Hunger for the Wild: America's Obsession with the Untamed West

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More About This Textbook


Just what was so wild about the Wild West?

Americans have had an enduring yet ambivalent obsession with the West as both a place and a state of mind. Now one of the most knowing observers of the Western scene offers a monumental cultural and historical analysis of how ideas of wildness have shaped the ways Euro-Americans have perceived, reacted to, and acted upon the West for nearly five hundred years. Bringing the sensibility of a poet to a sweeping discussion of place, Michael L. Johnson considers how that obsession originated, how it has determined attitudes toward and activities in the West, and how it has changed over the centuries.

Investigating views of Western wildness from pre-European times until the present, Johnson tells how explorers and settlers bent on exploiting the West brought with them Old World ideas, full of muddled and even bizarre contradictions, that have defined the region in its most fundamental aspects. And he shows how those contradictory ideas were woven into an ambivalent ideology of conquest that has given us today's degraded wilderness areas, overtaxed water supplies, and sprawling suburbs.

Brimming with word-play, personal anecdotes, and telling vignettes, Hunger for the Wild provocatively addresses a cornucopia of Western personalities, phenomena, and events. Invoking a vast array of writers and thinkers-from Claude Lévi-Strauss to Black Elk to Richard Etulain-Johnson casts his critical eye on conquistadors and cowboys and revisits myths of Noble Savage and "red devil" alike. His kaleidoscopic text examines Dust Bowl woes and Wild West shows, and whether contemplating the Disneyfied frontier or the Ralphlaurenized range, he takes readers on an intellectual romp through the wilds of the contemporary West, with its UFO fanatics and postregional cowgirls.

Emphasizing his call for seeing the West as "a place of roots as well as routes," Johnson's tour de force marks a major contribution to the deeper history of the region and points toward a more sustainable West for the future. It should interest not only Western historians but also art and film buffs, ecocritics, cross-cultural specialists, and rodeo fans-anyone fascinated by the wild, Western-style.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700615018
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 3/28/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 528
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     xi
Preface: A Conference in Reno     xiii
Introduction: A Wilde Wesste     1
A Brief History of Wild
The Prehuman West     13
Native Nature     16
From the 1530s to the 1840s: The West as Waste and Promised Land
Prelude and Overview     27
Conquistadors and Colonizers: The Spanish Encounter with Unbridled Wilderness     32
The Antipode of Paradise: William Bradford and the Hatred of Wilderness     42
Ravage through the Garden: The Wild according to Boone, Lewis and Clark, and Crockett     54
Mountain Men and Other Explorers: The Vanguard of Western Exploitation     75
Inventing the Indian: The Noble Savage     94
Trails and Trials: The Inroads of Commerce     100
From the 1840s to the 1890s: The West as Frontier
Prelude and Overview     111
Settlement and Its Discontents     117
To California Go: The Thar in Them Thar Hills     124
Reinventing the Indian: The Red Devil     135
An Animal Holocaust: Wildlife Management in the Old West     143
In without Knocking: The Cowboy as Wild Man     151
Romancing the Gun: Outlaws and Man-Killers in Helldorado     160
(En)closing the Frontier     173
From the 1890s to the1960s: The West as Region
Prelude and Overview     187
Ending the Indian: Civilization (f)or Extinction     192
Thou Art Lost and Gone Forever: Postfrontier Anxiety and the Recall of the Wild     204
Long Live the Weeds and the Wilderness Yet: Preserving the West     214
Wild West Shows, Rodeos, and Dude Ranches: Wildness as Specious Spectacle, Ritual Reenactment, and Tenderfoot Travesty     224
Dust Bowl: The Great American Desert with a Vengeance     237
Re-imagining the Wildness: Modern Mediations     244
Tripping the Light Dialectic: More Modern Mediations     258
Derricks, Dams, Bombs, and Such: A Walk on the Dark Side of the West     270
Sprawling into Western Emptiness: The Metropolitan Frontier, Suburban Borderlands, Misbegotten Middle Landscapes     279
From the 1960s to the Present: The West as Postregion
Prelude and Overview     289
A Sewer Runs through It     297
Where the Wild Things Aren't: The Last of the Breed     303
McWilderness: Disneyfying the Frontier     311
The Computer in the Cabin: Unsettling the Nouveau West     318
Wild(e) Style: Ralphlaurenizing the Range     323
Once in the Saddle I Used to Go Gay: Redoing Rodeo     327
Las Vegas: Ambiguous Oasis     333
Weird Weird West: Roswell and Other Landing Sites     337
The Last Best Craze: Madness in Montana     343
Little Hassle on the Prairie: The Issue of Wise (Non)use     347
Beyond John Wayne: Bewildering Westerns and Wild Wild Texts     352
Way Out Walden: Rewriting Western Nature     362
The Wild Woman in the Outback: Postregional Cowgirls     367
The Return of the Native: Reclaiming Identities     377
Break on Through to the Other Side: The Postmodern Frontier Imperative     385
Wildfire: A Taste of Authenticity     389
Hunger for the Wild: Finding a True Western Heritage     395
Fear and Loathing in Santa Fe: Meatspace or Virtual Reality?     398
Conclusion: Some New Vision: Resolving the Western Paradox     401
Notes     405
Index     499
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