Saeetgawea’s ICINUE map Oh ‘an e* aged to keep him with the Wild West show only one year, 1885. When Sitting Bull left Cody gave him a horse and a hat, both of which he kept until his death, five years later. Not lost on McMurtry is the delicious irony that the hot place to study the history of the West during the last 40 years has been Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut. This resulted from a juxtaposition rare enough in the academic world: the extravagantly rich western history holdings of the Yale libraries, combined with a brilliant western history faculty led by Howard Lamar, a courtly native of Tuskegee, Alabama. Lamar’s first Ph.D. student was William Goetzmann, founder of the University of Texas’ distinguished American Studies Department, and now an elder in the field whose groundbreaking work in the exploration of the West and in western art are fully acknowledged throughout these essays. But it is another Lamar student, Patricia Limerick of the University of Colorado, who draws McMurtry’s attention as the leader of the new western history. As he does throughout his examination of western writing, McMurtry personalizes Limerick’s thesis: Patricia Nelson Limerick began her admirable career as a student of ghost towns, those dusty, blistered counterstatements to the triumphalist version of the winning of the American West. If we won the West so decisively, how come there are so many ghost towns, places where pioneer hopes seem to have been totally defeated? \(In my own small county in Texas three communities have vanished utterly, not a chimney, not a brick, not a log to remind us of the ambitions that once had been nourished about the failures \(commercial, environmental, cultural, administrative, familning of the West?animates Ms. Limerick’s first book, The Legacy of counter-statements to the triumphalist narrative. LARRY McMURTRY The rest of the Limerick essay presents McMurtry at his discursive best, bringing in Henry James, the western pulp novelist Louis L’Amour, Bing Crosby, Woody Allen, and the culture of valet parking in Los Angeles as it suits his purposes. The heart of the book deals with the exemplars of McMurtry’s age of Heroes, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Probably not too many of us will spring for the University of Nebraska Press’s monumental 13-volume The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, or even visit a copy in a library, but McMurtry’s excellent reading of it almost saves us that chore. Both captains maintained journalsLewis had been Thomas Jefferson’s secretary, so was something of a trained writer, but McMurtry is drawn more to Clark, who seemingly made up language as he journeyed. After a skirmish with a group ofTeton Sioux in the fall of 1804, McMurtry writes of Clark: From a literary standpoint, the main residue of these few tense days in September was William Clark’s orthographical death-struggle with the word “Sioux,” the moral equivalent of Beowulf’s struggle with the sea monster. Clark’s efforts to subdue the slippery word were almost Joyceanunless I have miscounted he spelled it twentytwo different ways: Soues, Sous, Sisouex, Souex, Seouex, Sciox, Sciouexm, Sioux, Seaux, Sieux, Scouix, Seauex, Seauix, Souix, Siaux, Sious, Sceoux, Sieuex, Sceaux, Shoe, Soux, Souis. Of course anyone who has ever had any contact with an unmodernized text of the Journalsfew enoughknows that Captain William Clark was one of the most defiant, as well as most inventive, spellers ever to attempt the English language. He may be said to have invented the concept of windchill when he described a 40-below Dakota day with the wind blowing as “Breizing.” Despite his constant disregard for all orthographical rules Clark is never unclear; he is just exercising his right as an American to say things his own way. The title essay deals with Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who translated for the expedition. Traveling with a small baby and a “nautically challenged” husband who kept turning over the canoe, Sacagawea was a favorite of many of the 32 men on the expedition, but especially of Captain Clark, who, when he learned of her dying in 1812, had his usual bit of trouble spelling her name: “Sar car Ja we aDead.” As to her nickname, McMurtry does a bit of bookish showing off, remarking that her expedition name, “Janey” is only mentioned once in the 5,448 pages of the 13 volumes. In a recent piece in The New York Review of Books, McMurtry reviewed two books on book collecting, with not a single western reference, except for the fact that Ross Perot helped the University of Texas buy their copy of the Gutenberg Bible. If this is an indication that his fling with reviewing books on the West is over, at least we have Sacagawea’s Nickname to accompany us through the recent bibliographic past. As usual with Larry, stay tuned. Dick Holland is a sometimes Senior Lecturer at UT The past two years he has taught an honors class titled “The Texas State of Mind.” 1/18102 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.