Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Old West

Our next meeting will be on Tuesday, March 26th at 6:30pm and the topic is our first Salon Discussion of the year!  With our Salon Discussion there is no assigned genre and participants are welcome to read and discuss ANY book of their choice.

On to our discussion last evening!

The Old West...what a fascinating time in American history!  Social, technological, economic, and political changes, both good and bad, were coming faster and faster while the entire country was on the cusp of emerging into the 20th century.

Before I get to the list of books we discussed, here are a couple of websites with interesting tidbits.

According to its Facebook page, Decaying Hollywood Mansions is "a fan site dedicated to the decaying, decrepit, crepuscular ruins of Gothic Hollywood & the wild & woolly history of cinema."  DHM also has a blog, which is where I stumbled across this great post about film cowboys and their wonder horses.

In May of last year, the British site Daily Mail Online published some stunning sepia pictures of the American West.  The photos, the first taken of the Old West, are an amazing glimpse into the lives of the early towns, settlements, and landscapes to be found there.

The books we discussed:

Far From Home: Families of the Westward Journey by Lillian Schlissel, Byrd Gibbens, and Elizabeth Hampsten
Takes a look at the human cost of the cross continental trek. Using letters and diaries, the author pieces together the sagas of 3 families of the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries who ventured West.

The Poker Bride: The First Chinese in the Wild West by Christopher Corbett
When gold rush fever gripped the globe in 1849, thousands of Chinese immigrants came through San Francisco on their way to seek their fortunes. They were called sojourners, for they never intended to stay. In The Poker Bride, Christopher Corbett uses a little-known legend from Idaho lore as a lens into this Chinese experience. Before 1849, the Chinese in the United States were little more than curiosities. But as word spread of the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in California, they soon became a regular sight in the American West. In San Francisco, a labyrinthine Chinatown soon sprang up, a clamorous city within a city full of exotic foods and strange smells, where Chinese women were smuggled into the country, and where the laws were made by "hatchet men." At this time, Polly, a young Chinese concubine, was brought by her owner by steamboat and pack train to a remote mining camp in the highlands of Idaho. There he lost her in a poker game, having wagered his last ounce of gold dust. Polly found her way with her new owner to an isolated ranch on the banks of the Salmon River in central Idaho. As the gold rush receded, it took with it the Chinese miners--or their bones, which were disinterred and shipped back to their homeland in accordance with Chinese custom. But it left behind Polly, who would make headlines when she emerged from the Idaho hills nearly half a century later to visit a modern city and tell her story. Peppered with characters such as Mark Twain and the legendary newswoman Cissy Patterson, The Poker Bride vividly reconstructs a lost period of history when the first Chinese sojourners flooded into the country, and left only glimmering traces of their presence scattered across the American West.

The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream by Patrick Radden Keefe

In this thrilling panorama of real-life events, Patrick Radden Keefe investigates a secret world run by a surprising criminal: a charismatic middle-aged grandmother, who from a tiny noodle shop in New York’s Chinatown managed a multi-million dollar business smuggling people.

Keefe reveals the inner workings of Sister Ping’s complex empire and recounts the decade-long FBI investigation that eventually brought her down. He follows an often incompetent and sometimes corrupt INS as it pursues desperate immigrants risking everything to come to America, and along the way, he paints a stunning portrait of a generation of illegal immigrants and the intricate underground economy that sustains and exploits them. Grand in scope yet propulsive in narrative force, The Snakehead is both a kaleidoscopic crime story and a brilliant exploration of the ironies of immigration in America.

Wanton West: Madams, Money, Murder, and the Wild Women of Montana's Frontier by Lael Morgan

From the time of the gold rush to the election of the first woman to the U.S. Congress, Wanton West brings to life the women of the West's wildest region: Montana, famous for its lawlessness, boomtowns, and America’s largest red-light districts. Prostitutes and entrepreneurs--like Chicago Joe, Madame Mustache, and Highkicker—flocked to Montana to make their own money, gamble, drink, and raise hell just like men. Moralists wrote them off as “soiled doves,” yet a surprising number prospered, flaunting their freedom and banking ten times more than their “respectable” sisters. A lively read providing new insights into women’s struggle for equality, Wanton West is a refreshingly objective exploration of a freewheeling society and a re-creation of an unforgettable era in history.

The Story of Mary Maclane, By Herself by Mary Maclane
Few books in U.S. History have provoked more outrage and debate than THE STORY OF MARY MACLANE did when it was first published in Chicago in 1902. With unprecedented frankness, the 19-year-old author revealed her utter scorn for conformity and puritanism. "Periodically I fall completely, madly in love with the Devil. He is so fascinating, so strong -- so strong, exactly the sort of man my wooden heart awaits. I would like to throw myself at his head. I would make him a dear little wife....

Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy

First published in 1973, this remarkable book about life in a small turn-of-the-century Wisconsin town has become a cult classic. Lesy has collected and arranged photographs taken between 1890 and 1910 by a Black River Falls photographer, Charles Van Schaik.  A documentary-type film was also made from this book.  Here is a great Youtube video explaining more about it.

The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West by Candy Moulton
Writers will save hours of valuable research time and bring a richness and historical accuracy to their work as they reference the slice-of-life facts depicted for each of these major time periods. Each book contains descriptions of the period's food and clothes; customs and slang; occupations; common religious and political practices; and other historical details.

The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin
Thousands of impoverished Northern European immigrants were promised that the prairie offered "land, freedom, and hope." The disastrous blizzard of 1888 revealed that their free homestead was not a paradise but a hard, unforgiving place governed by natural forces they neither understood nor controlled, and America’s heartland would never be the same.

True Tales and Amazing Legends of the Old West from the editors of True West Magazine

Much has been written about the west—most of it clouded by exaggeration and fabrication. Since 1953, True West magazine has been devoted to celebrating the West’s true colors, giving the men and women who settled there accurate voices, exploring every triumph and tragedy of their time—and exposing every vice and virtue.

True Tales and Amazing Legends of the Old West commemorates these unforgettable cowboys, Indians, and city slickers through a mix of classic histories and brand-new narratives, all illustrated with photographs—many reproduced here for the first time—of the people and places that gave rise to America’s Western mythology.

With twenty-six stories that blend fact with folklore, this collection abounds with accounts of the famous and the infamous, including Sacagawea, Wild Bill Hickok, Pancho Villa, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Davy Crockett, and Wyatt Earp. Also here are lesser-known figures whose stories were pivotal to shaping the culture of the era, such as European conquistador Francisco Coronado, rancher “Black Billy” Hill, and fearless lawman Orlando “Rube” Robbins. Other tales recount the wide open plains, lawlessness, drama, mayhem, and promise embodied in the Old West.

Whether you’re a history buff, an Old West devotee, or simply someone who is fascinated by the characters of America’s early years, these timeless tales and photographs epitomize the legendary spirit of what it meant to settle the West.

The Travels of Lewis & Clark by Lara Bergen; illustrated by Patrick O'Brien
Describes the expedition led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the unknown western regions of America at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Crazy Horse: 1842-1877 by Anne M. Todd
Featuring original Native American artwork and authentic language, Anne Todd's biography on Crazy Horse presents the short life of the brave Sioux Chief. Told from the perspective of the Native Americans, Crazy Horse's childhood, rise to prominence, and untimely demise are chronicled in a vivid fashion.

Bill Pickett: Rodeo Ridin' Cowboy by Andrea Davis Pinkney; illustrated by Brian Pinkney
The true sweat-and-dirt tale of the feisty cowboy-child who became the most famous black rodeo performer who ever lived. Includes a note about the history of the black West and a bibliography.

That's what we've been reading.  What are YOU reading?

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