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A Marriage Out West

The Romance of Anthropology.

Subtitled “Theresa and Frank Russell’s Explorations in Arizona, 1900-1903,” A Marriage Out West analyzes the Russell’s 1900 honeymoon summer when they traveled from Gallup, New Mexico, to archaeological sites scattered to the north and west, searching for native burials that would aid Frank in his scientific research. Not only do Nancy J. Parezo and Don D. Fowler recount the Russell’s travels, but they also contextualize Frank’s role as an early southwest archaeologist.  In particular, they assess where Frank’s methodology was successful and how, at times, it was flawed.

Parezo and Fowler continue examining this exceptional marriage as the Russell’s forays continued. From Tucson, from Phoenix, and throughout the Four Corners area (though it wasn’t called Four Corners at the time because the Russell’s investigations predated Arizona and New Mexico statehood). Needless to say, the rough transportation and primitive living conditions were not for the faint of heart. Frank’s health rapidly deteriorated as tuberculosis overtook his stamina and lungs. He died in 1904. Theresa then pursued a career of her own, not as an archaeologist—though she had been a willing helpmate for four adventuresome years—but following her other loves, literature and philosophy. She was an English professor at Stanford University until her death in 1936.

So far, I have described only the first third of A Marriage Out West. The remainder of Parezo and Fowler’s book is equally fascinating. In order to persuade Stanford that she was employable, the newly-widowed Theresa needed to publish something worthwhile. Using her journal account of that memorable 1900 summer, she wrote twelve essays for Charles Lummis’s Out West periodical. Bundled as “In Pursuit of a Graveyard,” Theresa’s pieces blend an eye for pictorial detail with a literary and philosophical turn of mind. The next section of A Marriage Out West presents Theresa’s Out West writings intact, along with perceptive Parezo and Fowler annotations and commentary. Hence, Theresa Russell’s name as a co-author of their book.

For further enrichment, A Marriage Out West then reproduces both Theresa and Frank’s 1900 journals, so the reader can see first-hand how she imaginatively turned their adventures into literature (and successfully convinced Stanford that she needed to be hired). The reader can also see how Theresa tweaked certain escapades and experiences, eliminating some of the hardships, making fun of herself at times, always giving Frank credit while she steps gracefully aside.

The remaining third of A Marriage Out West consists of further appendices. Parezo and Fowler are careful scholars, and they are especially eager to set the archaeological stage. I found this to be a highly compelling aspect of their book—showing how early southwest archaeology evolved. The scenes are not always pleasant, as Frank and others excavated and salvaged skeletons on native land, often without permission and more often without any understanding of how offensive their scavenging might be to the ethnic populations of the region. The Antiquities Act of 1906 had not yet been enacted, so Frank and others were on their own, often in contradiction to the strict ethics of archaeology and anthropology today. So A Marriage Out West not only calls attention to the little-known accomplishments of both Frank and Theresa Russell, but it also tracks the developing state of an embryonic science.

Finally, an admission. Writing this review, I’m breaking two of my unwritten “Bookin’ with Sunny” rules. The first is to never review a book with more than a hundred pages of appendices. But the ones on A Marriage Out West are just so interesting!!! Second, I try not to review books written by friends, and I’ve known Don Fowler for more than forty years. But again, A Marriage Out West will appeal to so many readers that I couldn’t resist. To not write a review would be to deprive potential readers of a multi-faceted book that is absolutely fascinating, an in-depth look at the American southwest more than a century ago.  –  Ann Ronald

Also available by Don D. Fowler: The Glen Canyon Country; A Laboratory for Anthropology; Anthropology Goes to The Fair.

Also available by Nancy J. Parezo: Archaeology in The Great Basin and The Southwest; Their Own Frontier: Women Intellectuals Re-visioning the American West

A Marriage Out West gives Bookin’ with Sunny another opportunity to recommend university presses.  –  Sunny Solomon

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