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Worldviews And The American West

The Life of the Place Itself

Polly Stewart, Steve Siporin, C. W. Sullivan III, and Suzi Jones

Publication Year: 2000

A diverse group of writers and scholars follow the lead of noted folklorist Barre Toelken and consider, from the inside, the ways in which varied cultures in the American West understand and express their relations to the world around them. As Barre Toelken puts it in The Dynamics of Folklore, "'Worldview' refers to the manner in which a culture sees and expresses its relation to the world around it." In Worldviews and the American West, seventeen notable authors and scholars, employing diverse approaches and styles, apply Toelken's ideas about worldview to the American West. While the contributors represent a range of voices, methods, and visions, they are integrated through their focus on the theme of worldview in one region. Worldviews and the American West includes essays by Margaret K. Brady, Hal Cannon, Nora Marks Dauenhauer and Richard Dauenhauer, James S. Griffith, Barry Lopez, Robert McCarl, Elliott Oring, Twilo Scofield, Steve Siporin, Kim Stafford, C. W. Sullivan III, Jeannie B. Thomas, George Venn, George B. Wasson, and William A. Wilson. Each of the authors in this collection attempts to get inside one or more of the worldviews of the many cultures that have come to share and interpret the American West. The result is a lively mix of styles and voices as the authors' own worldviews interact with the multiple perspectives of the diverse peoples (and, in Barry Lopez's "The Language of Animals," other species) of the West. This diversity matches the geography of the region they all call home and gives varied life and meaning to its physical and cultural landscape.

Published by: Utah State University Press

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pp. vii

This anthology started taking shape almost a decade ago, independently and more or less simultaneously, in the minds of two of the volume’s editors. We were widely separated geographically but alike in our regard for a teacher and mentor whose impact upon us and upon our field has been immense. Each of us imagined putting together a volume of essays in honor of him, and before long each learned, quietly networking among old...

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1: Introduction

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pp. 1-6

This book, a collection of essays on worldview and the American West, started life some years back as a festschrift honoring Barre Toelken. The four of us who edited this volume are all past students of Barre’s. We wanted to assemble essays written by students and colleagues who over the years had, like us, benefitted from Barre’s thought and wished to celebrate him as friend, colleague, and mentor. Yet, as we four eagerly began consulting...

Personal Essay

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2: The Language of Animals

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pp. 9-15

The steep riverine valley I live within, on the west slope of the Cascades in Oregon, has a particular human and natural history. Though I’ve been here for thirty years, I am able to convey almost none of it. It is not out of inattentiveness. I’ve wandered widely within the drainages of its eponymous river, the McKenzie; and I could offer you a reasonably complete sketch of its immigrant history, going back to the 1840s. Before then...


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3: Faith of Our Fathers

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pp. 19-30

To a boy entering Theodore Roosevelt Grade School in 1949, there was no history, racism, justice, or culture in Burlington, Washington. For first graders, the town seemed to be magically defined by Burlington Hill, which rose above the flat Skagit Valley like a wooded turtle shell—just across the railroad tracks, just north of the school, just north of our home in the Presbyterian manse. No one lived on Burlington Hill. After school, my...

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4: Blue Shadows on Human Drama: The Western Songscape

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pp. 31-36

I grew up with one foot in Salt Lake City and one foot in a western agricultural community, Bluffdale, Utah. As a boy I remember visiting our doctor’s office. I can picture the waiting room vividly. Cheap prints hung on the wall. One was a picture of a marsh, duck hunters waiting behind a blind as a V of ducks flew overhead. The other was of a Conestoga wagon, with pioneer family, rolling across a desert landscape. As an adult I came back to...


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5: A Diversity of Dead Helpers: Folk Saints of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

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pp. 39-53

Since about 1991, I have been building an archival collection of commercially printed Catholic devotional ephemera—holy pictures, prayers, novenas, and other aids to prayer and meditation that are produced in vast quantities for the use of Catholics around the world. The main collection, obtained in the Southwestern United States and Mexico, now numbers over fifteen hundred items. (Smaller collections have...

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6: Icons of Immortality: Forest Lawn and the American Way of Death

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pp. 54-64

In 1916, Hubert Eaton became the manager of a fifty-five acre rural cemetery in Tropico, California, called Forest Lawn. It was on New Year’s Day of the following year that Eaton received the vision that led him to transform this little, failing cemetery into one of America’s most famous cemeteries, second perhaps only to Arlington National Cemetery. Today over 250,000 “loved ones” are entombed, interred, and inurned...

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7: Ride ‘Em, Barbie Girl: Commodifying Folklore, Place, and the Exotic

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pp. 65-86

In 1959, Ruth Handler of Mattel—inspired by paper dolls and a German sex doll—created an adult doll for little girls and named her Barbie. According to Mattel, the doll’s full name is Barbie Millicent Roberts, and she attended Willows High School in Willows, Wisconsin, and then went to “State College” (Robins 1989, 26). Barbie M. Roberts has come a long way since those early days. In 1996 Mattel’s net sales reached...

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8: Tall Tales and Sales

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pp. 87-104

Is there anything significant left to say about tall tales? The apparent simplicity of the genre and the vast literature already written about it, some of which will be addressed below, might lead one to think that the answer must be no. Yet, as is the case with folklore generally, just when we think our “simple” subject has been exhausted, we discover new layers of meaning tucked away in a tale, in silence, or in newly emerging uses. In this essay I will argue that...


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9: Jesse James: An American Outlaw

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pp. 107-117

Jesse James, born to Robert James and Zerelda Cole James in September of 1847 and killed by Robert Ford in April of 1882, is perhaps the most famous western outlaw in the United States. After the Civil War—during which he served for a time with Quantrill’s men, as did his brother Frank— he and his brother became infamous as bank and train robbers, leading a gang which included, at times, such other...

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10: John Campbell ’s Adventure, and the Ecology of Story

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pp. 118-134

For most of my adult life, I have been haunted by a story. Not so much a story, really, as the possibilities of one, lurking (or so I think) in a tangle of episodes, anecdotes, allusions, and conjectures that I’ve been carrying around in my head for years, until the urge to find a narrative order in the stuff, or impose one on it, has overcome my skepticism. Lest I come off here at the outset sounding like a latter-day Ancient Mariner, or...

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11: Raven and the Tide: A Tlingit Narrative

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pp. 135-150

This story, which we are calling “Raven and the Tide,” was recorded by Nora Marks Dauenhauer from her mother, Emma Marks, in fall 1972 at the family home in Juneau. Other family members were present, including Nora’s father, Willie Marks, who enters into critical discussion at two points. Emma Marks, born in 1913, first heard this story growing up on the...


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12: “Two Moonlight Rides and a Picnic Lunch”: Memories of Childhood in a Logging Community

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pp. 153-161

Imagine growing up wild and untamed in a wild and untamed world on the banks of a river in a rural settlement of the great uncut. Picture yourself sitting a moment and smelling the acrid sweetness of the woods, the distinctive odors marking the seasons—dank, damp moss, the spring skunk cabbage, the wildflowers springing up loyal and faithful season after season, rain dripping from...

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13: In Her Own Words: Women’s Frontier Friendships in Letters, Diaries, and Reminiscences

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pp. 162-178

As more and more examples of women’s non-traditional literature—letters, diaries, reminiscences—become available in both published and unpublished form, historians, folklorists, and literary scholars alike can begin to understand more fully the nature of the relationships between women on the western frontier, as they have been articulated in these various genres. These previously...

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14: The Concept of the West and Other Hindrances to the Study of Mormon Folklore

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pp. 179-190

Although the story of Mormon folklore is considered by many scholars to be inextricably connected with the story of the American West, to read either of these stories as an inevitable part of the other is to read both of them wrong. But associating Mormons with the West is only one of the hindrances to the proper interpretation of Mormon folklore. Over the years such interpretation has been...

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15: The Coquelle Indians and the Cultural “ Black Hole ” of the Southern Oregon Coast

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pp. 191-210

From my childhood on, I have heard people remark, “Indians never forget. They’re always bringing up things from the past.” Growing up with one foot in Anglo culture and the other in Southern Oregon coastal Indian culture, I used to wonder about that and felt a little anxious because it seemed to be true. Yet at the same time I knew that the past should not be forgotten but should be carefully told...

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16: Visible Landscapes/Invisible People: Negotiating the Power of Representation in a Mining Community

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pp. 211-226

On 26 May 1996, two demolitions experts from Morrison-Knudsen set charges under the gigantic stacks of the former Bunker Hill smelter in Kellogg, Idaho. A contest was held to determine who would push the button and send the stacks plummeting to the ground. Lining the freeway, front porches, and rooftops of the denuded hillsides were thousands of people who came to watch the spectacle. Among them were two important factions in...

Personal Essay

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17: Local Character

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pp. 229-236

Gypsy Slim taught me why each town’s outcast eccentric is its patron saint. Until he disappeared, Slim camped by the downtown library in Portland. His plastic tarp stretched between two shopping carts and the stone bench carved with the name of that rebel from the Enlightenment, Laurence Sterne. When citizens would clip along past him, haughty with respectability, Gypsy Slim would jive them with an easy line of talk, until he...


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pp. 237-252

Notes on Contributors and Editors

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pp. 253-257

E-ISBN-13: 9780874214567
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874214079

Publication Year: 2000