Tales from the American Fronti

Richard Erdoes, Editor Pantheon Books $25 (443p) ISBN 978-0-394-51682-0
Erdoes ( Lakota Woman ) recounts a rip-roaring assortment of legends and lore from the Old West. The characters that populate his tales are larger than life, emanating from a land larger still, with seemingly unlimited horizons. In fact, says Erdoes, ``the essence of American legends . . . is exaggeration,'' and this belief informs his stories of lost mines and mountain men, ghosts and gunfighters. A posse of heroes includes such luminaries as Billy the Kid, Paul Bunyan and Jim Bowie as well as lesser-known poker players, pioneers, prospectors et al. Readers may question the inclusion of multiple entries about men like Roy Bean or the wholly fictitious Deadwood Dick (a product of penny dreadfuls) while equally colorful and important figures (Bat Masterson, Poker Alice, Belle Starr) receive scant mention--some (Soapy Smith, Klondike Kate) none at all. Overall, the doings of women and minorities are underreported, and there are too few tales of Alaska and the Yukon for this volume to be truly representative of frontier folklore. Nevertheless, Erdoes successfully evokes an era when awaiting the word from the West was a national pastime, and shows us how and why legends are ``history turned upside down.'' (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/30/1991
Release date: 10/01/1991
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