Wyoming, the final state on my literary tour of the US. I’ve never been to Wyoming, and my impression of Wyoming is that of a frontier state that still carries a frontier mindset of being wild and free, with a deep desire to be left alone. I suppose I think of it in its past state, when horsemen roamed the plains, native Americans hunted buffalo, and whites drove cattle to Wyoming and Montana and took over the grazing land. Though that’s not it’s current state, that history lingers in its people and its literature.
Book: Cowboys and East Indians
Author: Nina McConnigley, raised in Casper
Setting: Casper, Wyoming, early 2000s
Cowboys and East Indians is a book of short stories about “the wrong kind of Indian” in Casper, Wyoming. The characters are primarily East Indians — Indians from India instead of the Native American “Indian” who they are often confused with, being the only other brown-skinned people in the state.
My mother had married white as well. And to be even fairer, at the last Census, Wyoming was 93.9 percent white. We fell into the 1.5 percent that was Other.Nina mcconigley
These East Indians seem exotic to Wyoming folk, with their colorful saris and their spicy curries, and this book does a wonderful, sometimes hilarious, job of juxtaposing East Indian cultural norms against those of cowboy Wyoming. The author also made me feel the big open space of Wyoming, and she made me want to go there.
With so much horizon, I felt I could think.Nina Mcconigley
Novel: The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains
Author: Owen Wister
Setting: Wyoming 1874-1890
Published in 1902, The Virginian is Wister’s love letter to the West.
This year Spring is early. The snow is off the flats this side the range and where the sun gets a chance to hit the earth strong all day it is green and has flowers too, a good many. You can see them bob and mix together in the wind.Owen Wister
Wister spent summers in the Wyoming terriotory beginning in 1885, and his portrayal of the Virginian, a southerner moved West, marries both the genteel and the wild in a gentleman cowboy.
The Virginian explores the differences of the refined east and the wild west, but in a more subtle way than the popular cowboy fiction and cinema that came later. The landscape is beautiful, quiet, and unspoiled in Wistler’s hands.
For thirty days by the light of the sun and the camp-fire light they saw no faces except their own; and when they were silent it was all stillness, unless the wind passed among the pines, or some flowing water was near them.Owen Wistler
Beyond his descriptions of the land, which I very much appreciated, his attention to horsemanship, decorum, duty, and personal honor were refreshing. Cloaked in well-written dialect, Wistler sneaks in pearls of wisdom throughout the book.
They thought more o’ me than I deserved, and that made me behave better than I naturally wanted to.Owen Wistler
“When a man ain’t got no ideas of his own,” said Scipio, “he’d ought to be kind o’ careful who he borrows ’em from.”Owen wistler
I loved that this book wasn’t filled with hyperbole like so much entertainment is today. The Virginian provides a great balance of refinement and wilderness that feels fresh even though it’s over 100 years old.
Novel: Open Season
Author: C.J. Box, Wyoming born and raised
Setting: Twelve Sleep County, Wyoming
The final read of my Andrea Reads America project, Open Season ticks one of the main boxes I was looking for when I embarked on this journey: authenticity of place. Before I read Open Season, I read a little about the author, who said of his childhood reading books:
I remember being troubled that nearly every book I read set in my state and region seemed to come from a point of view or perspective I didn’t recognize in those around me. The novels all seemed to be written by authors who had visited the state with preconcieved notions or by people who had just moved to Jackson Hole.C.J. Box
Open Season is about a new, green game warden, Joe Pickett, who’s a bit bumbling but is a rule-follower and a good man. The hunters in his county aren’t happy about him issuing them tickets or not taking bribes like his predecessor did. Things get messy when it becomes clear a species thought extinct has actually been spotted in their county.
In this novel, the frontier spirit is strong: the spirit of freedom and letting the wild be wild (for white folks), and living off the land by hunting and fishing — without interference from the government. That spirit is so strong that hunters will commit murder and intentionally exterminate a species rather than have a bunch of outsiders come in and kick them off their hunting grounds.