by Ronald M. James
University of Nevada Press, 2023
Paper: 978-1-64779-116-2 | eISBN: 978-1-64779-117-9
Library of Congress Classification GR110.N38J36 2023
Dewey Decimal Classification 398.209793

A playful embrace of tall tales and exaggeration, Monumental Lies explores the evolution of folklore in the Wild West.

Monumental Lies: Early Nevada Folklore of the Wild West opens the door to understanding how legends and traditions emerged during the first decades following the “Rush to Washoe,” which transformed the region beginning in 1859. During this Wild West period, there was widespread celebration of deceit, manifesting in tall tales, burlesque lies, practical jokes, and journalistic hoaxes. Humor was central to these endeavors and practitioners easily found themselves scorned if they failed to be adequately funny. This ethos became central to the way folklore emerged during the formative years of the Nevada territory and state.
The tens of thousands of people who came to the West, attracted by gold and silver mining, brought distinct cultural legacies. The interaction of diverse perspectives, even while new stories and traditions coalesced or simply appeared, was a complex process. Author Ronald M. James addresses how the fluidity of the region affected new expressions of folklore as they took root.
Mark Twain, often a go-to source for collections of early tall tales of this region, cannot be overlooked, but his interaction with local traditions was specific and narrow. More importantly, William Wright—publishing as Dan De Quille—arose as a key collector of legends, a counterpart of early European folklorists. With a bedrock understanding of what unfolded in the nineteenth century, it is possible to consider