Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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The Wigwam and the Cabin

Short Stories | Redfield | 1856

                Originally published by Wiley and Putnam in two volumes—the first series in October 1845 and the second in February 1846—for the Library of American Books series, The Wigwam and the Cabin is a collection of border stories about the southwestern frontier.  Simms best summarized the collection in a dedicatory letter to his father-in-law for the 1856 Redfield edition: “One word for the material of these legends.  It is local, sectional—and to be national in literature, one must needs be sectional.  No one mind can fully or fairly illustrate the characteristics of any great country; and he who shall depict one section faithfully, has made his proper and sufficient contribution to the great work of national illustration.”[1]  In this vein, Simms made one of his major contributions to the ongoing dialogue surrounding the Young America push for a truly American literature.  Contrasting the less nationalistic Knickerbocker group, Simms and Young America argued for writers to find their inspiration in American themes, characters, and settings, not merely imitate existing European forms.  The Wigwam and the Cabin is Simms’s most fully realized fictional treatment of this theory.  As such, Mary Ann Wimsatt observes that the collection is generally considered the best of Simms’s short fiction.[2]

                Writing to his New York agent, James Lawson, on 12 June 1843, Simms made first mention of the project when he requested that Lawson “propose to [Harper & Brothers] a collection of Tales of the South.”[3]  By March 1844 the Harpers’ lack of interest was clear, leading Simms to write Lawson to negotiate with Stringer & Co., who recently published Castle Dismal (1844) and Helen Halsey (1845).[4]  It was around the same time, John C. Guilds notes, that Simms came up with “The Wigwam and the Cabin” as a title for a companion volume that would focus on the frontier while “Tales of the South” would focus separately on the plantation or the city.[5]  When Stringer also proved uninterested, Simms turned to his friend, Evert Duyckinck, an editor at Wiley and Putnam who secured The Wigwam and the Cabin to be published in 1845 as part of their Library of American Books series on short fiction, alongside Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales (1845) and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Mosses from an Old Manse (1856).[6]  Poe himself wrote a notable early review of the Simms collection in the Broadway Journal on 4 October 1845, affirming that Simms was “the best novelist which this country has, upon the whole, produced,” and that when it came to invention and exciting the interest of his readers, Simms “surpassed, we think, any of his countrymen.”[7]

                David Moltke-Hansen notes that while some critics often give preference to Simms’s realistic romances such as Woodcraft and The Cassique of Kiawah, others emphasize The Wigwam and the Cabin as a collective embodiment of the author’s best short fiction, which often proves “more accessible and engaging to contemporary readers.”[8]  Molly Boyd reads the collection as representative of frontier humor—a more recent interest in Simms scholarship that came on the heels of Edd Winfield Parks’s 1955 complaint that Simms was being omitted from frontier humor anthologies.[9]  According to Boyd, the plots of many tales in the collection take up the typical concerns of frontier humorist: “the conditions and circumstances surrounding a group of people meeting at the point at which an advancing civilization confronts a receding one.”  Boyd draws particular attention to four tales worth reviewing for frontier humor: “Grayling; or ‘Murder Will Out,’” “The Two Camps: A Legend of the Old North State,” “The Lazy Crow; A Story of the Cornfield,” and “Caloya: or, The Loves of the Driver.”  Not only do these stories draw upon the familiar subject matter of frontier humor, but they also contain stock frontier humor characters and a box narrative frame—a device that provides a cultured gentleman (outsider) who establishes the setting where an inner story is given in frontier vernacular; such a frame, Boyd asserts, enables the humorist to enjoy the “uneducated rustic characters while maintaining their own cultural and social distance from such figures.”[10]  Other notable stories in the collection highlight Simms’s, at times, progressive rendering of Native American characters, including Oakatibbe, or the Choctaw Sampson, Jocassee. A Cherokee Legend, and The Arm-Chair of Tustenuggee. A Tradition of the Catawba.

                The 1856 Redfield edition of The Wigwam and the Cabin, housed in the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina, features green boards and spine; front and back covers have flat double border box stamping inside flat triple border box stamping.  Spine features copper gilt stamped: THE WIGWAM | AND THE | CABIN | [rule] | SIMMS | [rule] | [Graphic of flag, rifle, haversack, drum, and book] | [flat double un-gilt rule] | REDFIELD.  The title page reads: THE | WIGWAM AND THE CABIN | BY W. GILMORE SIMMS, ESQ. | AUTHOR OF ''THE YEMASSEE'' — ''THE FORAYERS'' — ''EUTAW'' — ''KATHARINE | WALTON'' — ''THE SCOUT'' — ''RICHARD HURDIS'' — ''VASCONSELOS,'' ETC. | ''The ancient tales | Which first I learned | Will I relate.'' | EDDA OF SAEMUND. | NEW AND REVISED EDITION | [ouroboros surrounding a burning lamp] | REDFIELD | 34 BEEKMAN STREET, NEW YORK | 1856.

Michael Odom

Note: Portions of this headnote were derived from David Moltke-Hansen’s critical introduction to the University of South Carolina Press's Simms Initiatives Print-on-Demand edition of The Wigwam and the Cabin.

[1] The Wigwam and the Cabin, 4-5.

[2] Mary Ann Wimsatt, The Major Fiction of William Gilmore Simms (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989), 145.

[3] Letters, 1:353-54.

[4] Ibid., 1:410, 437. 

[5] John C. Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life (Fayatteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 171.

[6] Letters, 2:108

[7] Broadway Journal II (4 October 1845): 190. 

[8] David Moltke-Hansen, Critical Introduction to The Wigwam and the Cabin by William Gilmore Simms (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2012), xxxi.

[9] Molly Boyd, “Southwestern Humor in The Wigwam and the Cabin,” William Gilmore Simms and the American Frontier, eds John Caldwell Guilds and Caroline Collins (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1997), 165.

[10] Ibid., 170.