Salvation Gap and Other Western Classics

Salvation Gap and Other Western Classics

Salvation Gap and Other Western Classics

Salvation Gap and Other Western Classics


Owen Wister invented the Western novel with The Virginian, and that work and this collection of stories prove that, although many have gone after him, no one has ever topped him in skill and enduring appeal. Wister saw the story of the West as a collision of centuries, with the Stone Age, the Middle Ages, and the modern world coming together to form a new place and a new people. Wister said of this collection, "These stories are about Indians and soldiers and events west of the Missouri. They belong to the past... but you will find some of those ancient surviving centuries in them if you take my view." Here are unforgettable characters: Specimen Jones, the taciturn and capable rider from an unknown past, who has no use for fools and even less for bullies; General Crook and his men, who do the Government's dirty work on the frontier and get no thanks for it; and unregenerate Rebels and Union veterans in an uneasy frontier political alliance.


Richard W. Etulain

When Owen Wister first came west in 1885, he was a troubled young man. Although he had gained a degree in music from Harvard in 1882, he was unable to meet the high expectations of his ambitious parents, incapable of finding an occupation acceptable to mem. the twenty-four-year-old Philadelphian longed for escape and new experiences. He found both—and many other things—in the West. For the next fifteen years, from the initial trip in the mid-1880s until 1900, Wister went west nearly every year.

At first, Wister roughed it easy. Traveling by train and stagecoach through many parts of the rural West, he stayed with ranch owners and military friends from the East. the open landscapes, the sparsely settled country, the eye-stretching scenes, the pioneer types—all appealed to Wister as he moved throughout the Far West.

Gradually, however, Wister’s reasons for coming west changed. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1888 and still without a job, Wister stumbled in new, uncertain directions. Friends began urging him to write about what he saw and experienced in the West. He had already written a few fugitive pieces, including a series of stories for the Harvard Lampoon later published as his first book The New Swiss Family Robinson (1882). He had also drafted a novel titled “A Wise Man’s Son” but put it aside when noted critic William Dean Howells advised him to do so.

By the late 1880s Wister was taking extensive notes in his western journals. There, he described the places he visited and pictured the westerners he met. Then in the fall of 1891, a . . .

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