Massacre at Fort Mims, Alabama, 1813

The call of the frontier proved inescapable to men and women throughout history. The wealth of land and opportunity in America provided a perfect outlet for this wanderlust. The history of the Southwest is one of expansion into rough territory and life in a rural, uniquely American landscape. The main characters in the story are passed down to us through the words and images of the Southwestern humorists. These humorists were most often professionals-- doctors, lawyers, editors --who were writing as amateurs, often anonymously. Utilizing their experience, imagination and wit, these men created a legacy of characters which amused their contemporaries while helping to shape the enduring myth of the frontier in America.

The heyday of Southwestern humor culminated in the period between the 1830's and the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. The Southwest to which these humorists refer is present day Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri. The genre that developed originates from the politics and oral histories of a burgeoning region-- full of fire and out to prove itself to the world. This enthusiasm manifested itself in bawdy, violent, and predominately masculine portrayals of the world of the Southwest. Yet beneath the savagery -- often exaggerated for effect-- of the stories, there is an effort at realism and regional descriptions that had not been attempted previously.

The forerunners of Mark Twain-- humorists such as Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, Johnson Jones Hooper, Thomas Bangs Thorpe and George Washington Harris (among others) created a place in literature for American vernacular and regional stereotypes. Among the most memorable in the cast of characters are the ring-tailed roarer, confidence man, mighty hunter and durn'd fool. Each characterization serves to create a distinct stereotype of the frontiersman and yeoman westerner.