“Odysseus Jed Smith and Siegfried Carson and the wingshod Fitzpatrick” living in a “province of fable”

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114. DE VOTO, Bernard. Across the Wide Missouri. Illustrated with Paintings by Alfred Jacob Miller, Charles Bodmer and George Catlin with an Account of the Discovery of the Miller Collection by Mae Reed Porter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company; Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1947. [2, inserted signed limitation leaf, [i-vii] viii-xxvii [1], 2-483 [1] pp, 81 splendid plates (19 in color), maps on endpapers. 8vo (25 x 18.5 cm), original bright red cloth with bevelled edges, spine with black gilt-lettered label, upper and lower covers with gilt illustration, t.e.g. Book: Very fine with original glassine d.j. (glassine with one short tear at foot of spine). Slipcase: Preserved in publisher’s original board slipcase covered with light green paper, upper and lower board with printed, illustrated labels (Miller illustrations in sepia tone). Slipcase rubbed and paper at front hinge split.

     First edition, the limited issue of 265 copies (#126, signed by De Voto in ink on limitation leaf) of the author’s Pulitzer Prize-winning history; best edition (“Although since reprinted by others, this original Houghton Mifflin edition is by far the best because of its rich art”—Orlan Sawey, De Voto’s biographer). Dobie, pp. 72, 85. Dykes, Western High Spots, p. 54 (“High Spots of Western Illustrating” #69). Eberstadt 128:217: “The grand paintings, most of which are here published for the first time, are among the only ones of the early trappers made on the spot and the first ever made of Rocky Mountain scenery, the Oregon Trail, and the far-western Plains Indians.” Harvard Guide to American History, p. 366. Howes D296. Malone, Wyomingiana, pp. 19-20: “Centering his account around the hunting trips of Captain William Drummond Stewart and his painter, Alfred Jacob Miller, De Voto presents a picture of the fur trade in the Rocky Mountains, 1832-38, describing it not as chronological history but as a business and a manner of life.” Plains & Rockies IV:125n. Smith 2430. Tweney, Washington 89 #9. The book was selected as one of the “Fifty Notable Books of 1947” by the American Library Association (ALA Bulletin, Vol. 42, No. 2, February 1948, pp. 72-73).

     William H. Goetzmann, Exploration and Empire: The Explorer and the Scientist in the Winning of the American West (Random House, 1966), p. 106:

Historians fond of romanticizing the exploits of these mountain men as folk heroes have usually projected them in terms of two vivid stereotypes, each containing more than a measure of reality. On the one hand, they are seen as Byronic types—outcast banditti, veritable misanthropes of the plains and Rockies who loved only the freedom on the hunt and the chase, and scorned civilization. Everyone, from Washington Irving, who described their “wild, Robin Hood kind of life,” to Bernard De Voto, who thought of them as “Odysseus Jed Smith and Siegfried Carson and the wingshod Fitzpatrick” living in a “province of fable,” has seen them in terms of what is largely a European literary convention that somehow seemed to make their wilderness wanderings exotic and attractive to the world outside.

     De Voto includes material on Richard Henry Dana and the California hide and tallow trade. In a section on Joseph Reddeford Walker, De Voto masterfully describes Pastoral California rancho life:

If not for the mission Indians (whose lot may be too easily pitied), it was for white men one of the most delightful ways of life the world has ever known. These Californians were a feckless, indolent people: their habitat permitted them to be. None except the Indian peons worked hard, they contrived not to exhaust themselves, and few others had to work at all. They lived outdoors and on horseback.... Almost uncountable herds of horses and cattle increased geometrically with only the most casual supervision. One of the first lessons Walker’s men learned was that persons who had taken their horses—always punishable with death on the American frontier—had not stolen them. There were horses for everyone: take what you want. They helped their new friends break horses (in a manner of speaking), butcher cattle for the hide and tallow trade, ride after and slaughter some absconding Indians. They joined the continuous fiestas and competed with their hosts, easily besting them at marksmanship and taking an equally offhand beating at every form of horsemanship.


Sold. Hammer: $150.00; Price Realized: $183.75.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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