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Reviews 251 in his analysis of the picaresque and heroic elements in Wister’s West and in his exploration of “the strenuous life” as a theme in American literature. Yet he leaves us with the impression that these were discovered by Remington, Roosevelt, and Wister—and in the American West—an unfortunate bit of parochialism for a book that tries so hard not to be parochial. W hite has some difficulty with critical language. H e tends to equate “romantic” with “imaginative” and “literary” and gets entangled in “realism” and “romanticism” as well. But these terms have long plagued students of the American West, and we need to self-consciously move beyond them. W hite also misjudges the case, I think, when he infers that these writers were profoundly disillusioned with the industrial East. T o say that they believed in the moral superiority of Westerners because (as Wister put it) “they live near nature” does not indicate that as writers Remington, Roosevelt, and Wister had much to say that was of lasting significance. Such sentiments also put them closer to the romantic primitivists than W hite be­ lieves they stood. Perhaps such a judgment of their writing—if indeed it is accurate— only indicates that their real importance is cultural and historical rather than literary. M e r r il l L ew is, W estern Washington State College Gold Rushes and M ining Camps of the Early American West. By Vardis Fisher and Opal Laurel Holmes. (Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxton Printers, Ltd, 1968. 466 pages, illus. |15.00.) Vardis Fisher’s last work is, I think, both monument and epitaph. Written in collaboration with his wife, Opal Laurel Holmes, Gold Rushes and M ining Camps of the Early American W est is both physically and con­ textually monumental, weighing something like five pounds on my bathroom scales, and presenting a detailed collection of gold-rush materials reflecting not only the vast panorama of a violent frontier period but the personality and attitudes of the man who was apartner in producing it. It is the firm intention of the authors, according to the preface, to separate fact from legend, to debunk the falsehoods of the frontier past, and to “eschew the exaggerations in popular books on the subject.” It is a commendable idea, and it fits with Vardis Fisher’s strong views on the subject. But in a book so large, written in part by a man whose views were not only violent but inextricably bound up with his lifelong love of the western regions to which he was born, the disavowal of the great romance of the 252 Western American Literature West comes pretty hard. T he contemptuous— and deserved—dismissal of such fabled figures as Wyatt Earp and W ild Bill Hickok in the preface does not prevent the inclusion of wild, wonderful, but equally untrue tall tales, as well as such things as the repetition of all the pertinent inaccuracies of the story of Calamity Jane. In terms of history, G old Rushes is neither selective nor chronological: it makes no distinction between provable fact and probable legend except to label falsity where falseness is obvious; it groups its material loosely under such broad titles as “Sports,” “Transporta­ tion,” and “Frontier Judges,” and makes no real attempt either to present a tightly organized chronology or to closely support the thesis of its preface. One would be hard put to reconstruct from these pages the story of any region, camp, or set of events. The book thus does not have either the narrative excitement of, say, Dimsdale’s Vigilantes of M ontana nor the im­ passioned polemics which its own preface avows. It is, rather, a catalog— an immensely detailed collection of everything that has been pertinent to the mining days on the western frontier—legends, stories, anecdotes, journal clippings, newspaper stories, history, plus a fabulous collection of contemporary photographs—a bit of everything to everyone’s taste. It is not surprising that much of this potpourri is drawn from the Fisher stamping grounds— the Rocky Mountain diggings in Idaho and Montana; what is amazing is the unflagging interest which the encyclopedic approach creates in the reader...


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pp. 251-252
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