Review- Slotkin, “Gunfighter Nation”

Richard Slotkin, “Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth Century America” (1992) – :extremely Jim Morrison voice: “This is the end…” a good seventeen-hundred pages later and we’re at the end of Slotkin’s trilogy on frontier mythology. Bringing it into the twentieth century, I’m surprised he doesn’t refer to the Doors, he refers to so many other things… maybe he did and I don’t remember…

This book talks about a lot of westerns. A loooooot of westerns. It’s encyclopedic! Which doesn’t always make for the best read, truth be told. It makes some interesting points about counterinsurgency and frontier mythology, like how both sides of counterinsurgency — the notionally constructive “hearts and minds” angle and the bloody genocidal side — are prefigured in various kinds of western myths. Probably should’ve thrown that into my dissertation! Ah well.

Like the other installments in the series, this is thesis-heavy. It puts a lot of chips on the opposition between a “progressive” (think Teddy Roosevelt- a manically exterminationist idea of progress) and a “populist” vision of the frontier, playing itself out in dime novels, movies, and politics. I don’t think this is wrong but I do think he’s overly-schematic with it. Moreover, he’s too sanguine about the goodness of populist visions of the west- pretty much any vision of western settlement involves disinheriting the Native Americans, so… anyway, I fell behind with reviews so it’s been a while since I’ve read this one. I remember it having some interesting asides, but being really long. ****

Review- Slotkin, “Gunfighter Nation”

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