RSS

Tag Archives: #Idaho

Dreaming of Idaho: Illuminating the Literature of Idaho through Zane Grey’s Thunder Mountain.

Stoddart, R. A. (2016). Dreaming of Idaho: Illuminating the Literature of Idaho through Zane Grey’s Thunder Mountain. From The Selected Works of Rick A. Stoddart; University of Idaho

Odds are that most Idaho writers did not grow up dreaming of becoming an “Idaho” author. Smart money would assume they simply desired to write, and be prosperous in writing, and geographic location played no part in their decision to put pen to paper. However, readers often like to associate authors with geographic regions. This is because the work either contains elements of that region within its content or the author has some connection to the area through birth or place of residence. Idaho readers are no different in that regard, embracing writers such as Vardis Fisher or Mary Hallock Foote. While “Idaho author” may seem like a simple concept to define, it is actually a nuanced literary construction. For example, Ernest Hemingway is often considered an Idaho author but he is also claimed by many other states and places around the world. This essay will examine what goes into making a writer an Idaho author. This undertaking will use Western genre novel writer Zane Grey’s 1932 novel Thunder Mountain which is set in Idaho to examine this literary exploration. Thunder Mountain is a fictionalized telling of the Idaho mining camp of the same name.

What is our collective fascination with the fictions and truths of the West and by extension Idaho? Robert Penn Warren tapped into something true when writing about a character briefly seeking solace in the physical and metaphorical West in All The King’s Men (1946).

“For West is where we all plan to go some day. It is where you go when you get the letter saying: Flee, all is discovered. It is where you go when you look down at the blade in your hand and see blood on it. It is where you go when you are told that you a bubble on the tide of empire. It is where you go when you hear that thar’s gold in them-thar hills. It is where you go to grow up with the country. It is where you go to spend your old age. Or it is just where you go. (p.286)”

But this Robert Penn Warren character is only a visitor to the West — an interloper or outsider — defining what the West is for us.

Zane Grey’s Thunder Mountain might certainly be viewed in the same way towards its description of Idaho. It is a fictionalized telling of the Idaho mining camp of the same name. The story centers on a rough and tumble cowboy from Missouri turned miner, who garnered his reputation in Montana. He takes under his wing a tenderfoot father and daughter from out East and helps interpret the wild west of Idaho for them. Ironically, this outsider interpretation for others of Idaho, its landscapes and experiences, is reminiscent of many writers who live in and write about Idaho. Grey was not from Idaho, nor did he live here. Thunder Mountain is his only significant work with a setting in Idaho. So then, is Grey’s interpretation of Idaho an accurate one? Is this Idaho literature?

Grey was known to write formulaic novels. Ronald (1975) describes the Zane Grey formula in this manner.

“An Easterner – that is, an innocent – arrives in the West. He, or she, has been a failure in the past and seems unprepared to meet the challenges ahead. The land at first seems harsh and unforgiving – the sun is too hot, the canyons too deep, the peaks too rugged, the rivers too swift. Problems are compounded by the appearance of evil, of men who live by their guns and who care nothing for the rights of others. Gradually, however, the neophyte becomes a man. Rather than be beaten by the environment, he learns to conquer the elements, and in doing so acquires a deep appreciation for the land. (p. 13)

Thunder Mountain definitely follows this familiar plot-line but Ronald also notes that “(m)ost important, the Zane Grey formula is an outgrowth of the author’s personal experiences, a reiteration of his own journey to the frontier” (Ronald, 1975 p.13). Grey did indeed experience Idaho as he journeyed to the remote area around Thunder Mountain on a multi-day horse packing trip. This trip served as the basis of inspiration for the rich descriptions he includes in Thunder Mountain such as this description along a canyon in the Salmon River:

“Somehow it had induced lingering hours of happy reverie, to which he had long been a stranger. The place was down around the bend from the valley, where a bench of sage nestled under a great wall. The melodious murmur of the stream came up; the warm sun beat down; the sweetness of sage almost intoxicating; the solitude was omnipresent; and across the canyon a tremendous broken slope as many-sided as that mountain could boast. Long glistening slants of talus, rugged narrow defiles winding up, grassy benches fringed with fir, huge sections of splintered cliff hanging precariously, and patches of black lodge-pole lines stepped endlessly to the blue sky (p.15).”

This trip has been documented in at least two articles (Kimball 1973; Waite 1996) and each approach this trip through the eyes of an Idahoan marveling at the otherness of Zane Grey with his fancy saddle and Japanese cook that accompanies him. Despite the otherness of Zane Grey’s camping provisions, it could be argued that Grey did indeed experience Idaho and this experience is found with the surprisingly descriptive prose of Thunder Mountain. Ronald (1975) notes that Grey had once stated “My inspiration to write has always come from nature. Character and action are subordinated to setting (p.14).” Ronald concurs but suggests alternatively that “Character and action are not subordinated to setting, but rather are developed by it. The three work together, with setting providing the impetus for change (p.14-15).” As setting plays such an important role in the development of Grey’s work, it could then be thought that the setting of Idaho is the primary protagonist in Thunder Mountain since, as Ronald suggests, it is the vehicle which not only drives the plot but also initiates change in the characters. From this angle, Thunder Mountain is indeed a book about Idaho and should be embraced heartily as part of its literature.

The rest of the article is found at Bepress

 
 

Tags: , , ,

Thunder Mountain (1932)

 Index map of southern and central Idaho mining regions; Credit: Idaho State Historical Society


Index map of southern and central Idaho mining regions;
Credit: Idaho State Historical Society

 

1932: October 22 – December 24: Collier’s Serial. Ten episodes.
1935: New York: Harper and BrothersThunder Mountain - Colliers magazine - 1st installment

I have an admission to make. A great many years ago I lived in Utah for five years with my family and attended High School there and went to Mormon religious classes, called Seminary. In both I learned the history of Mormons and the history of the West. But the only thing I retained about Idaho was potatoes. Idaho was/is known for its potatoes. Until I did the research for my review I knew absolutely nothing about Idaho and its gold rushes. Now I do.

Zane Grey wrote the novel Thunder Mountain while living on Williams Lake. Thunder Mountain derives its name from local Indians that named it after hearing thunder reverberate through the narrow valley forming Williams Lake.

Like many of Zane Grey’s historical romances, Thunder Mountain was based on real life happenings. There were indeed three brothers who came to Thunder Mountain. Their names were Lew, Ben and Dan Caswell. The brothers started their adventure at Thunder Mountain around 1894 and it was the brothers who gave Thunder Mountain its name.

Apparently, Zane Grey made the decision to write about the gold strike at Thunder Mountain in 1931.

Where did Elmer Keith spend most of his hunting and outfitting days? He was a guide for many years in the state in which he lived. In 1931, Keith guided the author Zane Grey and friends in the Middle Fork country. It was from this trip that Grey wrote the novel “Thunder Mountain”.

Real-life Emerson brothers;  Credit: Idaho State Historical Society

Real-life Emerson brothers;
Credit: Idaho State Historical Society

There were several gold rushes in the US and they were all mad affairs. Once the magic word “gold” was heard, people left their families and homes to seek after what they thought would be easy money. In the case of the Thunder Mountain rush, the magic words came from the Caswell brothers. We, however, are concerned with the fictional story.

One night when the afterglow of sunset loomed dull red upon the pool and the silence of the wilderness lay like a mantle upon the valley, the old beaver noticed a strange quivering ripple passing across the placid surface of her pool. There was no current coming from the brook, there was no breath of wind to disturb the dead calm. She noticed the tremors pass across the pool, she sniffed the pine-scented air, she listened with all the sensitiveness of a creature of the wild.

From high up on the looming mountain slope, from the somber purple shadow, came down a low rumble, a thunder that seemed to growl from the bowels of the great mountain.

Thunder Mountain comes to life and hundreds of years before the Emerson brothers enter life, gold begins to make its appearance near the surface of Thunder Mountain.

For long there was nothing. The valley seemed dead. The mountains slept. The stars watched. Wild life lay in its coverts. Then there came a ticking of tiny pebbles down the slope, a faint silken rustle of sliding dust, a strange breath of something indefinable, silence, and then again far off, a faint crack of rolling rocks, a moan, as a subterranean monster trying to breathe in the bowels of the earth, and at last, deep and far away, a rumble as of distant thunder.

Once again Thunder Mountain wakes. This time, those who hear are the Sheepeater Indians fleeing from soldiers taking over their lands. They decide to listen to its voice and move on.

Thunder Mountain - This is the valley all rightEnter the Emerson brothers (Sam, Jake and Lee/Kalispel/Kal). The Emerson brothers are the ones who begin the race for gold, but they are not the ones who end it. Indeed, once Kal comes back from getting supplies (Jake has gone off to stake a claim) he discovers the valley full of prospectors and empty of Sam. The main man in the valley, Rand Leavitt, claims that he had found the valley abandoned, but Lee suspects Rand of being his brother’s killer:

“Leavitt, I’ll let you off because men like you hang themselves,” declared Kalispel, bitterly. “But I’m accusin’ you before this crowd. You’re crooked, you made away with my brother an’ jumped his claim. I call on all here to witness my stand against you an’ my oath that I’ll live to prove it.”

Rand and Kal are our main male characters with Cliff Borden and Jake as their respective seconds. There are two female lead characters. One is Sydney Blair, the Easterner come west with her father. Sidney falls under the spell of Rand Leavitt while her father struggles with drinking and gambling. Nugget (Ruth) is a dance-hall girl. The job of a dance-hall girl was to get the customers to buy drinks and to dance with the men who came into the hall. They were generally considered bad girls but not “the worst sort” (Painted Ladies).

Knowing exactly who is good or bad in many of Zane Grey’s historical romances can be a difficult thing. Perhaps being able to tell good from bad has something to do with the lengths to which his characters are willing to go to satisfy their wishes. Rand Leavitt and his compatriots are certainly willing to do a great many nefarious deeds to maintain control of the wealth discovered in the valley (Thunder City). Kal and his brother have more scruples.

Sidney and her father seem to be kind of pitiful characters. Falling for Rand (or at least seeming to fall for Rand) has made Sidney blind and deaf to the evidence mounting against her love. That’s nothing new. I see that all the time in real life. Cognitive dissonance is painful and exhausting. I’ve been through it myself and taking off the blinders hurts. Sidney is in for a whole lot of pain.

Roosevelt Idaho - Monumental Creek - Thunder Mountain

Credit: Idaho State Historical Society

Nugget/Ruth is tougher sort. She has had to support herself to survive. Being a dance-hall girl would have exposed her to a plethora of personalities, traits and temperaments. Such a job would have shown her the worst and the best of men. Maintaining her belief in people and life must have been difficult. I imagine all dance-hall girls struggled with that. It is not a life I would choose for a daughter or son of mine, but it is a whole lot safer than needing to prostitute yourself. Like today, prostitutes had it rough.

Kal. Hmmm. I can understand him. Accepting responsibility for my actions was something I struggled with for a long time. Or perhaps it was more a case of accepting responsibility for the consequences of my actions. Kal has a tendency to make excuses for what has happened in his life. There are probably always mitigating circumstances in lives. But what happens, happens no matter what the circumstances were. At least that is what I have found and that is an acknowledgement we see Kal grow into as the story progresses.

Happy endings? Perhaps, but not really. As in real life, dreams are broken and so are lives. Some of the characters find peace in their hearts in spite of what they have been through to get there. I guess that could be called a happy ending.

And Thunder Mountain? Well Thunder Mountain continues to stand today and still sheds its skin from time to time, as I imagine it will continue to do for a long time to come.

——————————————————————–

Thunder Mountain available at Ron Glashan’s library

——————————————————————–

Reviews:

——————————————————————–

Translations:

  • 1935-1939: Das Goldgräbertal (German)
  • 1935: Il monte del tuono
  • 1939: Ukkosvuori (Finnish)
  • 1963: Gullgraverbyen (Norwegian)
  • 1936: Hromová hora (Czech)

——————————————————————–

Sources

 
1 Comment

Posted by on 2014-09-04 in Books

 

Tags: , , , ,

The Border Legion (unabridged Cabin Gulch) (1916)

Henry Plummer as depicted by James

Henry Plummer as depicted by James

All-Story Weekly>, January 15, 1916 ff.
The Country Gentleman, April 8, 1916 ff.
Harper & Brothers, New York, 1916
Zane Grey’s Western Magazine, March 1948 (RGL)
Zane Grey’s Western Magazine (Australia) Mar 1949, Apr 1956, May 1960 (Galactic Central)

One of the reasons Cabin Gulch was changed was for what the editors felt was excessive swearing and violence. Zane Grey was trying to be historically accurate in his portrayal of Jack Kells, the outlaw leader. But that did not matter to his editor. In a much edited version the new title was The Border Legion and it was first published as a serial in All-Story Weekly in 1916. (Friesen) I read The Border Legion but would recommend that you get Cabin Gulch instead simply because it will give you the full feel of what Zane Grey tried to convey with his story.

The Border Legion - Zane Greys Western Magazine

Credit: Galactic Central

Zane Grey has decided to move a bit further west this time. According to ZGWS we now find ourselves around the year 1863 in the gold mining camps along Alder Gulch in Montana and around the town of Hartley in Montana.

As he often did, Zane Grey found his inspiration from real life. This time the story of Henry Plummer had caught Mr. Grey’s interest. Henry Plummer was elected as sheriff of Bannack, Montana in 1863. His background had been memorable to say the least. Criminal and law-enforcer at the same time was the life he was leading as it neared its end. (This day in history)

Blurb from The Border Legion:

Jim Cleve has been deemed, “a good guy” all of his life and it agitates him to no end. Even his girlfriend, Joan Randle has scorned him for this “weakness” shouting, “You haven’t it in you even to be BAD!” Dejected and hurt, Jim abandons the life he has known for the gold mining camps along Alder Gulch in southern Montana. It is here, among the thieves and murderers, that he must make a new name for himself

Blurb from Cabin Gulch:

This wonderful, dramatic story was written in 1915, but for ninety years it has only existed in a profoundly censored version, “The Border Legion.” Joan Randle, in a spirit of anger, sends Jim Cleve out into the lawless country of the mining frontier in Idaho Territory to test his mettle as a man. Then, regretting their quarrel, she goes in pursuit of him, in hope of turning him back, only to be taken captive by the notorious mining camp and stagecoach bandit, Jack Kells. Kells is so intent on having Joan to himself that he kills for it, even some of his own men. When a huge gold strike is made at Alder Creek, Kells and his gang move in to loot the miners. Most disheartening of all for Joan is the fact that Jim Cleve has joined Kells’s gang. This powerful tale of tragedy, romance, historical realism, and hope can now at last be read as Zane Grey wrote it.

The Border Legion - All-Story Weekly

Credit: Galactic Central

In the case of The Border Legion, Sam Gulden is the baddest of the bad. Gulden is also the sort of man that keeps young girls naked and tied up. Jack Kells is the other force of evil in The Border Legion. He is our Henry Plummer whose charm hid what he was capable of doing. The lovers of this story are Joan Randle and Jim Cleve. Their way to that part in the other person’s life is filled with pot-holes (of which Kells is one).

Well and truly caught by Kells’ gang (the Border Legion), Joan is drawn into the clutches of Kells through his charm. I think it would probably be safe to say that Kells was a psychopath. He wanted Joan. He would do anything it took to make her his. One of his tools was allowing her to fall for his “sweet” side before he showed her his rough one. That way he could keep her needing to “save” him from himself making up excuses for the other part of him that she saw. Falling for her kidnapper probably makes Joan another victim of what today is called the Stockholm Syndrome.

All this time Jim tries to be there for Joan, but he too is caught in Kells’s clutches. His role in the life of Kells is as another member of Kells’ gang. As is so often true in real life, men and women seem more attracted to baddies – at least charming baddies.

Zane Grey isn’t the best writer of romantic dialogue and action. I wonder if his own access to a great deal of women had something to do with his lack of understanding of the workings of romance. I know that my own autism stands in the way of my understanding of the concept.

Alder Creek, 2000;  by Stephen McMillan

Alder Creek, 2000;
by Stephen McMillan

While romance/action is a large part of the story of The Border Legion/Cabin Gulch we also get to enjoy Zane Grey’s forte in writing. His portrayal of nature is amazing and I wish there was more of that and less of the romantic dialogue.

Manifestly Jesse Smith had selected the spot for Kells’s permanent location at Alder Creek with an eye for the bandit’s peculiar needs. It was out of sight of town, yet within a hundred rods of the nearest huts, and closer than that to a sawmill. It could be approached by a shallow ravine that wound away toward the creek. It was backed up against a rugged bluff in which there was a narrow gorge, choked with pieces of weathered cliff; and no doubt the bandits could go and come in that direction. There was a spring near at hand and a grove of spruce-trees. The ground was rocky, and apparently unfit for the digging of gold.

While Bate Wood began preparations for supper, and Cleve built the fire, and Smith looked after the horses, Kells and Pearce stepped off the ground where the cabin was to be erected. They selected a level bench down upon which a huge cracked rock, as large as a house, had rolled. The cabin was to be backed up against this stone, and in the rear, under cover of it, a secret exit could be made and hidden. The bandit wanted two holes to his burrow.

When the group sat down to the meal the gulch was full of sunset colors. And, strangely, they were all some shade of gold. Beautiful golden veils, misty, ethereal, shone in rays across the gulch from the broken ramparts; and they seemed so brilliant, so rich, prophetic of the treasures of the hills. But that golden sunset changed. The sun went down red, leaving a sinister shadow over the gulch, growing darker and darker. Joan saw Cleve thoughtfully watching this transformation, and she wondered if he had caught the subtle mood of nature. For whatever had been the hope and brightness, the golden glory of this new Eldorado, this sudden uprising Alder Creek with its horde of brave and toiling miners, the truth was that Jack Kells and Gulden had ridden into the camp and the sun had gone down red. Joan knew that great mining-camps were always happy, rich, free, lucky, honest places till the fame of gold brought evil men. And she had not the slightest doubt that the sun of Alder Creek’s brief and glad day had set forever.

Once the Border Legion gets to Alder Creek, the play for power begins between Kells and Gulden. Keeping the Border Legion loyal to their leader is going to be quite a challenge considering all of the temptations in the area. Gold-mining towns were usually tent towns and only an ingrained sense of another man’s territory kept others out of your tent. For outlaws like the Border Legion, such considerations were non-existent. Perhaps promises made to one’s own boss would take on the same value in such a place. Greed is, after all, such a wonderful breaker of loyalty.

—————————————————–

The Border Legion on Gutenberg

Cabin Gulch on Kindle

—————————————————–

Reviews:

—————————————————–

Films/Movies

—————————————————–

Translations:

—————————————————–

Henry Plummer is elected sheriff of Bannack, Montana

Stockholm syndrome

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on 2014-06-30 in Books

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: