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260 Western American Literature two books make fine companion pieces. Cushman excels in the scientific and historical aspects of the great trail paralleling the Rocky Mountains, with particular respects to the white man’s interest in it. McClintock shows the traditional knowledge of the trail possessed by the red man and gives an excellent and moving account of what it meant to live along this “route of the ages—from Asia across Alaska down the Rocky Mountains. . . .” Lou A tt e b e r y , The College of Idaho The War On Powder R iver. By H elena H untington Smith. (Lincoln: U ni­ versity of Nebraska Press, 1967. Bison Paperback, 320 pages, $1.95.) The Johnson County War. By Jack R. Gage. (Cheyenne: Flintlock Publishing Co., 1967. 167 pp. $4.95.) N o single episode in W yoming history has been so thoroughly aired as the Johnson County War. The bibliography and notes in Mrs. Smith’s volume here are indicative of this and from her book too one can see why these events have proved so fascinating. Centered in the Powder River country in the early 1890’s, the conflict underscored with violence and bloodshed a host of frontier tensions. N o mere range war between rival outfits, this struggle split the entire state, deeply penetrating its politics, and leaving a residue of hostilities that lived well into our own time. Territorial W yoming had been dominated by a few large-scale cattle operators as organized into the W yoming Stock Growers’ Association. This group, reading its interests into both law and custom, clashed head-on with a new and aggressive element as enterprising transients settled into the state to build a competing order of small independent ranches. W hether or not rustling had become a way of life for some of these folk, the cattle barons believed it had and they were quite willing to apply strong measures. (Both Smith and Gage note that cattle ownership on the open range in W yoming was an insubstantial thing at best and ranchers, large and small alike, exercised their initiative accordingly.) At length, an expedition of some fifty men, in­ cluding an assortment of hired Texans, left Cheyenne in April of 1892, bound for Johnson County, the stronghold of the independents. W ith an extended list of alleged troublemakers in hand the invaders moved north, shortly to pounce on two of their targets, killing them from ambush. Some months Reviews 261 earlier two other independents had been gunned down locally, presumed victims of the power struggle. A real blood bath appeared to be well under way. Suddenly things took a different turn. Warnings flashed ahead and in a matter of hours the regulators themselves faced wholesale extermination as an aroused citizenry closed in on and laid siege to a ranch on which the now outnumbered army had taken refuge. Authorities in Cheyenne, sensing that plans had gone awry, called for federal help. Army troops arrived barely in time to intervene and restore order. Tensions gradually subsided but em­ bellished, recounted, and well-publicized, the events left a heritage of hatred and mistrust. Only in raw outline were things so simple. Both sides had genuine grievances, both could rationalize their actions and activities. From this elemental observation, the Gage volume takes its essential and altogether unique format. One enters this book from either end; reading halfway through one gets Gage’s rendition of the cattle barons’ side, then flipping the book over one gets the opposition’s case. This gimmick preserves a certain neutrality, often absent in discussions of the war, but it clearly suggests that one need not take the book too seriously. T he author, a native W yoming politician and noted raconteur, simply spins out a good yarn here, freely mixing fact and fancy and one had better read him on these terms or not at all. The Smith volume is quite another matter. W hile her sympathies are with the so-called rustler element, her treatment of the entire problem is admirable in its careful scholarship, its clarity, and balance. New material supplements her critical use of traditional sources. A running commentary on the historiography of...


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pp. 260-261
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