SEEKING PLEASURE IN THE OLD WEST by David Dary

SEEKING PLEASURE IN THE OLD WEST

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Western historian Dary (Entrepreneurs of the Old West, 1986, etc.) turns his attention to the leisure activities of the region, from the first white explorers to move westward to the coming of the radio. Many readers might be surprised to find that the likes of Lewis and Clark or the homesteaders even had spare time to pass. But, in fact, there are records--journals, letters, diaries, memoirs--documenting a multitude of leisure activities enjoyed in the Old West. Dary begins his chronicle with the journals of Lewis and Clark and Zebulon Pike, volumes that show us men fiddling, dancing, and commingling with friendly Native Americans for sport, commerce, and sex. From there, he moves breezily to the mountain men, Native Americans, soldiers and their womenfolk, homesteading families, and inhabitants of the prairie and mining towns. There is seemingly no logic to the book's structure; for example, Dary jumps directly from the mountain men in the 1830s to a chapter on the Indians that draws heavily and unevenly on journals of the 1870s and '80s. The decision to build the narrative around localities rather than activities results in a myriad of repetition--gambling, for example, is discussed in almost every chapter--but with little attempt to unite the material. And the heavy reliance on primary sources results in unfortunate side effects. First, the text is only as interesting or representative as Dary's choice of diary or journal; second, much recent research is neglected, and a larger social historical picture is slighted. A great disappointment, particularly coming from the author of the excellent Cowboy Culture (1981).

Pub Date: Nov. 20th, 1995
ISBN: 0700608281
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Knopf