A Brief Review of Michael Johnson’s Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos

Michael Johnson’s book Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos: Conceptions of the African American West examines representations of African American experience within, alongside, and against the tropes of the western frontier. If the terms “African American” and “Western” conjure little for us beyond Blazing Saddles, this reflects a kind of cultural erasure, since, as Michael writes in the introduction, “From the earliest incursions into the Americas by Spanish explorers to the California Gold Rush and the Oklahoma land rush, African Americans have been present at every frontier and have been active participants in transforming those frontier settlements into thriving communities.” Indeed, Derrida’s concept of writing-under-erasure, whereby meaning is both effaced and still present, is central to the book, a measure of its theoretical reach, which also encompasses the trickster archetype, and WEB Dubois’ formulation of double consciousness, concepts he uses to attend to a broad array of previously neglected material, including films, memoirs, and newspaper accounts. The result is a rich and meticulously researched look at a history that, though amply recorded in multiple genres, has been nevertheless rendered culturally all but invisible by the predominance of a whitewashed story of the “the West.” If in stressing the theoretical and methodological range of Michael’s book I have made it sound at all dry and scholastic, I want to close by saying that Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos is above all a great read—compellingly written and full terrific stories. Michael tells these stories, from those of important cultural figures like WC Handy to those of the now little-known newspaper writer Rose Gordon, with both sympathy and intelligence, and the result is a book that not only gives is a new picture of the American West but that also reminds one how much fun an academic book can be, a fact of which all of us surely could use reminding.

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The UMF community celebrated faculty who published books in 2013 and 2014 at a reception on March 10. Each faculty member’s book was introduced with remarks from another faculty member, a nice (and relatively new) UMF tradition.

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