        Arched low o’er the desert, reaching far
        Its weary leagues wind-parched and dry:
        So bare and lone and sad it lay,
        The gray old land that seemed to yearn
        With a human longing for some caress
        From its granite barriers, grim and stern.
        Shouldering up to the very stars
        The strong peaks lifted their solemn might;
        And through their rock-gapped pinnacles burned
        The wondrous glory that charmed the night.
        Like a giant’s scimeter wrought in gold


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     A Literary History of the American West

                The late moon rose in the dawn-touched east,
                And close beside white Venus shone,
                As once she shone on shrine and priest.
                Like a soul’s white flame the planet passed—
                Alone the moon rode proud and high—
                O wait of God! the lost star swung
                A silver sphere in the hither sky;—
                (Is it so, O Life, that thy light is lost
                In the disk of Death if we could but know?)
                And the old land blushed with sudden youth
                In the tender fire of the morning-glow.
      These two poems illustrate ways in which western poets began to
emancipate themselves and to claim the West in verse. Hall writes about
what she knows and describes it in vivid, concrete images. Her language is
generally free of poetic cliches and stock classical allusions (how tempting it
must have been to extend the Christian reading of “Sheep Herding” with
additional biblical allusions, how ripe the time to drop Diana, Aurora,
Jove—or Jehovah—by name, mid-“Occultation of Venus”!) Rooted in
close observation, the subjects of her poems are those typical of western
poetry: the region’s landscapes and its cultures (Native American, His-
panic, white). “The Occultation of Venus” is especially notable for jux-
taposition of the religious (Native American, Christian) and the scientific.
Between these myths or world views exist a tension and an interplay that
are characteristic of western poetry in general and that reach their apex in
the period from 1850 to 1950 in the poems of Thomas Hornsby Ferril.
      In her valuable “Preface” to the second edition of Cactus and Pine
(Phoenix, 1924), Hall expresses her western loyalties and also relates how
the new edition came about. Noting that plates of the Boston edition had
been melted down in a World War I munitions factory and were shot at the
Hun, Hall wryly proposes that her poems have “done their part in winning
the war in a decidedly original way for poetry.” Unfortunately, although this
second edition is revised and expanded, it is also riddled with typos and is,
at least in this respect, inferior to the earlier, eastern one.
      In 1953 a third, posthumous collection of Hall’s work, Poems of a
Ranch Woman, appeared. These poems, many apparently composed after
the death of Sharlot’s mother and when Sharlot was distracted by other
professional concerns and demands, are primarily lesser lyrics and cowboy-
dialect poems.
      During Hall’s lifetime (1870–1943) many other western poets made
diverse attempts to capture the West in literature. Charles Erskine Scott
Wood, best remembered today—if at all—as the young military aide who


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                                            WESTERN POETRY, 1850–1950

recorded Nez Perce Chief Joseph’s surrender speech, published his long-
winded Psalm- and Socratic-styled philosophical dialogue, Poet in the Desert
(1915), which makes diffident use of southeastern Oregon scenery. In the
teens and early twenties, Robinson Jeffers began publishing his poetry,
which employed Greek, Biblical, and Freudian myth set against the land
and seascape of the Monterey peninsula. Other poets, however, tried less
and less to convey regional truths in foreign vessels and limited themselves,
as Hall often did, to writing about western scenes and cultures. Many of the
poets in this group studied and emulated the region’s indigenous poetic
      Before the turn of the century, ethnologists had been transcribing and
translating Native American oral poetry. And so, too, poets in the West
became interested in Native American verse. In Nebraska, Jeffers’s contem-
porary, John Neihardt, began production of his epic poems which chronicle
Indian and white history in the West. More accomplished than Neihardt,
who is the subject of a separate chapter in this volume and whose verse is
usually and justifiably damned with the faint praise “some passages are po-
etic,” are the works of those New Mexico writers who were frequently asso-
ciated with or from the artist colonies at Taos and Santa Fe. These writers
were among the first to “win the West” for poetry.
      Alice Corbin arrived in Santa Fe in 1916. Her poetic talents, until
that time, were fragile and undeveloped, despite her being a seasoned editor
and anthologizer (see notes 8 and 15). Corbin’s poetry, like her health, im-
proved greatly in New Mexico. In 1920 she published a seminal work, Red
Earth: Poems of New Mexico. In this volume Corbin not only draws on Native
American myths and poetic techniques (as in the Tesuque Pueblo “Corn
Grinding Song”), but she also makes use of Hispanic culture (as in “Cun-
diyo , ” “Una Anciana Mexicana,” “Old Juan Quintana,” and “El Coyotito”
which is based on a Spanish song). Corbin’s The Sun Turns West ( 1933) is
less dependent on region than Red Earth but is, nevertheless, also a valuable
       Other New Mexico poets of note during the twenties and thirties in-
clude S. Omar Barker, Mary Austin, Witter Bynner, Peggy Pond Church,
Haniel Long, Willard “Spud” Johnson, and Fray Angélico Chávez. Barker’s
Vientos de las Sierras (1924) is a pleasing yet idiosyncratic book from an au-
thor who shortly abandoned “literary” poetry for “cowboy” verse. The
peripatetic Austin, who came to New Mexico in 1924 to stay, wrote a valu-
able study of Native American poetics, The American Rhythm (1923), and
published some Native American translations in Children Sing in the Far
West (1928). Bynner’s Indian Earth (1929) is his only volume of regional
import, while Long is best known for lyric poems and prose writings. Of the
poets in this group, Peggy Pond Church is the most significant.


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     A Literary History of the American West

     Margaret (“Peggy”) Pond Church was born in 1903 near what is now
known as Valmora, New Mexico. Amongst the group of unheralded west-
ern poets deserving of scrutiny—a group that includes Sharlot Hall, Alice
Corbin, Genevieve Taggard, Norman Macleod, and Hidegarde Flanner—
Church is perhaps the least recognized. Unlike the other serious poets dis-
cussed in this chapter, Church has never had her books issued by an eastern
or midwestrern press. Until the recent reprinting of The Ripened Fields
(1954; 1978) and the publication of her New & Selected Poems (1976),
Church’s poetry was for many years unavailable. Thus, it was ignored.
Upon examination, however, we see in Church a writer of great range and
profundity. Like Hall, Corbin, and Austin, she draws on Native American
and Hispanic culture to inform her writing, as poems like “Even the Moun-
tains Are Ripe, ” “Sheep Country” and the following poem, which depicts
the flagellant southwestern religious cult, the Penitentes, make clear.

                    Abiquiu—Thursday in Holy Week

           Is there any way I can be sure to remember
           How the sun went down suddenly
           Behind the hills, and the river darkened. Everything
           Became sound only laid upon silence
              where had been lately
           Bright houses and people moving past them,
              and dogs and children.
           The moon was a long time coming up.
           It came up so slowly.
           The hills grew tall and terrible before it. The long mesa
           Behind Abiquiu was a huge blackness, growing blacker
           On the slow silver sky.
           The fields had been ploughed a little and we stumbled
              through them
           Guiding our steps by grasping the budding willows
           Beside the acequia. We didn’t belong here.
           This wasn’t our world. We should never have come
                here at all.
           We shivered and laid our lengths along the border
           Of the field, a wall of low stone. The trail from
              the morada
           Went past that wall. We heard something wailing
           High in the hills. We waited.


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                                     WESTERN POETRY, 1850–1950

A little beyond midnight they came out of the morada
And went past the wall, three of them, one singing;
One with the pito, the Penitente flute that is
  more sorrowful
Than any sorrowful sound that was ever uttered
In music. The third man marched
With body bent a little forward. At the end
  of each line of singing
He brought the woven whip across his shoulders
With a lashing sound, rhythmical, like an accent;
A sound that was dull and harsh, as though already
Blood softened the lean back. A lantern flickered
In the hand of the singer. Its swinging shadow
Was swallowed soon in darkness.
I, under the cold stars, there in the cold night, watching
This greatest of remembered tragedies enacted
By men who as soon as Easter was over
Would go back to their ordinary way of living—
To the fields they must finish plowing and sowing;
To the sheep that would be lambing soon in the canyons;
To the ditches that must be cleared to flood
   the orchards,
Each man when his turn came, from the mother
Men whose brown, wind-lined faces I had often
   seen passing,
In wagons loaded with wood brought down
   from the mesas
Behind Abiquiu, or driving burros
Slowly, as if in some other country, along the highway.
I crouched there against the cold stone, prone
   on the cold earth, listening,
Thought: There is something they know, these men,
   that we have forgotten;
They remember, here in these mountains, here
   at Abiquiu on this spring night,
On this unforgettable Thursday before Easter,
That to imitate simply, unaware even of any
   special meaning,
A great and tragic action, is to be lifted by it
For a moment out of commonplace living
   toward greatness.


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      A Literary History of the American West

Other poems by Church, like those of Robinson Jeffers, draw on Greek cul-
ture (“Prelude to Act IV,” “ For the Hippolytus of Euripides”). Also like
Jeffers’s poems about World War II, some of Church’s poems are prophetic
and didactic (“The Nuclear Physicists” and “Ultimatum for Man”). Church
can also write beautiful lyric poems, as her second volume, Familiar Journey
(1936) attests, and she is capable of mastering traditional poetic forms, as
her sonnet sequence The Ripened Field: 15 Sonnets of a Marriage illustrates.
Some of her more recent poems in her New & Selected Poems are written in
free verse and are personal, yet quite accessible.
      Proof that the poetical West had been won in the twenties and thirties
is also seen in the work of poets outside New Mexico. Before his move
to that state, Witter Bynner taught briefly at Berkeley where two of his
students were Genevieve Taggard and Hildegarde Flanner. Taggard’s and
Flanner’s careers provide an instructive contrast. Taggard’s best work was
published before 1930 (For Eager Lovers, 1922; Hawaiian Hilltop, 1923;
Words for the Chisel, 1926; Travelling Standing Still, 1928). She is to be highly
regarded because she is able to resist the cliches of Hawaii, its lotus blossoms,
dusky-skinned natives, and technicolor sunsets—still of grave danger to the
unwary poet. However, Taggard’s poetry became increasingly political, she
devoted more attention to writing critical studies (The Life and Mind of
Emily Dickinson, 1930), moved east, and began teaching. As a result, her
poems became more diffuse. Unlike Taggard’s, Hildegarde Flanner’s earlier
collections of poetry (in 1920, 1921, 1924, and 1929) are conventional,
delicate, what critics used to term “feminine.” They were often beautifully
printed and bound; otherwise, they are not unique. Flanner did not publish
a volume in the 1930s, although she stayed in the West, married, and con-
tinued writing. Taggard, by contrast, published three volumes during this
decade, four in the next. However, Flanner’s remarkable collection, If
There Is Time, was published in 1942 by New Directions, followed by In
Native Light (1970) and a selection of old and new western poems, The
Hearkening Eye ( 1979). These three volumes reveal a maturation of the
poet’s philosophies, interests, and techniques. Flanner is not distressed at
being labeled a conservationist and some of her poems are concerned with
ecological issues, as this 1932 sonnet reveals.

                               Tin Cans at Keeler
                   Here in the desert is a pallid lake
                   That once was murmurous upon its bed
                   With sparkle lapping on the inland shore.
                   Only dust remains and it is dead
                   And not a single water rears its head


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                                            WESTERN POETRY, 1850–1950

           And no blue brook with shiver of great drops
           Comes this far boiling keenly on the land.
           Man stole the water and the stricken lake
           Lies like a trance and staring in the sand
           No flash nor spread of wave, no wet shimmer.
           Just one thing shines here under the bare skies—
           A heap of cans, new-dumped. The enormous glitter
           Beats in the air and quivers where it lies.
           And the brood of dirty brightness multiplies.
      In Colorado, Nellie Burget Miller’s second book, her first collection of
regional poetry, In Earthen Bowls (1924), was published and received good
reviews, as did her 1936 volume, Pictures from the Plains. Alan Swallow,
who was to publish Miller’s poems (The Sun Drops Red, 1947), called Miller
the only state laureate deserving of the title. Miller’s fellow Coloradoan
and, later, state laureate, Thomas Hornsby Ferril, began his distinguished
career by winning the Yale Younger Poets Award for High Passage (1926).
Ferril’s 1934 Westering was considered by Swallow to be the most impressive
collection of western poetry. On the basis of these two volumes, most critics
rank Ferril second only to Jeffers among early poets of the West; both are
considered major western writers and each is discussed at length in separate
chapters in this volume.
      In Oregon, Howard McKinley Coming published two valuable collec-
tions (These People, 1926; The Mountains in the Sky, 1930). In Wyoming,
Ted Olson was awarded the Yale Younger Poets Award in 1928 for A Stranger
and Afraid. Olson later moved to New York and there published Hawk’s Way
(1940), vaguely indebted to western terrain. In 1930, Gwendolen Haste’s
series, “Montana Wives” appeared in a strong collection, Young Land. T h e
same year, John Knox published his sonnet sequence about Texas and
the Southwest, Through a Glass Darkly. In 1931, Montana’s Grace Stone
Coates’s Mead and Mangel Wurzel was issued; unfortunately, her next vol-
ume, Portulacas in the Wheat (1932), was not as impressive. In California,
the now-adult child prodigy, Julia Cooley Altrocchi, published her poetic
epic, Snow-Covered Wagons: A Pioneer Epic: The Donner Party Expeditions,
1846-–1847 ( 1936). Three years later, New Directions issued Cool Country
by Oregon’s Mary Barnard, her sole collection until her recent Elliston
Prize-winning Collected Poems ( 1979).
      With the advent of World War II, regional and national concerns in
the 1940s gave way to global concerns, and wartime exigencies affected
poetry in not unexpected ways. Poets went literally and metaphorically off
to war. They often ceased writing poetry, or they focused their attention on
themes and subjects non-regional, or strove—generally unsuccessfully (wit-
ness Ferril’s 1944 Trial by Time)—to unite matters regional with those


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     A Literary History of the American West

global. With paper supplies limited, book production was curtailed. Interest
in regional poetry dropped.
      The few notable collections of western poetry published during the
1940s are, not surprisingly, usually compilations of writings completed dec-
ades before publication: Yvor Winters, Poems (1940); Lincoln Fitzell, In
Plato’s Garden: Poems 1929–1939 (1940); H. L. Davis, Proud Riders (1942);
Nellie Burget Miller, The Sun Drops Red: Collected Poems of Nellie Burget
Miller, 1930–1947 (1947); Janet Lewis (Mrs. Yvor Winters), Poems, 1924–
1944 (1950). Notable collections of newer verse include Hildegarde Flanner,
If There Is Time ( 1942) ; Wilson O. Clough, Forward to Wyoming (1944) and
We, Borne Along ( 1949); Peggy Pond Church, Ultimatum for Man (1946).
However, two important poets began to establish themselves in this decade:
Kenneth Rexroth in San Francisco and Theodore Roethke in Seattle.
      Norman Macleod, whose fifth collection of poetry, Pure as Nowhere,
was published in 1952, is a fitting figure with which to conclude this century-
long survey of western poets, for Macleod has devoted his life to literature
and has produced a number of memorable volumes of western poetry; yet he
is neither well known nor are his contributions fully recognized.
      Born in Salem, Oregon, in 1906, Macleod was raised and educated pri-
marily in the West and the West informs his best work. In the twenties and
thirties he was a frequent contributor to western, national, and interna-
tional literary periodicals and anthologies. Macleod is important, also, be-
cause of his role as founder and editor of “Little Magazines.” In the thirties,
like Genevieve Taggard, Macleod made the East his base of literary opera-
tions. He published volumes of poetry (Horizons of Death, 1934; Thanksgiv-
ing Before November, 1936) and prose. In 1939 he founded the New York
City Poetry Center, the nation’s first and foremost community poetry cen-
ter, and he served as its director for three years. But during this decade he
suffered breakdowns, disease, marriages-and-divorces; his earlier political
involvement plagued him during the McCarthy era. In the forties he pub-
lished two more volumes of poetry (We Thank You All the Time, 1941, and A
Man in Mid-Passage, 1947) and edited influential literary reviews. Yet, de-
spite his numerous publications and significant contributions to regional,
national, and international letters, Macleod’s name is known to few, even
among students of western literature.
      Macleod’s obscurity is due, in part, to the nature of his publications:
although published by eastern presses, Macleod was never adopted by a ma-
jor publisher. His work has always been difficult to obtain. His personal
problems also adversely affected his career. The poet expresses his misgiv-
ings about that career in “Like Chief Joseph, the Nez Perce,” from his 1952


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                                           WESTERN POETRY, 1850–1950

                    Like Chief Joseph, the Nez Perce

                   Since I can no longer remember
                   the poems of my youth (nor even
                   the five fingers which brought
                   them to birth) I recognize that
                   I am issue of a lean length of
                   men whose serial inheritance is
                   taxed by time, deep distortion
                   or anger until the man I now am
                   is less memory than shadow; so
                   like Chief Joseph the Nez Perce
                   I see the receding saw of rock
                   roaring in a cataract to sunset
                   breathe the bitterroot valleys
                   and touch with despair a tender
                   ness that is not anywhere, and
                   tasting the larkspur of retreat
                   hear the black drums reminding
                   tomorrow the son I then will be
                   will renounce not only the men
                   who were his anchor in the past
                   but also his race, name, those
                   poems he will never know; there
                   fore he will die as I will die
                   grey as the ultimatum motorized
                   transport move upon, atomizing
                   our tablet in this world’s mind.

Macleod clearly intends the poignant and brutal comparison on which his
poem is based to describe how he believes the world views his life and
achievements. In a larger sense, and after scrutinizing the first century
of western poetry, we might presume that the poem’s speaker is not only
Norman Macleod, but also the voice of Hall, Corbin, Taggard, Austin,


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      A Literary History of the American West

Flanner and Church, who have, in essence, provided us with a record of the
literary homesteading of the West, a record that threatens to be both forgot-
ten and atomized.

                                        T OM T RUSKY , Boise     State University


 1. For the apparently different situation faced by western prose writers seeking
    publication by eastern firms see Vardis Fisher, “The Western Writer and the
    Eastern Establishment,” Western American Literature 1, no. 4. (Winter 1967):
    244–259; Alvin Josephy, Jr., “Publishers’ Interests in Western Writing,” W e s t -
    ern American Literature 1, no. 4 (Winter 1967): 260–266; and Wallace
    Stegner, “Born a Square—The Westerner’s Dilemma,” Atlantic (January
    1964), pp. 46–50.
 2. The first presses in the West began operating in 1834 in California and New
    Mexico, according to Roby Wentz, Eleven Western Presses: An Account of How
    the First Printing Press Came to Each of the Eleven Western States (Los Angeles:
    International Association of Printing House Craftsmen, 1956).
 3. Notable among early university presses publishing regional poetry were those at
    the University of Oklahoma, Norman, and the University of New Mexico, Al-
    buquerque. University interest in regional poets and poetry was widespread in
    the West. H. G. Merriam at the University of Montana, B. A. Botkin at the
     University of Oklahoma, Glenn Hughes at the University of Washington,
    Wilson O. Clough at the University of Wyoming, Bernice Slote at the Univer-
    sity of Nebraska, Mabel Major at Texas Christian University, T. M. Pearce at
    the University of New Mexico, and Yvor Winters at Stanford not only wrote
    poetry and edited distinguished poetry publications, but also dedicated them-
    selves to inculcating an understanding and appreciation in their students of
    works by the region’s poets.
 4. In a series of remarkable volumes issued by Writers’ Editions of Santa Fe in the
     1930s poets Alice Corbin, Peggy Pond Church, Haniel Long, Willard “Spud”
    Johnson, Fray Angélico Chávez and others joined together to underwrite their


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                                                    WESTERN POETRY, 1850–1950

       own publications. An incomplete accounting of the group may be found in
       Jack D. Rittenhouse, “Southwest Imprints—Writers’ Editions,” Booktalk 4
       (December 1975): 3–4.
   5. Interestingly, however, in the United States the craft of printing as a fine art is
       generally said to have begun on the West Coast.
   6. San Franciscans, as described by Franklin Walker in San Francisco’s Literary
       Frontier (New York: Knopf, 1939), were atypical westerners in their dedication
       to and cultivation of the arts, especially literature.
   7. Although it is true that Winters’s critical writings are not primarily concerned
       with regional poetry, he greatly influenced future poets and professors of poetry
       in the West (see, for example, his anthologies, Twelve Poets of the Pacific and
       Poets of the Pacific); too, his attitudes had a not inconsiderable effect on western
       essayist, poet, and publisher Alan Swallow (see Swallow’s essays, “The Sage of
       Palo Alto” and “An Examination of Modern Critics: 6: Yvor Winters,” re-
       printed in Swallow’s An Editor’s Essays of Two Decades) .
   8. The reputation of an Edenic, regenerative, health-restoring West undeniably
       has attracted talented ailing “foreigners” who, staying on, have contributed
       greatly to literature of the region, as the career of Chicago Poetry magazine co-
       founder and co-editor Alice Corbin, who moved to Santa Fe for reasons of
       health in 1916, attests.
         Indirectly, the reputation of a health-giving West was responsible for the ar-
      rival of other poets in the West: Norman Macleod’s father, who had problems
      with his drinking, was sent to Zion to recuperate; while in the West he met his
      future wife, Norman’s mother.
  9. Twenty-four-year-old Wurdemann, according to her obituary in the New York
      Times (20 May 1960, p. 30), was the youngest poet ever to win the award. The
      lovely young poet had married professor and poet Joseph Auslander in 1932,
      shortly after Auslander’s first wife died. Auslander taught at Columbia Univer-
      sity which administers the Pulitzers; in any event, Wurdemann’s poetic talents
      were questioned. Kunitz and Haycraft, in Twentieth Century Authors, quote a
      review in the Boston Transcript of a 1938 Wurdemann volume: “The tone she
      tries for is bigger than the throat that utters it,” and the Times obituary notes,
      “Her verse, like herself, was young and pretty, shy, quiet, graceful, artless.” In
      any case, Wurdemann does not draw on the West for whatever informs her
IO. Ann Hafen, “Laurels for the Ladies—the Poets Laureate of Colorado,” Colo-
      rado Magazine 30, no. 3 (July 1953): 215–223, claims that Colorado was the
      first state to have an official Poet Laureate ( 1919). Hafen appears to be splitting
      legal hairs over the definition of the term “official.”
I I. California Imprints, 1833–1862: A Bibliography (Los Gatos, Calif.: Talisman
      Press, 1961), pp. 40–41.
12. Why the volumes were sent to England for publication is not clear. Wentz re-
      ports that Christian missionaries had a press in Hawaii in 1822.
13. Best known to later generations of Mormons for her hymns and Relief Society
      work, Snow’s Poems Religious, Historical, and Political, I (Liverpool, 1856) and
      II (Salt Lake City, 1877) are, according to Latter-day Saints scholar Maureen


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     A Literary History of the American West

    Ursenbach Beecher, “superficial, maudlin, trite and unimaginative.” Beecher
    is quoted in Cindy Lesser Larsen, “Whoever Heard of a Utah Poet?: An Over-
    view of Poetry in the Early Church,” Century 2 (Fall 1979), p. 41. Most verse
    by early Mormons, as Larsen also concludes, is more zealous dogma (or plati-
    tudinous doggerel) than competent poetry, as evidenced by John Sylvanus
    Davis, The Bee Hive Songster (1868); Augusta Joyce Cocheran, Wind Flowers of
    Deseret (1881); Hannah King, Epic Poem, a Synopsis of the Rise of the Church
    of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (1884); Reba Beebe Pratt, The Sheaf of a
    Gleaner (1886); J. H. Ward, Ballads of Life (1886); Alfred Osmund, Poetical
    Works (1891); and The Daughters of the Utah Pioneers’ anthology, Pioneer
    Poets and Poems (1942). Only Sara E. Carmichael (Poems, 1866) possessed
    some poetic talent, and she, castigated by her Utah peers for being of dubious
    faith, married a non-Mormon, left Utah, and spent the last years of her life in
    an institution for the insane.
       Robert Buchanan, Saint Abe and His Seven Wives: A Tale of Salt Lake City
    (1872), is a high-spirited bit of verse satire which purports to be authentic
    tales of travels in Zion undertaken by a Gentile. In “Cissy Inclines to Piety,”
    Buchanan tells of a cowpoke who loses his gal to a sixty-year-old Mormon who
    already has—the cowpoke notes disgruntledly—four wives. Buchanan’s collec-
    tion may be one of the earliest poetic portraits of Deseret by a non-Mormon.
       That Mormons even attempted to publish poetry in the third quarter of the
    nineteenth century in Salt Lake is, however, remarkable testimony to not only
    their religious dedication, but also their dedication to the art of poetry. Wentz
    (Eleven Western Presses, p. 33) notes that the cost of ink and paper in Salt Lake
    at this time was five to six times the price for these items in the East.
14. William Gallagher, ed., Selections from the Poetical Literature of the West (1841)
    and William T. Coggeshall, ed., Poets and Poetry of the West (1864), despite
    their titles, anthologize no poets from west of the Mississippi.
15. The better anthologizers took their cue from Harriet Monroe and Alice Corbin’s
    famed collection of Poetry contributors, The New Poetry, which was first pub-
    lished in 1917, went through three editions and twenty printings by 1950, and
    included many of the West’s better poets. Superior western anthologies are:
    B. A. Botkin’s annual Folk-Say collections (1929–1932); Mabel Major and
    Rebecca W. Smith, The Southwest in Literature: An Anthology for High Schools
    (1929); D. Maitland Bushby, The Golden Stallion: An Anthology of Poems Con-
    cerning the Southwest and Written by Southwestern Poets (1930); B. A. Botkin,
    The Southwest Scene (1931); H. G. Merriam, Northwest Verse: An Anthology
    (1931); Rufus Coleman, Western Prose and Poetry, retitled The Golden West in
    Story and Verse (both 1932); Hilton Ross Greer and Florence Elberta Barns,
    New Voices of the Southwest (1934); Yvor Winters, Twelve Poets of the Pacific
    (1937); Ray B. West, Rocky Mountain Reader (1946) and Writing in the Rocky
    Mountains (1947). (The last two volumes contain poems by Ellis Foote, a
    Utah poet; if a Mormon, Foote is the first interesting and experimental poet
    from Zion. )
       Anthologies of limited interest include: Ann Winslow, Trial Balances (1935),
    which contains a number of western poets who rise to prominence in the


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                                                  WESTERN POETRY, 1850–1950

      1950s; Cantando: Border Poets (1939), interesting for a few fine poems on eth-
      nic groups in the West; Elizabeth M. Stover, Son-of-a-Gun-Stew: A Sampling of
      the Southwest (1945), notable for its inclusion of black poet Kate McAlpin
      Crady; Charles Lee, North East South West: A Regional Anthology of American
      Writing (1945), which collects good regional poets seldom anthologized; Alfred
      Powers, Poems of the Covered Wagons (1947); Earl Clifton Peck, Lore of the
      Lumber Camps (1948); Yvor Winters, Poets of the Pacific, Second Series (1949);
      and Mabel Major and T. M. Pearce, Signature of the Sun: Southwestern Verse,
      1900–1950, especially valuable for the editors’ informative essays and exten-
      sive bibliography.
         Representative of western state poetry anthologies is Kinder and Spencer,
      Evenings with Colorado Poets, a popular, mediocre volume which went through
      three editions. The most famous contributor to the first edition (1894) was
      Helen Hunt Jackson, who appears in a photograph on the frontispiece as a
      stolid, aged matron. By the 1926 third edition (which includes poems by
      Thomas Hornsby Ferril and Nellie Burget Miller), Jackson has magically shed
      both avoirdupois and years; she’s now engraved as a coy, dimpled dumpling.
      Such is the deceptive nature of most state anthologies—few are of consistent
      high quality, few can be recommended wholeheartedly. Those which may be
      are: George Sterling, Genevieve Taggard, and James Rorty, Continent’s End: An
      Anthology of Contemporary California Poets (1925); Alice Corbin, The Turquoise
      Trail: An Anthology of New Mexico Poetry (1928); and Joseph Henry Jackson,
      Continent’s End—A Collection of California Writing (1944). Of lesser interest are
      state anthologies published by Henry Harrison during the 1930s: California
      and Washington (both 1932), and Colorado and Oregon (both 1935).
16.   These poets are studied in Franklin Walker, San Francisco’s Literary Frontier,
      cited above, and Alfred Powers, History of Oregon Literature (Portland: Metro-
      politan Press, 1935).
17.   See M. M. Marberry, Splendid Poseur: Joaquin Miller—American Poet (New
      York: Crowell, 1953); O. W. Frost, Joquin Miller (New York: Twayne, 1967);
      Benjamin S. Lawson, Joaquin Miller, Western Writers Series, No. 43 (Boise,
      Idaho: Boise State University, 1980).
18.   Miller also drew disciples, notably two Japanese, Takeshi Kanno and Yone
      Noguchi. Noguchi lived on the Hights and wrote oddly moving prose poems in
      unmastered English (Seen & Unseen, or Monologues of a Homeless Snail, 1897;
      reprint 1920). The interest western poets have had in the Orient—Gary
      Snyder comes to mind-is first evidenced by Miller’s travels in the Orient as a
      correspondent and in his friendship with Noguchi.
19.   Two such poets are Nevada’s W. N. Weare and Oregon’s Valentine Brown.
      During the 1870s while an officer at California’s state prison, San Quentin,
      Weare utilized that institution’s setting for a number of poems that appeared in
      his 1879 volume Songs of the Western Shore. Weare’s prison poems, as well as his
      poems like “Carrie: The Tragedy of Lake Tahoe,” are often relatively free of
      clanking classical allusions and “poetic” language, but they are, unfortunately,
      sentimental, melodramatic, and technically pedestrian.
         Valentine Brown’s work is more distressing. Between 1900 and 1925, Brown


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     A Literary History of the American West

     published six volumes of verse, some of it written before the turn of the cen-
     tury. A Portland real estate developer who typeset, printed, and bound his own
     books, Brown admits in the querulous preface to his fourth book, Tales and
     Other Verse (1904), that no publisher—eastern or western—would accept his
     work. And with reason.
20. Hall’s headnotes should not necessarily be presumed to have been composed
    for an eastern “dude” audience. Many headnotes were not included in the
     1910 eastern edition of Cactus and Pine, but were added (or expanded) in the
     1924 western edition, as if Hall wished to educate and entertain most of all her
    Arizona readers. Poems in the text reprint headnotes from the second edition,
    bodies from the first edition.
21. Sharlot’s mother was no small influence. The first edition of Cactus and Pine
    has a dedicatory poem to the young poet’s mother. The second edition adds a
    frontispiece photograph of the poet and Mrs. Hall. Sharlot’s father apparently
     thought little of his daughter’s careers and literary achievements. For specula-
     tions on her parents’ influence and attitudes, see James J. Weston, “Sharlot
    Hall: Arizona’s Pioneer Lady of Literature,” Journal of the West 4, no. 4 (Oc-
     tober 1965): 539–552.
22. See Edwin R. Bingham, “Shaping a Region’s Culture: Charles Erskine Scott
    Wood in Oregon,” Oregon Rainbow I, no. 4 (Winter 1976). Bingham discusses
    Wood’s prose writings and marriage to Sara Bard Field and reprints a few of
    Wood’s successful western poems first printed in Poems from the Ranges (1929)
    and included in Wood’s posthumous Collected Poems ( 1949).
23. Two literary colonies have been important in the development of early poetry
    of the West: Carmel and Taos/Santa Fe. For the history of Carmel, see Franklin
    Walker, The Seacoast of Bohemia (Santa Barbara and Salt Lake City: Peregrine
    Smith, Inc., 1973), and Michael Orth, “Ideality to Reality: The Founding of
    Carmel,” California Historical Quarterly 48 (1969): 195–210. Less has been
    written about the literary contributions of Taos/Santa Fe. For a general over-
    view of activities at these Southwest centers, see Kay Aiken Reeve’s un-
    published dissertation, “The Making of an American Place: The Develop-
    ment of Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, as an American Cultural Center,
     1898–1942, ” Texas A&M University, 1977.
24. Barker and other “Cowboy Poets” are amply discussed in Lee Steinmetz, “Im-
    mortal Youth Astride a Dream: The Cowboy in Western American Poetry,” a
    paper delivered to the Western Literature Association Conference, Albuquer-
    que, New Mexico, 6 October 1979.
25. As the bibliography of primary sources for this chapter makes clear, the most
     important western poets were published by eastern presses—with the excep-
    tion of Alice Corbin, whose Red Earth was issued by a Chicago press, and Peggy
    Pond Church, all of whose titles were published by western presses.
26. Church, who saw the boy’s school owned and operated by her husband confis-
    cated for the Los Alamos Project, has a decidedly different outlook on science
    than does Thomas Hornsby Ferril.
27. Swallow’s evaluation was made long before John Haines, William Stafford, and


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                                                 WESTERN POETRY, 1850–1950

    Thomas Hornsby Ferril were named laureates of, respectively, Alaska, Oregon,
    and Colorado.
28. A number of the “Montana Wives” poems are included in Haste’s Selected
    Poems (1976), which also contains poems she wrote after having moved, like
    Olson, to New York.
29. During the first decades of the twentieth century there were also westerners
    writing poetry which did not depend on region for subject matter, themes,
    or techniques. Usually these were poetic dilettantes, like Colorado’s Alfred
    Damon Runyon (Tents of Trouble, 1911; Rhymes of the Firing Line, 1912), and
    Arthur Hugh Chapman (Out Where the West Begins, 1917); “the only Ameri-
    can buried in the Kremlin,” Oregon’s John Reed (Sangar and The Day in Bo-
    hemia, 1913; Tamburlain, 1916); Idaho’s Vardis Fisher (Sonnets to an Imaginary
    Madonna, 1927); and Nevada’s Walter Van Tilburg Clark (Ten Women in Gale’s
    House, 1932).
       Of these poets who transcended region, only Oregon’s Hazel Hall (no rela-
    tion to Sharlot Hall) produced distinguished verse. Hall, whose poetry was re-
    cently published in her second posthumous collection (Selected Poems, 1980))
    led a tragic, invalided life. Her other publications include Curtains (1921),
     Walkers (1923), and the posthumous Cry of Time (1928).
30. A case may be made for including works by Kenneth Rexroth in this discussion
    of western poets of the 1940s, for many of his poems did depend on western
    scenery and events. However, Rexroth’s influence was most apparent in the
     1950s and 1960s, and a large number of his poems were translations or based
    on foreign originals. See Donald Hall, “Kenneth Rexroth and His Poetry,” The
    New York Times Book Review (23 November 1980), 9, 43–44, and my bibli-
    ography of primary and secondary sources for this chapter.
       Less of a case may be made for inclusion in this chapter of part-time San
    Francisco resident Kenneth Patchen.
31. See my “Norman Wicklund Macleod, Poet from the West,” Prairie Schooner
    50, no. 3 (Fall 1976): 257–268. See also Alan Wald, “Tethered to the Past:
    The Poetry of Norman Macleod,” Minnesota Review II (1978): 107–111.
32. Macleod’s concern with social and political issues in the thirties was similar
    to Genevieve Taggard’s and many other artists and intellectuals of the time.
    Macleod’s interest in these issues may be due in part to his upbringing in Mis-
    soula and his personal acquaintanceships with mineworkers, loggers, farmers,
    hoboes, and “Wobblies” (members of the IWW).
       The topic of western poetry and politics has not been addressed, to my
    knowledge, although Louis Filler, “Edwin Markham, Poetry, and What Have
    You,” Antioch Review 23, no. 4 (1963–1964): 447–459, provides a provocative
    re-reading and re-evaluation of the poet Markham. Nor has an analysis been
    made of the political and sociological philosophies of western black poets like
    William Lightfoot Visscher, Black Mammy: A Song of the Sunny South and Other
    Poems, 1st ed. (Cheyenne, Wyoming: 1885); 2nd ed. (Cheyenne, Wyoming:
    Bristol & Knabe, 1886); John Mason Brewer, Negrito (San Antonio, Texas:
    Naylor, 1933); Benjamin Franklin Gardner, Black (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton


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     A Literary History of the American West

    Printers, 1933); and Kate McAlpin Crady, Free Steppin’ (Dallas, Texas: Mathis,
    Van Nort, 1938) and Travelin’ Shoes (Dallas, Texas: Mathis, Van Nort, 1948).
33. For example, Macleod’s poems do not appear in any of the current regional
    anthologies of the West.

                         Selected Bibliography
Primary Bibliography of Twenty Western Poets
Austin, Mary. The American Rhythm: Studies and Re-expressions of American Songs.
     1923, 1930; rpt. New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1970.
———. Children Sing in the Far West. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin,
Barnard, Mary. Collected Poems. Portland: Breitenbush Press, 1979.
———. Cool Country. Norfolk, Connecticut: New Directions, 1939.
Church, Peggy Pond. Familiar Journey. Santa Fe: Writers’ Editions, 1936.
———. Foretaste. Santa Fe: Writers’ Editions, 1933.
———. New & Selected Poems. Boise, Idaho: Ahsahta Press, 1976.
———. The Ripened Fields: Fifteen Sonnets of a Marriage. 1954; rev. ed. Santa Fe:
     Lightning Tree Press, 1978.
———. A Rustle of Angels. Denver: Peartree Press, 1981.
———. Ultimatum for Man. Stanford University, California: James Ladd Delkin,
Coolbrith, Ina. A Perfect Day. San Francisco: John H. Carmany, 1881.
———. Songs from the Golden Gate. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin,
———. Wings of Sunset. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1929.
Corbin, Alice. Red Earth: Poems of New Mexico. Chicago: Ralph Fletcher Seymour,
———. The Sun Turns West. Santa Fe: Writers’ Editions, 1933.
Corning, Howard McKinley. These People. New York: Harold Vinal, 1926.
———. This Earth and Another Country: New and Selected Poems. Portland: Tall
     Pine Imprints, 1969.
———. The Mountain in the Sky. Portland: Metropolitan Press, 1930.
Davis, H. L. Proud Riders. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1942.
———. Selected Poems. Boise, Idaho: Ahsahta Press, 1978.
Ferril, Thomas Hornsby. (See separate chapter listing in this volume.)
Flanner, Hildegarde. The Hearkening Eye. Boise, Idaho: Ahsahta Press, 1979.
———. If There Is Time. Norfolk, Connecticut: New Directions, 1942.
———. In Native Light. Calistoga, California: James E. Beard, 1970.
Hall, Hazel. Cry of Time. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1928.
———. Curtains. New York: John Lane, 1921.
———. Selected Poems. Boise, Idaho: Ahsahta Press, 1980.
———. Walkers. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1923.


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Hall, Sharlot. Cactus and Pine. 1st ed. Boston: Sherman, French, 1910. 2nd ed.
     Phoenix: Arizona Republican Print Shop, 1924.
———. Poems of a Ranch Woman. Compiled by Josephine Mackenzie. Prescott,
     Arizona: Sharlot Hall Historical Society, 1953.
Haste, Gwendolen. Selected Poems. Boise, Idaho: Ahsahta Press, 1976.
———. The Young Land. New York: Coward-McCann, 1930.
Jeffers, Robinson. (See separate chapter listing in this volume.)
Long, Haniel. My Seasons. Boise, Idaho: Ahsahta Press, 1977.
Macleod, Norman. The Distance: New and Selected Poems (1928–1977). Pembroke,
     North Carolina: s.n., 1977.
———. Horizons of Death. New York: Parnassus Press, 1934.
———. A Man in Mid-Passage: Collected Poems, 1930-1947. Columbus, Ohio:
     Cronos Editions, 1947.
———. Pure as Nowhere. Columbus, Ohio: Golden Goose Press, 1952.
———. Selected Poems. Boise, Idaho: Ahsahta Press, 1975.
———. Thanksgiving Before November. New York: Parnassus Press, 1936.
———. We Thank You All the Time. Prairie City, Illinois: Decker Press, 1941.
Miller, Nellie Burget. In Earthen Bowls. New York: D. Appleton, 1924.
———. Pictures from the Plains and Other Poems. New York: The Poets Press, 1936.
———. The Sun Drops Red: Collected Poems of Nellie Burget Miller, 1930–1947.
     Denver: Sage Books, 1947.
Olson, Ted. Hawk’s Way. New York: The League to Support Poetry, 1941.
———. A Stranger and Afraid. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1928.
Rexroth, Kenneth. The Art of Wordly Wisdom. Prairie City, Illinois: Decker Press,
———. In What Hour. New York: Macmillan, 1940.
———. The Phoenix and the Tortoise. Norfolk, Connecticut: New Directions, 1944.
———. The Signatures of All Things: Poems, Songs, Elegies, Translations, Epigrams.
     New York: New Directions, 1950.
Taggard, Genevieve. For Eager Lovers. New York: Boni, 1922.
———. Hawaiian Hilltop. San Francisco: Wycoff & Gelber, Lantern Press, 1923.
———. Origin: Hawaii; Poems. Honolulu: Donald Angus, 1947.
———. To the Natural World. Boise, Idaho: Ahsahta Press, 1980.
———. Travelling Standing Still: Poems 1918–1928. New York: Knopf, 1928.
———. Words for the Chisel. New York: Knopf, 1926.
Winters, Yvor. Collected Poems. Chicago: Swallow Press, 1960.
———. Poems. Los Altos, California: Gyroscope Press, 1940.
Secondary Bibliography of Western Poetry
Bangs, Carol Jane. “Women Poets and the ‘Northwest School.“’ In L. L. Lee and
   Merrill Lewis, eds., Women, Women Writers, and the West. New York: Whitston,
    1979. Concludes Gwendolyn (sic) Haste is not a member of a school of west-
    ern women poets who draw primarily on cultures and landscapes beyond the
    Pacific Northwest.
Bentley, Beth. “Mirror in the Shadows: Hazel Hall, 1886–1924.” Concerning Po-


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      A Literary History of the American West

     etry 13, no. 2 (Fall 1980): 7–12. Analysis of Hall’s poetry and comparison of
     her writings with peers Teasdale, Wylie, Millay.
Dalmas, Victor. “The Poetry of Norman Macleod.” Department of English, North
     Carolina State University, Raleigh, 1974. Unpublished Master’s thesis.
Ferril, Thomas Hornsby. (See separate chapter listing in this volume.)
Gardner, Geoffrey, ed. For Rexroth: The Ark 14. New York: The Ark, 1980. Essays,
     poems on, by, and for Rexroth.
Gurian, Jay. “The Possibility of a Western Poetics.” Colorado Quarterly 15 (Summer
     1966): 69–85. Challenging essay which proclaims the West has had little
     poetry and no poetics. Gurian, like most critics of western American poetry,
     overlooks women poets and critics as well as the influence of Native American
     and Hispanic poetics.
Larsen, Cindy Lesser. “Whoever Heard of a Utah Poet?: An Overview of Poetry in
     the Early [L.D.S.] Church.” Century 2 (Fall 1979), pp. 32–61. Lesser, writing
     in Brigham Young University’s student literary magazine, concludes no one
     has-and with good reason, considering the poor quality of early Mormon
Major, Mabel, and T. M. Pearce. Southwest Heritage: A Literary History with Bibli-
     ographies. 3rd ed. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1972. Basic
     source for the literary Southwest.
Marable, Mary Hays, and Elaine Boylan. A Handbook of Oklahoma Writers. Nor-
     man: University of Oklahoma Press, 1939. Valuable bio-bibliographic data.
Powers, Alfred. The History of Oregon Literature. Portland, Oregon: Metropolitan
     Press, 1935. 809 pages of fact, unfact, and good gossip. Indispensable, despite
     inaccuracies and (dis)organization.
Rhodemhamel, Josephine, and Raymond Wood. Ina Coolbrith. Provo, Utah: Brig-
     ham Young University Press, 1973. Standard biography, bound in lavender.
Ross, Morton L. “Alan Swallow and Modem, Western American Poetry.” Western
     American Literature I (Summer 1966): 97–104. Chronicles Swallow’s futile at-
     tempts to define western poetics during his thirty-year career as western pub-
     lisher, critic, and poet.
Saul, George Branson. Quintet: Essays on Five American Women Poets. The Hague:
     Mouton & Co., 1967. Hazel Hall is the topic of one appreciative essay which
     asserts her contributions to American poetry have been ignored.
Swallow, Alan. “Poetry of the West.” South Dakota Review 2 (Autumn 1964):
     77–87. Survey of western poets (with special praise for N. Miller, Ferril, and
     Winters) and attempt to define western poetry. (See Ross, above.)
———. “Two Rocky Mountain Poets.” Rocky Mountain Review 3 (Fall 1938): 1–3.
     (Rpt. in West, Rocky Mountain Reader, below.)
Trusky, A. Thomas. “Norman Wicklund Macleod, Poet from the West.” Prairie
     Schooner 50 (Fall 1976): 257–268. Chronicles Macleod’s activities and achieve-
     ments from the 1920s to 1970s; with notes and bibliography.
———. ed. Women Poets of the West: An Anthology, 1850–1950. 2nd ed. Boise,
     Idaho: Ahsahta Press, 1979. Representative selections by fourteen women
     poets from eleven western states; introduction by Ann Stanford; with


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                                                 WESTERN POETRY, 1850–1950

Wald, Alan. “Tethered to the Past: The Poetry of Norman Macleod.” Minnesota
    Review 11 (1978): 107–111. Careful analysis concludes Macleod’s best work
    was rooted in his experience.
Walker, Franklin D. San Francisco’s Literary Frontier. New York: Knopf, 1939. Clas-
    sic study of San Francisco’s golden age, circa 1850–1900. Includes poems by
    and analysis of Harte, Coolbrith, Stoddard, Ridge, Sill, Sterling, J. Miller, and
Walker, Robert H. “The Poets Interpret the Western Frontier.” Mississippi Valley
    Historical Review 47 (1961): 619–635. Effects of Manifest Destiny, landscape,
    and experience on western poetry, 1876–1905.
West, Ray B., Jr., ed. Rocky Mountain Reader. New York: Dutton, 1946. Anthology
    contains critical essays by Clough, Ferril, Swallow, and West.
———. “Three Rocky Mountain Poets.” In Writing in the Rocky Mountains,
    pp. 45–65. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1947. Analysis of Ferril,
    Olson, and Ghiselin. Volume has useful annotated bibliography.
Standard Sources
See authors listed in Boise State University Western Writers Series, Steck-Vaughn
Southwest Writers Series, Twayne Series, and the “Major Reference Sources on the
West” at the back of this volume.


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                 Western American Drama to 1960

D        URING THE FORMATIVE STAGE of American drama, which lasted un-
         til around 1890, most American plays consisted of slapstick and
         sentimentalism, and plays about the frontier and the West were not
exceptions. Beginning in the 1890s, there was a rise of realism in American
drama, a trend which culminated in the production in 1906 of William
Vaughn Moody’s The Great Divide, said to mark the beginning of modern
American drama and notable for its use of a western setting and western
characters. Most subsequent plays about the West never received the kind
of notice given to works by eastern and southern dramatists such as Eugene
O’Neill, Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams. But western playwrights
Sidney Howard, Lynn Riggs, William Saroyan, John Steinbeck, and William
Inge did write plays that were acclaimed by audiences and reviewers and
that constitute a significant part of the literary heritage of the Ameri-
can West.
      Until recently even most specialists in western American literature
have known little about any western dramas, probably because few critical
studies and literary histories-with the exception of Felix Sper’s From Na-
tive Roots (1948) and Ima Honaker Herron’s The Small Town in American
Drama (1969)—even mention more than one or two western plays. West-
ern American drama is still largely an undiscovered territory waiting to be
explored and mapped.
      Any survey of western drama should begin with at least some mention
of Indian myth-dramas and Spanish folk plays, not only because of their
influence on the first Anglo playwrights, but also because they have pro-
vided such an important stimulus for contemporary western writers.
      In Masked Gods: Navaho and Pueblo Ceremonialism(1950), Frank Waters
has explained that Navaho myth-dramas serve at least three important
functions: “to perpetuate the myths and legends of the tribe” (p. 243); to
“teach in the medium of their own parables the universal truths of life”
(p. 249); and “to cure illnesses of the body and mind” (p. 258). The myth-
dramas of many other western American tribes have similar functions; and
their thaumaturgic and therapeutic aspects seem to have fascinated contem-
porary western playwrights such as Sam Shepard, who has shown in plays
such as Operation Sidewinder that he recognizes the magical and healing ele-
ments in Indian ritual.
      Another early form of western drama, the Spanish folk play, has also


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                                                  WESTERN DRAMA TO 1960

been a strong influence on contemporary dramatists. Folk plays appeared in
the Southwest soon after the founding of Santa Fe and were usually drama-
tizations of some biblical story, although Los Comanches is a historical
drama based on a battle with the Indians. Roberto J. Garza says that Chi-
cano theatre remained alive in the Southwest from the days of the folk dra-
mas and of Teatro Carpa (a traveling vaudevillian theatre for the masses) to
the rise in this century of Mexican folk-theatre groups that provided a
cultural center for Chicanos but that failed to “convey that espiritu of La
Raza which was about to manifest itself ” (Contemporary Chicano Theatre,
pp. 1–6). Whatever the failings of the Spanish folk plays and the Mexican
folk-theatre groups, they were probably the main inspiration for Teatro
Campesino, which Luis Valdez founded in the 1960s, and for plays by Valdez,
such as Zoot Suit (1978), plays which have been part of el renacimiento, the
rebirth of Chicano literature.
      Another early western cultural group, the Mormons, produced no first-
rate dramas, in spite of the support which the Latter-day Saints Church,
almost from its beginning, had given to the theatre. Mormons had staged
plays even before their westward migration, and in 1862 they built the Salt
Lake Theatre, which was for years one of the finest theatres in the country.
“It was a little surprising,” John S. Lindsay wrote in his history The Mor-
mons and the Theatre (1905), “that with the love of the drama so universal
in Utah so few contributions to dramatic literature were offered by local au-
thors for representation on the stage” (p. 155). In this century, the Mutual
Improvement Association’s annual publication of a book of plays often con-
tained original Mormon dramas, but according to Lael J. Woodbury, “No
pro-Mormon drama has yet achieved commercial success. . . .” Until the
1970s, most Mormon dramatists wanted to write plays that would defend
and glorify their religion; and as a result, their plays are often little more
than sermons in dramatic form.
      Anti-Mormon dramas enjoyed great commercial success in the 1800s,
but they are no better artistically than the pro-Mormon plays. William
Lysander Adams’s Treason, Stratagems, and Spoils (1852), Thomas Dunn En-
glish’s The Mormons (1858), and           Club’s Deseret Deserted (1858) portray
the Mormons as lying, stealing, murdering hypocrites. Joaquin Miller made
a small fortune with his anti-Mormon play The Danites in the Sierras (1877))
although he wrote in a later preface to the work: “I have always been sorry I
printed it, as it is unfair to the Mormons and the Chinese.” Aside from their
historical value as social documents of religious bigotry, the anti-Mormon
plays are chiefly interesting in their frequent use of the theme of mistaken or
lost identity; however, what O. W. Frost says about Miller’s Forty-Nine
(1881) applies to all the anti-Mormon dramas: “It is little more than a curi-
ous exhibit of popular nineteenth-century American comedy, a rollicking


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     A Literary History of the American West

and tearful entertainment without substance and without serious purpose”
(Joaquin Miller, p. 106).
      Although not polemical like the pro- and anti-Mormon plays, other
western American dramas of the formative period (from the 1850s to 1890)
were also artistic failures, and no other early western playwright achieved
financial success as Miller had done. But in spite of such artistic and finan-
cial failure, some of the frontier dramas have a few redeeming features.
Alonzo Delano’s A Live Woman in the Mines (1857), for example, deserves to
be better known for its lively frontier dialogue: “Whoora! for a live woman
in the mines. What’ll the boys say? they’ll peel out o’ their skins for joy. . . .
Injins and grizzlies clar the track, or a young airthquake will swaller you.” If
copies of A Live Woman had not become almost as rare as the First Folio of
Shakespeare’s plays, perhaps Delano’s use of frontier dialogue might have
had some influence on later western playwrights. In western drama, only
the robust frontier boasts in Roadside (1930) by Lynn Riggs equal the color-
ful lingo in A Live Woman, but the probability that Riggs had read Delano’s
play is small.
      A Live Woman in the Mines could be performed in the rough-and-ready
atmosphere of California’s Gold Rush camps, but more sedate eastern audi-
ences might not have paid to listen to an evening of frontier hyperbole.
What easterners did pay to see were less linguistically exuberant plays such
as Frank Hitchcock’s Davy Crockett (1872), which portrays a frontiersman
who is more of a genteel Natty Bumppo than a boasting ring-tail roarer.
And Augustin Daly’s Horizon (1871) is largely a bowdlerized caricature of
the actual West-complete with eastern dudes, drunken Indians, bumbling
soldiers, and a stage Chinaman. The main redeeming feature of Horizon is
Daly’s satire, which sometimes resembles Mark Twain’s; but unfortunately,
Daly’s debt to Bret Harte is too obvious to escape notice.
      Harte himself wrote quite a few plays, but only three were staged and
none was successful. Two Men of Sandy Bar (1876) combines elements from
several of Harte’s stories, but its moralism, bad dialogue, and lack of dra-
matic tension make it a flop. “Ah Sin!” (1877), the result of Harte’s un-
happy collaboration with Mark Twain, was also an artistic and financial fail-
ure. Mark Twain’s curtain speech contains what is probably the best critical
comment on the joint effort: “I never saw a play that was so much improved
by being cut down; and I believe it would have been one of the very best
plays in the world if the manager’s strength had held out so that he could
cut out the whole of it.” Twain apparently recognized that he and Harte had
talents more suited to prose narrative than to drama; and in Harte’s case,
other writers were more successful in dramatizing his stories than was Harte
himself. A good example of such adaptation is Bartley Campbell’s My Part-
ner ( 1879), which borrows a theme from Harte. Campbell’s characters boast


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                                               WESTERN DRAMA TO 1960

that California is as good as heaven, but the evil actions of many of them
seem better suited to hell.
      Like most nineteenth-century American dramas, Harte’s plays and the
dramatic adaptations that others wrote from his stories were melodramas, a
form especially well suited to be a part of theatrical productions that were
like Wild West shows. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody had, in fact, begun
his career in 1871 “as an actor under the direction of Ned Buntline,” the
pen name of E. Z. C. Judson, the most prolific of the dime novelists.
A year later, Cody started his own company, commissioning frontier melo-
dramas; and through a kind of theatrical mitosis, one of Cody’s actors, John
Wallace “Captain Jack” Crawford, began his own company and wrote three
frontier melodramas. According to Garff B. Wilson, nineteenth-century
frontier melodramas enjoyed great popularity and are the prototypes of
twentieth-century movie and T.V. Westerns. “During all this time,” Wilson
says, “the genre has followed the same basic formula of melodrama”:
     The hero is the rough but valiant and resourceful frontiersman; the
     heroine is a pure, modest maiden with hidden strength in her
     character; the villain is either an ugly gunslinger or a suave, pol-
     ished hypocrite; the conflict that develops runs a predictable
     course, but after the perils, fights, narrow escapes, and misunder-
     standings have occurred, the villain and his bad guys are defeated;
     the hero and the good guys are victorious.
       By the beginning of the 1890s, at least two playwrights began to add
more realistic details to plots that were still basically western melodramas.
By then, too, western stereotypes were quite familiar to American audi-
ences; the frontier melodramas were dramatic equivalents of dime novels
and novels of local color. Such plays—Charles Townsend’s The Golden
Gulch (1893) is a good example—usually had, in addition to the formula
plot outlined by Wilson, a cast that included a Chinaman, a taciturn In-
dian, a smooth villain, an eastern dude, a coarse but warm-hearted local
girl, and a hero. Such stereotypes were effectively used in a satirical comedy
by Charles H. Hoyt, A Texas Steer (1890), in which a group of Texans try to
get what they can from the government in Washington, D.C. In their
naivete the Texans are like other Americans, but their frontier barbarism is
depicted as a western trait. But Hoyt’s use of the stereotypes was an excep-
tion; many of the western plays of his fellow dramatists were as predictable
as B-grade Western movies and were about as aesthetically satisfying, too.
       Augustus Thomas and David Belasco, the two 1890s dramatists who
tried to do more than produce Westerns with predictable plots, never man-
aged to write plays without some trace of Bret Harte-like sentimentality.
Both Thomas and Belasco, however, did manage to make their dramas


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     A Literary History of the American West

more realistic than the typical play of that period. Thomas traveled to many
western states, gathering facts about local settings, characters, and events,
facts which he would later work into his dramas. Unfortunately, he could
never resist the temptation to make at least part of a play melodramatic or
overly romantic. In Mizzoura (1893), for example, is filled with the details
of an actual train robbery, but the characters seem straight from a story
by Bret Harte. Thomas could, however, create realistic characters. The
rancher and his wife in Arizona (1899) are based upon actual people, and
they give the play a strong air of reality; the rest of the play, though, is con-
ventional melodrama. Belasco, too, used actual incidents as the basis for his
dramas, but he seemed fascinated by events that, however real, seem quite
improbable, and his characters seem more like outcasts from Poker Flat than
like typical westerners. In addition, Belasco’s The Girl I Left Behind Me
(1893) resembles Thomas’s Arizona in tacitly condoning the racism, sex-
ism, and militarism of the age, and Belasco distorted the Spanish land grant
conflict in The Rose of the Rancho (1906). But Belasco will long be remem-
bered for The Girl of the Golden West (1905), which, in spite of its im-
probabilities, gives a sense of Gold Rush life that almost approaches the ex-
uberance and playfulness of Mark Twain’s Roughing It and which was the
basis of Giacomo Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West (1910), “the first grand
opera to be written on an American theme.”
      Like Belasco and Thomas, William Vaughn Moody worked hard to
make his plays more realistic, using an actual incident as the basis for The
Great Divide (1906)) the drama that is said to have revolutionized American
theatre. Moody had heard about a woman who, in order to save herself from
being raped by three westerners, had told one of the men that she would be
his if he would save her from the others, which he did by buying her. In The
Great Divide, the woman is Ruth Jordan, daughter of an old New England
family, and the rough westerner who buys her is Stephen Ghent. Ruth stays
with Ghent, who has fallen in love with her and treats her well, and she has
their child; but her Puritan conscience won’t permit her to remain in a rela-
tionship which had such an unholy beginning, so while Ghent strikes a bo-
nanza, she works like a peon, making baskets that she sells to get enough
money to buy herself back. She eventually does so and then returns to her
New England home. Ghent follows her, losing his own fortune to redeem
her family’s. When he confronts her, saying that since they love each other,
he wants her to return to him and to ignore what first brought them to-
gether, she forces him to see that she had to leave because they had come
together not out of love but from the force of violent domination. Having
forced that concession from him, Ruth then consents to go back with him.
      As the summary shows, The Great Divide has some of the melodramatic
elements common to other western dramas of the period. Yet as Martin


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                                                WESTERN DRAMA TO 1960

Halpern has explained, Moody used conventionalities to express profound
and moving ideas. Ruth and Ghent both undergo a painful transformation.
Though the adventure-craving part of Ruth initially finds Ghent attractive,
she rejects him at the insistence of the Puritan side of her personality, which
recognizes that evil cannot be ignored. After arguing for the individual free-
dom offered by the frontier, Ghent ultimately recognizes that Ruth is right
in insisting that they cannot ignore the evil which first brought them to-
gether. Halpern compares their moral and emotional struggle to that of
Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.
      The Great Divide is also strikingly similar to Owen Wister’s The Virgin-
ian (1902), primarily because the romance of Molly Stark and the Virginian
proceeds in many respects like that of Ruth and Ghent. Both the Virginian
and Ghent woo New Englanders, and both men are candid, sometimes
blunt, westerners. In both the novel and the play, when the cowboys win
their ladies the West seems to have triumphed over the East, but a closer
look shows that the American system of values, including male dominance,
is the final victor. What Halpern says of Moody is true of Wister as well:
“Moody is concerned not with widening the ‘Great Divide’ between East
and West but with closing it. . . .”
      Moody achieved for American drama a little bit of what Mark Twain
had done for the American novel when he wrote Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn. As Maurice F. Brown puts it, “The Great Divide brought realism and
symbolism in an effective combination into the American theatre, offering
a native model on which dramatists might build.” For almost another two
decades, however, no western playwrights succeeded in following Moody’s
model, although two western writers who were well known for their work in
other genres made the attempt. Mary Austin’s The Arrow-Maker (1911) and
Jack London’s The Acorn-Planter (1916) are ostensibly plays about Indians,
but Austin’s feminism and London’s socialism are all too didactically appar-
ent in the lines of their pre-Columbian characters. London was even more
heavy-handed when he wrote three other plays set in his own time. Like
Bret Harte and Mark Twain, Austin and London wrote essays, stories, and
novels that were far better than their plays.
      After World War I, aspiring playwrights not only had The Great Divide
and European plays by Ibsen, Chekhov, Shaw, and Strindberg as models,
but they could also see that one of their contemporaries, Eugene O’Neill,
was creating a modem American drama. Universities had started to offer
courses in playwriting, and college theatres and new professional theatre
groups were staging original dramas by young American playwrights. An-
other Californian, Sidney Howard, was a graduate of Professor George
Pierce Baker’s playwriting course at Harvard. When Howard wrote a play
about an unconventional love affair, the Theatre Guild of New York-


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     A Literary History of the American West

“dedicated to the production of fine plays which commercial managers were
afraid to present” — staged They Knew What They Wanted (1924), for which
Howard was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Like Ruth and Ghent in The Great
Divide, the leading characters in Howard’s play must act unconventionally
in order to do what is best for all. They Knew What They Wanted is not,
however, “a play about ideas, but,” as Joseph Wood Krutch wrote, “a play
about men and women. . . .”
      The men are Tony Patucci, a Napa Valley grape grower, and his hired
man Joe; and the woman is Amy, Tony’s mail-order bride. When Amy ar-
rives at Tony’s ranch to be married to him, she at first thinks that Joe is
Tony, since Tony had sent her Joe’s photograph and said it was a picture of
himself and since Tony had broken his leg shortly before her arrival and was
therefore not present for it. In spite of that initial confusion, the wedding
takes place; and afterwards, when Tony falls asleep, Amy and Joe succumb
to a moment of strong sexual attraction. Three months later, when Amy
and Joe learn that she is pregnant as a result of their one night together, the
play appears to be headed in the direction of melodrama, for Amy and Joe
decide to leave together, even though they are not in love and Joe does not
want to be married. And when Amy breaks down and tells Tony every-
thing, he first goes berserk, swearing all kinds of vengeance. But at this
point Howard gives the play some realistic twists, and the earlier melo-
dramatic elements become only a counterpoint for the play’s basically real-
istic thrust. Tony, who is much older than Amy and Joe, cools down and
begins to think about the situation. Then, by pointing out that he and Amy
love each other, that he wants a child, and that Joe wants to roam with the
Wobblies, Tony persuades Amy to stay and Joe to go.
      Barrett H. Clark called They Knew What They Wanted “a comedy of
second thoughts; in the first act Amy starts to do the conventional thing
because her pride is wounded, but on second thought she knows she wants
comfort and affection more than she does revenge; in the third act Tony
starts to do the same thing, because somewhere within him is a conviction
that a good husband must kill his wife’s lover, but on second thought he
takes a wiser course.” Howard’s characters arrive at their second thoughts
not by discussing ideas (as in The Great Divide) but by a process of individual
reconsideration that awakens them to their actual feelings, thereby helping
them to change their minds. They Knew What They Wanted has been over-
shadowed by its musical adaptation, The Most Happy Fella (1956), which
diminished the effect of realism by overplaying the sentimentality in the
story. For its sensitive portrayal of typical westerners without gunplay and
without other stage heroics, Howard’s original drama is a landmark in west-
ern American literature.
      Howard spent some time in Hollywood, where he wrote screenplays for


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                                                WESTERN DRAMA TO 1960

Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith and Dodsworth. In the 1920s, Hollywood en-
tered its Golden Age and became the subject of a number of plays, most of
them satirical comedies. What the playwrights satirized is the Hollywood
myth of the West as a land where the good cowboy always wins. They
showed that only fools believe a movie’s version of the West or of any other
place; that Hollywood itself has become a new gold camp, luring naive
fame-and-fortune hunters by the thousands. The best known satirizations of
Hollywood are George Kaufman and Marc Connelly’s Merton of the Movies
(1922; based on the novel by Harry Leon Wilson) and Moss Hart and
George Kaufman’s Once in a Lifetime (1930). Although satires such as these
hilariously expose the phoniness of the movieland West, they give no sense
of the real world on the other side of the false-front sets.
      For the people in that real world, life was not very hilarious. The Dust
Bowl and the Great Depression made the West of the late 1920s and the
1930s a place of hardship and anxiety. Thanks to the support of many group
theatre organizations, the Federal Theatre projects, and university theatre
programs-not only at Harvard and Yale, but also at schools such as the
University of North Dakota and the University of Washington-serious
young playwrights received encouragement to write plays about the hard
times. Also during those two decades, the upsurge of interest in regional
literature helped to provide audiences for new regional dramas.
      A good example of such regional playwrights is E. P. Conkle, whose
Crick Bottom Plays 1928) are humorous sketches of folksy Nebraskans.
When Conkle tried to write serious plays about events and characters from
western history and folklore, he failed to bring them to life. But he was
successful when he wrote 200 Were Chosen (1937), a drama about the re-
settlement in Alaska of destitute midwestern farmers. The play is strikingly
similar to parts of The Grapes of Wrath, and much of Conkle’s writing is as
effective as Steinbeck’s. Another Nebraska playwright, Virgil Geddes, saw
in the lives of midwestern farm families the same problems that had faced
the ancient Greeks, and he wrote several dramas about incestuous relation-
ships between fathers and daughters. W. David Sievers says that in The
Earth Between (1930) and Native Ground (1932), “Geddes . . . attempted to
capture the Greek feeling for the majesty of a struggle with the hereditary
curse of evil within a family,” but he did not quite achieve “O’Neill’s mas-
tery of his material.”
      O’Neill’s plays are rivalled, however, by the works of the greatest of the
western dramatists: Lynn Riggs. His Green Grow the Lilacs (1931) has been
so popular in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical version that millions of
people outside the region think the West is Oklahoma! (1943) plus some
Indians. Delightfully entertaining though it is, the musical has a saccharine
optimism which probably deters most readers from bothering to look at the


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     A Literary History of the American West

original drama or at any of the rest of the more than two dozen plays by
Riggs. What readers would find in Green Grow the Lilacs is a dark side more
ominous than the treatment of evil in Oklahoma! The shivaree in Riggs’s
play is a powerful and frightening display of mob lewdness and callousness,
and the mob consists of those who are usually considerate neighbors. Also
in Green Grow the Lilacs, Jeeter (Jud Fry) has been warped by the demean-
ing force of his work, whereas Curly’s easygoing warm manner is the result
of the freedom he’s enjoyed as a cowboy. In Oklahoma! Curly escapes a jail
sentence, an ending which, as Thomas A. Erhard has suggested, “is a little
more clear-cut in its lightness than the almost bittersweet Lilacs . . .” (Lynn
Riggs, p. 21).
      Riggs had written a number of plays before Green Grow the Lilacs, and
one of the first—Big Lake (1927), about the killing of two innocent teen-
agers—had been praised by Burns Mantle and Barrett H. Clark; and after
its production, Sidney Howard had encouraged Riggs to continue writing.
Like Howard, Riggs moved to Hollywood for awhile to make a living by
writing screenplays, and he also continued to write dramas. Yet in spite of
his early reputation as one of America’s most promising playwrights, Riggs
never wrote a Broadway hit and he never received the kind of acclaim
granted to O’Neill. Nevertheless, almost all of Riggs’s plays are good, and a
number of them are first-rate.
      Roadside: Or Borned in Texas (1930) presents a ring-tail roarer who
woos and wins the ex-wife of a down-to-earth farmer. While he woos, the
swaggering frontier hero demolishes a courthouse and jail and then brags his
way out of punishment. Like the tall tales of the mountain men, the boasts
in Roadside create a special and comic world of hyperbole, as one can see in
the following passage:
                    Wild and reckless,
                    Borned in Texas
                    Suckled by a bear,
                    Steel backbone,
                    Tail screwed on,
                    Twelve feet long,
                    Dare any son-of-a-bitch to step on it!
Erhard is clearly right when he says that Riggs “captured the poetic flavor of
frontier speech almost as well as John Millington Synge captured that of
Irish dialects” (p. 2). At first the Irish refused to recognize Synge’s achieve-
ment, feeling that his plays were none too flattering; perhaps a similar de-
fensive reaction by Americans is part of the reason why Riggs has not yet
been recognized as the great writer he is.
      Riggs was a master of tragedy as well as comedy. A Lantern to See By


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                                                 WESTERN DRAMA TO 1960

(1928) is about a farmer who tyrannizes his family. Here a western play-
wright tried to emulate the Greeks and succeeded. John Harmon’s whole
life is his sons, but his immense pride in them is overshadowed by his deter-
mination to domineer. His domination of his eldest son, Jodie, so stunts the
boy’s spirit that when he thinks he can find no other escape, he is driven to
kill his father. Another cause of the patricide is John Harmon’s forcing him-
self upon the girl Jodie loves. The sexual rivalry that pits father against son
is apparent underneath their squabbles over work and money. Yet Riggs
shows us that even that sexual conflict is caused by a deeper division, for
John Harmon is the pioneer, the proud self-made man who wants to domi-
nate everything —Nature, his children, women—whereas Jodie is of the
second generation on the land and seeks sympathy and understanding.
       The sexual rivalry between a farmer and his son and the boasts of a
frontier braggart were not subjects that excited commercial theatre owners
on Broadway, so Riggs escaped obscurity only because he had written the
play from which Oklahoma ! was created. When one considers that a widely
used textbook such as The Norton Anthology of American Literature (1979)
contains not a single reference to any American dramatist—not even
O’Neill—then it may be safe to assume that almost all literary critics and
historians have never read a line written by Riggs. Amazingly productive in
the face of such neglect, Riggs wrote his last (and far from his best) play—a
musical entitled Toward the Western Sky (1951)—because he had received a
commission for a historical pageant-drama.
       Pageant-dramas and other historical plays comprise a large category of
western drama, but unlike western novelists, playwrights have not suc-
ceeded in bringing the Old West back to life, perhaps because, as Susanne
Langer has pointed out, the novel is virtual memory pointing toward the
present, whereas the drama is a virtual present pointing toward the future;
and until recently the West was so young and changing so rapidly that no
future could be envisioned with certainty. One of the best of the historical

plays is Maxwell Anderson’s Night Over Taos (1928), which recounts the
story of the Taos rebellion of 1847, but which “belongs among his lesser
credits.” More effective at showing how the past is linked to the present,
Talbot Jennings’s No More Frontier (1931) dramatizes the changes in a pio-
neer Idaho family over several generations. But no western historical play
has yet matched the artistry of A. B. Guthrie’s The Big Sky or Wallace
Stegner’s Angle of Repose.
       Ostensibly about a robbery in a western desert, Robert E. Sherwood’s
 The Petrified Forest (1935) shows allegorically that the American sense of
history had become petrified. Some twentieth-century robbers descend on a
desert filling station, where they hole up with hostages until a posse shoots
it out with the gang. But before the gang’s leader leaves, he fulfills his prom-


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     A Literary History of the American West

ise to shoot a destitute young poet who had asked to be killed so that the
granddaughter of the filling station owner could receive the benefits of a
$5,000 life insurance policy. The young poet mentions T. S. Eliot’s “The
Hollow Men,” an allusion which reinforces the impression that Sherwood
chose the southwestern desert for his setting because he saw it as a good
symbol of the wasteland and because the dreams of the old frontier are petri-
fied there like the forest in the desert. In contrast to Sidney Howard and
Lynn Riggs, neither Sherwood nor his characters look upon the West as
home; for them it is just a way station until they can get somewhere else.
      The twentieth-century urban West is home for most of the characters
in William Saroyan’s My Heart’s in the Highlands (1939) and The Time of
Your Life (1939), but their behavior and beliefs are little changed from what
one finds in the pages of Bret Harte. My Heart’s in the Highlands is a senti-
mental drama about a struggling poet and his nine-year-old son who are in-
spired by the bungling and philosophy of an old stranger. A Pulitzer Prize
was awarded for The Time of Your Life, but Saroyan refused it. The play’s
setting is a San Francisco waterfront bar in and out of which characters drift
while the bartender watches some of the regulars interact with the other
customers. An eccentric rich man befriends a two-dollar whore and encour-
ages her and his slow friend to fall in love. When a police detective picks on
the whore, we expect the rich man or her new lover to retaliate, but instead
the cop is killed by Kit Carson, a talkative old Indian fighter. The whore
with a heart of gold is straight from Bret Harte; and once one notices that
resemblance, it becomes clear that many of the other characters also have
Hartesian prototypes. The regulars in the bar share a feeling of community
and camaraderie that is similar to the spirit evinced by some of the groups
and towns in Harte’s stories.
      Although better known than Riggs, Saroyan was not nearly so good a
playwright as his Oklahoma contemporary, and the critical consensus holds
that Saroyan’s later dramas did not match the freshness and spontaneity of
his two 1939 plays. For example, Love’s Old Sweet Song (1940), Saroyan’s
spoof of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, suffers from a plot that was
“badly neglected.”
      Ironically, Steinbeck wrote a play, Of Mice and Men (1937), that
is much better than any of Saroyan’s dramas. Steinbeck wrote Of Mice
and Men, The Moon Is Down (1942), and Burning Bright (1950) as play-
novelettes, “novel[s] which can be played,” as he defined them. The only
one of these works that has a western setting, Of Mice and Men is a major
work of western American literature. Although George and Lennie’s dream
of owning their own ranch is crushed, Steinbeck shows us how powerful and
sustaining that dream can be. As Malcolm Goldstein has noted, “Steinbeck
is reluctant to point a moral by directly linking the defeat of the pair to the


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                                               WESTERN DRAMA TO 1960

national economic situation; rather than do so, he is content to create a
situation in which the dual protagonists are victims of their own skewed
psychological structures. Yet darting through their story are insights into
the worker’s life. . . .”
      In contrast to Steinbeck and Riggs, western dramatists of the 1940s
showed scenes of real life only to suggest that it can be escaped through
fantasy. Robert Finch’s Plays of the American West (1947) are short dramas
in most of which a happy resolution is achieved when the protagonist be-
gins to live in an imaginary world that is an escape from the harsh reality of
the actual and inhospitable West. Mary Chase’s Harvey (1944), the best
and most widely known of her works, is like Finch’s plays in that it suggests
that fantasy is often preferable to reality. Although Chase is a long-time
resident of Denver and although Harvey is set in a city in the Far West,
there is little that marks her play as western.
      A theatrical development of the 1940s that reached full bloom in the
next decade was the production of hit musicals on western themes. Rodgers
and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! (1943) is the best known of these, but many
of the western musicals that followed were almost as popular: Irving Berlin’s
Annie Get Your Gun (1946); Lerner and Loewe’s Paint Your Wagon (1952);
the film musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954); Harold Rome’s
Destry Rides Again (1959); Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song
(1959); and Meredith Willson’s The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1960). As
drama, the musicals differ from earlier melodramas only in the addition of
songs, a few more realistic details, and an unbounded optimism that is
never disappointed by an unresolved conflict. In the world of the western
musicals, the West becomes a kind of vast Disneyland and life there is a
game with a predictable happy ending.
      Without any of the saccharine optimism of the musicals, the plays of
William Inge are studies in midwestern despair and psychological turmoil.
Yet four of Inge’s plays were Broadway hits during the 1950s, bringing him
fame and fortune: Come Back, Little Sheba (1950)) about an alcoholic chiro-
practor who had wanted to be a doctor, and his childless wife whose life is
empty; Picnic (1953; Pulitzer Prize), about a young drifter, Hal, whose love
affair with a small-town girl leads to his expulsion from the town; Bus Stop
(1955), about some passengers whose forced stay in a small-town cafe leads
to a successful romance for a Montana cowboy and a nightclub singer but
only to more loneliness for others; and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs
(1957), which is set in a small Oklahoma town of the 1920s and which
shows the family struggles of a cowboy turned harness salesman.
      Although popular and often praised, Inge’s plays have also been strongly
criticized. Gerald Weales, for example, finds the talk in an Inge play dull
and whining: “The naturalistic tradition seems to have spawned a host of


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      A Literary History of the American West

dull people who are bromidic and repetitive, inarticulate except at those
moments of high whine when they grind out their tales of woe; Inge’s plays
have their quota of such characters.” Weales seems to assume that what we
know about a character is only what that character explicitly tells us,
but some recent criticism contends that the dialogue in an Inge play im-
plicitly reveals truths about the characters deeper than any in their explicit
      Critics such as R. Baird Shuman have pointed out that many of Inge’s
characters must humble themselves and must accept a more realistic view of
life before they can find any sort of happiness. Inge shows that it is because
of social pressures and psychological forces that they come to realize what
they must do. In some of his plays, the pressures take the form of ancient
social patterns. According to Philip M. Armato, “Picnic can be viewed as
an incisive study of modern scapegoat ritual. . . . Inge creates in Hal a vic-
tim for our times. Hal is polluted by the sins of the townspeople which are
laid upon his head through the psychological device of projection. . . . In-
stead of punishing themselves for their own transgressions, the townspeople
punish Hal”
      Inge’s plays show not only the universal problems of small-town life but
also the special pressures that plague the West because the frontier is gone.
In The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, Rubin expresses well the theme of most
of Inge’s plays: “Sometimes I wonder if it’s not a lot easier to pioneer a coun-
try than it is to settle down in it.” Most of Inge’s characters cannot settle
down, because they are lonely, insecure, and bored. Nothing in their empty
lives substitutes for the sense of purpose and the challenges that filled the
lives of the pioneers. Like the characters in many post- World War II west-
ern novels, Inge’s characters struggle on a frontier within themselves. Be-
fore they can find happiness they must come to see that, as Hegel put it,
“Freedom is the recognition of necessity.”
      Inge achieved what Lynn Riggs had never been lucky enough to enjoy:
success on Broadway. But western American dramatists had to wait until
the 1970s before they could receive national acclaim regardless of whether
Broadway producers cared for their work. By the end of the 1950s, a number
of outstanding western dramas had been