Wyoming, a Guide to Its History, Highways, and People

By Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Wyoming | Go to book overview

Literature

IF ALL that has been written in or concerning Wyoming were taken collectively as Wyoming literature, the State would have a century- old literary tradition. It would be necessary, however, to distinguish between works written about Wyoming by people outside the State and those written by Wyoming authors. And Wyoming writers would have to be subdivided into those who came to the State as mere visitors and those who have remained permanently.

Trappers, explorers, missionaries, and soldiers started writing about Wyoming when what is now the State was a vast semidesert, a place to cross as quickly as possible and to tell about later. These adventurers wrote copiously of the physical environment and of the rigors of life on the frontier. Few of the diaries or journals were written with literary intent. It remained for more skillful writers to draw from the maze of details, compass readings, and colloquial observations a picture of the Wyoming of that day.

The most attractive early account, if not the most fully documented, is included in the volumes written by Washington Irving as chronicler of John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company. Irving Astoria; or Anecdotes of an Enterprise beyond the Rocky Mountains ( 1836) weaves into narrative a vast amount of material, letters, journals, and descriptions by travelers, trappers, and commercial agents, including the diaries of Wilson Price Hunt and Robert Stuart, Astor associates. Hunt's party, on the way from St. Louis to the mouth of the Columbia River, crossed Wyoming in 1811; and Stuart led a return party in 1811-13 (see History). The original diaries were not published until 1935, when Philip Ashton Rollins edited them with interpretive notes as The Discovery of the Oregon Trail.

The Rocky Mountains: or, Scenes, Incidents and Adventures in the Far West ( 1837), which Irving based upon the unpublished journals of Captain B. L. E. Bonneville, described the Wind River Mountains and the Green River area in western Wyoming; it testifies that the

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