Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 2013


Great Plains Quarterly 33:4 (Fall 2013).


Copyright © 2013 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska.


This thorough study of the American West takes as a given the region's contested and continuously shifting identity among scholars as well as among artists, activists, and government agencies. One of Robert Dorman's many contributions to the field in Hell of a Vision is his decision to chart the formations of these multiple Wests alongside each other, from the latter half of the nineteenth century to the present day.

The primary texts examined here range from the canonical to the unexpected. Dorman's archive begins with John Wesley Powell's maps of the "Arid Region," produced in 1891 for the U.S. Geological Survey. He later turns to novels by Willa Cather, Owen Wister, Mari Sandoz, and Rose Wilder Lane; films from Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns to Brokeback Mountain; and numerous federal legal documents, including the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. Through these interdisciplinary sets of readings, Dorman demonstrates how the development and modification of the nationalist West-the West as defined by the federal government and perceived by the nation as a whole-gave rise to what he calls the Old West culture industry, only to be supplanted by less mythologized representations of the region in recent decades.