Lying on the Eastern Slope: James Townsend’s Comic Journalism on the Mining Frontier. By Richard A. Dwyer and Richard E. Lingenfelter. Miami: University Presses of Florida, 1984, Illustrations, Glossary. Sources. Index. Map. 167 Pages. $15.00
There must have been something in the air in the nineteenth century mining frontier which produced comic writers. There were Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Dan De Quille and (a little South of the mining frontier), San Diego’s George Derby. To that list we must now add the name of James Townsend. A journalist/ promoter who roamed through Nevada and eastern California in the late nineteenth century, Townsend was famous both for writing comic materials, and for creating a life and life story of comic proportions. The authors of this study — Lingenfelter is a research physicist at the University of California, San Diego; and Dwyer teaches English at Florida International University — have attempted to untangle the story of Townsend’s life and to make a case for him as a significant figure in western American humor. After reading the book, no one is likely to compare Townsend to Mark Twain, but they will probably agree that he certainly warrants this book.