The Hunter Elite
Manly Sport, Hunting Narratives, and American Conservation, 1880–1925
Tara Kathleen Kelly
At the end of the nineteenth century, Theodore Roosevelt, T. S. Van Dyke, and other elite men began describing their big-game hunting as “manly sport with the rifle.” They also began writing about their experiences, publishing hundreds of narratives of hunting and adventure in the popular press (and creating a new literary genre in the process). But why did so many of these big-game hunters publish? What was writing actually doing for them, and what did it do for readers? In exploring these questions, The Hunter Elite reveals new connections among hunting narratives, publishing, and the American conservation movement.
Beginning in the 1880s these prolific hunter-writers told readers that big-game hunting was a test of self-restraint and “manly virtues,” and that it was not about violence. They also opposed their sportsmanlike hunting to the slaughtering of game by British imperialists, even as they hunted across North America and throughout the British Empire. Their references to Americanism and manliness appealed to traditional values, but they used very modern publishing technologies to sell their stories, and by 1900 they were reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. When hunter-writers took up conservation as a cause, they used that reach to rally popular support for the national parks and for legislation that restricted hunting in the US, Canada, and Newfoundland. The Hunter Elite is the first book to explore both the international nature of American hunting during this period and the essential contributions of hunting narratives and the publishing industry to the North American conservation movement.
“Perhaps the greatest contribution of The Hunter Elite is Kelly’s focus on the employment of discourse through media publications such as Forest and Stream and authors such as Caspar Whitney. this book is highly recommended for both scholars of the West and environmental historians.”
—Western Historical Quarterly
“Kelly’s book is an important contribution to our understanding of hunting, conservation, and national identity at the turn of the century.”
—Environmental HistorySee all reviews...
“A well-written, interesting, and valuable contribution to scholarship of the Progressive Era. Kelly engages with important questions of gender, race, class, and environment and at times offers brave interpretations, especially concerning questions of masculinity during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”
“Kelly’s insightful analysis emphasizes the distance time and place that gave rise to the hunting narrative, the personalities who wrote those narratives, and the material manifestation of these publications.”
—Journal of Arizona History
“The book stands out for its contextualization of American big-game hunting, its discussion of the role that sportsmen and their hunting narratives played in the development of the nation's early environmental movement, its descriptions of the five most important elements of the sportsmen-hunter discourse, and its entertaining explanations of jack-lighting, snow-crusting, and stalking—-all old hunting techniques.”
—Montana The Magazine of Western History
“ Kelly delves deeply into an impressive array of stories published by sportsmen-writers at the turn of the twentieth century. She offers an eye-opening explanation for sport hunters' influential positions at the forefront of the conservation movement.”
—Annals of Iowa
“Through a deep and engaging analysis, Tara Kathleen Kelly’s The Hunter Elite provides a refreshing perspective on the critical role that sportsmen and their hunting narratives played in the development of the early environmental movement. This is a valuable study of this important moment in American history.”
—Greg Dehler, author of The Most Defiant Devil: William Temple Hornaday and His Controversial Crusade to Save American Wildlife
“Elegantly written, The Hunter Elite offers fresh insights on the rise of sport hunting and wilderness recreation. Kelly provocatively upends our usual assumptions about the rise of hunting during the turn of the twentieth century, eschewing the rote, rugged response to the ‘crisis of masculinity.’ Instead, her deep engagement with both the sportsmen themselves—as both hunters and writers—and with the expanding modern apparatus of travel, tourism, and publishing offers a compelling new framework to see the rise and decline of big-game hunting and the peculiar type of American conservation that emerged from this era.”
—Phoebe S. K. Young, coeditor of Rendering Nature: Animals, Bodies, Places, Politics
“This lucid book uses intertextual analysis to expand our understanding of the culture and context of American big-game hunting. It takes up the interesting question of how a select group of East Coast hunters used their narratives to transform recreational hunting into the highest form of masculine labor and then examines how the emergence of other types of hunters, including women, made these narratives a potent site for debates about gender roles, power, and identity in early twentieth-century America.”
—Angela Thompsell, author of Hunting Africa: British Sport, African Knowledge and the Nature of EmpireSee fewer reviews...