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W r i t i n g S e l f ( E f f a c i n g l y ) : E - r a c e - d P r e s e n c e s in Th e Lif e a n d A d v e n tu r e s o f Na t L o ve1 K e n n e t h S p e i r s We may say that self-fashioning occurs at the point of encounter between an authority and an alien, that what is produced in this encounter partakes of both the authority and the alien that is marked for attack, and hence that any achieved identity always contains within itself the signs of its own subversion or loss. —Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance SelfFashioning Although many blacks worked as cowboys on the western range dur­ ing the nineteenth century, far more than western history or mythology allow, only Nat Love is known to have written about his experiences.2 As remarkable as it is, The Life and Adventures of Nat Love (1907) is the only extant autobiography by a black cowboy from the nineteenth-century American West. Nat Love’s autobiography tells the story of his life as a slave boy in Tennessee, a cowboy roaming the range, and, finally, a Pullman porter riding the western rails. Love’s life spanned a rich period in U.S. history. He experienced firsthand the horrors of slavery, and then, in the first years of Reconstruction, he struggled to survive its aftermath before striking out for the West. There he witnessed the transformation, or “taming,” of the West from a wide open range sup­ porting large herds of cattle, buffalo, and wild mustangs, to its eventual “settlement” and dependence on farming and the railroad and mining industries. In 1890— the year Frederick Jackson Turner famously des­ ignated as the closing of the frontier— Love left the range and found work as a Pullman porter, thus participating in the rise and spread of industrial capitalism across the continent. The fact that Love is an African American opens up potentially significant dimensions to our understanding of such crucial events and experiences in U.S. history. The book’s subtitle, “A True History of Slavery Days, Life on the Great Cattle Ranges and on the Plains of the ‘Wild and Woolly’ West, Based on Facts, and Personal Experiences of the Author,” emphasizes the wide-open western style of storytelling that readers would expect from W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L i t e r a t u r e 4 0 .3 ( F a l l 2 0 0 5 ) : 3 0 1 -2 0 . 3 0 2 W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e F a l l 2 0 0 5 Love’s retelling of what he calls in the preface his “unusually adventurous life.” Yet the photograph of Love with his wife and daughter elegantly posed in formal attire, which serves as a frontispiece and sits facing the title page, suggests an entirely different orientation toward the material of his life (figure 1). The broad range of experiences implied by this coupling of the formal portrait of the frontispiece with Love’s identification on the title page as “Deadwood Dick,” hero of the “ ‘Wild and Woolly’ West,” serves to announce at the outset that one of the striking features of Love’s life story— and perhaps its principal challenge to readers— is its use of a variety of written and pictorial forms of self-making. The contrasting, even opposing selves fashioned in the title page and the frontispiece force the reader/viewer to navigate a series of traverses, for example, from rugged cowboy to refined gentleman, from roamer of the wild, woolly West to resident of the elegant, comfortable parlor, and most significantly, from racially unmarked to racially marked. In this way, the frontispiece photo of Love and his family reinscribes the race that is largely absent from the written life, illustrating what the written text strains to dislodge...


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pp. 301-320
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