Dorothy Sloan – Books

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[BIOGRAPHY]. BECKWOURTH, James P. The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, Mountaineer, Scout, and Pioneer and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians. With Illustrations. Written from His Own Dictation, by T.D. Bonner. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, Franklin Square, 1856. [i-iii] iv-xii, [13] 14-537 [1, blank], [2, ads] pp., woodcut frontispiece, 12 full-page woodcut text illustrations (4 signed by John McLenan). 8vo (20 x 14 cm), original blind-embossed brown cloth, spine stamped in gilt. Joints worn, shelf-worn, faded, lacks rear flyleaf. Some leaves with marginal losses not affecting text, ad leaf and front flyleaf torn with loss; text and illustrations very good. Ink stamp of William H. Hamilton on front pastedown; pencil signature of Harrington, San Francisco, January 24, 1884, on flyleaves and last page of ads; ink stamp of merchant S.T. Warr, Marysville, on rear flyleaf.

First edition. Buck 156. Cowan II, p. 41. DeVoto, Across the Wide Missouri, p. 183: “One of the gaudiest books in our literature and may well be the goriest.... An indispensable witness to the events it deals with.” Dobie, p. 71: “Beckwourth was the champion of all Western liars.” Field 149. Garrett & Goodwin, p. 193. Graff 347: “Beckwourth’s life is a classic of pioneer days in the West.” Hamilton, Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers 1061 & I, p. 180: “Discovered by DeWitt C. Hitchcock working in a pork packing establishment in Cincinnati and making drawings on the tops of barrels, McLenan became one of the most prolific of our early illustrators.... His work will bear comparison with the best of his time.” Howes B601: “Highly colored, but basically authentic, narrative of a noted mountain character.” Plains & Rockies IV:272:1 (calling for 12 plates, including the frontispiece): “Recent scholars seem to take a more charitable view of Beckwourth’s veracity.” Rader 322. Rittenhouse 72. Sabin 4625. Smith, Pacific Northwest Americana 695. Streeter Sale 2101.

“Beckwourth’s life is classic reading on the early West, but his patent exaggerations cast doubt on his stories” (Streeter). “Mulatto of Va., who became in the great West a famous hunter, guide, Indian-fighter, chief of the Crows, and horse-thief. No resume can do justice to his adventures, nor can the slightest faith be put in his statements” (Bancroft, Pioneer Register). “Now research indicates that Beckwourth’s basic narrative is true.... The narrative also records the way in which a black man succeeded in the dangerous and demanding life of the Far West between 1825 and 1865” (Lamar, Reader’s Encyclopedia of the American West). Among the more gruesome and disturbing incidents in this man’s life is his calm, illustrated recounting of how he “killed” his Native American wife who displeased him by participating in a dance (pp. 114-121). Amazingly, the chief, Beckwourth’s father-in-law, concurs and gives him a second, even better-looking daughter to replace the one he clubbed.


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