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167 Book Notes “The memoir thing falls apart”—this too is a bit nonchalant ; the memoir thing tumults in unpredictable directions. Picture Palace is a poetic insistence to relive duration despite its impossibility. Picture Palace resists and becomes self-portrait. O’Hara once wrote: “Grace / to be born and live as variously as possible.” If he had read Picture Palace, he might have written : “Grace / to be born and live and write as tumultuously as possible.” Rabbit Creek Country: Three Ranching Lives in the Heart of the Mountain West by Jon Thiem, with Deborah Dimon University of New Mexico Press, 2008 reviewed by James Whiteside Jon Thiem literally walked into the lives of John and Ida Elliott and Josephine Lamb. One fall afternoon in 1997, Thiem, professor emeritus of English and comparative literature at Colorado State University, hiked over a ridge in the Cherokee State Wildlife Area in the foothills of the Livermore area northwest of Fort Collins, Colorado. In the valley below he saw near the bank of Middle Rabbit Creek an old abandoned ranch house. His curiosity piqued, Thiem soon learned that the house and surrounding land had been the property of John and Ida Elliott and that Josephine Lamb had lived with them there, and in two later homes, for more than four decades. Thiem spent the next decade investigating the Elliotts and Lamb and their curious relationship, examining them in the multiple contexts of American frontier expansion, late nineteenth- and twentieth -century ranching, and changing social and cultural mores, including gender roles. In addition to the Elliotts and Lamb, a fourth character—the land—is also crucial to this compelling tale. Thiem and his research assistant Deborah Dimon interviewed 119 of the Elliotts’ and Lamb’s relatives and acquaintances. He combed through letters and diaries, surveyed public records, and interpreted photographs and drawings to understand the three individuals and their complicated relationship. The result is Rabbit Creek Country: Three Ranching Lives in the Heart of the Mountain West. colorado review 168 John Elliott was the son of an itinerant farmer who moved his family from Iowa to Kansas and, in 1890, to Colorado. The family lived in Fort Collins until 1895, when they acquired a small ranch in the Livermore area. John also worked with his father hauling freight between Livermore and Steamboat Springs and as a ranch hand. Elliott’s father decided in 1909 to move on to South Dakota, but John stayed behind and in 1910 purchased 1,040 acres of prime ranch land on Middle Rabbit Creek. By then Elliott had married Ida Meyer. Over succeeding decades he added to his land holdings and built a reputation as an expert, self-reliant cowman, a living icon of the western rancher. He also grew increasingly tyrannical in his relationships with those around him, exhibiting a sometimes violent temper. Ida Meyer moved to Colorado in 1897 and until 1908 worked as a domestic servant in Livermore homes and as a cook and waitress in the Livermore Hotel, which John Elliott eventually owned. Meyer left her middle-class home in Lincoln, Nebraska, Thiem says, to re-create her life in the West. “It was doubtless a quest for self-realization that impelled her to move West.” The West, he continues, “was that part of the nation where a person could most easily get beyond the past and its strictures. The West was the great venue for refashioning the self.” Among Ida Meyer’s traits before she married John Elliott were her affection for people; her artistic talent, expressed through photography; and the great value she placed on her independence. But she also sought economic security. Meyer married John Elliott in December 1908. The couple moved to the Rabbit Creek ranch in 1910, and that year Ida gave birth to their only child, Orville. She was in her mid-thirties and, concerned about the risks of having more children, soon stopped having sexual relations with her husband. In the ensuing years her independence, artistry, and contact with people slipped away. Indeed, she virtually disappears from Thiem’s narrative for 175 pages. When she reappears, Thiem describes her in terms of the household spaces she occupied. In his...


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pp. 167-170
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