THE FORGOTTEN FOUNDERS: Rethinking the History of the Old West

Stewart L. Udall, Author, David Emmons, Foreword by . Island/Shearwater $25 (208p) ISBN 978-1-55963-893-7

This collection of spirited essays is, says its distinguished author, his "final" book. But since serious works of thought like this rarely issue from the pens of former cabinet members, we should hope not. Udall, who served as Interior Secretary under presidents Kennedy and Johnson and before that as a congressman, is no typical politician, having written many serious books, among them the celebrated Quiet Crisis (1963). This one takes on what Udall considers the harmful myths about western U.S. history, myths that put the wrong people (fur traders and gold miners) and the wrong subjects ("Manifest Destiny" and armed violence) at the center of the history of the Old West. With a lively and sometimes personal take, he wants us to replace old folk tales with "reality"—with the known stories of a greater diversity of men and women, natives and newcomers, who gave the West its distinctive character. Udall is particularly compelling when writing of his own and his wife's great-grandparents, among whom was the Mormon who led the infamous Mountain Meadow Massacre of 1857. Unfortunately, this only tends to replace one set of "heroes" with another, "the forgotten founders" who take center stage here only as strong, religious, fearless, hard-working folk without shortcomings. The trappers, miners and politicians who did in fact play a role in the West are elbowed almost totally out of the picture. Nevertheless, Udall's version of the West's past fits well with recent scholarly views, and many who read this book because of its author's renown will gain solid knowledge and much pleasure. Maps, photos. (Oct. 10)

Reviewed on: 08/26/2002
Release date: 09/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-1-55963-894-4
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