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In a country as big and diverse as America, stories are crucially important to our sense of common identity. But where do those stories come from, and who creates them? In this episode, we examine the work of writer Owen Wister, who gave Americans one of the touchstones of our common culture: the cowboy. But beneath the familiar surface of this legendary figure lies a complex web of dark and unexpected ideas. By exploring “The Evolution of the Cow-Puncher,” an essay written at the height of the volatile Gilded Age, we gain insight into the origins of the cowboy — and how myth can overpower truth.
Music: “Fratres (for violin and piano)” by Arvo Part, from the album Tabula Rasa (ECM Records, 1984).
Poultney Bigelow, “Frederic Remington; with Extracts from Unpublished Letters”, The Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Association 10, no. 1 (January, 1929): 45-52.
John Cobbs, Owen Wister (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1984).
Bruce Glasrud and Michael Searles, eds, Black Cowboys in the American West: On the Range, On the Stage, Behind the Badge (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016)
David McCullough, “The Man,” in Frederic Remington: The Masterworks, eds. Michael Edward Shapiro and Peter H. Hassrick (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc, 1988).
Heather Cox Richardson, West from Appomattox: The Reconstruction of America after the Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).
Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America: Culture & Society in the Gilded Age (New York: Harper Collins, 1982).
Ben Vorpahl, My Dear Wister: The Frederic Remington – Owen Wister Letteres (Palo Alto: American West Publishing Company, 1972).
G. Edward White, The Eastern Establishment and the Western Experience: The West of Frederic Remington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Owen Wister (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968).
Owen Wister, The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains (New York: Macmillan & Co, 1902).
—————— “The Evolution of the Cow-Puncher,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 91, no. 544 (September, 1895): 602-616.