Making and unmaking myths of the American frontier

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Despite an extensive and expanding body of scholarly studies, myths and myth-making remain a central element of the American West. After placing myth-making about the American West in a wider context, this article explores recent literature about the centrality of myths in envisioning the region. For example, scholars have debunked three of the West's central myths, rugged individualism, American exceptionalism and frontier violence, but all remain alive and well in popular culture and political rhetoric. Among the specific topics analysed are mythologized people (George Armstrong Custer, Buffalo Bill Cody), places (Monument Valley) and cultural production (political, commercial, visual and print). The article also probes the motives and varieties of myth-makers, past and present, and the ways in which women and Native American writers today challenge mythical depictures in traditional western popular culture.

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