David J. Weber, Book Reviw Editor
The American West and the Religious Experience. Ed. by William M. Kramer. Los Angeles: William M. Kramer, Publisher, 1974. Index. 150 pages. $7.50.
Reviewed by Lionel U. Ridout, Professor of History, San Diego State University, author of Renegade, Outcast and Maverick: Three Episcopal Clergymen in the California Gold Rush (1973).
This small but expensive paperback is one of the Western America Study Series edited and published by Rabbi William Kramer, who has contributed greatly to our knowledge of Jews in the West. This work is also a contribution to our knowledge of religious activity in Western America and suggests that further, more expanded studies need to be made.
Four contributors to the present volume are professors of the faculty of California State University, Northridge; of these the work of one, John E. Baur, is known to me. His earlier studies in the history of California and the West, like this, are most effective. I am less familiar with the works of Crerar Douglas, F. Patrick Nichelson and James Sefton. However, their essays in this volume, for the most part, are worthwhile.
Another contributor, Norton B. Stern, editor of the Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly, and bibliographer of California Jewish History, is well-known for his studies of Jewish history in this state. His essay, collaborating with Rabbi Kramer in this present volume is significant, factual, restrained.
Father Francis J. Weber, Archivist of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, is so well-known for his superlative contributions to California religious history that little more need be said.
It is difficult to review adequately each of the seven essays in this work. A few titillate curiosity and create a desire to gain a great deal more information; others are interesting, informative, well-researched, but not particularly exciting.
In this reviewer’s opinion, John Baur’s “Cowboys and Sky Pilots” is outstanding in interest, writing, and creative effort. It requires full-length treatment. It is of course, written excellently, masterfully researched, and makes a real contribution to our scant present knowledge of the cowboys’ reaction to their historical present and future. Baur has a happy faculty of saying succinctly what the reader needs to know. I had no idea that the vaqueros had a real interest in religion, or that within themselves they, at times, created their own religious theories. As Baur suggests, the religious ideas of Negro cowboys need further study, as does the “possible influence of the Indians’ theology on the cowboy’s religious convictions…. ” Baur’s, in my opinion, is a truly significant essay.
Naturally, anything produced by Father Francis J. Weber is to be reckoned with. His “Catholic Church Among the Mormons in the 1880’s,” based on an earlier work, is primarily selected from the reports to the Societe de la Propagation de la Foi (founded by Pauline Jaricot after 1800 to support foreign missionary work) by Father Lawrence Scanlan (1843-1915) first pastor of Salt Lake City, and later, Father Dennis Kiely, whose report was also written at Salt Lake City. Both reports are fascinating as they explore the reactions of Mormons and other non-Catholics to the Church’s missionary activities.
Stern’s and Kramer’s “Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Image in the Early West,” is especially interesting. I have long been fascinated with the problems of ethnic minorities in California. Realizing that, as explained in the essay, Judaism is a religious, not an ethnic problem, it was interesting to me to read of the bigoted attempts, through newspapers particularly, to degrade these honest people. The terms German Jew, Polish Jew, etc., were used snidely to denigrate a people whose religious beliefs were subordinated to what was believed to be their “racial” and “acquisitive” characteristics. One does not have to look hard to find the same inhumanity today. The Jews were typified, not humanized. Dr. Stern’s bibliographical work on the Jews in California is of great value-really a “must” for California historians.
Of worth, but of no great excitement, is James Sefton’s essay, “Tribute Pennies and Tribute Clauses,” a study of the relations of church to state and church to education as indicated in the constitutions of Western states. The work shows thorough study and research, but honestly, it failed to make me wish for more.
Two essays, “The Gold Rush and the Kingdom of God.” (by Crerar Douglas) and “Frontier Methodism,” (by Le Roy L. Lane) are not without interest. The former is based mainly on James Woods’ Recollections of Pioneer Work in California, and is interesting because of Woods’ keen observations and ability to give a graphic picture of gold rush days. “Frontier Methodism” stresses the application of emotional excitement to the individual as attempts were made to convert the unbeliever or backslider to the Kingdom of God. The notes for the latter are of bibliographical interest.
“Non-Protestants in Southern California” by F. Patrick Nichelson brings out an unkind trait in me. In my opinion it might have well been omitted. Stressing the “Catholic and Jewish experiences in Los Angeles’ Suburbia,” it appeared to me that the essay started no place and, after exertion, reached no where. I am utterly confused as to whether the author was writing as a religionist, historian, or sociologist-or just writing.
All in all this little volume has value for those interested in religion and the West. I am hopeful that it will lead to lengthier studies. I look upon it as an addition of worth to my library.