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Writing Kit Carson

Fallen Heroes in a Changing West

By Susan Lee Johnson

Writing Kit Carson

528 pp., 7 x 10, 63 halftones, 2 maps, notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5883-4
    Published: December 2020

Hardcover Available December 2020, but pre-order your copy today!

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In this critical biography, Susan Lee Johnson braids together lives over time and space, telling tales of two white women who, in the 1960s, wrote books about the fabled frontiersman Christopher "Kit" Carson: Quantrille McClung, a Denver librarian who compiled the Carson-Bent-Boggs Genealogy, and Kansas-born but Washington, D.C.- and Chicago-based Bernice Blackwelder, a singer on stage and radio, a CIA employee, and the author of Great Westerner: The Story of Kit Carson. In the 1970s, as once-celebrated figures like Carson were falling headlong from grace, these two amateur historians kept weaving stories of western white men, including those who married American Indian and Spanish Mexican women, just as Carson had wed Singing Grass, Making Out Road, and Josefa Jaramillo.

Johnson’s multilayered biography reveals the nature of relationships between women historians and male historical subjects and between history buffs and professional historians. It explores the practice of history in the context of everyday life, the seductions of gender in the context of racialized power, and the strange contours of twentieth-century relationships predicated on nineteenth-century pasts. On the surface, it tells a story of lives tangled across generation and geography. Underneath run probing questions about how we know about the past and how that knowledge is shaped by the conditions of our knowing.

Published in association with the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas

About the Author

Susan Lee Johnson is the Harry Reid Endowed Chair for the History of the Intermountain West at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
For more information about Susan Lee Johnson, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"A remarkably thoughtful, subtle, genre-bending study that weaves history and historiography, politics, and memoir, into an eloquent whole."--Emma Donoghue, author of Room and The Pull of the Stars

"It is a testimony to Johnson's talents as a historian and a writer that this book is such a page-turner. Here we have the story of two unknown women, drawn to each other in the 1950s by their shared fascination with Kit Carson, a hero in their heyday, but certainly not in ours. Focused on their overtly unremarkable lives, Writing Kit Carson is a unique history of twentieth-century America, rooted in lived experience. Johnson's archival indefatigability, expert toggling between small and big stories, and her stance--at once empathic and critical--makes this a remarkable history."--Alice Echols, author of Shortfall: Family Secrets, Financial Collapse, and a Hidden History of American Banking

"Susan Johnson has crafted a stunning meditation on the ways in which we all struggle to make sense of the contingencies and compromises that shape the making and consumption of history."--Katrina Jagodinsky, author of Legal Codes and Talking Trees: Indigenous Women's Sovereignty in the Sonoran and Puget Sound Borderlands 1854-1946

"A reflexive--and revelatory--queer historiography about how, why, where, and when two nonacademic women historians wrote about Kit Carson. Johnson simultaneously examines how, where, when, and why she herself writes about all three, and demonstrates how gender, race, class, intimacy, aspiration, identity, and grief inform stories about Carson, and more broadly, how these factors shape the lives and work of those who write western history. Writing Kit Carson challenges gender theorists, historians, and others to consider how they themselves may 'traffic in men.'"--Sylvia Rodríguez, author of Acequia: Water Sharing, Sanctity, and Place

"This is a work of daunting originality, one that only a skilled and experienced historian could attempt. Susan Johnson tells her tale with imagination, daring, and grace."--Richard White, author of The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896