Bernard DeVoto, a man with few sacred cows, wrote a monthly column on the West for Harper’s magazine from 1946 until 1955. From "The Easy Chair," he expounded on everything from how cattlemen destroyed Western watersheds to why the West is "systematically looted and has always been bankrupt." Now, history professor Edward K. Muller has collected 22 of DeVoto’s magazine pieces in DeVoto’s West — and they are just as timely today as they were last century.
Born in the West and educated in the East, DeVoto
didn’t go easy on any of his countrymen. With equal parts
glee and vitriol, he wrote that Westerners who perceived themselves
as rugged individuals were, in fact, being ripped off by Eastern
businessmen eager to take advantage of the region’s natural
resources and gullible inhabitants.
companies still treat the region as a colony to exploit, and
businessmen and politicians still try to privatize public lands and
resources in the name of "patriotism." The region’s
inhabitants still struggle in an arid climate — and
it’s a shame that no one heeded DeVoto’s advice in 1954
that, when it comes to water, "from here on out we cannot afford to
decide anything wrong."
It’s hard to decide which
is more unbelievable: that Harper’s
magazine once had a monthly column dedicated to Western issues, or
that the American Livestock and the National Wool Growers
Associations read it as closely as they did in 1947, when they gave
DeVoto and the magazine "a thorough working-over" after his column
about their "assault" on the West’s public lands.
The Eastern press pays even less attention to the West than it did
50 years ago. But maybe the region doesn’t need the Eastern
media’s attention. As DeVoto wrote in 1927: "We are healthier
and saner and less trusting than our neighbors on either side, and
we live in the sun."
edited by Edward K. Muller, 312 pages,
softcover: $18.95: Swallow Press, 2005.
The more the West changes, the more it stays the same
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