The attempt to "absorb America" that Deveare speaks of is perhaps impossible because of the sheer range of peoples, experiences and ideas that exist within it. But perhaps that very impossibility is an example of the success of the project. Thus is a person thinks that they have encapsulated the American experience and can hold it all within their viewpoint, they are bound to be excluding some groups and ideas that are not easy to absorb. A true absorbing of what it means to "be" American will involve a dizzying mixture of experiences which will overwhelm any one individual.
The through-line which holds these selections together is the fact, paradoxically, that they are so different from one another. They hold a commonality of difference. But that difference is perhaps the best descriptor of the genuine American experience.
"I sit down to write something of the life and character of Joaquin Murieta, a man as remarkable in the annals of crime as any of the renowned robbers of the Old or New World, who have preceded him." (p.1)
The idea that a Mexican could be as "renowned" in anything as a white man, even in the dubious distinction of being an outlaw, was novel at the time this account was written. In many ways Ridge's account of the actions of Murieta contributed to the outlaw bandit image of the border states more than anything else. There is something Romantic to this hero, something which has remained to the present day.
"I do this not for the purpose of contributing to any depraved taste for the dark and horrible in human action, but rather to contribute my mite to those materials out of which the early history of California shall one day be composed."
Of course this appeal to "depraved tasted" is precisely what Ridge is doing. This quotation is useful because the legend and myths of such outlaws are as much a part of early American history as any of the lives of politicians. The mythology of the west is as important as the reality, indeed, it becomes part of the reality whether it is true or not.
Harte, The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Writings
"There was commotion in Roaring Camp. It could not have been a fight, for in 1850 that was not novel enough to have called together the entire settlement. The ditches and claims were not only deserted, but "Tuttle's grocery" had contributed its gamblers, who, it will be remembered, calmly continued their game the day that French Pete and Kanaka Joe shot each other to death over the bar in the front room." (p.1)
The myth of the violence of the American West, like many national myths, is based at least partly upon reality. This memorable opening shows the innate humor that could be gained from a community that is so violent that it barely notices two men shooting each other to death in a bar. In one sense, this quotation supports the great Hollywood Western myth that the whole of the West was made up of lawless towns in which coffins for the day's shooting deaths were lined up every day.
"The assemblage numbered about a hundred men. One or two of these were actual fugitives from justice, some were criminal, and all were reckless. Physically they exhibited no indication of their past lives and character. The greatest scamp had a Raphael face, with a profusion of blonde