The American West: The Invention of a Myth

By David H. Murdoch | Go to book overview

Chapter Five

The Myth-Makers

...we who have felt the charm of this life, and have existed in its abounding vigor and its bold, restless freedom, will not only regret its passing for our own sakes, but must also feel real sorrow that those who come after us are not to see, as we have seen, what is perhaps the pleasantest, healthiest and most exciting phase of American existence.

T. Roosevelt, Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail, 1888.

I am as you know working on a big picture book - of the West and I want you to write a preface ...telling the d— public that this is the real old thing - step up and buy a copy - last chance - ain't going to be any more West etc.

Frederic Remington to Owen Wister, April 1900.

The Virginian's pistol came out, and his hand lay on the table, holding it unaimed...'When you call me that, smile!'

Owen Wister, The Virginian, 1902.

The myth of the West emerged, just as the old century ended, out of a groundswell of nationwide nostalgia. This hankering after the good old days was one response to a present that seemed to have gone very badly wrong and it took the form of an obsessive brooding about the loss of a world where special American values had flourished. There was no over-riding reason why this psychic malaise should have picked on a specific time and place. Yet within one short decade, the generalised nostalgia for a lost world was focussed on the West - and on one, particular West: the last, most recent frontier of the cattle kingdom and the cowboy. This became the lost world, epitomising all that America had held most precious. To a significant extent, these forces of nostalgia at work in society were focussed on the last frontier by three individuals, a politician, a painter and a

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The American West: The Invention of a Myth
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The American West - The Invention of a Myth *
  • The American West - The Invention of a Myth *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgements *
  • Preface *
  • Chapter One - History through the Looking Glass *
  • Chapter Two - Myths and Heroes *
  • Chapter Three - Manufacturing Images *
  • Chapter Four - The Knights of the Range *
  • Chapter Five - The Myth-Makers *
  • Chapter Six - The West's Response *
  • Chapter Seven - The West of the Politicians *
  • Epilogue *
  • Bibliography *
  • Index *
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