THE AMERICAN WEST by Dee Brown

THE AMERICAN WEST

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A pleasant but uninspired collection of vignettes about the history of the West that offers nothing new. Noted Western author Brown (When the Century Was Young, 1993, etc.) serves up a new volume detailing the life and history of the American frontier. The material is culled from the text of three previous picture books--Fighting Indians of the West, Trail Driving Days, and The Settlers' West--that he co-authored in the 1940s and 1950s with the late Martin Schmitt (editor of General George Crook: His Autobiography, 1946); this version also includes several photographs from the earlier volumes. Always sensitive to the long, losing struggle of the Indians, Brown movingly depicts Sioux chief Red Cloud's successful war to close the Bozeman Trail (including the so-called Fetterman Massacre) and Cheyenne chief Black Kettle's unsuccessful attempts to keep the peace, shattered by the Sand Creek and Washita massacres. But the white West is also covered, with glimpses of life on the great cattle drives and of the boomtowns at the end of the beef trails--towns like Abilene, Tex., and Wichita, Kans., which thrived as rail centers for the shipment of cattle. The mythmaking process that shaped the West of popular imagination is also dear to Brown's heart, and he brings into focus the impact of tall tales (Paul Bunyan, etc.), Wild West shows (Buffalo Bill, et al.), rodeos, Billy the Kid's inflated legend, and The Virginian, a novel by Harvard-educated Philadelphia lawyer Owen Wister that supplanted real-life cowboy Charlie Siringo's much more authentic A Texas Cow Boy in the public imagination. Brown writes in an engaging style, but our view of frontier history has changed a lot in 40 years. Rather than this recycled material, itself seduced by the myths it seeks to expose, better to read Brown's own Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-02-517421-5
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1994




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