Re-Dressing America's Frontier Past

Re-Dressing America's Frontier Past

Re-Dressing America's Frontier Past

Re-Dressing America's Frontier Past

Synopsis

Americans have long cherished romantic images of the frontier and its colorful cast of characters, where the cowboys are always rugged and the ladies always fragile. But in this book, Peter Boag opens an extraordinary window onto the real Old West. Delving into countless primary sources and surveying sexological and literary sources, Boag paints a vivid picture of a West where cross-dressing--for both men and women--was pervasive, and where easterners as well as Mexicans and even Indians could redefine their gender and sexual identities. Boag asks, why has this history been forgotten and erased? Citing a cultural moment at the turn of the twentieth century--when the frontier ended, the United States entered the modern era, and homosexuality was created as a category--Boag shows how the American people, and thus the American nation, were bequeathed an unambiguous heterosexual identity.

Excerpt

In the mid-nineteenth century, the New York Tribune’s Horace Greeley exhorted young American men bereft of family and friends to go West to build their homes and make their fortunes. in 1859 the journalist traveled to the region to observe the fruits of his advice. He did not necessarily find there what he had hoped. On the Great Plains en route to the Rocky Mountains, for example, he learned that hundreds of prospectors had recently gone bust at the Colorado gold-diggings, deserted the region in droves, and consequently faced unemployment and other sufferings. Greeley reported his encounter with only one such individual, a young clerk with whom he had supped at Station 9 of the Pike’s Peak Express and who, “having frozen his feet on the winter journey out, had had enough of gold-hunting, and was going home to his parents in Indiana.” the morning following Greeley’s repast with the clerk, and only after they had departed in opposite directions, the New Yorker learned something astonishing about his new acquaintance: “I was apprised by our conductor,” exclaimed Greeley, “that said clerk was a woman!”

Horace Greeley’s clerk and other people like him are my subjects in ReDressing America’s Frontier Past. I focus on the era 1850 to 1920—roughly from the heyday of the California gold rush to just after the last of the western (continental) territories became states in the union. I have two principal goals. One is to re-dress America’s frontier past—recovering its cross-dressers and exploring what their transgressive sexual and gender identities meant to their societies and communities. in doing so, I reveal that cross-dressers were not simply ubiquitous, but were very much a part of daily life on the . . .

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