Frontier Fiddler: The Life of a Northern Arizona Pioneer

A pioneer rakes brush, saws wood, drills wells, ploughs fields. His role in this world resembles that of a biblical prophet, who lays a highway in the desert, makes the crooked straight and the rough places smooth. Or, to put it in other terms, a pioneer edits the wilderness.

Such a person was Kenner Kartchner, a third-generation pioneer of the American Southwest who left some quite literate memoirs. These have been lovingly preserved and edited by his grandson, Larry Shumway, in the book Frontier Fiddler. That Kartchner was a pioneer/writer and Shumway the grandson/editor are facts that determine the strength and the weakness of this book. The strength comes in the direct, image-filled prose that pioneer life seems to have bequeathed Kartchner and that descendant Shumway refuses (wisely) to obstruct. The weakness is that the pioneer work ethic often leads Kartchner to eschew self-reflection and intimacy in his prose in favor of a rather detailed employment history. This penchant sometimes results in a mass of work-related anecdotes that Shumway appears reluctant to trim where other, nonfamilial, editors might (wisely) have been more ruthless.

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