Hell on the Range: A Story of Honor, Conscience, and the American West

In the introduction to Hell on the Range, Daniel Justin Herman informs readers that his account of Arizona’s Rim Country War of the 1880s is more than revisionist critique; it is self-critique. Herman, an associate professor of history at Central Washington University, is an Arizonan who, like many growing up in the western United States, was “raised on its romance,” and in his youth he viewed “Arizonans—especially cowboys—[as] made of sterner, stronger stuff than people who grew up elsewhere” (xxii). His view of Mormons and Mormonism—an important undercurrent animating much of this book—was informed by his experiences as a non-Mormon in an LDS-sponsored Boy Scout troop when he was young and his realization years later that his Mormon friends and fellow scouts had ancestors who had settled the Rim Country. Herman, who is also the author of the award-winning book Hunting and the American Imagination, places his study of the Rim Country in conversation with the mythic West as depicted in the novels of Zane Grey and in the images and narratives of the magazine Arizona Highways.

Hell on the Range is an important book for all of the reasons discussed here and one other: It offers a lens through which to view the current political and cultural landscape of the United States. According to Herman, “Conscience and honor continue to form the yin and yang of American politics, with the Republican Party typically steering toward honor and the Democratic Party steering toward humanitarian conscience” (288). Readers will have a range of reactions to Herman’s assertion, but as Mormons and Mormonism continue to be prominent players in politics, as well as the object of ongoing media scrutiny, Herman offers up a thoughtful and lively consideration of the continuities between past and present. Hell on the Range will appeal to those with an interest in western American history as well as Mormon history. It will have particular appeal to those who have roots or interest in Arizona’s Rim Country. Those who appreciate Zane Grey novels and the Hollywood westerns that his books inspired—as well as those who wonder about the mythic power of such cultural texts— should not miss Herman’s book.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 51:4
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