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Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Dr. Samuel J. Sackett
Hat Six Ranch, by Edgar Watson Howe, is a novel of the frontier west. In its present form, the novel appears to be an edited version of an earlier draft. The revisions appear to be responsible for many of its weaknesses. Three major sources of influence can be identified in Howe's Western story: Bryant B. Brooks, one-time governor of Wyoming and friend of Howe’s; the conflict between the cattlemen and ranchers in Johnson County, Wyoming, which culminated in “The Johnson County Invasion" in 1892; and Howe's own family life. Thematically, Hat Six Ranch is similar to much of Howe’s fiction. His picture of gossip and its role in the common-sense philosophy is probably the novel's greatest strength. His attitude toward women with a "history" is also apparent, as well as his disgust for the "liberties" allowed and encouraged in "parlor romances." In terms of fictional techniques, Hat Six Ranch exhibits little creative ability. The plot is rigid, implausible, and totally separated from characterization. Much of its improbability can be traced to Howe's deviations from the actual events of the Johnson County Invasion and to Howe's omissions of background development concerning the trouble between the cattlemen and ranchers. The setting, while based on B. B. Brooks’ V-V Ranch near Casper, Wyoming, is not presented in detail. Characterization is also weak because of Howe’s inability to achieve a proper balance between showing and telling. While many of the characters were drawn from real-life counterparts, none really come to life within the novel. Stylistically, Hat Six Ranch is stiff and formal. In some ways Hat Six Ranch is a conventional Western novel, while in others it is not. While certain archetypal themes and patterns emerge, Howe’s characters are not romantic figures, nor is the West portrayed in romantic terms. Howe was the first author to suggest that the frontier experience might lead to the same disillusionment he had depicted earlier in The Story of a Country Town. However, the novel remains essentially weak.
Copyright 1971 James P. Flavin
Flavin, James P., "A Critical Edition of E. W. Howe's Hat Six Ranch" (1971). Master's Theses. 1391.