Bookworm: Seldom is heard a discouraging word for ‘Deer and the Antelope’

‘Wildcat’ a true story, for western, women’s history fans

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist
"Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American Who Loves to Walk Outside" author Nick Offerman.

“Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American Who Loves to Walk Outside”

  • By Nick Offerman
  • c. 2021, Dutton
  • $28, $37 Canada; 333 pages

Last year, for at least some period of time, you stared at four walls. Four walls, a few windows, and you remembered how nice it was to get out on a normal day. You thought about the people you missed, about what you would’ve been doing at work at that moment, and where you’d go as soon as you could. Outside was a treat then and “Where the Deer and the Antelope Play” by Nick Offerman is, too.

"Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American Who Loves to Walk Outside" by Nick Offerman.

Twenty-five years ago, when he was still surviving by “creating pop culture of one sort or another,” someone gave Nick Offerman “some Wendell Berry stories.” Agrarian in nature, those tales captivated Offerman then, as now, and they spurred him to act.

As a kid growing up on an Illinois farm, he was always outside but when he received those stories, Offerman says his focus was off: he’d been pursuing “shiny materialism” rather than natural things. The Berry stories – and meeting the Berry family – convinced him to want to write “about our population’s general lack of any intimate knowledge of nature ... ”

And so, in July of 2019, Offerman hired a guide, met two close friends in Montana, and went on a week-long fact-finding hike in Glacier National Park. The wilderness was “pristine,” trails were sometimes challenging, wildlife surprised them, and Offerman had chances to muse on the works of Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, and how Native Americans lost their land. Plus, outdoorsy hikes are great excuses to buy gear.

Because he’d likewise been “glued” to the works of author James Rebanks, Offerman also traveled to England that year, to spend time on Rebanks’ sheep farm. It was an opportunity to work with his hands, build stone fences, and to think about “the deeply flawed system” that American farmers work against.

And then the pandemic hit, and you know what an enthusiastic outdoorsman does when he’s supposed to stay inside: he buys “twenty feet of Ford and thirty of Airstream” that he barely knows how to use, and heads cross-country...

Loaded with funny observations and laced with profanity, “Where the Deer and the Antelope Play” is not just what’s promised. It’s more.

Getting outside is actor-author Nick Offerman’s opportunity to meander, both physically and literarily, and so this book isn’t just about parks and farms and such. Offerman muses about this and that, and general subjects that are ultimately tied to the outdoors and nature in a guys-in-the-mancave kind of way, with wild and wooly thrown in for good measure. It’s accomplished in a stream-of-consciousness that feels like that quick dash you make through the house before you take a last-minute trip: things are grabbed at random and you’ll figure it out later.

And that’s okay; outdoor enthusiasts, farmers, environmentalist, and readers who can laugh will find that there’s where the fun of “Where the Deer and the Antelope Play” lies, and there’s no getting up at 4 a.m. to pack the car and go for it. For a book this good, seldom is heard a discouraging word.

Outdoorsy readers should absolutely not miss …

“Lumberjack: The History, The Lore, The Life” by Lauren Jarvis (Sterling, $19.95). It’s (almost) everything you’d ever want to know about being a lumberjack, including axe-throwing, avoiding danger, eating enough calories, how to saw wood, totem pole carving, log rolling, and being generally fierce.

More:Bookworm: Reading ‘The 9.9 Percent’ just makes cents

“Wildcat: The Untold Story of Pearl Hart, The Wild West’s Most Notorious Woman Bandit”

  • By John Boessenecker
  • c. 2021, Hanover Square Press
  • $28.99, $34.99 Canada; 336 pages

The growl came from beneath your ribs. The pantry’s empty and so’s your belly, now what do you do? In the absence of family, welfare, and church, how do you plan to stay alive? In the Old West, and in “Wildcat” by John Boessenecker, the answer wasn’t a happy one.

By all accounts, Albert Davy was “a monster.” A rather violent man, he never met a bottle or a brawl he didn’t like and so it’s somewhat surprising that he married a respectable young French-Canadian woman who lived nearby. He and Anna Duval started a family almost immediately, as folks did in the latter 1800s. Their third child was a girl born in April 1871, and they named her Lillie Naomi.

"Wildcat: The Untold Story of Pearl Hart, The Wild West's Most Notorious Woman Bandit" by John Boessenecker.

Growing up, Lillie and her siblings were close because they had to be: there was never any food in the house and the Davy children took to thieving to survive. It didn’t help that Albert moved his family constantly from shack to shanty; eventually, some of the Davys had made their way across the border to New York.

By that time, Lillie and her sisters were sleeping with men in exchange for sustenance, wearing boys’ clothing so they weren’t harassed, lying about their ages, and repeatedly running away from home to escape their violent father. As young teens, Lillie and the younger Katy rode the rails to Ohio to Chicago to Minnesota; Lillie also served a stint at a reform institution.

"Wildcat: The Untold Story of Pearl Hart, The Wild West's Most Notorious Woman Bandit" author John Boessenecker.

Once released, she moved to Buffalo, New York where, calling herself Pearl Hart, she operated her own brothel for a time, and hooked up with petty criminals and outlaws one after the next. In 1893, at the age of twenty-two years, Pearl went to Colorado and Arizona, the latter in which she eventually birthed two children that she probably sent to her sister to raise.

No doubt, that was hard but Pearl had done some hard things before and had committed many wrongs. And on May 30, 1899, this alcoholic, addicted, thieving prostitute and gunslinger made true-crime history with yet another very bad decision ...

When it comes to westerns, “Wildcat” is extremely good, but it’s also not what you might think.

Rather than some ordinary gun-slingin’, rootin’-tooter, this story of Pearl Hart is much wider: author John Boessenecker likewise includes lengthy passages about Pearl’s sister, Katy, and her escapades, as well as tales of the mostly-lawless Davy siblings and others. These yarns are interesting, though they often supersede Pearl’s story.

More than anything, however, readers will notice tale after tale about what it was like for desperate young ladies without familial support, at a time when women were basically second-class citizens. Inside those eye-opening parts, there’s heroism and feminism, and though Boessenecker avoids any whiff of sentimentalism in his storytelling, those hard-luck tales still suck every shred of romance out of any Old West works.

“Wildcat” is a true story, recommended for western fans and for anyone who reads women’s history. It’s a yeee-haw with a sad streak, and missing it’ll make you growl.

More:Bookworm: ‘Change Sings’ a joyous book for your child

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.