America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 27-29.

Jones, Douglas C.  The Court Martial of George Armstrong Custer.  New York: Scribner, 1976.

Following a twenty-five-year career as an army officer, Douglas C. Jones taught at the University of Wisconsin in the department of journalism and mass communications.  He was in his early fifties when his first novel, The Court Martial of George Armstrong Custer, was published.  For the novel, he received a Golden Spur Award from the Western Writers of America, and over the next quarter century, he wrote 17 novels, for which he received an impressive list of awards and citations.

In The Court Martial of George Armstrong Custer, Jones tells a compelling and historically credible story—a combination of natural storytelling skill and scrupulous research that would become a sort of personal trademark in his subsequent work.  The novel is the first in a trilogy about the conflict between the U.S. military and the Plains tribes, a trilogy which also includes Arrest Sitting Bull (1977) and A Creek Called Wounded Knee (1978).  Still, in its speculative premise, The Court Martial of George Armstrong Custer, stands apart from the other two novels, which have more straightforward historical slants. That premise is that Custer has managed to survive the massacre at Little Big Horn and is being tried for his irresponsibility in leading his troopers into it. Although the implications of this historical event remain a matter of often fiercely contentious debate, Jones is careful to reconstruct the mindsets of the period when a long historical and cultural perspective was not yet available.

 

Kelton, Elmer. The Time It Never Rained.  New York: Doubleday, 1973.

Elmer Kelton has been extraordinarily prolific, producing 46 novels and eight books of nonfiction between 1956 and 2004.  In addition, he has contributed more than 50 short stories to periodicals and collections, as well as more than 100 articles on rural topics to periodicals.  Kelton’s books have been commercially successful and typically occupy a number of slots on the racks in supermarkets, drugstores, and general-merchandise stores where most pulp Westerns are typically sold.  And yet, throughout his career Kelton has received awards that demonstrate the sustained quality of his work and distinguish it from formula Westerns.  Most prominent among these recognitions have been six Spur awards from the Western Writers of America and three Western Heritage Awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.

For The Time It Never Rained, Kelton received both of those awards.  A novel of the contemporary West, it treats the prolonged drought that afflicted west Texas in the mid-1950s.  It focuses on ranchers whose ancestors had endured despite Indian wars, the lawlessness of the outlaw period, exploitation by the railroads and other interests, and all sorts of extremes of weather.  But they lose their ranches to a federal bureaucracy that offers seemingly generous loans but then forecloses when the ranchers prove unable to meet not just the financial conditions of the loans but the flood of paperwork required to maintain the loans.

 

Kelton, Elmer.  Slaughter.  New York: Doubleday, 1992.

In his many novels and stories, Elmer Kelton has concentrated on the history and the current conditions of life in west Texas.  He has demonstrated a continuing fascination with the effect of change on people caught up in fluid circumstances, which, with historical perspective, are definable as distinctive eras.  In effect, he approaches historical materials not as a static or fixed reality but as we more commonly perceive current events.  He emphasizes that the responses of people to events, whether historical or current, are colored by their uncertainty not only about the ultimate outcome of those events, but also, and more fundamentally, about their meaning.

For Slaughter, Kelton received his sixth Spur Award from the Western Writers of America.  The novel treats the brief period in which the last of the free-roaming Comanches and the last of the buffalo hunters contended for the last of the buffalo herds on the southern plains.  In his depiction of the motley personalities among the buffalo hunters, Kelton emphasizes that the hunters were driven by a desperation as acute, though not as culturally profound, as that of the Comanches.  Indeed, in some ways, the buffalo hunters are worse off than the Comanches because while they are effecting an annihilation of the Native American plains culture and expediting the hegemony of Anglo-American culture across the vast middle spaces of the continent, they themselves are disenfranchised, dislocated, and demoralized.  They include a former Confederate soldier who has become a fugitive from justice, a former Union officer who has become too to resume civilian life, a British gambler who has exhausted his chances, and a red-haired woman whose passion has not translated into real possibilities.

 

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Previous Posts in This Series:

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 1-2: https://academeblog.org/2014/09/10/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-1-2/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 3-5: https://academeblog.org/2014/09/16/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-3-5/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 6-8: https://academeblog.org/2014/09/20/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-6-8/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 9-11: https://academeblog.org/2014/10/04/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-9-11/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 12-14: https://academeblog.org/2014/10/12/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-12-14/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 15-17: https://academeblog.org/2014/10/21/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-15-17/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 18-20: https://academeblog.org/2014/11/02/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-18-20/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 21-23: https://academeblog.org/2014/11/09/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-21-23/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 24-26: https://academeblog.org/2014/11/23/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-24-26/

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Posts in the Previous Series:

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 1-3: https://academeblog.org/2014/05/30/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-1-3/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 4-5: https://academeblog.org/2014/05/31/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-4-5/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 6-7: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/01/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-6-7/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 8-10: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/04/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-8-10/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 11-13: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/06/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-11-13/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 14-16: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/11/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-14-16/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 17-19: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/18/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-17-19/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 20-22: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/25/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-20-22/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 23-25: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/07/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-23-25/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 26-29: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/11/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-26-29/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 30-32: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/23/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-30-32/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 33: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/29/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-33/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 34-36: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/10/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-34-36/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 37-39: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/15/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-37-39/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 40-42: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/21/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-40-42/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 43-45: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/23/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-43-45/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 46-48: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/26/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-46-48/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 49-50: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/30/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-49-50/

 

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