WLA Conference Schedule

The schedule for the 2009 Western Literature Association Conference in Spearfish, South Dakota, is now posted on the WLA website.

Click here for a link to the 2009 Conference Schedule.


Spearfish Area Attractions

From an earlier post, things to do (including UFO watching) in and around Spearfish, South Dakota.

From Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The UFO arrives at Devil’s Tower, Wyoming.

From David Cremean (things to do in and around Spearfish, site of 2009 Western Literature Association Conference)

Spearfish Area Attractions

This supplement could be voluminous, and some of you may think it is. But I’ve left out, among other venues, everything from Cosmos to Wonderland Cave to Reptile Gardens and Bear Country, USA (the famous picture of Custer, as always in the forefront, along with scout Bloody Knife and company with a kilt Grizzly was just the beginning of bear extermination in the Hills, where now we are rumored to get an occasional walk through bear and have left, yes, this drive-through zoo with many bears and other animals both exotic and exterminated from the area). Please keep in mind the Western sense of time and space when you note that I take you as far as three hours out—and that you want to carry good supplies of water, as this area is semi-arid. Our altitude in Spearfish proper runs between 3,000 and 3,500 feet above sea level, and it heightens in the Hills.

Again, I encourage anyone who can to come early and/or stay late and take in some of the area and its many natural and historic offerings. Both the Great Plains and the Paha Sapa (Black Hills) themselves are right here, with Spearfish really a cupped valley town in the ecotone between the two. The Spearfish Passion Play has ceased doing business, by the way. I will list a number of nearby and further-out possibilities by travel time-frame one-way; this list is highly selective:

30 minutes or less:
Western Heritage Center—Roughly a half-mile walk from the Holiday Inn, a museum that includes live bison on its grounds.
Spearfish Canyon—At its peak for color, and wonderful for driving or bicycling (rentals available in town), plus some trails. Spearfish Creek offers fine trout fishing, including in town; low in the canyon and to the edge of town, there is a 2-3-mile “damn stretch” that is dry because water is tunneled through the Hills. About 20 miles up and essentially marking canyon’s end is Cheyenne Crossing, a fine and rustic (and historical) place to eat with a good gift shop.
The DC Booth Fish Hatchery in Spearfish—Trout are not native to the Hills, and this facility began their advent here. Many ducks and other water fowl, some huge rainbow and brown trout in the pond (with underwater viewing), and a nice little gift shop, plus the grounds themselves, adjacent to City Park.
Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, a few miles out of town on Forest Service Road 134. Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh, My.
Deadwood—Mount Moriah (burial site of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane Canary, Seth Bullock (much higher up, and others). Another trivia item: Bullock was a bodyguard for his friend Teddy Roosevelt. In addition, some of you, particularly if coming early and/or staying late, may be interested in engaging in research through Deadwood’s Adams House and Museum; if so, go to the following Web page for contact information (it links easily to their other Web pages): http://www.theadamsdeadwood.org/theAdamsStaff.aspx.
Mahto Paha (Bear Butte State Park)—Just outside of Sturgis.
Sturgis—Much ado about (motorcycle) biker culture, from Sonny Barger to lawyers in love; Fort Meade.

One hour:

Devil’s Tower—Sans E.T., the large spaceship, and those “organ” notes, but still impressive, it includes trails and more. [Editor’s Note: see beginning of post for organ music and UFO]


Montana’s southeast corner and the strange little town of Alzada—All on Route 212, which, if one takes a couple of more hours, leads to Little Bighorn Battle Field.

Two hours:
Wall Drug and The South Dakota Badlands.
Custer State Park—For my money, probably the finest state park in the nation. The Needles, Sylvan Lake, a Wildlife Loop, and much more.

Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains, the town of Buffalo, Johnson County. I particularly recommend anyone ever passing through Buffalo to see—and stay, if possible—at the truly Historic Occidental Hotel and dine at The Virginian Restaurant. Both are exceptional. (Add on another half-hour or so and you can be in Sheridan).
Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse—They can be done on the way to Custer State Park.
Pine Ridge Reservation. The Rosebud Sioux Reservation, the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, and the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation are within reachable distances.
The Northern Cheyenne Reservation.
Jewel Cave National Park (reservations for tours recommended).

Three Hours:
Wind Cave National Park (reservations for tours recommended).
Little Bighorn Battle Field.
Pine Ridge, the town, with the infamous White Clay, NB, just across the way.
Wounded Knee, site of both Wounded Knees, both still shrouded in controversy. There really isn’t anything there in the way of offerings, which is probably as it should be for most of our venerated parks and the like, but isn’t.
Medora, ND—Teddy Roosevelt and the Marquis de More Country, with the North Dakota Badlands and Teddy Roosevelt National Park.

Ella Fitzgerald and Ride em Cowboy

Since my earlier post about Dorothy Dandridge’s version of “Cow Cow Boogie,” I’ve been continuing to look around for information about the Abbott and Costello film Ride ’em Cowboy (for which “Cow Cow Boogie” was written), and it’s turning out to be another interesting case of an intersection of western narrative and African American performance. Produced in 1942, Ride ’em Cowboy has the distinction of being jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald‘s first film role.

Fitzgerald was already famous as a singer. In 1938, she adapted the nursery rhyme “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” into a song, which sold a million copies and stayed number one on the charts for several weeks. Given her association with the song, it’s not surprising that she also performed it in Ride em Cowboy.

In this clip, Fitzgerald sings “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” while riding on a bus with her fellow ranch workers, as they are heading to the dude ranch where much of the film takes place. Look for Bud Abbott and Lou Costello on the outside of the bus, hanging on to the rear door (which doesn’t prevent them from joining in on the chorus).

CFP: Regionalism and Popular Culture


Extended Closing DATE 1 October 2009

POP Goes the Region

The small town, the local, and regionalism have long been considered precious territory to be guarded by grassroots music and local art movements, enshrined in high letters, and embalmed in obscurity. This issue of LiNQ (Literature in North Queensland) seeks to challenge and update this notion of the regional. As the Internet connects us in a global village of downloadable ephemera, the local community is redefined. How does the region connect with the popular?

The phrase ‘pop will eat itself’ conjures a virtual world of art, writing, and music in which the key words are revise, reuse, reissue, remaster, recycle, and reboot. This is the world in which the ABC show “Lawrence Leung’s Choose Your Own Adventure” satirises the ambitions of a Chinese-Australian local-boy who forms a rock group over Skype with a back-up band in India called “The Sweatshop Boys.” Indeed, cyberspace more broadly allows us to make strange, sometimes funny, hybrid-mixes of the local, the global, and the popular. But just how does this globalised world take up and alter our experience and understanding of the local, in general, and of regional literature, art, music, and art movements, in particular?

Exhibitions like Stephen Danzig’s/IDA projects’ Vernacular Terrain (QUT 2007 showcase how the intersections of the local, the global, and the popular in art and media do not eviscerate regional identity and artistic vision, but rather produce new ways of being that emerge from “the convergence of new models of spatial thinking, vernacular creativity, popular culture, corporate branding, and hybrid economies.”

We are calling for academic papers, submissions of short stories and poems, and visual art that contemplate the intersection of the regional and the popular in regional Australia but also in terms of regional/global intersections more generally.

Academic papers might address issues such as:

Regional Writers and Popular Literature: transcending the obscure
Regionalism and the Internet
Pop Art and Vernacular Cultures
Boundaries between High and Low in Regional/Global Culture
Regional Art/Identity and the Global Marketplace

Submissions of no longer than 15 double-spaced pages are requested in double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman, with MLA referencing, in Word .doc format. Please send files as attachments to the LiNQ editorial board care of


Recommended Readings

“Recommended Readings” will be a new monthly feature on the WLA Blog that will list recommended books, articles, poems, plays, etc. The recommended readings can be creative, critical, historical, sociological, etc.

For this new feature, I would like to solicit some recommendations. What have you been reading (or what have you written) that you’d like to recommend to others interested in western literature?

If you have recommendations, you can send them to westernlitblog@gmail.com, or post them via the comment link below.

Recommendations could be in the form of just the author and title, or we would also be happy to have a brief blurb or even a mini-review.

The first Recommended Readings list will be posted in early September.

Dorothy Dandridge and “Cow Cow Boogie”

I’ve been interested in the African American West for around a decade now, and I find that I’m still continually surprised by new things—or, rather, by old things that I’m just now discovering, particularly in the realm of popular culture. I recently came across a clip of actress and singer Dorothy Dandridge, decked out in a cowgirl outfit (well, okay, a showgirl version of a cowgirl outfit—can’t imagine a skirt that short would be very comfortable for a long day in the saddle), singing and performing the song “Cow Cow Boogie” in this short film from 1942. And keep and eye out for actor and comedian Dudley Dickerson, who expresses his enthusiasm for Dandridge’s performance with his guns. And, is it just me, or is Dandridge’s imitation of the cowboy riding his horse (as she sings “Comma ti yi yi yeah”) somewhat suggestive?

Dandridge rose to fame as the lead in the 1954 film Carmen Jones (adapted from the opera Carmen), although she had been performing as a singer and dancer since the 1930s. Her story was brought back into public consciousness by Halle Barry’s portrayal of her in the HBO biopic Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999).

The song “Cow Cow Boogie” was written (with two co-writers) by African American saxophonist and jazz musician Bennie Carter. Musically, the combination of boogie woogie style with western pop provides a good example of the way African American writers and performers have adapted and altered mainstream western motifs, not just imitating those motifs but transforming them into something new. Although the lyrics do not initially state that the “peculiar cowboy song” overheard is being sung by a black cowboy,  the slang “get hip” and the information that the cowboy learned this ditty “in the city” at least suggest that such is the case.

Out on the plains down near Santa Fe
I met a cowboy ridin’ the range one day
And as he jogged along I heard him singin’
The most peculiar cowboy song
It was a ditty, he learned in the city
Comma ti yi yi yeah
Comma ti yippity yi yeah

Now get along, get hip little doggies
Get along, better be on your way
Get along, get hip little doggies
He trucked ’em on down that old fairway
Singin’ his Cow Cow Boogie in the strangest way
Comma ti yi yi yeah
Comma ti yippity yi yeah

Some versions of the song include the lyrics “he’s got a knocked out western accent with a dixie touch” in a later stanza, but, in most versions, that line reads, “he’s got a knocked out western accent with a Harlem touch,” thus making the race of the hip cowboy from the city fairly clear.

Although the song first became a hit when performed (in 1942) by the white singer Ella Mae Morse, it has proved extremely popular with African American performers. In addition to Dandridge’s version, Ella Fitzgerald (with The Ink Spots) as well as Herb Jeffries (the original “Two-Gun Man From Harlem”) have performed and recorded the song. The song was originally written for an Abbott and Costello comedy western, Ride ’em Cowboy (1942), and Ella Fitzgerald seems to have performed the song in the movie (but I’m still investigating to be sure).

For posts on similar topics see:

Noble Sissle and His (Cowboy) Band

Revising the Wild West 100 Greatest Westerns

Weekly Roundup (Western Music), which includes a clip of Herb Jeffries singing “The Payday Blues,” from the film The Bronze Buckaroo.

Early American Borderlands Conference

I thought this conference, Early American Borderlands,  might be good to look at for those who are interested in frontiers and borderlands as well the American West. I’ve pasted in one call for papers below. Please click on the Early American Borderlands link to go to the conference website, which has a full slate of panel proposals.

The Early American Borderlands Conference will be held at Flagler College, St. Augustine, Florida, 13-16 May 2010

Deadline for paper proposals is August 31, 2009

Narrating the Borderlands: A Call to Teach the New Frontier History

Panel organizer: Paul Moyer (SUNY Brockport) pmoyer@brockport.edu

Premise & Problem

The field of frontier/borderlands history has been revitalized in the last few decades. However, the quality and quantity of this scholarship has not been matched by a resurgence in teaching borderlands history to undergraduates. This lack of classroom activity is reflected in the dearth of teaching-focused textbooks, anthologies, and document collections on frontier history. For example, the expansive Major Problems Series (it now embraces about 30 titles) includes topics ranging from the history of sexuality and Asian American history to sports history and the history of the Atlantic World, but contains no entry devoted to frontier history. There is a volume on the American West, but this only covers a part of the borderlands experience and reduces an expansive field to a regional study. Part of the reason why frontier history remains on the margins of university curriculums might lie in the lack of strong, expansive, and meaningful borderlands narratives.
The goal of this panel is to make a start at brining the field of frontier/borderlands history back to the classroom and the historical mainstream by considering how to construct a narrative of the borderlands experience in the Americas. Submitted papers could address what the New Frontier History should look like in the classroom. What main themes should such a class focus on and what discrete topics should be included? What geographical and temporal frames could be applied? Put another way, if you were to author a hypothetical Major Problems in Borderlands History, what topics would you include and why? In addition, papers that reflect upon the experience of those who already teach courses on the frontier/borderlands would be welcome. What challenges have you encountered in building a narrative on this topic and what approaches have you taken to meeting them? Finally, papers could focus on the relationship between frontier/borderlands history and broader narratives of American history. For example, how might building a borderlands narrative provide opportunities to meaningfully draw together the histories of North, South, and Central America? Alternatively, how could the classroom serve as an instrument to integrate frontier/borderlands history into the mainstream of United States history?