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Queer Cowboys: And Other Erotic Male Friendships in Nineteenth-Century American Literature Paperback – 1 Mar 2006

3.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; 2005 edition (1 Mar. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1403975973
  • ISBN-13: 978-1403975973
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 0.9 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,378,887 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


A searching and original study. Chris Packard has managed to tease out evidence of same-sex attraction in places where one would not have expected to find it. - Larry McMurtry, co-writer of the award-winning screenplay for Brokeback Mountain and author of Lonesome Dove

Thanks, Chris Packard, for searching out eros between men in the texts that created the iconic image of the Western American hero. So 'Come back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey!' and see what this scholar has found. - Jonathan Ned Katz, author, Love Stories: Sex between Men before Homosexuality

Thought provoking, and the author has courage.....worth reading. - Amazon customer review

About the Author

CHRIS PACKARD teaches Literature and Writing at New York University and New School University, USA.

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Format: Paperback
A fascinating exploration of the literature of cowboys in the nineteenth century, its homosocialty, homosentimentality and homosexuality. Insightful on what preceded “Brokeback Mountain” with references to Twain, Cooper and Harris. This decoding of frontier literature will prevent the reader from ever looking at Last of the Mohican in the same way again. The use of photographic an archival evidence raises this book above wish fulfilling literary critic and helps to contextualise Proulx’s novella.
Some passages are rather hard going such as “queer theory…posits that erotic desire between men essentially erases identity since it subverts the transitional subject/object praxis that undergirfs presumptions about heterosexual desire.”
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is not in the genre of Brokeback Mountain if that is what you're looking for. It's basically a thesis made into a book. It uses excessively academic language for even the most mundane points the author is trying to make. A lot of what he is writing is tenuous at best. He draws upon the Wild West writings of two authors and tries to see hidden meanings in the words used for friendship. It's not at all convincing.

What really went on under the stars and out on the vast plains all those years ago will never really be known. For the most part the cowboys were illiterate and English wasn't even their native language with Spanish more than likely the most common language on the range. It is not unreasonable to suppose that young men of a gay disposition with no education or family support would have found male friendships on the plains very rewarding. The men would have become surrogate family and no doubt - in the absence of women - some men would have turned to the willing for comfort. I believe the psychologists call it 'situational homosexuality' - the same as observed in prisons, the Army, boarding schools and segregated religious societies. There may be no emotional component however and the behaviour evaporates when society norms are re-established.

I would be curious to know what marks were awarded for the original thesis. High marks for structure and form. Low for content.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x912f0da4) out of 5 stars 11 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x91054f30) out of 5 stars Homos on the range (couldn't resist that) 6 Sept. 2009
By William Sommerwerck - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Despite the general movement towards social equality for queer men and women, homosexuality and homosexual behavior (they aren't the same thing) remain controversial and poorly understood. For example, most people think that because a man engages in homosexual behavior, he is necessarily homosexual. (Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar are bisexual, not homosexual.) The recent "shenanigans" among Wackenhut employees in Afghanistan are described as "deviant", when they are actually a normal component of male sexual behavior.

Gay readers tend to reflexively enthuse over books that present "queer history" in a positive light, while straight readers too-often bring a sackful of prejudices. The latter, in particular, are obvious in these reviews. (See the reviews of "Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe".)

The "Queer Cowboys" title is intentionally provocative. The subtitle tells us what the book is actually about -- the way 19th-century American writers and literature presented close male friendships. (In this usage, "erotic" means emotional, not necessarily sexual.)

Does it bother you that Mark Twain was very much aware of what men did with each other when women weren't around? Or that he apparently wrote a sketch about a man who'd lost his girlfriend asking his best friend to submit to penetrative sex as an act of consolation? Does it bother you that cowboys engaged in mutual masturbation (and other activities) to relieve their sexual stress -- and probably to "take pleasure in" their masculinity? Does it bother you that "The Virginian" has bluntly homoerotic elements, * that Owen Wister was probably in love with the man the title character is modeled on? Does it bother you that several of Bret Harte's stories ("Tennesee's Partner", "In the Tules", "Uncle Jim and Uncle Billy") are barely disguised narratives about two men's physical and/or emotional attraction to each other? **

If so, you won't like this book.

It's disappointing to see reviewers mis-reading what (to me) is plain in Packard's analysis. Given that cowboys, ranchers, miners, mountain men, et al, present an image of rough masculinity, stories about them are implicitly homoerotic. But Packard focuses on the "coded" -- and sometimes not-so-coded -- elements. Nowhere does he suggest that all cowboys had sexual feelings for each other, or that if Pea-Eye Parker and Dish Boggett just happened to wander into the bushes to masturbate, that made them "homosexuals". ***

What he is showing is what is plainly there, if you don't willfully blind yourself to it. Amos Lassen's naive review reveals that he has little knowledge or understanding of human sexuality. Human males have been messing around with each other as long as there have been human males, regardless of how you choose to label such behavior.

Someone might profitably study Westerns for coded homoeroticism. For example, in two of the Mann/Stewart films, Jimmy Stewart's character and his sidekick briefly reminisce over what they friendship has meant to them, and how much they care about each other. This might not have been intentionally homoerotic, but it /is/ there, and is worth noting, as American films of any genre do not generally have such scenes. ("The Far Country", in particular, written by Borden Chase (who also gave us the infamous "I wanna see your gun" scene in "Red River", is a story of the "bachelor marriage" of Jimmy Stewart and Walter Brennan. It's crudely obviously when you take off your heterosexual blinders.)

My only quibble with "Queer Cowboys" is that Packard occasionally over-interprets and exaggerates his case. But not too often.

Recommended, unless you're afraid of alternative points of view.

* I have recently read all the novels and short stories referred to in this review.

** In "Uncle Jim and Uncle Billy", Harte notes that Jim and Billy, a "married" couple in a mining camp, sleep in separate beds. This was probably a conscious attempt to avoid any suggestion of deviant sex. Such an interpretation would probably not have occurred to a strictly hetero writer.

*** I interpret Larry McMurtry's refusal to acknowledge sexual behavior among cowboys, etc, as simple cowardice.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x921d8394) out of 5 stars Lonesome Cowboys 2 Oct. 2006
By Kevin Killian - Published on
Format: Paperback
Chris Packard puts together an entertaining, and intellectually stimulating tour of some "cowboy literature" of the 19th century, emphasizing everywhere its homosocial qualities, and finding the erotic under every set of chaps. Comical, sometimes suggestive period photographs dot the text, cowhands hugging each other, holding hands, or even standing "too close" to each other, dancing, or swimming nude. Packard begins his survey of American lit with the Leatherstocking Tales of James Fenimore Cooper (and his sea stories too, which share some of the same tropes of white man + "othered" man finding love where no woman dare go). Cooper's always good for a few laughs, but the intensity of same-sex feeling that Packard finds in these novels might make you momentarily confused--might he be writing about DENNIS Cooper's books? On a broad level, was homosexuality encouraged "on the trail" as a way of avoiding children of mixed race? So it seems.

Owen Wister's THE VIRGINIAN was a famous novel written by a contemporary of Henry James who actually was a cowboy himself, briefly, in youth. Its narrator, an Eastern newcomer, is in love with the Virginian, that's pretty obvious from Packard's canny precis. This chapter is the highlight of Packard's discussion and the one that comes closest to furthering his thesis. Succeeding chapters descend into writing's netherworlds, of softcore porn, lockerroom ballads, and Mark Twain's obscene smoking room talks, to show that American men were not above appreciating same-sex love as a basis for comedy, though it is a pity Packard couldn't find any cowboys doing so.

The book feels oddly foreshortened at the end, as though the publisher were punishing him for running overtime and stopped the argument, arbitrarily, at a certain number of pages. But I enjoyed myself thoroughly and could definitely see an expanded edition.
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x91dbb8dc) out of 5 stars I DON'T THINK THE COWBOYS WERE ALL GAY 14 May 2006
By G. Miller - Published on
Format: Paperback
This author examines (mostly) 19th century fictional stories about cowboys and tries to make the case that the relationships between the cowboys described in the stories are in fact homosexual sexual relationships. That the (mostly) Victorian sentiments in the stories which describe the love, admiration, attachments, and living arrangments between the cowboys are, in reality, describing cowboys who are homosexual and who can't keep their eyes or hands off each other. That the reason all these cowboys sleep in their bedrolls in pairs, live together in wilderness cabins just like married straight couples, and find children who are orphans to raise as their own, is that all these cowboys are gay. That the hundreds of novels and short stories about cowboys published in books and in pulp magazines and read by millions of straight boys and men for the last 200 years and who thought that they were simply adventure stories about cowboys, were really gay love stories drenched in erotic language and imagery. I'd really love to believe this is true, that cowboy stories are really gay romances. But this book Queer Cowboys doesn't convince me. Characters in fiction don't have real lives the way people who are subjects of biographies have real lives. The cowboy stories NEVER say that the cowboys have sex with each other. I think the author of Queer Cowboys is misinterpreting the over-the-top Victorian sentiments about admiration and platonic love in these stories. I don't believe that the stories are revealing that cowboys were all gay. But the book is thought provoking, and the author has courage, and I think it's worth reading since there isn't a lot else on the subject.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x91060384) out of 5 stars An interesting and informative study 17 Dec. 2009
By Gerry A. Burnie - Published on
Format: Paperback
While my usual genre is historical fiction, I am always on the lookout for research of a historical variety. Therefore, although it has been around for a while, "Queer Cowboys: And other erotic male friendships in nineteenth-century American literature" by Chris Packard (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) is one such work.

The stated objective of this thesis is to explore the "bonds that hold ... [same-sex partners, i.e. `sidekicks'] together, particularly the erotic affection that undergirds their friendship." To do this it painstakingly explores the "originary" texts of seminal, nineteenth-century writers who, individually and collectively, created the prevailing stereotype of the devoted same-sex partners. Moreover, the author undertakes to "teach readers how to recognize homoerotic affection in a historical discourse that was free from the derogatory meanings associated with post-1900 evaluations of male-male erotic friendships"--a not overly presumptuous ambition, given that Packard teaches literature and writing at New York University and New School University.

Okay, I am one such hypothetical reader, so let's see how well Professor Packard achieved his objectives.

At the risk of oversimplifying Packard's thesis, it starts with an underlying premise that before 1900--i.e. before "the modern invention of the `homosexual' as a social pariah"--cowboy relationships were freely represented as quite a bit more affectionate than they are after that date. Moreover, although the stereotypes generally depicted ethnic warfare; citing the threat of "savagery" as justification for ethnic slaughter, and the freeing-up of territory to make way for European homesteaders, writers like James Fennimore Cooper wrote about friendships, "even marriage rituals," between members of warring groups based on shared values. In addition friendships between young whites and natives were quite common. These mixed friendships usually had the natives tutoring the boys in the primitive ways of the wilderness, and included rituals of brotherhood, i.e. exchanging blood, and other physical, nuptial-like rites.

Notably absent from this literary same-sex scenario is any role for femininity, which is described by one quoted authority, Walter Benn Michaels, as "...the problem of heterosexuality." The `problem' being the threat of reproduction in a period when fear of mixed-ethnicity through sex or marriage was keen in American culture. Moreover, femininity and reproduction ran contrary to the strong, independent, and particularly `free' nature of the cowboy characters.

"Within canonical as well as ignored literature, high culture as well as low, homoerotic intimacy is not only present, but it is thematic in works produced before the modern want him to be queer. America's official emblem of masculinity is not one who settles down after he conquests ... rather, he moves on, perpetually conquering, and repeatedly affirming his ties to the wilderness and his male partner."

Having thus stated his hypotheses, Packard then goes on to support these with an anthology of mostly "canonical" writings--i.e. Cooper's "The Leatherstocking Tales," Owen Wister's "The Virginian," and Walt Whitman's poetry. He also introduces some lesser known examples, such as Claude Hartland's "The Story of a Life," Frank Harris's "My Reminiscences as a Cowboy," and Frederick Loring's "Two College Friends."

While circumstantial, when read from a homoerotic perspective Packard makes a very compelling case, over all. There are no `smoking-gun' examples, of course, because such blatancies would have been considered excessive by Eastern readers--meaning east of the Mississippi, but it is evident that the implication was there just below the surface. Consequently, he has also taught us how to recognize homoerotic affection in "historic discourse."

To get to that level of edification, however, the reader has had to wade through an Introduction that I found to be a jumble of complex ideas, confusingly presented and fraught with academic jargon--i.e. "nexus," "praxis," "lingua franca," and so forth. A case on point:

"Given the instant and undying popularity of cowboys in U.S. popular culture during a period of rapid national expansion, to identify a homoerotic core in its myth about the supremacy of white American masculinity is to imply that American audiences want their frontiersmen to practice nonnormative desires as part of their roles in nation building. In other words, if there is something national about the cowboy (and other frontier heroes of his ilk), and if there is something homoerotic about American national identity as it is conceived in the American West."

Perhaps I am a bit slow on the uptake, but I didn't find the "In other words" any more elucidating than the original statement.

Happily, once he launches into the body of the argument his tone becomes somewhat less esoteric, and apart from belabouring some points--giving a new dimension to the term `moot point'--he presents a very interesting and informative perspective on nineteenth-century thought.

Those looking for titillating erotica, however, are bound to be disappointed but well-informed after reading this work.

Gerry Burnie
Gerry Burnie Books
Canadian history from a gay perspective series.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x91060534) out of 5 stars Not quite the ticket 6 Sept. 2007
By Ben Flanders von Elgk - Published on
Format: Hardcover
An intersting little anthology of the queer and not so queer which suffers from too much hindsight on occasion. Sure there were male-to-male relationships between these types but they do not necessarily constitute 'gay' in our terms. Some individuals just want to have too much neatly in their corner and claim the past too. I read this with interest but was neither convinced or persuaded that all is what it seems according to this author.

It is cashing in on the 'virility' factor assoicated with cowboys.

I suggest you reading this book in tandem with "Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition: English Sea Rovers in the Seventeenth Century Caribbean"
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