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W I L L I A M T. P I L K I N G T O N Southwest Texas State College Character and Landscape: Frank Waters’ Colorado Trilogy The drama of people’s “conflicting relationships to their earth,” Frank Waters once wrote, “has provided something of a thematic continuity in all my books.”1 Like most Western writers, Waters strives to capture, in D. H. Lawrence’s phrase, “the spirit of place.” But as anyone who has submitted himself to the power and beauty of his books will testify, he is interested not simply in natural settings existing in isolated grandeur, but rather in the subtle in­ fluence of landscape on character and in the interaction of the two. Waters was born in Colorado, and he has lived and traveled throughout the West—particularly in New Mexico, Arizona, Mex­ ico, and southern California. In the writing of his books, each of these places was cast into the fiery smelter of his imagination and was refined to a quintessential purity; in his works, each is the scene of memorable episodes in man’s continuing struggle to live in harmony with his natural surroundings. Waters’ best-known books are his novels of northern New Mexico, People of the Valley (1941) and The Man Who Killed the Deer (1942) and more recently The Woman of Otowi Crossing 14‘The Western Novel: A Symposium—Frank Waters,” South Dakota Review, II (Autumn, 1964), 15. 184 Western American Literature (1966). They have earned for him, in Lawrence Clark Powell’s estimation, the title of “laureate of the Sangre de Cristos,”2 and without question they deserve their high ranking among novels about the West. It is a pity, however—indeed, I would call it shameful—that his Colorado mining trilogy, which is by all odds one of the most remarkable and moving fictional chronicles in American literature, is today out of print (it has never been re­ printed) and virtually forgotten. The three volumes which make up the trilogy—The Wild Earth’s Nobility (1935), Below Grass Roots (1937), and The Dust Within the Rock (1940)—taken together run to more than 1,600 pages.3 They are laid against the background of Colorado history and in the commanding shadow of Pike’s Peak, and are brilliantly evocative of the author’s native region (the area around Colorado Springs). By following the shift­ ing fortunes of Joseph Rogier and his family during a span of some fifty years, they provide a dramatic panorama of Colorado’s rowdiest period—the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when Leadville was the scene of a silver boom and gold was dis­ covered at Cripple Creek. Like Thomas Wolfe’s North Carolina novels, to which it has been compared, the trilogy is to some extent autobiographical; also like Wolfe’s fiction, it is a work of great lyrical and emotional power. The first part of the trilogy, The Wild Earth’s Nobility, begins in the 1870’s, when Joseph Rogier, the son of a wealthy Carolina planter who had lost his fortune and had died a broken man, migrates with his wife and family to the town of Little London in Colorado. When he had left home, Rogier had gone first to Baltimore, where he had learned the trade of carpentry; later, he moved to Missouri, married there, and began rearing a family. His last move is to Colorado, where he soon prospers, first as a builder, then as an independent contractor. Quite early during his residence in Little London there occurs a tragedy which foreshadows his own downfall many years later. Tom Hines, his brother-in-law, is bitten by the get-rich-quick bug; against everyone’s advice, he goes to Leadville, which is in the midst of a silver boom, and promptly loses his and his wife’s last penny. Humiliated, Hines 2“Down Where the Rockies End,” Mountain-Plains Library Quarterly, X (Fall, 1965), 3. 8A11 three were published by Liveright. Page numbers of quotations from the novels are given in parentheses following the quotations. Frank Waters’ Colorado Trilogy 185 drops out of sight, leaving his wife dependent for her livelihood on the Rogier family...


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