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Becoming Western

Stories of Culture and Identity in the Cowboy State

Liza J. Nicholas

Publication Year: 2006

In the Cowboy State (also known as Wyoming), the Wild West has never died. The West has long been the favored repository of the East’s cultural fantasies, and in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Eastern expectations and demands largely shaped Wyoming's image in this role. Becoming Western shows how the myth of the “American West” has acted as a force both in history and in individual lives.

Liza J. Nicholas interrogates the creation of Western lore by looking at five stories that focus on, respectively, Jack Flagg, a Wyoming legend and the supposed model for Owen Wister’s Virginian; an equestrian statue of Buffalo Bill sculpted by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney; the dude ranch; the creation of the American studies program at Yale; and a campaign for the U.S. Senate. Each story reveals the ways in which the East consciously imagined and manipulated the West and how Wyomingites in turn interpreted this identity, manipulated it, and put it to work for themselves. Becoming Western is a fascinating study of how invented traditions can become potent cultural and political ideology on a local as well as a national level.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. viii-

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pp. ix- x

There are many people to whom I am deeply indebted for their help with this project, first and foremost my dissertation committee at the University of Utah. Through her own expertise and mastery of her field, Pat Albers constantly challenged my abilities...

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pp. xi- xviii

In her poignant memoir, Riding the White Horse Home, Teresa Jordan recalls the story her grandfather told about his father, J. L. Jordan, the family patriarch and founder of the Jordan ranch in southeastern Wyoming. To the Jordans, writes Teresa, that story...

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1. Jack Flagg and the Battle over “Westernness”

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pp. 1- 32

OwenWister and Jack Flagg were both twenty-five years old in the summer of 1885. Flagg was a working-class iconoclast from the South,Wister was an eastern elite, but their lives would nonetheless come together to shape the West’s stories about itself far into...

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2. The West, the East, Buffalo Bill, and a Horse

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pp. 33- 65

In June 1924, an equestrian statue of Buffalo Bill was unveiled on a picturesque site on the outskirts of Cody, Wyoming. Against an appropriately vast western outline of red buttes and stark bluffs, ten thousand locals joined by eastern notables braved the drizzling...

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3. The West of Work and Play

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pp. 66- 87

On the afternoon of May 7, 1937, a group of New York’s social elite gathered in a suite at the Waldorf Astoria. 1 Their host had instructed them to dress western, and encouraged them to don colored handkerchiefs and their “best ranch duds.” “The more...

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4. Museum, Celebrations, and Yale

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pp. 88- 113

When Wyomingites celebrated their entry into the Union on July 24, 1890, they did so in a decidedly forward-looking manner. The celebratory theme was “equality,” as was fitting for the first state in the nation to give women the right to vote. The parade that...

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5. Voting Western

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pp. 114- 145

In small towns all across the West, farmers, ranchers, business owners, and other locals frequent the community coffee shop to discuss the state of the world and their own communities. Coffee shops are places where localism is articulated, and it is in...

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pp. 146- 156

Wyoming’s status in the national narrative as a place apart—a western Brigadoon, of a sort—has endured as a part of the national mythology for over one hundred years. The western narrative of independence, heroism, and “true” Americanness that Wyoming...


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pp. 157- 192


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pp. 193- 204


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pp. 205- 214

E-ISBN-13: 9780803256309
E-ISBN-10: 0803256302

Publication Year: 2006