CONTACT: MELVIN O. SHAW
300 Plaza Centre One
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0010; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: Sept. 18, 2001
New UI Libraries exhibit features Iowa author
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Libraries department of special
collections has opened a new exhibit that highlights the career of Charles
Leland Sonnichsen, whose work is part of the Iowa Authors Collection. The
free exhibit, "Grassroots Historian: An Exhibition," is open to
the public now through October in the special collections department, located
on the third floor of the main library.
Sonnichsen of Fonda, Iowa, in Pocahontas County, was a self-described "grassroots
historian," and he defined the term as a sort of "conversational
dentistry, every fact wrenched out by the roots." Almost all of the books
in this exhibition are from the UI Libraries Authors Collection. Exhibit titles
on display include "Roy Bean, Law West of the Pecos," (1943); "Cowboy
and Cattle Kings: Life on the Range Today" (1950); and "I'll Die
Before I'll Run: The Story of the Great Feuds of Texas" (1951).
After taking a teaching position at the University of Texas in 1931, Sonnichsen
became interested in the folklore of the border country and in Western literature.
In "Alias Billy the Kid" (1955) he explored the assertions of Brushy
Bill Roberts who, in 1949 at age 90, claimed to be the real outlaw Billy the
Kid. Sonnichsen found the testimony interesting enough to write a book, although
Robert's story has never been confirmed. He also published writing manuals
such as "The Ambidextrous Historian, Historical Writers and Writing in
the American West" (1981), and "The Grave of John Wesley Hardin,
Three Essays on Grassroots History" (1979).
Sonnichsen died in 1991 at age 89. He grew up in rural Minnesota and graduated
from the University of Minnesota in 1924 where he earned an M.A. in 1927.
He later earned a Ph.D. in literature from Harvard University. In 1931, he
began teaching at the University of Texas, El Paso.
The exhibition can be viewed in the special collections department Monday
through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from the public access ways during
regular Libraries weekday and weekend hours. For additional information, contact
the department of special collections at (319) 335-5921.