Notably absent from the “old” histories of Turner and Wister are the voices of diverse Native American peoples and women. Images of open space and masculine heroism in the West function as palimpsests that “write over” heterogeneous realities even as they never completely erase them. A similar function is performed by what Richard White refers to as the “old” Indian history, which tends to relegate Native Americans to the past and render living Native Americans invisible, based on popular views of Native Americans as “spiritual,” “timeless,” or as representatives of “traditional,” unchanging knowledge (R. White, “Using the Past” 218). This approach to history assumes that Native people “either have no significant history or exist outside history” (218). Similarly, “old” versions of western history frequently depict passive frontier women as “gentle tamers” of pioneering men and thereby disregard the diversity of women’s experiences (Riley 540). However, recent studies take into account the complex intersections of race, class, and ethnicity in western women’s lives.9 Indeed, as Native female ranchers, the Dann sisters challenge images of ranching as a masculinist and Euroamerican vocation and contribute to recent efforts to relocate women to a central role in western history.
New Western Revisionism
Beginning in the 1960s in the United States, the prominence of antiracist, feminist, and environmental movements precipitated a critical interrogation of the relationship between public and academic discourses and oppressive social practices. Colonial representations of the American West, both literary and historical, came under particular scrutiny because of the ways in which popular myths of western freedom, opportunity, open space, and masculinity marginalized the perspectives and, indeed, the presence of peoples of color and women. Revisionist critics were also highly concerned with the ecological destruction that accompanied the quest for freedom and progress on the “empty land” of the open frontier. New Western literary and historical narratives undertake to criticize the power dynamics and political implications of colonial histories as well as to replace or complicate them with accounts of the conflicts that continue to shape the West as social and geographical space.10