Candy Moulton: Reading the West 6-20-11
Each year the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum honors top writers of the American West with the Wrangler Award. The recognition is bestowed in a number of categories including nonfiction articles. Those winning short pieces are published in a variety of magazines and journals and are sometimes difficult to find and read after the awards are announced each April.
The University of Oklahoma Press, recognizing the quality of the writing, has gathered and published a collection of those articles in “Western Heritage,” an anthology edited by Paul Andrew Hutton. The book includes a foreword by Charles P. Schroeder, the executive director of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
These are selections that reflect the breadth and depth of subject matter. C.L. Sonnichsen’s 1986 account of Geronimo’s life foreshadows the work of younger historians who continue to deepen our understanding of American Indian history. Jeffrey Pearson’s story of the death of Crazy Horse and Greg Michno’s novelistic rendering of the Lakota view of the Battle of the Little Bighorn represent history as practices by scholars who are also powerful writers.
Journalist-screenwriter William Broyles’s narrative of the King family and ranch is a Texas saga as captivating as anything by Larry McMurtry. The renowned novelist Oakley Hall writes with a historian’s precision about Wyoming, setting for the Virginian and site of the Teapot Dome scandal and the Johnson County range war. Focusing on Charles M. Russell, Raphael Cristy establishes the Western artist’s importance as a writer who overturned stereotypes about American Indians.
Environmental studies are showcased in Dan Flores’s essays on the demise of the great buffalo herds and the history of the horse trade. No overview of the West would be complete without military and law enforcement history, amply represented by Robert M. Utley’s work on the Texas Rangers, Paul Hutton’s panoramic recounting of the Alamo, and Sally Denton’s new look at the controversial Mountain Meadows Massacre, incorporating the latest forensic evidence. In what now serves as a fitting code to the violent yet inspiring history of the American West, Hutton offers a stirring account of Teddy Roosevelt’s leadership at the Battle of San Juan Hill.
Other nonfiction books I can recommend are these:
• “Jedediah Smith: No Ordinary Mountain Man” by Barton H. Barbour, a biography that takes a look at Jedediah Smith’s views of American Indians, Mexicans in California, and Hudson’s Bay Company competitors.
• “Shaping the West: American Sculptors of the 19th Century” features the work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Solon Borglum, Hermon Atkins MacNeil, Charles M. Russell and Fredrick Remington. The book is published through the Petrie Institute of Western American Art.
• “Grand Procession: Contemporary Artistic Visions of American Indians” is a richly illustrated volume by Lois Sherr Dubin. From a heritage rooted in dolls and ledger-book drawings, comes a fresh and exciting sculptural art featuring human and animal figures. Typically around 2-feet tall and meticulously clothed in elaborate beded and quilled ceremonial dress, the figures emulate Plains and Plateau traditions of the mid-19th to early 20th centuries. This book highlights the premier collection of these figures, the Dyker Collection at the Denver Art Museum, which is comprised of figures created by five award-winning Indian women artist – Rhonda Holy Bear (Lakota), Jame Ikuma (Luiseno) and the Growing Thunder family (Assiniboine-Sioux): Joyce Growing Thunder, her daughter Juanita Growing Thunder Fogarty, and granddaughter Jessica Growing Thunder.
• A stagecoach ride at Madison Square Garden in New York City convinced Larry Larom he wanted to live in the West. He visited Jim McLaughlin’s Valley Ranch, located along the South Fork of the Shoshone River west of Cody, Wyo., and ultimately abandoned his life in New York to become a dude rancher. “Dude Ranching in Yellowstone Country: Larry Larom and Valley Ranch” by W. Hundson Kensel, is a history of the ranch that includes information from Larom’s personal papers as well as reminiscences from Cody area residents and people who visited Valley Ranch during Larom’s ownership.
If you’d rather be reading some traditional fiction here are some choices to consider.
• “Gunman from Rawhide” by Todhunter Ballard includes the novellas “Gunman from Rawhide” and “Deadmen’s Gold.”
• “Desert Rider” by Ray Hogan has two novellas, “Desert Rider” and “The Outside Gun” written in traditional style with compelling characters.
• “Singing Wires” by L. P. Holmes first appeared as a four-part serial in Ranch Romances in 1950 and 1951. In the story Clay Roswell loses his outfit to a pair of brothers before he can join the Pony Express, but later meets up with them when he signs on to string telegraph line cross the country.
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