The Ox-Bow Incident

The Ox-Bow Incident

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812972580
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/27/2004
Series: Modern Library Mass Market Paperbacks Series
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 145,826
Product dimensions: 4.16(w) x 6.87(h) x 0.73(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Wallace Stegner's many books include Crossing to Safety, Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs, and the Pulitzer Prize winning Angle of Repose.

Read an Excerpt

1


Gil and I crossed the eastern divide about two by the sun. We pulled up for a look at the little town in the big valley and the mountains on the other side, with the crest of the Sierra showing faintly beyond like the rim of a day moon. We didn't look as long as we do sometimes; after winter range, we were excited about getting back to town. When the horses had stopped trembling from the last climb, Gil took off his sombrero, pushed his sweaty hair back with the same hand, and returned the sombrero, the way he did when something was going to happen. We reined to the right and went slowly down the steep stage road. It was a switch-back road, gutted by the run-off of the winter storms, and with brush beginning to grow up in it again since the stage had stopped running. In the pockets under the red earth banks, where the wind was cut off, the spring sun was hot as summer, and the air was full of a hot, melting pine smell. Rivulets of water trickled down shining on the sides of the cuts. The jays screeched in the trees and flashed through the sunlight in the clearings in swift, long dips. Squirrels and chipmunks chittered in the brush and along the tops of snow-sodden logs. On the outside turns, though, the wind got to us and dried the sweat under our shirts and brought up, instead of the hot resin, the smell of the marshy green valley. In the west the heads of a few clouds showed, the kind that come up with the early heat, but they were lying still, and over us the sky was clear and deep.


It was good to be on the loose on that kind of a day, but winter range stores up a lot of things in a man, and spring roundup hadn't worked them all out. Gil and I had beenriding together for five years, and had the habit, but just the two of us in that shack in the snow had made us cautious. We didn't dare talk much, and we wanted to feel easy together again. When we came onto the last gentle slope into the valley, we let the horses out and loped across the flat between the marshes where the red-wing blackbirds were bobbing the reeds and twanging. Out in the big meadows on
both sides the long grass was bending in rows under the wind and shining, and then being let upright again and darkening, almost as if a cloud shadow had crossed it. With the wind we could hear the cows lowing in the north, a mellow sound at that distance, like little horns.

It was about three when we rode into Bridger's Wells, past the boarded-up church on the right, with its white paint half cracked off, and the houses back under the cottonwoods, or between rows of flickering poplars, every third or fourth one dead and leafless. Most of the yards were just let run
to long grass, and the buildings were log or unpainted board, but there were a few brick houses, and a few of painted clapboards with gimcracks around the veranda rails. Around them the grass was cut, and lilac bushes were planted in the shade. There were big purple cones of blossom on them. Already Bridger's Wells was losing its stage-stop look and beginning to settle into a half-empty village of the kind that hangs on sometimes where all the real work is spread out on the land around it, and most of the places take care of themselves.

Reading Group Guide

1. Many consider The Ox-Bow Incident to be the first serious Western novel in American literature, and Clark's novel wholly overturns many of the conventions of the typical Western or "cowboy story" (in which conceits like shoot-outs, the triumph of good over evil, and the figure of the cowboy hero tend to loom large). Discuss the ways in which Clark transforms stereotypes about the West.

2. How do you understand the events leading up to the novel's culminating moment, the lynching? What are the causes of the lynching as these unfold throughout the work? Is the train of events Clark delineates anywhere reversible?

3. Discuss the frontier society described by Clark. What impressions do you glean of the way life was lived on the frontier? What seem to be some of the distinguishing features of frontier life? Are there aspects of life on the frontier that came as a surprise to you?

4. The mob, and ideas about mob violence, figure centrally in the novel. What, for Clark, is the mob?

5. Discuss the importance of the physical environment for Clark: landscape, weather, the way land is experienced. How does Clark put the physical elements to work in his book? How important are these to his story and to the novel's overall effect?

6. Clifton Fadiman called The Ox-Bow Incident "a mature, unpitying examination of what causes men to love violence and to transgress justice." Discuss what seem to you to be the causes of violence and transgression in Clark's treatment of these themes.

7. While his novel takes place in the West, Clark's ultimate subject, according to Wallace Stegner and others, is nothing less than civilization itself. In whatways, allegorical or otherwise, does The Ox-Bow Incident say things about civilization writ large, in your view?

Foreword

1. Many consider The Ox-Bow Incident to be the first serious Western novel in American literature, and Clark's novel wholly overturns many of the conventions of the typical Western or "cowboy story" (in which conceits like shoot-outs, the triumph of good over evil, and the figure of the cowboy hero tend to loom large). Discuss the ways in which Clark transforms stereotypes about the West.

2. How do you understand the events leading up to the novel's culminating moment, the lynching? What are the causes of the lynching as these unfold throughout the work? Is the train of events Clark delineates anywhere reversible?

3. Discuss the frontier society described by Clark. What impressions do you glean of the way life was lived on the frontier? What seem to be some of the distinguishing features of frontier life? Are there aspects of life on the frontier that came as a surprise to you?

4. The mob, and ideas about mob violence, figure centrally in the novel. What, for Clark, is the mob?

5. Discuss the importance of the physical environment for Clark: landscape, weather, the way land is experienced. How does Clark put the physical elements to work in his book? How important are these to his story and to the novel's overall effect?

6. Clifton Fadiman called The Ox-Bow Incident "a mature, unpitying examination of what causes men to love violence and to transgress justice." Discuss what seem to you to be the causes of violence and transgression in Clark's treatment of these themes.

7. While his novel takes place in the West, Clark's ultimate subject, according to Wallace Stegner and others, is nothing less than civilization itself. Inwhat ways, allegorical or otherwise, does The Ox-Bow Incident say things about civilization writ large, in your view?




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Ox-Bow Incident 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In The Ox-Bow Incident, three innocent people are hung without getting their requested trial. This generates sadness towards them and hatred towards the posse that did it. Maybe if there's a sequel, the posse will be hung. This story has many characters to keep track of well. If the author narrowed it down to six characters including the three that got hung, it would be easier to keep track of them. Overall, it's a book that I would recommend to people 15+ 'or if you're good at reading, 10+' that can handle some swearing and murder and enjoy old west stories.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sometimes people¿s definition and view of justice is clouded when wrong-doing strikes close to home; in ¿The Ox-Bow Incident,¿ by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, the people in a small town at the turn of the twentieth century face the consequences of taking the law into their own hands. After taking the action that they do, they realize that they were hasty and eager to jump to conclusions. A few of the men feel so badly that they hang themselves. The theme has to do with justice, the justice system, and more specifically the court systems, and what happens when a group of men takes the law into its own hands and the penalties they suffer as a result of breaking the system of law and order. Walter Van Tilburg Clark chooses the old west as the setting for ¿The Ox-Bow Incident¿, because it is still fresh, new and unsettled. Although there is a system of law things are so spread out that it seems slow and inefficient at the time. This is the perfect setting for Walter Van Tilburg Clark to show/prove that the law will prevail no matter what the circumstances. The story takes place in a very small town/ranching community around the turn of the century. It is in the spring of the year. As the story progresses and the ranchers acquire sour attitudes/moods, it begins to snow and act as though winter is not quite over. By the end of the story, the wind is blowing and it is very cold out. There is a sense or feeling of emptiness in the air. The men match the physical setting. They feel cold-hearted and empty inside. Both the emotional and physical setting help to reveal and make clear the theme.
Guest More than 1 year ago
True justice, though often hard to come by, is a necessity for righteousness; in "The Ox-Bow Incident" by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, a group of men form a posse and lose their sense of righteousness. The story takes place in and around a small town in Nevada called Bridger¿s Wells and is told through the eyes of a man by the name of Art Croft. Croft and his companion Gil Carter trek into Bridger Wells midday one day in spring, weary from a long winter out on the range. They are well received by their acquaintances in the town and relax in Canby¿s saloon, but are soon interrupted with news that cattle rustlers have stolen about a thousand head of cattle from Drew¿s ranch, the largest ranch in the area, and have murdered one of his work hands, a man named Kinkaid. Every man in the town of Bridger¿s Wells is soon alerted, and a posse is formed to search for the rustlers and seek revenge. Everyone knows that this is not posse but a lynch mob, thirsty for blood. The mob is lead by a man named Tetley, a previous confederate officer who is followed by Croft and Carter, and some twenty odd men. Many of these men joined the posse despite their uncertainty of the situation. After hours of stalling and warnings the posse heads out in search of the rustlers and encounters a number of obstacles on the way. They head directly into a late snow, are surrounded by complete darkness, and Croft is soon shot in the left shoulder due to a misunderstanding. The mob finally reaches an area of land called the Ox-Bow Valley where they see their three suspected rustlers and split up to surround the campfire. There they find a young man, his old sidekick, and his Mexican worker. They accuse the three of the suspected crime and unlawfully sentence them to death by lynching, with no real evidence of the guilt or innocence of the men.

In his novel, Clark expands on the setting of the story in great detail. He tells of the town of Bridger¿s Wells, a town with one main street, lined with small houses, a general store, a saloon, an office building, an inn, a church, and a meeting hall. Bridger¿s Wells is a small town in a valley, which is only accessible by traveling down steep mountain passes. With this description, Clark ties in his theme of the lack of and need for law and order and justice in this land. When the posse is convening in the small town, the men feel as though they must join in, and there is no one there to stop them. Sheriff Risley is too far away, and it is too far to go to find Drew and ask him if the story is really true and to see if Kinkaid is really dead. They are in an isolated area, and because of this, feel like they can handle the situation without seeking the court of law. As the story progresses on, Clark describes just how isolated the town is. The men of the posse reach a mountain pass where they struggle with the rough terrain: the steep, winding road strewn with boulders, fierce drop-offs, unknown crests. When the men reach the final place of the lynching, they are in the Ox-Bow Valley. This Valley is located over the mountains to the west of town and gets its name from the creek in the valley that winds around on itself like a snake. Clark uses this setting to expand even more on his theme, and to give a few possible reasons for the men¿s haste and disregard for true justice. By the time the posse reaches this valley they are already thirsty for revenge, but the wildness and power of the land seems to increase that thirst. The anger of the howling wind, and the bitterness of the cold snow seem to validate their feelings and make them long for ¿justice¿. Many of the members of the posse do not wish to hang the men, but choose not to say so. Maybe these men are afraid to stand up to Tetley, or maybe they don¿t want to go home empty-handed after a long night fighting the land to reach the rustlers. The justice that they longed for is not true justice, but their justice.

Guest More than 1 year ago
'The Ox-Bow Incident' takes place in Nevada in the spring of 1885. Two friends, Gil and Carter who were out riding the range have just come back to town when they hear that a friend of theirs has just been killed and that about forty head of cattle were taken. They join a posse and set out to find the cattle rustlers. The sheriff and owner of the ranch where the cattle were taken from are not part of the posse because it was made up so fast. The only black man in town, Sparks, says that he had seen them heading towards Bridgers Pass with the cows so the posse takes this route. When they catch up to the people that they were looking for, it is night time so they decide to wait until the morning before they take action against the criminals and lynch them. When morning comes, the posse takes a vote to see if the men should be taken back to town for a trial or if they should be hung on the spot. The men decide to hang the men right there at the Ox-Bow. Once the men are hung, the posse heads back to town when they meet the sheriff and the owner of the ranch, Harley Drew. He informs them that the men that they have just killed had bought the cattle earlier, that their friend was only wounded. They have just killed three innocent people.

The theme of this book is very clear. Walter Van Tilburg Clark, foreshadows to show the theme. At one point in the book, Sparks and Gil are talking about lynchings they have separately witnessed and what a bad experience that was. This says that if anyone is hung in this book that this too will be a bad experience. The three men who are being accused also had a very solid explanation as to why they had cattle with the brand of Drew's ranch on them, why there is no sales ticket, and what they are doing with the gun of the man who was supposedly killed, Kinkad. Because they all told the same story and because it all made perfect sense, readers may wonder if this is actually the truth. All of these things make the theme very clear: When people take the law into their own hands and do not let the officials do their jobs the rights of individuals often get trampled upon; In 'The Ox-Bow Incident' the mob acts before thinking and this results in tragic consequences.

cwflatt on LibraryThing 7 months ago
A classic western, and tale of right and wrong, judgement and quick decisions gone wrong as most feel they are doing the right thing or afraid to go against the majority.
patience_crabstick on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Boy is this book a downer. A well written downer, to be sure, but it's a book about a lynching, with uncomfortable observations on the weakness of man in the face of the pack.
bherner on LibraryThing 7 months ago
A psychological western. Entertaining, enjoyable and thought-provoking.
LisaMaria_C on LibraryThing 7 months ago
This is a powerful book not only on the psychology of lynch mobs, but what is the quality that is most important in upholding civilization. Many might have seen the classic film, but I think the novel more than holds its own. Told as the first person account of a cowboy, Art Croft, at the periphery of events, first helping an attempt to stop the lynch mob from forming, than being swept up into it, he is thoughtful and does have a conscience. But what Clark tells us that's not enough without the "guts" to back it up.Set in 1885 in the small town of Bridger's Wells in an unnamed United States Territory near the Sierra Mountains; a place still a raw frontier. Clark sketches dozens of characters. There are twenty-eight in the lynching party--two are there to try to stop it--or at least try to comfort the victims. Spark, a black handyman and preacher who witnessed his own brother's lynching as a child, and Davies, who owns a store in town. Sparks especially because of his race is basically powerless, but Davies does try to stop the tragedy in the making--and what events do to him is part of the most heartbreaking part of the book. He consciously tries to play the "light" to Major Willard Tetley's "dark." Of all the characters in the book, the two that seem the most despicable are two at the opposite ends of the social spectrum, Monty Smith, the town "bum" and the rich and powerful Tetley, the "biggest man in the valley" with maybe one exception. But it's not so simple by the end, where we find reasons to condemn some of the "good" people and have sympathy for some of the "bad." Most of the people in that lynch mob are depicted as decent men. What rides them is various kinds of fear. Art and his friend Gil are partly drawn in because given the tensions in the town due to widespread cattle rustling, they fear being suspected. For most in that crowd, as Art puts it, "most men are more afraid of being thought cowards than of anything else." Others are "playing up to the audience." Gerald Tetley--the son of the Major--sees it as a pack mentality. "We're doing it because we're...afraid not to be in the pack." So it's a thoughtful book, with beautiful lyrical writing, that feels cinematic on the page in terms of description and characterful dialogue, one that deals with complex strands of race, ethnicity, gender and class. And one with more than one twist in store. Top notch in plot, characters, style and themes.
phebj on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I originally heard about this book in 2010 when I participated in my first group read on LT for Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs, a book of essays about the West by Wallace Stegner. Stegner cited it as an example of a book about the real West as opposed to one about the mythical West of the hero cowboy where good always triumphs over evil.The main storyline of The Ox-Bow Incident is about the hunting down and lynching of three men suspected of killing a well-liked ranch hand and stealing cattle from one of the big ranch owners in Bridger¿s Wells, Nevada in 1885. But there also is an important secondary storyline about the lynch mob leader and his son. The father sees the son as weak and effeminate and uses the lynching to try and make a man out of him.The story has been referred to as more of a psychological study than a Western and that¿s the way I ended up thinking about it."Most men are more afraid of being thought cowards than of anything else, and a lot more afraid of being thought physical cowards than moral ones."Of the 27 men and one woman who make up the ¿posse¿ only a few of them are brave enough to speak up and express their doubts about the lynching. The book was published in 1940 and I read somewhere that a lot of people saw parallels to what was happening in Germany at the time and I can definitely see that connection.I probably would have given the book more than 4 stars if, despite being very well-written, it hadn¿t been pretty much a slow read. It wasn¿t until the last sixty pages that I got totally absorbed in it.
gefox on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Cowboys in Nevada, 1885, are aroused by rumor of rustling & a murder, form vigilante group, find & finally hang 3 men that they find with supposedly stolen cattle. Almost immediately (that same morning) they discover that the cattle were not stolen & that the supposed murder victim, Kincaid, is alive. That's all to the story, but the book goes on to present an implausible debate between Davies (representing universal moral concerns) & the intelligent but naïve 1st person narrator. The most interesting character is "the Mex," one of the 3 hanged men, but he appears only briefly. The moral -- that justice is too subtle & complex to be left to democracy -- is politically ambiguous; it seems intended as a rejection of fascism from the right, i.e., on grounds of classically conservative respect for the old institutions. This book, published in 1940, was Clark's way of dealing with "Hitler and the Nazis." He explained that he was really talking about "a kind of American Nazism" in a letter to Walter Prescott Webb in the Signet edition. (adapted from ntbk 1982 May 2)
jopearson56 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This was really quite a great book. I remember reading it for American Literature in high school, and I don't think I much cared for it -- except that I have always remembered it for its very graphic description of a hanging. Which, as it turns out, isn't after all so very graphic. But the book overall is much better than I recall, well written analysis of justice in the old west, in a new nation still coming to terms with what the rule of law means and what happens when people are allowed to take the law into their own hands, when a group is operating with instinct rather than brains, and the folly of pride.
kalafish on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Considered a classic western, this book is about men and their thirst for justice at whatever cost. The book takes time to get going, but along the way you get to know a few of the characters and what makes them tick. Clark's attention to detail allows for a glimpse into the scenary, the weather and the men who set out to hang what they perceive as cattle rustlers and murderers.
momeara on LibraryThing 10 months ago
A good read. Two cowboys walk into the bar and quickly become entangled in a posse who are heading out of town in search of men who are suspected of theiving local cattle and murder of a local cattlmen. Although there are mixed motives for joining the posse, because they are outsiders, they fear that if they do not join, they may become suspects themselves. It is largely a study in peer pressure and the mentality of the mob. Understated prose and an accurate picture of the idiom of the cowboy make this a pleasure to read. In the end they hang three men on scant evidence and subsequently find they were innocent. The ending of the book was an examination of effects of guilt on those involved. There is a adaption of the book for the movies staring Henry Fonda. It was a fairly pathetic attempt, featuring horses on sound stages, and stilted dialoge. It is also curious that they switched protaginists in the movie. I think the book deserves three stars and the movie deserves one.
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bookwormdenver More than 1 year ago
It is easy to put off reading this book because you think you already know the story. As a classic western many people are familiar with it but have not read it. What you will miss is a great author who knows how to write. Even though the original publish date is in 1940 it reads better than many contemporary novels in this genre. Walter Van Tilburg Clark can craft a great sentence, a great paragraph, and remind the reader of that other great western writer, Cormac McCarthy. If you like tales of the old west, this novel will not dissapoint.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago