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Historigraphy of the American West - Essay Example

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Historigraphy of the American West

Alexander Mackenzie and Thomas Jefferson, George Catlin and Paul Kane, Frederic Remington and the North West Mounted Police: the United States West intertwined with the Canadian West - there are thousands f other such moments, innumerable cruxes, and myriad border-crossings. The problem, ever and always, is in how we "Americans" understand these things. (Canadians, f course, are also "Americans" in the sense f being f this continent.) Each f us, Canadians and United States people, living within a national myth borne f exceptionalism, seek to assert our country's historical narrative - especially the narrative f West: expansion - "Westward the Course f Empire Takes Its Way" or, in Canada, the Laurentian thesis propounded to the Canadian Pacific Railway (completed in 1885): Pierre Berton's "The National Dream" (or Gordon Lightfoot's "Canadian Railroad Trilogy) (Kaye). Yet these parallel narratives, historically intertwined as they were, and are, have too infrequently crossed, too infrequently been probed and understood as the interconnected fact-based stories they are.
The significance f Jefferson's response to his worried moment over Mackenzie's transcontinental success is clear: the massed bulk f the University f Nebraska Press's The Journals f the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1983-99, 13 vols.) looms, the narrative versions f Lewis and Clark have piled up (though they were slow to start - the first, by Biddle, did not appear until 1814), James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking series stands mythologizing them yet, especially in its third volume, The Prairie (1827). And two words - Undaunted Courage - have recently again broadcast Lewis and Clark throughout the United States through Stephen Ambrose's popular retelling f the story f their voyage f discovery.
Yet early in Wallace Stegner's Wolf Willow (1962) - arguably the paradigm border-crossing Western text, a paradigm as autobiography, as history, as art - there is an invocation f the Lewis and Clark expedition on the upper Missouri in May 1805: "They came watchfully," Stegner writes, "for they were the first. They came stiffened with resolution and alert with wonder." "Every river and creek that came in from south or west brought word f the Stony Mountains and the passes that might lead to the Great South Sea; every stream from north or northwest was a possible trail to the Saskatchewan in Prince Rupert's Land. More and more, as they moved westward, the country that lay between them and these desired goals was not merely unknown, it was un rumored" ( 19). Stegner's invocation f Lewis and Clark here - one that is both precise and careful - serves him an important narrative purpose: he places them on the Milk River bluffe (so called because Lewis and Clark renamed them for Euroamericans), staring northward toward the Cypress Hills, the mythic place f his boyhood in Saskatchewan to which he returns through Wolf Willow. Standing at the apex f the continent, Lewis and Clark, Stegner writes, "would have been looking down the imperceptible hill that led to Hudson Bay" (42).
Such a careful placement f these paradigmatic explorers in a paradigmatic text by a writer who was a literal border-crosser, and so also something f a paradigm himself, is indicative. Stegner was born in the United States, he self-identified as American but, having spent his ...Show more

Summary

His immediate family wondered about him and worried over him - and with good reason, for nothing Remington had done by 1881 or would do over the next few years suggested success, or even much promise. He squandered his sizable inheritance, first on a sheep farm and then on a Kansas City bar…
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Historigraphy of the American West essay example
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