by Angel Price

The call of the frontier is an inescapable beckoning throughout the history of humanity. The wealth of land and opportunity in America provided a perfect outlet for this wanderlust. The history of the Southwest is one of expansion into rough territory and life in a rural, uniquely American landscape. The main characters in the story are passed down to us through the words and images of the Southwestern humorists. These humorists were most often professionals-- doctors, lawyers, editors--who were writing as amateurs, often anonymously. Utilizing their experience, imagination and wit, these men created a legacy of characters which amused their contemporaries while helping to shape the enduring myth of the frontier in America.

The heyday of Southwestern humor culminates in the period between the 1830's and the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. The Southwest to which these humorists refer is present day Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri. The genre that developed originates from the politics and oral histories of a burgeoning region-- full of fire and out to prove itself to the world. This enthusiasm manifests itself in bawdy, violent, and predominately masculine portrayals of the world of the Southwest. Yet beneath the savagery of the stories, there is an effort at realism and regional descriptions that had not been attempted previously.

Humorists like Augustus B. Longstreet, George Washington Harris and Johnson Jones Hooper (among others) were the forerunners of Mark Twain. They created a place in literature for American vernacular and regional caricatures with their overblown stereotypes of the frontiersman and yeoman farmer. Their work proved to be the fertile ground which allowed Twain to flourish in his time. This site is designed to provide an anthology of some of the best known works of Southwestern humor and basic biographical information about the authors. It will also explore the means of publication as well as noting well known character types (i.e. ring-tailed roarer, mighty hunter, confidence man, and durn'd fool) which developed from these humorous sketches--all in the overarching scheme of contextualizing Mark Twain by examining the literary movement which undoubtedly shaped his success.

click author's name for bio or click title for story

Davy Crockett- Bear Hunting in Tennessee

Augustus Baldwin Longstreet- The Horse Swap

Augustus Baldwin Longstreet- The Fight

William Tappan Thompson- Major Jones Pops the Question

William Tappan Thompson- A Coon-Hunt; or, A Fency Country

George Washington Harris- Sicily Burn's Wedding

George Washington Harris- Mrs Yardley's Quilting

Johnson Jones Hooper- Simon Becomes Captain

Johnson Jones Hooper- The Captain Attends a Camp-Meeting

Thomas Bangs Thorpe- The Big Bear of Arkansas

Samuel Clemens- The Dandy Frightening the Squatter

Mark Twain- The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County

Mark Twain- Jim Blaine and His Grandfather's Old Ram


Mark Twain and His Times
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