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loo WAL 3 6 .1 S p rin g 2 0 0 1 The Qreatest Inventor in the West. By Bill Gulick. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 1999. 157 pages, $22.50. Reviewed by Rick Van Noy Radford University, Radford, Virginia The Greatest Inventor in the West begins by declaring, “Perceptive historians agree that it was not the gun that won the West. It was the inventive genius of imaginative, daring, clever young men who devised new ways to transport people, water, ore, and grain” (1). Truly “perceptive” historians may get no farther than these first few lines, for they generally agree that the West was not “won” at all but was taken. But the tone of Inventor is more popular than literate, amusing rather than scholarly. The “inventive genius” in this book is the heroic Joseph Malone, who uses his powers of “creative improvisation.” Malone designs a municipal water sys­ tem in Goldtown, Wyoming. When town boosters are present for the opening ceremony, the system fails, due to a minor flaw, and Joe nanowly escapes. The pattern repeats in Silver City, Montana: Malone designs a chemical process for silver mining. At the opening ceremony, someone bumps into a control valve and the system fails. Then in Walla Walla, with more time and financial back­ ing from Henry Burke, banker and financier, Malone designs a grain slide to transport grain down one thousand vertical feet to the steamboat landings. During the opening ceremony, it too fails, in a sense, when the grain sacks catch on fire just as Malone is daringly riding them down the steep slide. This time, however, Malone has earned the faith of the town officials, farmers, and teamsters, and he will make minor adjustments, save the day, and get the girl: Burke’s once mute and stunningly beautiful daughter, who regains her voice during the excitement. Malone is a Paul Bunyan with a surveyor’s transit, a Pecos Bill who stud­ ies maps and diagrams, endowed with a leading man’s good looks, wit, and charm. He’s an exaggerated personification of Western (capital “W”) values. The Greatest Inventor in the West is a frolicsome tall tale, though the humor is somewhat low, poking fun at farmers who mistake “teamsters” for a “team” of mules (other clichés fall on the Irish, eastern capitalists, and mute women, who won’t nag their husbands). If Westerns are your type, and you can suspend being a “perceptive historian,” this book provides a fast ride down a somewhat slippery slope. ...


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