The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992

Book Reviews

The author, a history professor at North Carolina State University, gives a
brief but utterly fascinating account of the "White Cowboy Mythology" and the
invisibility, until recently, of blacks and Hispanics in cowboy history. "Racial
sentiments," Slatta says, "pervaded the Old West, and the imagery of a mythical
white West became stronger as the twentieth century progressed" (p. 203). One
reason for this phenomenon, he says, is that "winners write history" and "my-
thology grows out of history" (p. 203). As an example, Slatta cites Texas history
as reflecting "a bias based on the victory of Anglo immigrants over Mexi-
cans. . . . Anglo-Texan mythology has built up Anglo contributions and often
ignored or denigrated pre-existing Hispanic foundations" (p. 203-204).
The book is rich in detail of cowboy dress, habits, ranch and cattle drive life,
has a splendid chapter on "Cowboys and Indians: Frontier Race Relations,"
and a point of view that is refreshingly upbeat: "As a temporary escape to
'those thrilling days of yesteryear,' a dose of cowboy mythology is healthy and
enjoyable. Cowboy myth and history both have a place, but we must try to dis-
tinguish between them" (p. 231).
Unzverszty of Texas at El Paso DALE L. WALKER
Catlin and His Contemporares: The Polztzcs of Patronage. By Brian W. Dippie. (Lin-
coln: University of Nebraska Press, 199o. Pp. xix+553. Preface, illustra-
tions, maps, color plates, notes, index. $50.)
No one ever contended that George Catlin was a lucky man. Few enough
have proclaimed his remarkable value to American art or defended his stature
as a pioneer ethnologist. Certainly, he found himself at the right place and time
in history to embark on a unique adventure and career as a painter-memorialist
among the "unspoiled" tribes of the far West, and he was armed with sufficient
passion, resolve, and dedication to make his work worthy of a lifetime of effort.
But he was essentially ill-fated and made several fundamental errors, which
dogged his steps throughout a long and substantially unhappy life.
First, he abandoned the practice of law at an early age to take up brushes and
palette. Law and its attendant sister discipline, politics, if' practiced more art-
fully than Catlin was ultimately able to, might have enabled him to accomplish
his life goals. His skills as a painter only left him to flounder rather ineffectually
on the sidelines of a vicious game-official, and essentially indifferent, U.S.
government patronage.
Second, Catlin could, in fact, not even toe up to the sidelines. He had fled
from American apathy with his grand opus, his Indian Gallery, and subse-
quently found himself casting expatriate lines from distant shores. His throw
consistently fell short, and his voice would neither be heard nor heeded over
the roar of Atlantic surf and the dissonance of his detractors, who had gath-
ered where proximity and volume counted most-in Washington.
And finally, Catlin suffered from a propensity to exaggerate. It was a habit
that he excused as artistic prerogative but that in reality provided his competi-
tion with grounds for bringing into question the credulity and fidelity of his art
and writings.

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117153/. Accessed December 26, 2014.