Sterile Prairie

"Look how wide also the east is from the west:
so far hath he set our sins from us."

—Psalm 103

It has been said that an intellectual is someone who can listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger. But the life of the mind hardly requires that William and Henry, rather than Frank and Jesse, first spring to mind should "the James brothers" be mentioned; nor is it inconsistent with "popular" culture or such "romantic" Western subjects as Indian warfare or frontier crime. Resisting seduction by frontier fantasies, scholars may choose instead to dissect them, tracing the transmutation of history into myth and flawed humans into America's frontier pantheon. Others may adopt a sociological approach to frontier society, though their efforts may fail to evoke a deeper Truth; recently in these pages Odie B. Faulk, galvanized by two books he considered "larded with sociological and psychological jargon and motivated by economic prejudice against the entrepreneur," insisted that he had gained more insight into the cattle trade from two cowboy anecdotes than from "some two dozen years of academic study."

The defiant opposite to a homely brush-popper's yarn might be a probing of Western myths and "ideology" that largely neglects the actual West in the consciousness of the...

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