Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Re-Dressing America’s Frontier Past

Re-Dressing America’s Frontier Past

Peter Boag
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnk86
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Re-Dressing America’s Frontier Past
    Book Description:

    Americans have long cherished romantic images of the frontier and its colorful cast of characters, where the cowboys are always rugged and the ladies always fragile. But in this book, Peter Boag opens an extraordinary window onto the real Old West. Delving into countless primary sources and surveying sexological and literary sources, Boag paints a vivid picture of a West where cross-dressing—for both men and women—was pervasive, and where easterners as well as Mexicans and even Indians could redefine their gender and sexual identities. Boag asks, why has this history been forgotten and erased? Citing a cultural moment at the turn of the twentieth century—when the frontier ended, the United States entered the modern era, and homosexuality was created as a category—Boag shows how the American people, and thus the American nation, were bequeathed an unambiguous heterosexual identity.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94995-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION. A Trip Along the Pike’s Peak Express: Cross-Dressers and America’s Frontier Past
    (pp. 1-20)

    In the mid-nineteenth century, theNew York Tribune’s Horace Greeley exhorted young American men bereft of family and friends to go West to build their homes and make their fortunes.¹ In 1859 the journalist traveled to the region to observe the fruits of his advice. He did not necessarily find there what he had hoped. On the Great Plains en route to the Rocky Mountains, for example, he learned that hundreds of prospectors had recently gone bust at the Colorado gold-diggings, deserted the region in droves, and consequently faced unemployment and other sufferings. Greeley reported his encounter with only one...

  6. PART ONE. “Females in Male Attire, and Males in Petticoats”:: Remembering Cross-Dressers in Western American and Frontier History

    • CHAPTER 1 “Known to All Police West of the Mississippi”: Disrobing the Female-to-Male Cross-Dresser
      (pp. 23-58)

      For the late spring, the evening of 3 June 1912 was unusually warm and dry in Portland, Oregon, when police there led a raid on the Yale rooming house located in a lower east-side working-class neighborhood. For their efforts, the authorities nabbed a recent arrival from Seattle who, over the years, had passed under the assumed names of Harry Allen and Harry Livingstone. Along with Allen, the police arrested Isabelle Maxwell, a known prostitute, also from Seattle, who posed as his wife and supported him on her earnings. Police had been keeping tabs on the pair for a while and...

    • CHAPTER 2 “I Have Done My Part in the Winning of the West”: Unveiling the Male-to-Female Cross-Dresser
      (pp. 59-92)

      In the spring of 1867, a fifteen-year-old youth we know only as “M” “kissed his mother a fond goodbye” and headed West to Grand Island, Nebraska.¹ The reason M had for departing from his childhood home traced to his predilection for dressing up in girls’ clothing and a row he had with his father as a result. M explained that he had successfully kept his “sinful (?) habit” under wraps from his father for years until a visiting uncle, who was also a preacher, accidentally discovered it. After the uncle “roared his head off,” M’s father ordered his son “to...

  7. PART TWO. “The Story of the Perverted Life Is Not Attractive”:: Making the American West and the Frontier Heteronormative

    • CHAPTER 3 “And Love Is a Vision and Life Is a Lie”: The Daughters of Calamity Jane
      (pp. 95-129)

      Most sources suggest that Joe Monahan turned fifty-three in 1903. By then he had made his home for almost four decades in and about the Owyhee Mountains of extreme southwestern Idaho. Th e last twenty or so of those years he resided on Succor Creek, a small stream that tumbles westward, down from the Owyhees, before it meanders out into the deserts of neighboring southeastern Oregon. In the last days of 1903, just as late autumn turned to early winter, Monahan contracted some unspecified malady. As he led an otherwise solitary existence, his enfeebled condition led him to seek refuge...

    • CHAPTER 4 “He Was a Mexican”: Race and the Marginalization of Male-to-Female Cross-Dressers in Western History
      (pp. 130-158)

      During the winter of 1868, Captain Louis McLane Hamilton of Troop A of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry recognized a Mexican woman he had known, though she was then disguised as a man, driving a bull team through the streets of Leavenworth, Kansas, and just arriving from Santa Fe. Hamilton had first become acquainted with the woman, whom we know only by her later married name of Mrs. Nash, sometime before when stationed in New Mexico Territory and serving as the regimental quartermaster of the U.S. Third Infantry. When in New Mexico, Hamilton had hired Nash to do his laundry after...

    • CHAPTER 5 “Death of a Modern Diana”: Sexologists, Cross-Dressers, and the Heteronormalization of the American Frontier
      (pp. 159-188)

      In 1855, a backcountry hunter named Joseph Israel Lobdell, who was twenty-six at the time and had piercing gray eyes and a full head of curly black hair, departed from his home in the Delaware River country of upstate New York and headed west to Minnesota Territory.¹ He was in search of wilder terrain, as the forests of his childhood and youth, in particular around Long Eddy, New York, had recently become somewhat crowded. In his baggage, Lobdell carried with him a lengthy heritage of frontier living. His ancestors had pioneered upstate New York in the late 1700s, and over...

  8. CONCLUSION. Sierra Flats and Haunted Valleys: Cross-Dressers and the Contested Terrain of America’s Frontier Past
    (pp. 189-196)

    In 1854, later celebrated American writer Bret Harte, who was all of eighteen, journeyed west to California, right near the tail end of the gold rush’s heyday. He was propelled to fame in 1868 when his short story “The Luck of Roaring Camp,” about life and social relations in gold-rush California, appeared in the recently founded West Coast literary journalOverland Monthly, a journal that Harte himself soon edited.¹

    In 1873, Harte published yet another short story, “The Poet of Sierra Flat.”² Like so many of Harte’s pieces, this one takes place in the heart of gold-rush country, near Calaveras...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 197-248)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 249-257)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 258-258)