Early Nevada Folklore of the Wild West
by Ronald M. James
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Pub Date 19 Sep 2023 | Archive Date 15 Dec 2023
Monumental Lies: Early Nevada Folklore of the Wild West invites readers to explore how legends and traditions emerged during the first decades following the “Rush to Washoe,” which transformed the Nevada Territory after in 1859. During this Wild West period, there was widespread celebration of deceit, manifesting in tall tales, burlesque lies, practical jokes, and journalistic hoaxes. Humor was central, and practitioners easily found themselves scorned if they failed to be adequately funny.
The tens of thousands of people who came to the West, attracted by gold and silver mining, brought distinct cultural legacies. The interaction of diverse perspectives, even while new stories and traditions coalesced, was a complex process. Author Ronald M. James addresses how the fluidity of the region affected new expressions of folklore as they took root.
The wildly popular Mark Twain is often a go-to source for collections of early tall tales of this region, but his interaction with local traditions was specific and narrow. More importantly, William Wright—publishing as Dan De Quille—arose as a key collector of legends, a counterpart of early European folklorists. With a bedrock understanding of what unfolded in the nineteenth century, James considers how these early stories helped shaped the culture of the Wild West.
“James contributes a superior examination of early Nevada folklore. His superb account is extraordinarily revealing and clearly written. A helpful read for general readers and scholars alike.”
—Richard Etulain, author of Thunder in the West: The Life and Legends of Billy the Kid
“James provides the first comprehensive account of Nevada folklore. It is a fascinating and compelling story.”
—Michael J. Makley, author of Imposing Order without Law: American Expansion to the Eastern Sierra, 1850-1865
• Understanding how western folklore took shape during the earliest period.
• Exploring the role of deceit – hoaxes, tall tales, practical jokes, and burlesque lies – in the tradition of the West.
• A reconsideration of the role of the storytellers from Mark Twain to Lyin’ Jim Townsend and, most importantly, William Wright, “Dan De Quille.”
• Coming to terms with the way modern westerners look at the earliest period of settlement, considering the popular idea of the Wild West
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 7 members
During the "Wild West" era, an excellent sense of humor was a requirement, even if what they found funny would horrify us today. The ability to build your actions into a legend by stretching the truth would help to keep you alive. While I expected more humor from the book, I did find the history fascinating. Ronald M James has a considerable pedigree in Nevada history and folklore from the mid to late 1800s. The information he shares in Monumental Lies comes from a lifetime of study and preserving history for those of us that will never have the opportunity to learn first hand. I'm recommending this book to my history buff friends and family. They are sure to enjoy it as much as I did.
This book is authoritative about Nevada folklore, but it is also just plain old fun. I loved it. Rarely do you find a book that gives you the clear reasons why a social event occurs, while also giving a fun involving experience of the times and culture that is discussed. In this case the stories, often total lies, told in the early period of Nevada's history which is so entwined with the gold rush, come alive. But it's not a mere fun and fancy, no it is a serious investigation as to what this folklore was and how it spread and why it spread. In the end you understand the precarious nature of life in Nevada and the strange confluence of so many cultures coming together, as the folklore reflects.
For the historian or academic or just those who want to enjoy the experience of another time and place, I recommend this book. This book is like taking a time travel tour of Nevada, it's wonderful.
If you are interested in the old west, history, legends or storytelling, this is a must-read. It centers on the "lies" that grew out of the Nevada region, particularly during the early days of the gold/silver mining. While there are many very interesting tales related to some "larger than life" characters, one of my favorites related to a myth about a very smart horse and a well. All in all, Ronald James has researched and written a wonderful history of monumental lies in the old west.
A terrific tracing of how legends of the Wild West grew--some deliberately, others just by going from mouth to ear. James is clearly an expert in the field, tracking down various tall tales, especially related to mining and miners, and how those spread: the Gold Rush was a galvanizing influence.
There are references here to silver mining, which was of especial interest to me as my spouse inherited a box of letters from an ancestor of his who wrote home about the perils of silver mining in Colorado and then life in California, and much of the way he spoke of what he heard about resonates with the way that James discusses the evolution of those tall tales.
Ronald James' book highlights the Nevada folklore of the 19th century. It provides stories of tall tales, legends, and hoaxes that were prevalent during the Wild West. The author includes folklore of lost mines, tall tales and other deceptions, Nevada legendary figures, ghosts, and stories of sex and murder. The book provides references to books, journals, photographs, illustrations, and other documents of the period. Chapters also focus on those recording the folklore: Dan DeQuille, Hank Monk, and Mark Twain. There are extensive end notes and a selective bibliography for those who want more. A good read for those interested in the Wild West, American History, and folklore.