Volume II, No. I – May 2018

John Thomas and Richard Etulain, Co-Editors

Welcome to the third issue of the Books of our West newsletter. These newsletters, featuring longer book reviews and briefer lists of annotated and cited books, will be published periodically. Our lists will include publication details and prices. All of the books are available from Chaparral Books. We welcome your feedback, comments and book suggestions for inclusion in the newsletter.

Chaparral Books is located in southwest Portland, adjacent to Portland State University and Lovejoy Park. Although we specialize in Western Americana and Native American literature, we offer a broad selection of books. We’re also pleased to announce the opening of Chaparral Books’ annex, our new home for a general selection of books along with outstanding selections from leading Portland antiquarian booksellers including Anthology Booksellers, Charles Seluzicki Fine & Rare Books, Cross Genre Books, Cultural Images and Montgomery Rare Books & Manuscripts.

Visit Chaparral Books and our new annex at 1975 SW First Ave., Portland. There’s abundant free parking adjacent to our stores. See us online at chaparralbooks.com or call us at 503-887-0823.

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In this issue — Part 1: Women And Family In The West; Part 2: Environmental Histories; Part 3: Western Politics; Part 4: Western Leaders and Demigods; Part 5: Ernest Haycox: Books About and by Haycox


Part 1: Women And Family In The West

Sue Armitage, Shaping the Public Good: Women Making History in the Pacific Northwest.
Sue Armitage, Shaping the Public Good: Women Making History in the Pacific Northwest.

Sue Armitage, Shaping the Public Good: Women Making History in the Pacific Northwest. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2015. Paper, 349 pp.

Sue Armitage, long-time professor of history and women’s studies at Washington State University, achieves here what no previous scholar accomplished: a helpful overview of women’s varied and significant roles in the history of the Pacific Northwest from early Indian societies to the present. This is an extraordinarily valuable book in furnishing specialist and general readers with useful generalizations about women’s participation in events and trends usually limited to men in previous regional histories.

Early on, the author tells us that “the major activity of women” of the Greater Northwest (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, western Montana, and British Columbia) “has been to build and rebuild families and communities” (17). Drawing extensively on published primary and secondary sources, Armitage shows how women influenced family and communal life from the pre-1800 era to the early 21st century. Particularly appealing are the pen portraits of dozens of individual women who illustrate the general trends the author describes. We see the impact of scores of women from Sacagawea and Narcissa Whitman to Betty Roberts and Kathryn Harrison.

Armitage does not limit her story to the elite, leading women; she also deals with wives and mothers, domestic and field workers, and low-paid clerical workers. She clearly shows, from generation to generation, how women shaped communities through their domestic engineering as well as, increasingly, in their wage work. In these pages, we are treated to coverage, over time, of the significant but often overlooked or misunderstood participation of women in labor unions, women’s activist groups, political organizations, and numerous support groups. Armitage contributes numerous discussions of minority women (or women of color), with especially numerous comments on Native American women.

Some readers might have wished for more emphasis on other topics. Armitage stresses social and economic subjects, and to a less extent political topics. But she devotes less space to traditional cultural-intellectual life; thus we hear almost nothing about major women writers, save for their books that illuminate social concerns. The author also points to regional patriarchal tendencies that held women back over the decades. Perceptive observation. Still, we might have benefited from more examples of how husband-wife, father-daughter, and brother-sister endeavors opened doors for other women. And, where did women make mistakes or fail?

These are but quibbling reservations. Know this, after one reads Armitage’s book, he or she cannot accept previous, narrow histories about the Pacific Northwest that skip over women. Finally, for ambitious readers and researchers, this clear, smoothly written book provides a multitude of women and their activities to pursue in new research. The helpful listings of “Sources” at the end of each chapter are invaluable beginning points for ambitious readers and writers alike. — Richard W. Etulain

Other Books on Women and Family

G. Thomas Edwards, Sowing Good Seeds: The Northwest Suffrage Campaigns of Susan B. Anthony. Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1990. Cloth, 355 pp., the first page is missing. $10.

Susan B. Anthony traveled to Oregon for several efforts to pass woman’s suffrage measures. Edwards deals with Anthony’s travels, her suffrage campaigns, and particularly her revealing contacts with Oregon women’s leader, Abigail Scott Duniway.

Glenda Riley. Inventing the American Woman. Vol 2. Since 1877. 3d ed., Rev ed. Wheeling, Ill.: Harlan Davidson, 2001. Pp. 281-573. Paper. $10.

In this very helpful overview, the leading western women’s historian provides a thorough introduction to women’s thoughts, actions, and experiences from 1877 to the present.

Julie Roy Jeffrey. Converting the West: A Biography of Narcissa Whitman.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991. Cloth, 238 pp. $10.

Jeffrey, a noted authority on women’s experiences in the American West, has written here a probing biography of missionary Narcissa Whitman. Balanced and analytical, the life story furnishes a thoughtful treatment of an important western woman with a tragic ending.

Elliott West. Growing up with the Country: Childhood on the Far Western Frontier. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989. 343 pp. $10.

West, a leading western historian with a superb literary style, provides an extraordinary study of childhood on the frontier. Overflowing with insights and intriguing pen portraits.

Sheri Bartlett Browne. Eva Emery Dye: Romance with the West. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2004. Paper, 186 pp., $10.

Eva Emery Dye wrote historical romances and romantic history about Lewis and Clark, Sacagawea, Dr. John McLoughlin–and several others. Browne deals with Dye’s life, her research, and her novels and histories. A helpful, valuable introduction.

Norris W. Yates. Gender and Genre: An Introduction to Women Writers of Formula Westerns, 1900-1950. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995. 181 pp. $15.

Yates provides the only book-length study of women writers of formula Westerns. Dealing with, among others, B. M. Bower, Caroline Lockhart, and Vingie E. Roe, the author demonstrates how these female writers put their gender brands on the popular Western.

Darlis A. Miller. Mary Hallock Foote. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002. 297 pp.

Miller’s study of Mary Hallock Foote, a leading Local Color writer, and artist, is a first-rate contribution on an eastern woman who came west and lived most of her life in her adopted region. Foote became the model for the heroine in Wallace Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Angle of Repose (1971).

Darlis A. Miller. Matilda Cox Stephenson: Pioneering Anthropologist. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007. 298 pp. $12.

Miller, the military historian and biographer of the American West, contributes a revealing life story of Matilda Cox Stephenson, an early anthropologist studying the American West. The product is a probing, insightful life of a path-breaking woman in the region.

Sarah Winnemucca

Dorothy Nafus Morrison. Chief Sarah: Sarah Winnemucca’s Fight for Indian Rights. Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1980. Cloth, 170 pp., $20.

A straightforward, easy-to-read account of a notable Indian woman leader. A Paiute leader, Sarah dramatically made her way in both Indian and white worlds.

Sally Zanjani. Sarah Winnemucca. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001. 368 pp. $15.

Author Zanjani, a political scientist, provides the most thorough study to date of Sarah Winnemucca. Wide and deep in research, revealing in interpretations, and smoothly written, Zanjani’s book deserves the positive attention it has received.

Gae Whitney Canfield. Sarah Winnemucca: of the Northern Paiutes. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988. 336 pp. $12.00

Librarian Canfield drew on a wide variety of sources to provide a scholarly study of Sarah Winnemucca. The author’s full-length biography emphasizes this Native woman as a cultural go-between, building bridges of understanding between Native American and Anglo American societies.

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Also in this issue — Part 1: Women And Family In The WestPart 2: Environmental Histories; Part 3: Western Politics; Part 4: Western Leaders and DemigodsPart 5: Ernest Haycox: Books About and by Haycox

Part 2: Environmental Histories

Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History by Dan Flores
Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History by Dan Flores

Dan Flores. Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History. New York: Basic Books, 2016. Cloth, 271 pp. New.

Flores’s smoothly written book is a first-rate volume, overflowing with fresh information and intriguing detail, along with clear authorial opinion, about the country’s most notorious predator. The author tells dozens of stories, infuses his narrative with inviting humor, and adeptly handles his facts in a manner appealing to both academics and grassroots audiences.

Generally, Flores wants to teach Americans to live with, to cohabit if one wishes, with much-maligned coyotes rather than to shoot, poison, or trap them. After a rambling introduction, the author traces the evolution of the trotting coyote through American history from prehistory and Indian times to the present. He spices his chapters with anecdotes, sparkling incidents, and provocative observations.

Particularly illuminating are Flores’s contributions on the unexpected rise in the number of urban coyotes. He explains that, despite popular opinion to the contrary, coyote numbers have expanded in American towns and cities because the four-footed predators have learned to adapt to those challenging new settings, where they are less targeted by pursuing eliminators than in rural areas.

Despite the several contributions of Flores’s valuable and appealing book, it also exhibits limitations and blindnesses. The views of this reviewer, the son of a Basque immigrant sheepman, move in other directions. Flores is unwilling to see coyotes as a major threat to woolies, but they have and continue to pull down lambs–and even ewes–in large numbers. Thinking of coyotes as friends of livestockmen is like Flores embracing narrow-minded higher education leaders in Montana wanting to take away his chair of history because they saw him as a threat to balanced thinking about the state’s environmental issues. Nor would pet lovers want to travel far with Flores after losing their cats or small dogs to marauding coyotes.

These are minor caveats, however. Flores has produced a valuable, thoughtful book on a little-understood subject. Wile E. Coyote and Coyote in Indians stories undoubtedly would look directly at the author–and wink. — Richard W. Etulain

Other Books on Western Environmental History

Dan Flores. American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2016. 213 pp.

A book for all readers, Flores’s volume is part history, ecology, and manifesto. Coyotes, bears, antelope, wolves–and many more animals–run through this inviting and notable book.

Donald Worster. Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979. Cloth, 304 pp.

A Pulitzer Prize-winner, Worster’s superb work posits that human error more than natural forces caused the dust bowl. A major work of environmental history in all ways.

Donald Worster. Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. Cloth, 402 pp.

Worster argues that “rivers of empire,” whether directed by Mormons or by Egyptians, demonstrate the shaping roles that control of water sources plays in world history. A notable book by a leading American environmental historian.

Donald Worster. Under Western Skies: Nature and History in the American West. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Cloth, 292 pp., $18.

This lively written collection of Worster’s essays illustrates why he is considered a front-rank western environmental historian. The anthology displays Worster’s interest in and first-rate thinking about a wide variety of subjects, especially his key essay “New West, True West.”

Glenda Riley. Women and Nature: Saving the “Wild” West. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999. Cloth, 279 pp., $10.

Riley demonstrates how women, early on, were involved in efforts to “save” the West. Her well-researched and clearly written book pinpoint the ways women became active in conservation movements, supporting moves to protect birds, flowers, and other parts of nature.

Jon Hunner. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Cold War, and the Atomic West. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2009. Cloth, 248 pp., $15.

Hunner’s book greatly helps readers understand cross-continental history–in this case how the East and the federal government impacted the West. A gracefully written biography of a powerful, shaping personality influencing the Far West.

William G. Robbins. Landscapes of Conflict: The Oregon Story, 1940-2000. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004. Cloth, 414 pp., $40. Signed.

This highly rewarding treatment of environmental ideas and actions in Oregon over a six-decade period will provide general and specialist readers with invaluable information. Robbins, a skilled writer and thoughtful historian, has produced a first-rate book.

William G. Robbins. Landscapes of Promise: The Oregon Story, 1800-1940. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009. Cloth, 392 pp., $25.

A valuable environmental history of Oregon, Robbins’s book reviews nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century efforts to deal with such challenges as land use, timber harvesting, and other human-landscape interchanges. A forceful, revealing book.

William G. Robbins and Katrine Barber. Nature’s Northwest: The North Pacific Slope in the Twentieth Century. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2011. Cloth, 287 pp. $15.

A synthesis of recent Pacific Northwest history, this overview provides the most recent account of this post-1900 region. Particularly strong on Robbins’s fields of economic, political, and environmental history and Barber’s insights on social and cultural history.

Szasz, Ferenc M. The Day the Sun Rose Twice: The Story of the Trinity Site Nuclear Explosion, July 16, 1945. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984. Cloth, 233 pp., $15.

The best general account of the Trinity site explosion, this delightfully readable volume proves academics can write books accessible and rewarding for general readers. Highly recommended for its information and story-telling power.

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In this issuePart 1: Women And Family In The West; Part 2: Environmental Histories; Part 3: Western Politics; Part 4: Western Leaders and Demigods; Part 5: Ernest Haycox: Books About and by Haycox — Home

Part 3: Western Politics

The Salem Clique: Oregon's Founding Brothers by Barbara J. Mahoney
The Salem Clique: Oregon’s Founding Brothers by Barbara J. Mahoney

Barbara J. Mahoney, The Salem Clique: Oregon’s Founding Brothers. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, June 2017. 224 pages, paper, $22.95.

In the 1850s, Oregon politics featured its own political ring. Identified as the Salem Clique, and under the leadership of journalist Asahel Bush and several other aspiring politicians, the partisan group clearly dominated the Oregon political scene in these years.

In this clearly written, thoroughly documented, and revealing story, historian Barbara J. Mahoney describes the origins of the Salem Clique, measures its impact and evaluates the ideas and actions of its members. She addresses a major Oregon political topic in an interestingly presented and readable book.

The Salem Clique came on the scene in the early 1850s. The Democrats invited Massachusetts journalist Asahel Bush to Oregon to found what became the Oregon Statesman newspaper, first in Oregon City, then Salem. The less numerous Whigs lost no time in founding the opposition Oregonian in Portland, by bringing fiery editor Thomas Dryer up from California. For the next few years Bush and Dryer, and their newspapers launched a journalistic civil war, hurling insults at one another.

Mahoney expertly demonstrates how Asahel Bush and his co-leaders and lieutenants made the Democratic Salem Clique the most powerful political coterie in Oregon. The Clique worked to organize the Democrats of Oregon, elect state legislators, parry the thrusts of Whigs and later Republicans, and counter opposition from less-devoted Democrats in the north and Portland area, the “softs” as they were called.

The Clique, Democrats as a whole, and Whigs and Republicans clashed over a welter of issues. Slavery and whether it should be allowed in Oregon Territory (1848-1859) was a heated subject. So was the contentious issue of whether African-American should be admitted to the territory. No less controversial was the Clique’s up and down relationship with Joseph Lane, the leading politician of the territory and its territorial delegate in the U. S. Congress. The Clique, Lane, and tensions among presidential appointees (usually non-Oregonians) and locally elected officials ignited incessant political battles leading up to the Civil War.

Mahoney’s first-rate Salem Clique story carries implicit lessons. When extreme partisanship drove the Clique, they often foreshortened their interests through political selfishness; when they achieved compromise on legislation and constitution-making, they served all Oregonians. These challenges remain. An ideal democracy demands compromise, working across aisles. When the Salem Clique forged such agreements, it modeled wise, helpful actions for our time. — Richard W. Etulain

Other Books on Politicians and Politics

Theodore Roosevelt

David McCullough. Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanishing Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001. 460 pp.

This reprint of nationally recognized historian McCullough’s classic study of Theodore Roosevelt’s early years remains required reading for that period of the president-to-be’s life. Contains delightful discussions of Roosevelt’s “Glory Days” in the West.

Roger L. Di Silvestro. Theodore Roosevelt in the Badlands: A Young Politician’s Quest for Recovery in the American West. New York: Bloomsbury, 2011. 350 pp., $15.

The writer, an author of several nature books, focuses closely on the 1884-1887 years when Theodore Roosevelt lived and thrived on his ranch in the North Dakota badlands. The most extensive study of Roosevelt in the West.

H.W. Brands. T. R.: The Last Romantic. New York: Basic Books, 1997. Cloth, 897 pp., $8.

This huge biography of Theodore Roosevelt overflows with information and insight, the longest of recent TR life stories. Brands, an Oregon native, dredges up a good deal of information on Roosevelt’s stay and interest in the West.

Leland Stanford and California

Norman E. Tutorow. The Governor: The Life and Legacy of Leland Stanford. Norman: The Arthur Clark Company, 2004. 2 vols., 1146 pp. $95.

This mammoth two-volume biography provides a thorough, wide-reaching story of Stanford’s life and career. A monumental study.

William  Mulholland and Los Angeles

Catherine Mulholland. William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. 411 pp. $34.

This extensive biography of the famed water engineer by a family member provides an illuminating story of the controversies and achievements surrounding the push for water power in California in the early 1920s.

Oregon Politics and Politicians

James E. Hendrickson. Joe Lane of Oregon: Machine Politics and the Sectional Crisis, 1849-1861. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1967. 274 pp. $12.

A model monograph, Hendrickson’s biography, and political account particularly trace Lane’s important national and regional political roles in the 1850s. Still the source on Joseph Lane.

Floyd J. McKay. Reporting the Oregon Story: How Activists and Visionaries Transformed a State. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2016. 288 pp.

Reporter and commentator McKay provides revealing backstories, especially during the years of Oregon leaders Tom McCall and Bob Straub. The memoir furnishes personal and professional glimpses of Oregon politics.

Barbara Roberts. Up the Capitol Steps: A Woman’s March to the Governorship. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2011. 438 pp. $11.

This personal and political memoir illustrates Roberts’s ascending roles in Oregon politics. We get revealing and candid comments about her early life and then her political positions as Oregon’s secretary of state (1985-1991) and the state’s governor (1991-1995).

Norma Paulus, with Gail Wills and Pat McCord Amacher. The Only Woman in the Room: The Norma Paulus Story. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2017. 284 pp. $20.

Norma Paulus tells her story, rising from girlhood in eastern Oregon to Oregon’s secretary of state and candidate for governor. Valuable for insights on a valiant and forceful woman’s role in recent Oregon politics.

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In this issuePart 1: Women And Family In The West; Part 2: Environmental Histories; Part 3: Western Politics; Part 4: Western Leaders and Demigods; Part 5: Ernest Haycox: Books About and by Haycox — Home

Part 4: Western Leaders and Demigods

Thunder in the Mountains: Chief Joseph, Oliver Otis Howard, and the Nez Perce War by Daniel J. Sharfstein
Thunder in the Mountains: Chief Joseph, Oliver Otis Howard, and the Nez Perce War by Daniel J. Sharfstein

Daniel J. Sharfstein. Thunder in the Mountains: Chief Joseph, Oliver Otis Howard, and the Nez Perce War. New York: W. W. Norton, 2017. 613 pp., cloth. $20.

Daniel Sharfstein’s Thunder in the Mountains, the most story-driven account of Chief Joseph, Gen. O. O. Howard, and the horrendous Nez Perce War, will clearly appeal to hungry readers. A law professor by trade, Sharfstein also displays sterling narrative and descriptive talents in this long, appealing history. Beginning with the early years of General Howard in the Civil War and Reconstruction years, as well as the previous experiences of the Nez Perce groups, treaty and no treaty, the author next, treats the major battles of the Nez Perce War from June to October 1877. The closing chapters deal with the stories of Joseph and Howard up to the end of their lives in the early 20th century.

The origins of the Nez Perce War are dramatized via step by step coverage of the ideas and actions that drove the two cultures to the outbreak of shooting in early summer 1877. Impending tragedy crouched at the tepee entrances when American miners and settlers discovered and coveted the mineral and grassland riches of the wonderful Wallowa county on the border of the Oregon and Idaho. Disastrous treaties in 1855 and 1863 had reduced Nez Perce lands to minuscule dimensions, generating fear and anger. When younger, out-of-control Native men went on a killing rage, more peaceful leaders like Joseph were thrown into an unwanted war.

Sharfstein adeptly braids, first of all, the life stories of Joseph and Howard. He also brings on the scene a supporting cast of Nez Perce warrior and memoirist Yellow Wolf; CES Wood, Howard’s aide; and a handful of other Native and government leaders and officials. Nor does the author overlook the valuable roles of wives, daughters, youths, and children.

People — humans such as Joseph and Howard — dominate these inviting pages. The author does not overemphasize military history, including brutal battles and violent clashes, although some are here. Instead, he carefully and interestingly shows how bravery and honesty, cupidity and thievery, and honor and sociocultural blindnesses, by turns, powered the intriguing story from the outbreak at White Bird Canyon to the close at Bear Paw Mountains.

What is it that Sharfstein does better than most previous historians and biographers? He invitingly narrates the sound and fury of converging attitudes, emotions, and actions in an intriguing story. Like a skilled novelist, he dovetails the physical, social, and cultural details of two societies that came to conflict.

The ending chapters describe the rising popularity of an almost mythic Chief Joseph as a hero and the difficulties Howard faced in trying to tell his story alongside Joseph’s more entrancing one. Even though the author does not take sides, readers will have difficulty in not embracing the Native leader rather than the white man. — Richard W. Etulain

Other Books on Western Leaders and Demigods:

Mark J. Dworkin. American Mythmaker: Walter Noble Burns and the Legends of Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, and Joaquín Murrieta. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015. Cloth, 269 pp. $24.

An illuminating study of long-time Chicago journalist Walter Noble Burns and his romantic, stirringly written biographies of three Old West legends. Dworkin thoroughly evaluates Burns’s research, his narrative excesses, and his role in fostering the legends, early on, surrounding Billy the Kid, Earp, and Murrieta.

T.J. Stiles. Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War. New York: Knopf, 2002. Cloth, 528 pp.

Stiles, twice a Pulitzer Prize-winner, argues in this brilliant biography that Jesse James is best understood as a participant in divisive, violent post-Civil War times.  James was a hating southerner attempting to retain his vision of a white-dominated South and West.

Casey Tefertiller. Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend. New York: John Wiley, 1997. Cloth, $50.

The most thorough and strongest narrative biography of Earp. Well researched and smoothly written.

Glenda Riley. The Life and Legacy of Annie Oakley. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994. Cloth, 252 pp.

A capsule but illuminating life story of the famed female shootist best known for her participation in the Buffalo Bill Wild West show. Clearly written with numerous insights into the thoughts and actions of a woman making her way in the Wild West.

Richard W. Etulain. The Life and Legends of Calamity Jane. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014. Cloth, 381 pp. $20.

A volume in the Oklahoma Western Biographies series, this book provides, in its opening chapters, a brief biography of Martha Canary, or Calamity Jane. It also includes, in its second section, an extensive discussion of the legends about Calamity that arose during her lifetime before her death in 1903 and extended into the 21st century.

Larry D. Ball. Tom Horn in Life and Legend. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014. Cloth, 568 pp.

Ball, an authority on frontier legal history, provides the definitive life story of the controversial Tom Horn.  The author deals with Horn as a cowboy, scout, lawman, and hired killer. Horn as a good and bad man.

John W. Davis. The Trial of Tom Horn. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016. Cloth,    368 pp. $25.

The author, a long-time Wyoming lawyer, details the sensational murder trial of Tom Horn for killing a teenager.  An interesting, well-written account concerning western justice.

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In this issuePart 1: Women And Family In The West; Part 2: Environmental Histories; Part 3: Western Politics; Part 4: Western Leaders and Demigods; Part 5: Ernest Haycox: Books About and by Haycox — Home

Part 5: Ernest Haycox: Books About and by Haycox

Ernest Haycox at his home in 1941
Ernest Haycox at his home in 1941

Ernest Haycox (1899-1950), a well-known writer of the Pacific Northwest, played a major role in the development of the popular Western novel, especially in the first half of the 20th century. Educated at the University of Oregon, Haycox became a prolific contributor to pulp magazines such as Western Story Magazine in the 1920s. In the 1930s and 1940s, he graduated to the slicks, such as Collier’s and Saturday Evening Post, where he became a steady writer of stories and serial novels. Beginning in the late 1920s, he published a Western novel nearly every year, totaling 23 before his untimely death in 1950. His short story and serial installments numbered nearly 300 items.

Haycox Westerns became recognized for several ingredients. At first action–and more action–dominated his plots. Gradually, however, he refined his characters, including reflective or “Hamlet heroes” and a dichotomy of heroines, brunette vixens, and puritanical blondes. Even more important, Haycox increasingly infused his novels–and some of his short stories–with expanded and illuminating historical backgrounds.

Several of Haycox’s writings gained nation-wide attention. His Collier’s short story “Stage to Lordsburg” (1937) became the chief literary source for the John Ford-John Wayne blockbuster movie Stagecoach (1939). His Custer novel Bugles in the Afternoon (1944) is still hailed as among the best historical novels on that controversial figure. The final novel Haycox wrote, The Earthbreakers (1952), remains a classic treatment of the end-of-the-Oregon Trail story.

Sources About Haycox (chronological)

Richard W. Etulain. Ernest Haycox. Western Writers Series, 86. Boise: Boise State University, 1988. Paper, 49 pages.

This pamphlet in the Western Writers Series provides a brief overview of Haycox’s too-short literary career. It includes comments on nearly all Haycox novels and many shorter works, examines Haycox’s developing literary credo, and provides examples of his artistic experiments.

Stephen L. Tanner. Ernest Haycox. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1988. Cloth, 153 pages.

A compact volume in the Twayne United States Authors Series (No. 666), this clear, straightforward, and illuminating study furnishes the needed introduction to the corpus of Haycox’s writings. Balanced and judicious in its conclusions. A work, primarily, of literary criticism.

Ernest Haycox, Jr. On a Silver Desert: The Life of Ernest Haycox. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003. Cloth, 308 pages. $40.

In this very well written biography, Haycox’s son, Ernest, Jr., supplies an extraordinarily illuminating life story of his father. Revealing, penetrating, and memorable, especially in its treatment of Haycox’s early life and the successes and challenges of his mid-years. Draws on documents and other information not available to other researchers.

Richard W. Etulain. Ernest Haycox and the Western. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press,    2017. Cloth, 184 pp.

A revision of the author’s doctoral dissertation, this short book traces the main contours of Haycox’s developing literary career. It discusses his contributions to pulp and slick magazines and his final break from the serial markets to launch a new career as a historical novelist. Haycox is viewed as a notably important innovator in the rise of the popular Western novel in the first half of the 20th century.

Selected Books by Haycox (chronological)

Free Grass. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran and Company, 1929. Cloth, 274 pp., first edition.

After serial publication in a pulp magazine, Haycox’s first novel received strong reviews in several magazines. It is a trail drive novel, especially dealing with the last weeks of the drive in the northern West. A traditional Western with action, romance, and clashes and conflicts. A strong start for a prolific writer of novels.

Rough Air. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran and Company, 1934. Cloth. 310 pages.

One of Haycox’s lesser-known volumes, and one dealing with the modern West, it is also something of a rarity, not widely reprinted. A pilot finds himself out of place in contemporary Hollywood, as does his love interest. They return to their much-cherished Oregon. Proved Haycox could deal with more than just the cowboy and nineteenth-century West.

Trouble Shooter. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran and Company, 1937. Cloth, 291 pages.

A serial for Collier’s, this novel introduced readers to Haycox as an author of historical Westerns. Here, hero Frank Peace is centrally involved with the building of the Union Pacific transcontinental railroad; so are several historical figures such as President U. S. Grant, congressmen, and railroad owners and engineers. Romance and conflict themes, of course, are added to the historical backgrounds to produce a more complex Western.

Alder Gulch. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1942. Cloth, 302 pages. $15

Another historical Western, this novel describes the frenetic life in a mineral rush to Montana of the 1860s. The work focuses on the famous corrupt sheriff Henry Plummer and the outlawry that plagued western Montana. A revealing example of Haycox’s increasing competence in grafting historical backgrounds onto what is essentially an action story of the frontier.

Bugles in the Afternoon. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1944. Cloth, 306 pages.

Haycox’s stirring novel about Gen. George Custer, the 7th Cavalry, and the defeat at the Little Bighorn in June 1876 may be his most popular–and successful–historical Western. Carefully researched, evaluative of Custer (Haycox sees the general as blinded by his inordinate ambition and stubbornness), and a smoothly blended combination of history, romance, and adventure, the novel still ranks high among all fictional Westerns.

Canyon Passage. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1945. Cloth, 264 pages. $145

A Saturday Evening Post serial (1945), this historical Western is set in the mineral rush days of southwestern Oregon. Conflicts with Indians, clashes among miners and townsmen, and competitions among heroines power the lively novel. Its movie version, directed by Walter Wanger, opened in Portland, creating loads of publicity for Haycox, the Portland-based writer.

The Earthbreakers. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1952. Cloth, 405 pages.

The last written but penultimately published of Haycox’s books, this may be his best novel. It details the tangled, challenged lives of Oregon Trail immigrants in their first year in the Willamette Valley. Well rounded, a catalog of well-described diverse lives, the longest, and most sexually explicit of Haycox’s novels, it was also his most successful break from the patterned Westerns of his earlier career.

The Adventurers. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1954. Cloth, 332 pages.

Left incomplete at Haycox’s death and revised slightly by one of his editors, this novel followed the theme that all humans are “adventurers” in a challenging, rather rudderless world. Courage and kindness, if available, will carry men and women through the chaos. Set in pioneer Oregon.

Best Western Short Stories of Ernest Haycox. New York: Bantam Books, 1960. Paper, 472 pp.

This extensive collection gathered the short stories from four previous anthologies of Haycox stories: Rough Justice (1950), By Rope and Lead (1951), Murder on the Frontier (1953), and Pioneer Loves (1952). A collection of 36 stories, the anthology displays Haycox’s escalating talents as a writer from the late 1930s through the 1940s.

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In this issuePart 1: Women And Family In The West; Part 2: Environmental Histories; Part 3: Western Politics; Part 4: Western Leaders and Demigods; Part 5: Ernest Haycox: Books About and by Haycox — Home

Ernest Haycox and The Western

Dr. Richard W. Etulain
presents his new book
“Ernest Haycox and The Western”

Chaparral Books
1975 SW 1ST, Suite L
Portland Center Plaza
Portland, Oregon
Thursday September 21, 12:30 p.m.

Dr. Richard W. Etulain presents his new book "Ernest Haycox and The Western" at Chaparral BooksRichard W. Etulain, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of New Mexico, is the author or editor of more than 50 books. Best known among his books about the history and cultures of the American West are Conversations with Wallace Stegner (1983), Writing Western History (editor, 1991), Re-imagining the Modern American West: A Century of Fiction, History, and Art (1996), Telling Western Stories: From Buffalo Bill to Larry McMurtry (1999), Beyond the Missouri: The Story of the American West (2006), The American West: A Modern History, 1900 to the Present (with Michael P. Malone, 2d ed., 2007), and Lincoln Looks West: From the Mississippi to the Pacific (2010).

Western fans today may not recognize the name Ernest Haycox (1899–1950), but they know his work. John Ford turned one of his stories into the iconic film Stagecoach, and the whole Western literary genre still follows conventions that Haycox deftly mastered and reshaped. In this new book, “Ernest Haycox and The Western,” Etulain tells the engrossing story of his rise through the ranks of popular magazine and serial fiction to become one of the Western’s most successful creators.

After graduating from the University of Oregon in 1923 with a degree in journalism, Haycox began his quest to break into New York’s pulp magazine scene, submitting dozens of stories before he began to make a living from his writing. By the end of the 1920s he had become a top writer for Western Story, Short Stories, and Adventure, among other popular weeklies and monthlies.