This essay investigates the social and national implications of lying in the popular Western formula through a close reading of three works that cross gender and cultural lines: Owen Wister’s The Virginian (1902), Bertha Muzzy (B.M.) Bower’s The Happy Family (1907), and Mourning Dove’s Cogewea (1927). In the popular Western formula, lying is a narrative convention with a didactic purpose. The liar is usually a cowboy, whose acts of linguistic deception perform specific cultural work, organizing characters into economic and racial strata. The cowboy liar can legitimately lie only to certain groups or social members within specific contexts, thus defining those who either possess or lack the cultural capital to demand honesty. In contrast, Mourning Dove reconfigures the convention of lying in the popular western to support an Indigenous worldview, in which each individual in the collective community of the ranch has value beyond capitalist, neo-colonial definitions of worth. As such, Mourning Dove’s Western opposes the discourse of capitalism—with its requisite social disparities—that underpins both Bower’s and Wister’s Westerns.


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pp. 30-52
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