Daggett: Life in a Mojave Frontier Town

Dix Van Dyke, Author, Peter Wild, Editor Johns Hopkins University Press $30 (200p) ISBN 978-0-8018-5625-9
The town of Daggett, Calif., was pretty unremarkable for a 19th-century frontier town. It had its mining booms, saloon brawls, famous and infamous characters, yet under the pen of its self-proclaimed local historian Van Dyke, the town's history, inhabitants, unpredictable wind and floods, all come to vibrant life. In 1901, Van Dyke and his father, Theodore, came to Daggett set on farming, but found the desert conditions too harsh for any crop. Ironically, Theodore Van Dyke was something of an authority on agriculture and wrote several books on the subject, yet he couldn't coax an ear of corn from the uncooperative soil. Father and son, ""planted, coddled, and cared for various kinds of vegetables. The plants came up all right, but they seemed appalled by their surroundings."" They finally managed to scratch out a living, battling floods, wind and dryness. Wild has done an admirable job of editing Van Dyke's manuscripts and newspaper columns into a book that is accessible, if rather old-fashioned in tone and slightly disjointed. Told in the third person, the account is filled with subtle humor and irony. The characters who inhabit Daggett range from ordinary townspeople to such notable people as John Muir or the outlandish Death Valley Scotty. Mary Beal, a botanist studying desert plants, becomes an integral character in the lives of the Van Dykes. Today, visitors can still find the town of Daggett, but it isn't much of a tourist attraction, and if not for Van Dyke's chronicles of its past, it would most likely be forgotten. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
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