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Presented at the 1979 annual meeting of the Western Literature Association by Mick McAllister.
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Mick McAllister. "We Sons of Jacob: The Procession to Apocalypse in The Buckskin Man Tales". At Wanderer's Well http://www.dancingbadger.com/sonjacobf.htm (December, 2001).
Summary: A comprehensive examination of the primary themes of The Buckskin Man Tales and how they develop, with emphasis on the critique of the Judeo-Christian tradition and its impact on the "winning" of the West.
December, 2001: In 1979 I had left academe after getting my second full-year research grant in five years. I was teaching part-time, writing full-time, raising a child, and struggling with a marriage that would finally collapse a year later. After leaving that marriage, I tried once again to set a course into an academic career. I married a fellow academic, a senior editor at a university press. (Fred actually introduced us.) I began teaching fulltime in the disciple I had found I enjoyed most, expository writing, and I was developing two areas of expertise, western American literature and computer-assisted learning. By 1982 I had landed a contract to write a book on the Buckskin Man Tales for one of the most prestigious presses in Western American Literature. A year later we moved to Texas and soon after that, Madeleine walked into my classroom at TCU. The rest, as they say, is history.
This essay touches all the key themes in the proposed book. I had written a letter to Fred Manfred, at the urging of Frank Waters, in 1966 after reading the last published book in the series, King of Spades; in that letter I outlined what I took to be the themes of the books and I was close enough to the mark that I predicted thematic elements of Riders of Judgment, the only book of the five that I had not yet read. Fred and I became friends as a result. I put that friendship to a test a few years later by writing an essay contrasting the biblical covenant in the story of Abraham and Isaac with the divine convenant between the Wakantanka of Conquering Horse and the hero No Name, and while writing that paper I reread the entire series again. This paper, tracing the concept of divine covenant through the entire series, was the result. With expansion to handle the sexual theme elaborated for The Manly-Hearted Woman in "The Sundered Egg" and for King of Spades in "Assaying the Mother Lode", and an expansion of the thematic use of animals that I described in "Wolf That I Am: Animal Symbology in Lord Grizzly and Scarlet Plume" (Western American Literature, May 1983), I had the core of the study.
When I presented this essay at a WLA meeting it caused a tumult and a flurry of alarm. I was at the table with Robert C. Wright, whose Twayne book on Fred was just out, and who would be gone, a victim of cancer, soon after we met. The session chair was Joe Flora from UNC, the leading Manfred scholar at the time along with Arthur Huseboe of Augustana College. Both Flora and Wright were proper and polite gentlemen, and the audience was salted with elderly schoolteachers who regarded Fred as a nice boy from Calvin College. It was not the best occasion for revealing he was the Anti-Christ. Professor Flora introduced my paper by dissassociating himself from its thesis, and I was attacked during the question period by outraged audience members bearing their testimony about God, Fred, and American History. I must record a event that I will always remember, though. A dear friend of many years, Edith Wylder, was in the audiencealso a nice, proper person. After I had weathered a few minutes of fustian bluster, she took the floor to observe, "It's all very well to disapprove of what Mick has said, but no one has offered anything to suggest that he is wrong." I hugged her afterward.
Two circumstances prevented this essay from seeing publication. It languished for a half a decade in the hands of a friend who intended to anthologize it and never did. By the time he conceded that his projected anthology was a lost cause, I had lost interest in the essay, the book, and, frankly, in my academic career.
I left academe in 1987 because we could not live on one academic salary. Five years later I was a successful executive in the computer industry, but my second marriage had fallen apart. (I have bad taste in women; one of their typical failings is that they have bad taste in men....) Another year passed, and Madeleine reappeared in my life like a gift from God. I have learned, finally, to be suspicious of gifts from God. Hard lessons, but I don't even open the packages any more. So now, more than twenty years after the original essay created a bit of a scandal at a WLA meeting, I am putting my "affairs" in order by making these essays available to anyone drawn here by an interest in that underappreciated American phenomenon, Frederick Manfred né Feike Feike Feikema VII.
Fred was a beloved friend and mentor, and a writer whose gifts, because they were unorthodox, were not much appreciated in his lifetime or since. I wrote my essays on his work as gifts of love, and once he died (September 7, 1994), there seemed no reason to continue the futile exercise of criticism. The essays are honest and accurate assessments, and they pay him the respect of assuming his work was serious fiction, even at its most wrong-headed. Those were good days, when he and I laughed together. As I said in my eulogy, I miss him forever.
4. This is not the place to go into the differences between Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish interpretations of the Old Testament and the god at its center. One need only consider the dramatic difference in the Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish images of Mary the mother of Jesus to see that such differences do exist even regarding a central figure of our shared religious heritage.
In his Manfred monograph, Flora asserts that Manfred "slowly but firmly" reveals that No Name is not Redbird's son but the incestuous child of Moon Dreamer, his own mother's brother. This is to overstate the function of some vague hints, and pointlessly undercuts many of the novel's major themes. If Redbird is not his father, then his struggle with the injunction to commit patricide is rendered meaningless. Redbird is presented as the quintessential father behaviorally. If Manfred intends us to believe that No Name is not his biological child, then Redbird becomes another instance of the sharp perception that Bending Reed offers in Lord Grizzly, that "copulating," "impregnating," and "fathering" are three different things.
7. See Russell Roth, "The Inception of a Saga: Frederick Manfred's 'Buckskin Man'," SDR (Winter 1969), p. 88. Roth also sees in the tales a drift of pessimism and despair, culminating in the 'thirties' novel with its ironic title The Golden Bowl: "After the small independent cattle spread comes the farm, and after the farm, the dust bowl" (90). Manfred would use that title, about twenty years later, for an autobiographical novel.
The Buckskin Man Tales focus, as the series title signals, on the male experience of the West. I have resisted the temptation to make my own usage politically correct (it's the red woman's land too, after all) because the themes are not universal, they are themes tied directly to some of the more poisonous elements of male psychology and myth.
9. I must pause here for a disclaimer, primarily to avoid an irrelevant argument on whether I am espousing "anti-Semiticism." While the word "Israel" must appear frequently in the discussion, it should be understood that in this usage it refers not to a historical nation, nor to the Jewish people as a either nation or "race," but to a system of myth and philosophy wholly and eagerly adopted by the white Anglo-American, often as anti-Semitic as he was anti-Indian. The roots of Anglo-Saxon racism are as much ancient Northern European as the they are Semitic; one of that racism's first celebrated victims was a native Briton named Grendel. It was not the Jews, of course, who swept across America in a tide of murder and plunder, but the Anglo-American, firm in his belief that he, like Abraham and Jacob, was the chosen son of his god, and that he, like the ancient people of Judea, had that god's dispensation to rape, murder and pillage the unchosen. We are all sons of Jacob in this senseJew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholicevery American.
11. In a novel filled with evocative names, it should be noted that "Erden" is a portmanteau of "Erda," earth-spirit, and "Eden." Less obvious is the connection between Katherine and Steinbeck's Katherine in East of Eden.
12. Manfred fictionalizes the Wyoming landscape in this novel, just as he changes the names of the historical adversaries and places in the Johnson County range war. The "Big Stonies" are the Big Horns, and the "Bitterness" River is actually the Sweetwater on maps. The Red Wall, suggestive of the red land of Edom, is a nameless geological formation, a sandstone ridge that appears and reappears from northern Wyoming all the way down to central New Mexico.