The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 85, July 1981 - April, 1982 Page: 348
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
West, r840-1860; John Mack Faragher, Women and Men on the Over-
land Trail; Julie Roy Jeffrey, Frontier Women: The Trans-Mississippi
As a result, one may justly ask if there is anything more to be said
about this well-worked subject. John R. Reid's book proves that there
is. "Law for the Elephant is the first attempt to study life on the over-
land trail from the point of view of the legal historians" (book jacket).
The concentration is upon property rights in their social setting. Legal
historians of the West will applaud the author's treatment of his sub-
ject. Laymen, like this reviewer, will be pleased that so notable a legal
scholar should have written an informative and yet so delightful a
book. Source material for this fascinating study consists of hundreds
of diaries, journals, and letter collections from libraries throughout
the country. The term exhaustive is overworked by reviewers, but it
certainly applies to the research conducted by Reid, a professor of
legal history at New York University.
A number of important themes run through the book. Most impor-
tant to this reviewer is that people may have "crossed the frontier of
law yet remained" (p. 30) creatures of the law. In other words, "the
legal folkways and social values learned east of the Missouri were
carried and respected west of the river" (p. 304). Even if they were
beyond the law, emigrants were still law-abiding. Lost stock was re-
turned to the rightful owners, contracts to divide or sell property were
made and honored, and credit was even extended and paid. Respect
for the property rights of others was the norm even when starvation
struck near the end of the journey. Hungry men respected the pro-
visions of others, and those agonized by thirst watched in silence while
precious water was fed to oxen. For water was property to dispose of as
a man saw fit.
Respect for property was so ingrained that men settled their differ-
ences amicably instead of through the violence depicted by fiction or
popular writers. Violence has been read "into events that were not
violent" (p. 281), and one reason may be that these authors did not
read the evidence accurately. "Not understanding the legal behavior-
ism that determined conduct, they have assumed that when confronta-
tions did not terminate in shooting or stabbing, the reason was retreat
by one side, not shared notions governing legal behavior" (p. 281).
To this reviewer, anyone interested in the American West will find
this work an absolute necessity.
California State University, Fullerton
WARREN A. BECK
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 85, July 1981 - April, 1982, periodical, 1981/1982; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101208/m1/394/: accessed May 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.