Volume I, No. 2 – March 2017

John Thomas and Richard Etulain, Co-Editors

Welcome to second issue of our Books of the West newsletter. These newsletters, featuring longer book reviews and briefer lists of annotated and cited books, will be published periodically during the year, we hope on a quarterly basis. 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 in 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 have recently added four significant collections to the store:

  1. Books on Lewis and Clark from the Lewis and Clark Library Special Collections, including several signed copies of well-known authors to well-known historians in as new condition;
  2. Books from the granddaughter of novelist Ernest Haycox, including several signed, first editions;
  3. Books from Ray Snyder, a well-known Portland area book collector of Western Americana; and
  4. Steve Duin, a columnist for the Oregonian has joined the shop and will be offering the books he wrote, as well as books from his private collection.

When in Portland please stop in and view our offerings, including the new additions listed above.

In this issue: Fictional Wests: Two Recent Novels, Two Trails West, The Civil War In The American West, 10 Historical Overviews Of The American West and Lewis and Clark Books

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Fictional Wests: Two Recent Novels

The Sorrows of Young AlfonsoDoig, Ivan. Last Bus to Wisdom. New York: Riverhead Books, 2015. 453 pp. Cloth $24. New. ISBN 978-1-59463-202-0.

Anaya, Rudolfo. The Sorrows of Young Alfonso. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016. 224 pp. Cloth $24.95. New. ISBN 978-08061-5225-4.The Sorrows of Young Alfonso

These two recent novels by veteran western writers illustrate the diversity of western fiction appearing recently. Both are superb products by leading western authors.

Ivan Doig’s appealing western novel will be a bittersweet experience for fans of that writer. The son of an itinerant Montana sheepherder, grandson of a loving grandmother, and holder of a Ph.D. in American history, Doig launched a notable literary career in 1978 with his autobiographical volume, This House of Sky. All told, including this final work (the author died in 2015), Doig produced three works of nonfiction and a dozen novels. He was often rightly lauded as a leading western novelist.

The Last Bus to Wisdom overflows with Doig trademarks. It features two of his familiar narrative techniques: (1) a boy hero in a rollicking, coming-of-age story, and (2) page after page of word play, humor, and linguistic dexterity.

Doig employs a journey plot, from Montana to Wisconsin and back on a “dog bus” (Greyhound), on which to build his episodic story. Eleven-year-old Donal (without the “d”) Cameron, going on at least twenty, encounters and interacts with a vanity fair of unusual characters, contacts that Doig uses to create depth and variety to his story. Unable to connect with his dictatorial aunt in Wisconsin, The Kate Smith, the preteen hero escapes with her companion, Herman the German, and they stumble their way back west, including riding “on the last bus to Wisdom,” Montana.
Doig spices his novel with dozens of appealing scenes and events. The final chapters set in the hay country of Wisdom are particularly lively and intriguing in their depictions of the hay hoboes who work at a large ranch. Equally appealing are the other perceptive descriptions of Donal’s much-loved Gram, Aunt Kate, Herman the German, and dozens of other tourists and workers.

Clearly, his last novel is a fitting summing-up of Ivan Doig’s superb literary career. Sharply etched characters, lively word games, and memorable treatments of western scenes remain testaments to Doig’s immensely successful writing career.

Anaya’s book, The Sorrows of Young Alfonso, moves in much different directions. Those acquainted with Anaya’s earlier fiction, especially his classic Chicano novel, Bless Me, Ultima (1972), will recognize familiar characterizations, themes, and other emphases in this slim work. Much of the setting is the llano of southeastern New Mexico. The coming of age of a boy and young man is a central feature. Another curandera (woman healer), Agapita, plays a major role here as Ultima had in the earlier novel. And here are stresses on mythology, religious symbolism (particularly Catholic Christianity), and Chicano society and culture. And the budding sexuality of the narrator and other young men, their reflections on religion and secularity, and even owls and witches are much in evidence here.

But there are intriguing differences too. Is this a novel, an autobiography, or treatise on a life and ideas–or parts of all three? The plot consists of a nameless male narrator writing a series of letters to “K,” an unnamed woman. The storyteller is writing about Alfonso, a young Chicano growing up in rural New Mexico who eventually moves to Albuquerque and goes to the University of New Mexico. While the narrator is spinning out his ideas, many of which remind one of Anaya’s ideas, he is also revealing his own thoughts, which also are reminiscent of what Anaya has written previously. The backgrounds in rural New Mexico, the town of Santa Rosa, and the years in Albuquerque and at the University of New Mexico, even the name of Alfonso’s wife–Patricia–parallel the events of Rudolfo Anaya’s life.

Anaya repeatedly stresses the power of “story.” Stories are “everything”; they liberate us, setting “free all of life” (114). And once stories and mythology come together, we can “touch the soul.” In short, “Story is all we have” (126).

The letters the narrator writes (and a few are written by Alfonso) revolve around what happens to Alfonso from his baby years to his twenties. Early on the curandera Agapita tells him that life is a “world…full of sorrow.” That theme, as Alfonso experiences life-threating injuries, upsetting moves, and disappointments, plays out in letter after letter. Still, alongside those sorrows are also hard-wrought successes through diligence, encouragement (especially from his mother and Agapita), and perseverance. Not all is sorrow.

The Sorrows of Young Alfonso overflows with Chicano thoughts, New Mexico physical and cultural settlings, and an intriguing mix of religious, philosophical, and literary symbolism. These appealing elements will capture more than a few delighted readers.

— Richard W. Etulain

Other Western Novels To Consider

  • Erdrich, Louise. LaRose: A Novel. New York: Harper, 2016. 384 pp. Cloth $27.99. New. ISBN 978-0062277022.
    Erdrich pens another appealing story of Indians (Ojibwe) and non-Indians in a narrative of accidental death, justice, and retribution. Readers will likewise enjoy the author’s handing of mystical elements.
  • Davis, H. L. Honey in the Horn. 1935; reprinted, Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2015. 380 pp., Paper $19.95. New. ISBN 978-0-87071-768-0.
    Davis’s first of several novels won Harper and Pulitzer prizes. It was–and is–celebrated as a first-rate western regional novel.
  • Balch, Frederic Homer. The Bridge of the Gods: A Romance of Indian Oregon. 1890; reprinted, Pullman: Washington State University, 2016. 316 pp. Paper $19.95. New. ISBN 978-087422-343-9
    Balch’s romance was the first novel of the Pacific Northwest to treat extensively Native Americans. The author attempted to deal with both the ideas of a conservative Protestant missionary and with Native American lore and customs.
  • Gloss, Molly. The Jump-Off Creek. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989. 186 pp. Cloth $10. As new.
    ISBN 978-0395510865. Signed.
    Gloss tells a moving, probing story of a pioneer woman proving her courage, stamina, and diligence on an eastern Oregon farm-ranch. A wonderfully evocative novel.
  • Gulick, Bill. The Hallelujah Train. New York: Doubleday, 1963. 192 pp. Cloth $15. Very Good. Signed, no dust jacket.
    Gulick’s rollicking novel about a whiskey-loaded wagon train coming west became a hit Western film, The Hallelujah Trail, starring Burt Lancester. A novel brimming with Gulick’s trademark humor.
  • Kirkpatrick, Jane. The Memory Weaver: A Novel. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2015. 352 pp. Paper $10.00. ISBN 978-0800722326.
    Kirkpatrick combines her usual inviting mix of ingredients in this historical novel. She deals with a young mother, with lingering memories of the Whitman missionary disaster, now trying to make sense of that clinging past and her new present.
  • Momaday, N. Scott. The Ancient Child. New York: Doubleday, 1989, 2nd printing. 315 pp. Cloth $10. As New. ISBN 978-0385279727.
    Momaday’s novel focuses on two Native Americans searching for their identities. Indian myths and western legends (e.g. Billy the Kid) play important fictional roles.
  • Proulx, Annie. Barkskins. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2016. 736 pp. Cloth $15.00. As new. ISBN 978-0743288781.
    Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Proulx has produced an epic novel tracing frontiers and forests across several countries. The book’s narrative power, intriguing characters, and panoramic settings will draw thousands of readers.
  • Silko, Leslie Marmon. Almanac of the Dead. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991. 763 pp. Cloth $12.As new. ISBN 978-0671666088.
    This sprawling, complex, and prophetic novel by a Native American author deals with a coming disaster. It indicts politics and celebrates Indian mythology on a vast fictional canvas.

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In this issue: Fictional Wests: Two Recent Novels, Two Trails West, The Civil War In The American West, 10 Historical Overviews Of The American West and Lewis and Clark Books

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Two Trails West

Hambleton, James, and Theona J. Wood, Water and Grass: Meek Cutoff of 1845. Printed by Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Id., 2014. 192 pp. Paper $24.00. New. ISBN: 978-0-9903860-2-5.Water and Grass: Meek Cutoff of 1845

Most writers contend that the Meek Cutoff of 1845 across eastern and up through central Oregon to The Dallas, and led by former mountain man Stephen H. Meek, was a clear disaster. These historians conclude that Meek, a proud and confident man, led astray those hundreds who traveled the 435-mile, 45-day route with him. The critics say he got lost, pushing travelers through areas he knew but glancingly; so, he caused some overlanders to separate from the main group, and was the reason too many went hungry, lost their livestock, or even some their lives.

The writers/compilers of this factual volume dissent from these negative writings about Meek and the Meek Cutoff route. They assert that Meek knew his way, and the travelers should have believed him. The goal of this volume, the authors make clear, is “to clear up misconceptions and misinformation about Stephen Meek and the Meek Cutoff and to define the trail as accurately as possible” (xii).

The authors’ oversize volume is a rich harvest of factual details. They draw extensively on about a half dozen contemporary, hand-written, and revealing diaries on which to base much of their account. Their book overflows with these diary entries and numerous maps, but contains less narrative detail. James H. Hambleton’s fifty years as a professional land surveyor repeatedly shows up in the cartographic and trail details in this narrative. He employs the latest technology to give readers a strong sense of what the trail travelers saw and experienced in their arduous travel.
Generally, this is very local history, concentrating intensively on daily details. If the book is narrow in focus and light on sociocultural detail, it is exhaustively thorough on land surfaces, water sources, and grass availability. Trail aficionados will relish the abundant factual details the husband-and-wife authors have compiled.

Dary, David. The Oregon Trail: An American Saga. New York: Knopf, 2004. 415 pp. Cloth $40.As new, Signed. ISBN: 0-375-41399-5.The Oregon Trail: An American Saga.

Journalist and historian David Dary combines talents in those two fields to produce this valuable overview of the Oregon Trail. When this smoothly written narrative appeared a dozen years ago, it was hailed as the best general summary of this history-changing series of events. Some reviewers were even willing to place Dary’s appealing book alongside such classics as Francis Parkman’s The Oregon Trail and Bernard DeVoto’s Across the Wide Missouri.

Dary travels chronologically, from the first events shaping the trans-Mississippi West to the end of the trail about 1870–and beyond. The first eighty pages are devoted to backgrounds before the 1840s, the major section to the 1840s and 1850s, and the closing chapters to the Civil War and postwar happenings.

The author spices his narrative with lively accounts of dozens of overland trail groups and individuals traveling with those companies. For example, we hear much about Robert Stuart’s trip from Astoria eastward that became, in part, a route for later overlanders coming west; Dr. John McLoughlin and the Hudson’s Bay Company; and the coming of missionaries such as Jason Lee, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, and several Catholic priests. Then follow chapters that trace yearly crossings to Oregon, California, and Mormon Utah, from the early 1840s through the Civil War years.

Dary lards his narrative with dozens of long block quotes that provide human interest, physical descriptions, and daily details of trail travel. He uses the words of Jesse Applegate, the Sager girls, John C. Frèmont, and dozens of other writers and diarists. He also makes good use of information culled from newspapers, LeRoy Hafen’s series on the mountain men, and Kenneth Holmes’s volumes on frontier women. Final listings of cutoff routes and covered wagon landmarks and a glossary of important trail terms add substantially to this appealing volume.
In short, those interested in the history of the most important trail snaking across the American West should begin with this notable book on the Oregon Trail by David Dary.

— Richard W. Etulain

Follow Up On Books About Western Trails

  • Bagley, Will. So Rugged and Mountainous: Blazing the Trails to Oregon and California 1812-1848. Overland West: The Story of the Oregon and California Trails. Vol. 1, 1812-1848. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010. 458 pp. Cloth $35, as new, signed. ISBN 978-0-8061-4103-9.
    Thorough and detailed, this smoothly written big book is a valuable overview of overland trails from 1812 to the California Gold Rush time. First of a four-part series.
  • Bagley, Will. With Golden Visions Bright Before Them: Trails to the Mining West, 1849-1852. Overland West: The Story of the Oregon and California Trails, Vol 2. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2012. 448 pp. Cloth $30. As new. Signed. ISBN 978-0-8061-4284-5.
    This extensive study by the most recent authority on the overland trails offers a rich, thorough account of the trails that numerous pioneers took coming west. Valuable in all ways.
  • Ely, Glen Sample. The Texas Frontier and the Butterfield Overland Mail, 1858-1861. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016. 440 pp. Cloth $32. New. ISBN 978-0-0806-1522-19.
    Richly illustrated, this attractive history traces an important frontier mail route through mid-nineteenth-century Texas.
  • Hazelett, Stafford J., ed. Wagons to the Willamette: Captain Levi Scott and the Southern Route to Oregon, 1844-1847, by Levi Scott and James Layton Collins. Pullman: Washington State University Press, 2015. Signed by “Stafford.” 254 pp. Paper $20; as new. ISBN 978-087422-333-0.
    This account of travel via the Applegate Trail provides an alternative to the usual Oregon Trail narratives. Numerous footnote annotations help clarify obscure references in the Scott diary.
  • Jackson, W. Turrentine. Wagon Roads West: A Study of Federal Road Surveys and Construction in the Trans-Mississippi West…1846-1869. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1952. 422 pp. Cloth $40; very good.
    Jackson, an authority on frontier and western transportation and mining, furnishes here a very useful account of the surveying and construction of wagon roads west in the mid-nineteenth century. Still an authoritative work after more than sixty years.
  • Johnson, Ken. Legendary Truths: Peter Lassen and His Gold Rush Trail in Fact and Fable. Np: Prong Horn Press, 2012. 348 pp. Signed. Paper $25. As new. ISBN 978-1-932636-93-2.
    Johnson treats the facts and legends surrounding noted California pioneer Peter Lassen. The author provides a very useful and fact-filled account of major northern California trails.
  • Korns, J. Roderic, et al., eds. West from Fort Bridger: The Pioneering of Immigrant Trails Across Utah, 1846-1850. Rev. and updated by Will Bagley and Harold Schindler. Logan: Utah State University Press, 1994. 328 pp. Cloth $21.As new. ISBN 0-87421-178-6.
    This collection of diary and journal excerpts provides major insights into immigrant trails crossing Utah in the later 1840s.
  • Lass, William E. From the Missouri to the Great Salt Lake: An Account of Overland Freighting. Nebraska State Historical Society, Vol. 16. Lincoln: Nebraska State Historical Society, 1972. 312 pp. Cloth $20.Very Good.
    This overview of trailing from Missouri and Nebraska to Utah is by a major trail historian. He covers the period from 1848 to 1869, in the pre-railroad era.
  • Ragen, Brooks Geer. The Meek Cutoff: Tracing the Oregon Trail’s Lost Wagon Train of 1845. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013. 156 pp. Cloth $35. New. ISBN 978-0-295993096.
    This oversized, richly illustrated volume will attract readers with its inviting layout and content. The book traces the controversial Meek Cutoff route from the Boise area to The Dalles, Oregon.
  • Russell, Ashley Howard. Siskiyou Trail. Portland: Binfords and Mort, 1959. Signed to a friend. 195 pp. Cloth $30. Very Good.
    This historical novel follows the Siskiyou Trail stretching from northern California into southern Oregon. The author features conflicts with Indians and among settler groups, miners, and packers.

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In this issue: Fictional Wests: Two Recent Novels, Two Trails West, The Civil War In The American West, 10 Historical Overviews Of The American West and Lewis and Clark Books

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10 Historical Overviews Of The American West

Billington, Ray Allen. American Frontier Heritage. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1993. 310 pp. Cloth $12.Very good. ISBN 0-8263-1463-5American Frontier Heritage
Ray Billington, the leading authority on the American frontier in the second half of the twentieth century, here surveys the heritage of the frontier experience. Following the ideas of Frederick Jackson Turner, Billington interprets the West as a series of westward-moving frontiers from the East to the West Coast. His coverage stops at the 1890s, the “closed frontier.”

  • Etulain, Richard W. Beyond the Missouri: The Story of the American West. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006. 466 pp. Cloth $75.New. Signed. ISBN 978-0-8263-4032-0.Beyond the Missouri: The Story of the American West
    This overview of the American West from earliest residents to about 2000 follows a middle-of-the-road perspective. Neither a triumphalist frontier story nor a work of New Western history, this work attempts to balance conservative and progressive emphases.
  • Furman, Necah Stewart. Walter Prescott Webb: His Life and Impact. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1976. 222 pp. Cloth, $20. Very good. ISBN 0-8263-0412-5.Walter Prescott Webb: His Life and Impact.
    This brief biography is a helpful introduction to the life and writings of Walter Prescott Webb. As the author shows, Webb’s The Great Plains (1931) was a benchmark in western historical writing, demonstrating how a physical environment could shape the history of the region.
  • Hawgood, John A. American Western Frontiers: The Exploration and Settlement of the Trans- Mississippi West. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1967. 440 pp. Cloth, $25.Good.
    A smoothly written narrative history, this overview volume by a British scholar covers the American frontier to 1900. Mostly focusing on to-the-West movements, it does little with the twentieth century.
  • Hine, Robert V., and John Mack Faragher. The American West: An Interpretive History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000. 616 pp. Cloth $20. As new. ISBN 0-300-07833-1.
    Building on Hine’s earlier cultural-intellectual overview of the West, this revised version adds substantially through Faragher’s first-rate work in social history and on the nineteenth century. Exceptionally well written and very strong on the pre-1900 period.
  • Limerick, Patricia Nelson. The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1987. 396 pp. Paper. $9. Very good. ISBN 0-393-30497-3.
    The most important work of New Western history by the leader of the movement. No Patty Limerick, perhaps no New Western history. Written with verve and the interest-whetting draw of a first-rate journalist. Emphasizes the racism, environmental degradation, and settler cupidity that plagued western history from earliest contact with Indians to the present.
  • Milner, Clyde A., II, Carol A. O’Connor, and Martha Sandweiss, eds. The Oxford History of the American West. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. 872 pp. Cloth $20. As New. ISBN 0-19505968-9.
    A mammoth history of twenty-three chapters newly written by leading specialists in western history, this is a superb reference work and general history. Wonderfully illustrated and thorough in suggestions for further reading.
  • Pomeroy, Earl. The Pacific Slope: A History of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. 1965. 427 pp. Cloth $30.Very Good. ISBN 0-295-95295-4.
    The most interpretive of the western regional histories, Pomeroy’s analytical volume is particularly strong on the post-1900 era. Rather than emphasizing the West as a radical break from the East, as Frederick Jackson Turner did, Pomeroy stresses eastern continuities and carryovers in the West.
  • Turner, Frederick Jackson. The Early Writings of Frederick Jackson Turner. Ed. Everett E. Edwards. Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1938. 316 pp. Cloth $40.Very Good.
    A collection of Turner’s essays from about 1890 to the 1920s, this anthology provides a thorough glimpse of the approaches, interpretations, and conclusions Turner utilized and advanced. An important gathering of the early works of probably the US’s most important historian and the father of western history.
  • White, Richard. “It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own”: A History of the American West. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991. 644 pp. Cloth $24. Very Good.
    ISBN 0-8061-2366-4.
    A major work of the New Western history, White’s overview and interpretive textbook gave students of the American West a novel view of the region much at odds from the earlier Turner and Billington interpretations. Cerebral, analytical, and thorough, the book covers the history of the West from European entry up to the late twentieth century.

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In this issue: Fictional Wests: Two Recent Novels, Two Trails West, The Civil War In The American West, 10 Historical Overviews Of The American West and Lewis and Clark Books

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Pioneer Trails West

Western Writers of America, Inc., Donald E. Worcester, “Pioneer Trails West”

Pioneer Trails WestNineteen chapters feature the old roads and trails that crisscrossed early America from the East Coast to the western shore. This collection covers the various trails that led to the great plains and mountains and valleys of the West. Some of the greatest writers of the American West have combined talents to produce a classic book of American wilderness trails. Nineteen veteran authors, members of the Western Writers of America all, have been collected in this volume of essays detailing the travails and triumphs of the whites who emigrated rest along the Pioneer Trails.

“Pioneer Trails West,” Western Writers of America, Inc., Donald E. Worcester; Hardcover, Very Good in Very Good dust jacket; First Edition; First Printing, Caxton Press 1985, 13.59 x 9.36 Inches; 292 pages

See our “Books of the West” newsletter for more