In the collected tales of Heroes of the American West, many different kinds of heroes and heroism are presented. The motives behind the bold deeds, and the perpetrators of those deeds, are manifold. They range from the sublime to the ridiculous to the despicable.
Many of these heroes displayed great physical courage. One such example is John Colter, a trapper and explorer of the Rockies around 1830. Captured by a local Native American tribe, he was stripped naked and was then given a chance to run for his life. According to the account of his ordeal, “the plain was thick with prickly pear and Colter’s feet were bare but he did not let that slow him down. He sprinted so hard that a torrent of blood burst from his nostrils and covered his chest and belly. Grasping and exhausted as he was he plunged into the river and the current swept him away.” After this escape, Colter traveled by foot for seven days, naked and without food, to reach safety.
A different kind of courage—moral courage—motivated Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. The day following their marriage in 1836, the couple left New York State for Oregon as Presbyterian missionaries. Narcissa became the first non-Native American woman to travel the Oregon Trail. After several years of service, both to the Native Americans and to parties of emigrants on their way to the Pacific coast, the Whitmans were killed by Native Americans who thought that the couple had deliberately introduced measles into their village.
Still another sort of bravery was shown by well-educated women, such as Louise Clappe, who moved to the wilds of...
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Pappas’ anthology contains some very good selections by some carefully chosen authors. The discussion questions at the end of each section enable readers to check their comprehension of the pieces read. If followed, the composition suggestions and related research questions could lead to a much broader knowledge. The suggested readings contain some classics of Western frontier literature, such as Bret Harte’s The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Sketches (1870), but some of the books are so old and so hard to find that they are impractical suggestions.
There are not very many women described in this collection, despite the fact that women were known to be present in almost all areas of the frontier. The few selec-tions from women do not tell the reader anything about day-to-day life on the frontier or discuss the heroism in enduring the routine events of life that deserves remembering. Only one story deals with farmers, yet these were the people who did the most to make the frontier productive, and they were also the largest group there. The most obvious omission is of Native Americans. The Western frontier was their home, but not a single one is presented as a hero. Pappas could have included such figures as Sacagawea or Chief Joseph.