Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Brokebus Mountain

Brokebus Mountain
Wyoming, July 2011

We were in Annie Proulx country when our bus, full of scholars attending the 9th Walter Scott conference in Laramie, Wyoming, broke down 10,000 feet up in the Snowy Range. If the Man from Laramie could have met the Man from Abbotsford would they have had anything in common? Maybe more than one might think. They were both familiar with bandit country, and the former had a Scottish name – Will Lockhart, played in Anthony Mann’s movie by James Stewart.

The Scott scholars got safely back to barbecued buffalo at the Laramie railroad depot, followed by the town’s annual rodeo. But the conference wasn’t all mountains and bronc-riding. There was a packed programme of lectures, panels and workshops bringing together over 100 participants from all over the world, including best-selling tartan-ripping novelist Diana Gabaldon whose plenary address followed mine, and Chris Harvie, MSP retired, who exuberantly performed, challenged and entertained.

North Platte River with Red Butte in the distance, a landmark on the Oregon Trail.
It was heartening to experience five days of international enthusiasm for the author of Waverley, and great to find the mention of Sir Walter at a Cheyenne ranch restaurant was rewarded with dinner on the house for four of us. This was an auspicious start to my post-conference trip giving talks on Frontier Scots to enthusiastic audiences who added considerably to my knowledge of Scots in Wyoming. At Casper, Bruce Richardson took me to the spot by the North Platte River where Robert Stuart (from Callander)  paused after his epic trek through the Rockies from the Pacific coast, the first white man to traverse the South Pass, later the main route for the wagon trains to Oregon and California. Lauren Perry, my graduate student driver on the trip, took me to Independence Rock, famed landmark on the Oregon Trail. The wagon ruts are still visible – and the mosquitoes are definitely hostile.

Last stop was the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, after a stunning drive through the Wind River canyon. It’s not hard to imagine Scott writing a Western resonant with descriptions of rolling prairie, strange rock formations and snow-capped mountains, and perhaps featuring William F Cody himself. Cowboy up, Sir Walter, as the conference proclaimed.     

A Wyoming frontier mobile library.

Jenni Calder

No comments: