23 October 2009

Review of The Gentle Tamers

Originally published in 2 parts, in April 2004.
Book 13 in my first 52 books challenge.


Entry 1:

Full title: The Gentle Tamers: Women of the Old Wild West
Author: Dee Brown
Year published: 1958/1981
Where got: second hand bookshop
Genre: Social history, women, pioneers

This looks like a promising piece of women's history. If we were to go by the history books we read in school, it would seem that men single-handedly settled the western parts of the United States. This is of course not so - women did their share of the work and had a great deal of civilizing influence on the men. I'm looking forward to exploring the west with them, through this book.

Written by the author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee


Entry 2:

The Gentle Tamers is a collection of true stories about the women of the wild west. Some who are included are true pioneers, like Janette Riker, who survived a harsh Montana winter alone in a covered wagon, others are included because a history of women in the Wild West wouldn't be complete without them, like Calamity Jane. The stories are not told in a straight timeline, but are collected into themes which include chapters on the dangers of the pioneer trails (which included bad weather, food shortages, epidemics and attacks by natives), fashion and finery, gatherings and entertainment, to name a few. Some of the women in the book are heroes while others are victims. There are army wives, wild women, educators, settlers, entertainers, suffragettes, prostitutes and various other kinds of women. Some have a remarkable history of their own, others are included because their experiences are representative of the experiences of women of the time. All of them are treated with respect, although the author does make the occasional subtly sarcastic remark about some of them. Their stories are told in a simple, straightforward style with a number of quotations from the original sources that give the narrative colour and depth.

The text is well written and informative, and there is an extensive bibliography at the end for those who wish to do further research into the subject. No attempt is made to put forward any kind of thesis on the subject - this is simply a collection of stories about real women, a popular history that is first and foremost meant to entertain.

Rating: A fun and interesting read about the lives of women, ordinary and not so ordinary, in the Wild West. 5 stars.

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I can't leave out one endearing thing about this particular copy: it has an inscription in it. I bought the book in a second-hand shop in Hamburg, Germany. On the inside front cover there is a sticker indicating that it was originally bought in the Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City, Kansas, USA.

The inscription reads:
My dearest woman of the new Wild West, Maybe you find the time in the Old World to read this book, to help remind yourself that the women of the New World had the same problems and struggle, like you may have. But of course they havenot had me.
Yours (The signature is unreadable)

I love books that have a history of their own.

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