Way out West

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

There is no dearth of histories of the American West or of specific aspects of western culture. Authorities on American popular culture Jane and Michael Stern, however, have made a unique contribution in providing in text and illustrations an inclusive account about virtually every imaginable feature of the American West of imagination, and sometimes of fact.

Noting that modern American attitudes toward the West was conditioned mainly by the Wild West shows of the late nineteenth century, the authors devote considerable attention to the cowboy of fact and fancy, concentrating especially on the images created by Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Hoppalong Cassidy (William Boyd), and John Wayne, and their sidekicks, notably George “Gabby” Hayes. Chapters are also devoted to Western dress—one learns, for example, where to buy a cowboy hat and how to crease it—famous cowboy horses, and the quintessential cowboy sport, the rodeo. In a section titled “Happy Trails: The Road West” the authors describe not only the natural wonders of the West but also “twenty-five unnatural wonders of the western roadside,” and the animals—longhorn cattle, buffalo, donkeys, mules, coyotes, roadrunners, and so forth—the real or armchair traveler is likely to encounter. After discussing the image of the Indian, the Sterns follow with a treatment of the food of the West, in which the reader is treated to recipes for assorted dishes from Odessa Firemen’s Chicken-fried Steak to Sock Coffee, and red and green chili, and a description of where to eat chili in New Mexico. The final chapter is a shopping guide for a wide variety of Western-themed merchandise.

WAY OUT WEST is a richly illustrated and enchantingly written labor of love that will appeal to “cowboys” and “cowgirls” of all ages, but especially to those children of the 1940’s and 1950’s who remember the era when the romance of the West reached its fullest flowering.