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Guide to Life and Literature
of the Southwest


8
Backwoods Life and Humor

THE SETTLERS who put their stamp on Texas were predominantly from the southern states -- and far more of them came to Texas to work out of debt than came with riches in the form of slaves. The plantation owner came too, but the go-ahead Crockett kind of backwoodsman was typical. The southern type never became so prominent in New Mexico, Arizona, and California as in Texas. Nevertheless, the fact glares out that the code of conduct -- the riding and shooting tradition, the eagerness to stand up and fight for one's rights, the readiness to back one's judgment with a gun, a bowie knife, money, life itself -- that characterized the whole West as well as the Southwest was southern, hardly at all New England.

The very qualities that made many of the Texas pioneers rebels to society and forced not a few of them to quit it between sun and sun without leaving new addresses fitted them to conquer the wilderness -- qualities of daring, bravery, reckless abandon, heavy self-assertiveness. A lot of them were hell-raisers, for they had a lust for life and were maddened by tame respectability. Nobody but obsequious politicians and priggish "Daughters" wants to make them out as models of virtue and conformity. A smooth and settled society -- a society shockingly tame -- may accept Cardinal Newman's definition, "A gentleman is one who never gives offense." Under this definition a shaded violet, a butterfly, and a floating summer cloud are all gentlemen. "The art of war," said Napoleon, "is to make offense." Conquering the hostile Texas wilderness meant war with nature and against savages as well as against Mexicans. Go-ahead Crockett's ideal of a gentleman was one who looked in another direction while a visitor was pouring himself out a horn of whiskey.

Laying aside climatic influences on occupations and manners, certain Spanish influences, and minor Pueblo Indian touches, the Southwest from the point of view of the bedrock Anglo-Saxon character that has made it might well include Arkansas and Missouri. The realism of southern folk and of a very considerable body of indigenous literature representing them has been too much overshadowed by a kind of So Red the Rose idealization of slave-holding aristocrats.

ALLSOPP, FRED W.

Folklore of Romantic Arkansas, 2 vols., Grolier Society, 1931. Allsopp assembled a rich and varied collection of materials in the tone of "The Arkansas Traveler." OP.

ARRINGTON, ALFRED W.

The Rangers and Regulators of the Tanaha, 1856. East Texas bloodletting.

BALDWIN, JOSEPH G.

The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi, 1853.

BLAIR, WALTER

Horse Sense in American Humor from Benjamin Franklin to Ogden Nash, 1942. OP. Native American Humor, 1937. OP. Tall Tale America, Coward-McCann, New York, 1944. Orderly analyses with many concrete examples. With Franklin J. Meine as co-author, Mike Fink, King of Mississippi River Keelboatmen, 1933. Biography of a folk type against pioneer and frontier background. OP.

BOATRIGHT, MODY C.

Folk Laughter on the American Frontier. See under "Interpreters."

CLARK, THOMAS D.

The Rampaging Frontier, 1939. OP. Historical picturization and analysis, fortified by incidents and tales of "Varmints," "Liars," "Quarter Horses," "Fiddlin'," "Foolin' with the Gals," etc.

CROCKETT, DAVID

Autobiography. Reprinted many times. Scribner's edition in the "Modern Students' Library" includes Colonel Crockett's Exploits and Adventures in Texas. Crockett set the backwoods type. See treatment of him in Parrington's Main Currents in American Thought. Richard M. Dorson's Davy Crockett, American Comic Legend, 1939, is a summation of the Crockett tradition.

FEATHERSTONHAUGH, G. W.

Excursion through the Slave States, London, 1866. Refreshing on manners and characters.

FLACK, CAPTAIN

The Texas Ranger, or Real Life in the Backwoods, London, 1866.

GERSTAECKER, FREDERICK

Wild Sports in the Far West. Nothing better on backwoods life in the Mississippi Valley.

HAMMETT, SAMUEL ADAMS

(who wrote under the name of Philip Paxton), Piney Woods Tavern; or Sam Slick in Texas and A Stray Yankee in Texas. Humor on the roughneck element. For treatment of Hammett as man and writer see Sam Slick in Texas, by W. Stanley Hoole, Naylor, San Antonio, 1945.

HARRIS, GEORGE W.

Sut Lovingood, New York, 1867. Prerealism.

HOGUE, WAYMAN

Back Yonder. Minton, Balch, New York, 1932. Ozark life. OP.

HOOPER, J. J.

Adventures of Captain Simon Suggs, 1845. OP. Downright realism. Like Longstreet, Hooper in maturity wanted his realism forgotten. An Alabama journalist, he got into the camp of respectable slave-holders and spent the later years of his life shouting against the "enemies of the institution of African slavery." His life partly explains the lack of intellectual honesty in most southern spokesmen today. Alias Simon Suggs: The Life and Times of Johnson Jones Hooper, by W. Stanley Hoole, University of Alabama Press, 1952, is a careful study of Hooper's career.

HUDSON, A. P.

Humor of the Old Deep South, New York, 1936. An anthology. OP.

LONGSTREET, A. B.

Georgia Scenes, 1835. Numerous reprints. Realism.

MASTERSON, JAMES R.

Tall Tales of Arkansas, Boston, 1943. OP. The title belies this excellent social history -- by a scholar. It has become quite scarce on account of the fact that it contains unexpurgated versions of the notorious speech on "Change the Name of Arkansas" -- which in 1919 in officers' barracks at Bordeaux, France, I heard a lusty individual recite with as many variations as Roxane of Cyrano de Bergerac wanted in love-making. When Fred W. Allsopp, newspaper publisher and pillar of Arkansas respectability, found that this book of unexpurgations had been dedicated to him by the author -- a Harvard Ph.D. teaching in Michigan -- he almost "had a colt."

MEINE, FRANKLIN J. (editor)

Tall Tales of the Southwest, Knopf, New York, 1930. A superbly edited and superbly selected anthology with appendices affording a guide to the whole field of early southern humor and realism. No cavalier idealism. The "Southwest" of this excellent book is South.

OLMSTED, FREDERICK LAW

A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States, 1856. A Journey Through Texas, 1857. Invaluable books on social history.

POSTL, KARL ANTON

(Charles Sealsfield or Francis Hardman, pseudonyms). The Cabin Book; Frontier Life. Translations all OP.

RANDOLPH, VANCE

We Always Lie to Strangers, Columbia University Press, New York, 1951. A collection of tall tales of the adding machine variety. Fertile in invention but devoid of any yearning for the beautiful or suggestion that the human spirit hungers for something beyond horse play; in short, typical of American humor.

ROURKE, CONSTANCE

American Humor, 1931; Davy Crockett, 1934; Roots of American Culture and Other Essays, 1942, all published by Harcourt, Brace, New York.

THOMPSON, WILLIAM T.

Major Jones's Courtship, Philadelphia, 1844. Realism.

THORPE, T. B.

The Hive of the Bee-Hunter, New York, 1854. This excellent book should be reprinted.

WATTERSON, HENRY

Oddities in Southern Life and Character, Boston, 1882. An anthology with interpretative notes.

WILSON, CHARLES MORROW

Backwoods America. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1935. Well ordered survey with excellent samplings.

WOOD, RAY

The American Mother Goose, 1940; Fun in American Folk Rhymes, 1952; both published by Lippincott, Philadelphia.




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