Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 5, No. 1, Winter 1985, pp. 39-52.
In 1911, Dorothy Canfield's short story "The Westerner" appeared in Scribner's Magazine.1 The story describes the chauvinism of Joanna, a young lady from Kansas who, when sent East to attend college, tries to convince her friends that eastern notions of the West are misconceptions. "You think all Western men are long haired cowpunchers!" she cries to her Maineborn roommate. "Let me tell you that they are not, but a great deal better-dressed, and more up-to-date and-and cultivated than these silly Eastern boys!" She takes her crusade to Hillsboro, Vermont, where she informs her elderly cousins that there is no difference at all between Kansas and Vermont except that Kansas is sophisticated had advanced and modern while Vermont is provincial, narrow, and behind the times. To her surprise, her cousins tell her, "We know about the West. A Westerner lives here and has for years-a man from Nebraska."2
In vain she tries to deny the accounts of the Nebraskan's tales of broncobusting, cattle branding, and cowpunching that make their simple lives seem commonplace. As Joanna attempts to convince them of the hard-won sophistication of Kansas City, the "Nebraskan" appears on the scene, shown in H. C. wall's illustration riding a horse and dressed in chaps, spurs, ten-gallon hat, and neckerchief (fig. 1). Speaking with a pronounced Yankee twang, he invites Joanna to visit his ranch, adding, "T'aint much to look at compared to the payrayra (he pronounced prairie as Joanna had heard 'old settlers' in Kansas say the word), but we'd be almighty glad to see you."3
Determined to expose the man as an imposter, Joanna visits his tiny Vermont farm. After showing her the house, the old man takes her to a partitioned room in the barn, telling her that she is the first person he has ever allowed to enter. There, beside a rough bunk and a small cook stove, is a wall covered with pictures of western scenes.
They were of all sorts, rough line drawings cut from newspapers, colored illustrations from the magazines, but they all represented Western scenes, the sort of Western scene that Joanna was always repudiating in her descriptions of her Kansas home-cattle stampedes, cow-punchers, Indians, sod-houses, lines of prairie schooners making their way through the sage-brush, cow-boys galloping along over vast sunlit plains where nothing broke the perfect circle of the sky-line .