Michael Wallis, historian and biographer of the American West, explores how the West of myth and the West of reality collided and became one in a free lecture at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Friday, June 14 at 4 p.m.
The free talk, titled The Creation of the Wild West, is sponsored by the Center’s McCracken Research Library and is followed by a book signing.
“The so-called ‘Wild West’ draws visitors from around the world who travel the western Unites States in search of the adventures chronicled in books and films, played out by cowboys, Indians, outlaws, and heroes,” says Wallis. He cites the well-known line from the John Ford film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “Sir, this is the West. When the fact becomes legend, print the legend.”
Wallis’s talk delves into this romanticized tradition on which authors and filmmakers based—and continue to base—their work on the American West. “There is a line between acknowledging the legend and presenting the genuine article,” he says. He considers it his job to sort out reality from myth, and present “a true picture of the American West—warts and all.”
Wallis is a historian and biographer of the American West. He has published 19 books, including the award-winning Route 66: The Mother Road, which is credited with sparking the resurgence of interest in the highway; The Lincoln Highway: Coast to Coast from Times to the Golden Gate; The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny; and Los Luceros: New Mexico’s Morning Star.
Wallis has been nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize, and once for a National Book Award. In 2016, he received an Emmy Award for his work in the documentary film Boomtown. Other prestigious honors include the Will Rogers Spirit Award, the Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, the Oklahoma Book Award from the Oklahoma Center for the Book, and the Best Western Nonfiction Award from the Western Writers of America.
Wallis is also a recipient of the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award, the Lynn Riggs Award, and the first John Steinbeck Award. Also an internationally known speaker and voice talent, his distinctive voice can be heard in Pixar Studio’s 2006 animated feature film Cars. He is a co-founder of the non-profit preservation organization the Route 66 Alliance and is an advocate for all historic roads and trails.
Since 1917, the award-winning Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, has devoted itself to sharing the story of the authentic American West. The Center is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. For more information, visit centerofthewest.org or the Center’s pages on Facebook and Twitter.