The Mythical West

An Encyclopedia of Legend, Lore, and Popular Culture

by Richard W. Slatta


Try to imagine the United States without the Stetson, the surfboard, Route 66, or Las Vegas. Images of the Wild West, both past and present—from Jesse James to Baywatch—pervade American culture and provide the world with its ideas of the "real" America.

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Cover image for The Mythical West

November 2001


Pages 446
Volumes 1
Size 7x10
Topics Popular Culture/General
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    Hardcover: £67.00/73,00€/A$112.00

This cultural journey down memory lane showcases how major Western figures, events, and places have been portrayed in folk legends, art, literature, and popular culture.

Ever since the days of the 49ers and George Armstrong Custer, the Old West has been America's most potent source of legend. But it is sometimes hard to separate fact from fiction. Did you know, for example, that Annie Oakley was a talented marksman who shot an estimated 40,000 rounds per year while practicing and performing for Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show in the late l800s? Or that many interpreters believe that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is not just a fairy tale, but also a Populist allegory?

These are just two of the folk legends dissected and examined in this veritable cultural geography. The volume covers everything from billionaire Howard Hughes and composer Aaron Copeland to Aztlan (the legendary first city of the Aztecs) and Area 51, the top-secret U.S. Air Force base at Groom Lake, Nevada, that has fascinated UFO and conspiracy buffs.


  • 145 A–Z entries ranging from Kit Carson and Woody Guthrie to Hispanics in Western Films and Ansel Adams, each with a bibliography
  • Over 40 photos, drawings, and reproductions of posters
  • 20 contributors including scholars and other experts
  • Extensive bibliography of books and websites providing expanded research on a myriad of topics related to the western U.S.


  • Contains essays about Western legends as diverse as Bigfoot, Billy the Kid, and Aztlan
  • Distinguishes fact from fiction regarding legends such as those surrounding Annie Oakley and Area 51
  • Gives virtually unknown interpretations of classics such as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Author Info

Richard W. Slatta is professor of history at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC.



"[T]he volume is well organized for easy access to the topics and information selected for inclusion . . . This volume is recommended for high school, academic, and public libraries primarily as enrichment material for reference collections. In addition, those in the field of communications will find it useful in analyzing the symbolic Western references in such presentations as political speeches and corporate advertisements."American Reference Books Annual

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