A dusty cattle trail, panning for gold, cowboy hats, boots and denim -- these are but a few of the things that invoke images of the American West. The students attending Drury University's Cabool campus summer session and who are enrolled in instructor Kay Lawson's special topic English course, American West in Literature, find themselves gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of this distinctively American style of writing and artistic expression. The class is especially timely this semester with the bicentennial celebration of Lewis and Clark's epic westward journey.
Using varied teaching methods and media, including films, guest speakers, presentations, and an online component, Lawson is able to bring the West vividly to life for her students. By focusing on the western frontier from the 1800s to the present, Lawson provides a wide scope of reference and incorporates often overlooked issues, such as the roles women and minorities have played in this vast and varied frontier. Two important themes being stressed in this course are the changing character and role of the American hero and the innate American spirit of discovery, adventure and challenge. Lawson said she hopes that her students will "appreciate the special qualities possessed by the pioneers who settled the West and that Americans still display today as they face new challenges."
Students recently partook in a hearty Chuck Wagon Banquet in which each student brought a dish of his choice to share with classmates. The menu for this event included barbecued beans, cornbread, tortilla chips, cheese and crackers, jalapeņo-corn casserole and cherry pie. This activity not only fueled the students' culinary imaginations but also gave them a sampling of some of the traditional multicultural foods with which the West has always been associated.
On July 20 Kevin Smith and Bryce Hathcock, longtime primitive skills enthusiasts, gave Lawson's class a demonstration in flint fire-making techniques and animal skull identification. Both Smith and Hathcock are teachers at West Plains Middle School and are actively involved in Boy Scouting. Dressed in authentic costumes, Smith and Hathcock gave the students a glimpse into a bygone but not forgotten era. Smith provided the skulls of a cougar, beaver, muskrat, bobcat and a black bear for the presentation and lectured about trapping methods, building a gun and survival in the wild. Attired in clothes reminiscent of those worn during Lewis and Clark's expedition, Bryce brought with him various blacksmithing tools and described their uses. The "Mountain Man" abilities, presented by Smith and Bryce, are timeless, rustic skills and are practical for anyone who spends time in the outdoors.
Also speaking to the class about Native American culture and lore were Lyle Collins, Doyle Collins and Willard Richards who are founders of the Many Feathers Foundation, based in Willow Springs. The trio's presentation included a discussion regarding how humans first made their way to North America, the current plight Native Americans throughout the country face and information about the events and dances that take place at Native American powwows. The newly formed Many Feathers Foundation is an intertribal organization that welcomes anyone with Native American heritage. The foundation's plans for the future include establishing a community food bank and providing services to the underprivileged in the area. Currently, the foundation holds a tribal council every month and plans to hold regional powwows in the near future. For more information about the Many Feathers Foundation, call 417-962-2188.
Other planned guest speakers for Lawson's class include Melanie Carden-Jessen from the Missouri Department of Conservation, who will give a Lewis and Clark presentation, and Mildred White, a Spanish instructor at Drury, who will introduce students to Mexican culture and language. Lawson also has plans for a visit by a local cowboy poet.