Long may their legend survive: Memory and authenticity in Deadwood, South Dakota; Tombstone, Arizona; and Dodge City, Kansas
AuthorBritz, Kevin Mark
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractTo date, there has been no comprehensive analysis of the nature of historic commemoration in the American West. Through case studies of the three towns most commonly associated with the Old West; Deadwood, South Dakota; Tombstone, Arizona; and Dodge City, Kansas; this dissertation explores the nature of the political economy of memory in the American West. From the time of their respective founding in the 1870s, each town acquired a "wicked" past from the embellishment of actual events by journalists and dime novelists, and became famous through their association with well-known figures such as Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Bat Masterson, and Wyatt Earp. Characteristic of each town's reputation were regular images of immorality and disorder violence, drinking, gambling, prostitution, political corruption, and ramshackle architecture. Following the end of each town's boom period, boosters actively sought to distance themselves from their pasts by promoting their communities as modern, stable, pious, and law-abiding. After World War I, downturns in local economies and the opportunity to capitalize on tourism led local leaders to reconsider the value of their town's unsavory reputations. Working through chambers of commerce, leaders transformed what was once a working class memory into a commodity by marking sites, creating attractions, and creating civic celebrations to match the expectations of tourists seeking to experience the Old West they had witnessed in films and television. At the same time, towns sought to authenticate the wild west moment through historic preservation, building museums, and achieving official national recognition. These efforts, however, illustrated the ambiguity of what authentication and the Old West actually meant as each town became contested terrain between business interests, preservationists, and professional historians. By the end of the twentieth century, so ingrained were the constructed and authenticated versions of abstracted moments of the past into the fabric of the community, that fantasy and reality became indistinguishable.
Degree ProgramGraduate College