During a Rocky Mountain hunting trip in the late nineteenth century, hunter William Allen came upon a deer. He immediately feminized his prey, admiring “her great brown eyes” as she “advanced gracefully.” Then he raised his rifle and fired. In an instant, the “queen of the wilds was lying bathed in blood” (p. 53). According to Karen Jones, Allen’s story offers a typical image of hunting in the nineteenth-century American West. These images, she argues, provide evidence of performance and epiphany, theatrics of dominance, and moments of insight. Many scholars, Jones admits, have explored connections between hunting and American culture. Yet, she argues, they have neglected the role of performance in sport hunting. Epiphany in the Wilderness certainly fills the gap. The book is arranged in three sections, or “acts,” in keeping with its theatrical theme. The first is composed of three chapters on hunting literature, the seemingly countless stories that appeared in magazines such as Forest and Stream. The most interesting point here is Jones’s claim that at least some of these literary hunters were women. The book’s second section is perhaps the most intriguing. Its three chapters focus on the “afterlife” of the hunt, the trophies of staged photographs and taxidermy animals that adorned hunters’ dens. Her last section concludes with two chapters on the dawning realization that hunters needed to conserve animals to keep killing them. Much of the focus is on the “penitent butcher,” the rare hunter who came to regret at least some of the killing (p. 308). According to Jones’s thematic narrative, the theatrics of hunting focused on three main characters. Foremost was the masculine hunter hero, figures like William “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Theodore Roosevelt. Such men performed the hunter hero as a rugged individual, tough enough to confront a grizzly (albeit from a distance, with a high-powered rifle), and steeled against feelings of empathy for animal targets. A second character was the hunter heroine. Jones marshals several writers, notably Isabella Bird, Evelyn Cameron, and Agnes Morley Cleaveland, to argue that women too hunted. Women took to hunting with aplomb, at least on stage and in literature. Privately, Jones notes, Bird balked at “the kill,” and Cleaveland wrote confidants that she hated guns and that hunting made men “absolutely heartless” (pp. 113, 127). In these chapters, Jones’s evidence suggests that the joyful cruelties of hunting were largely performative. When it comes to the third character of the performance, however, her analysis is less revealing. This was hunter’s target, a cast of “suitably charismatic beasts” (p. 4). Jones offers no hint that she takes these “beasts” as anything other than hunters depicted them. They were objects. She even uncritically adopts the hunting terminology that animals are “harvested” (pp. 7, 78) and existed to be shot, decapitated, and possessed as trophies. Jones could have done more with this evidence. She notes that photographs of the aftermath of hunts, with their dangling corpses and grinning hunter heroes, have a remarkable similarity to lynching images. She finds evidence that white hunters referred to Native Americans as “game.” These relationships deserve closer readings, she admits; but she leaves the task to others. In the end, the moments and epiphanies that Jones explores are mostly fantasies. Many are offensive, then as now. In the late nineteenth century, men like William Allen experienced epiphanies of their own dominance. Moments like these produced epiphanies that the ideal of progress was a material (and bleeding) fact, that white men were superior to animals, Indians, and overly sensitive nonhunters. Other hunters filled dens with decapitated heads and stuffed trophies. In quiet moments, they recollected the epiphany that the American West was a “hunter’s paradise,” a place of unlimited abundance and therapeutic killing. Only rarely or late in their lives did some hunters experience a more realistic epiphany that the trophy they had just shot was a real being. In these cases, the insight was not of their own dominance but often that they should give up hunting. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Environmental History – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 1, 2018
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