“Give Me My Skin”: William J. Snelling’s “A Night in the Woods” (1836) and the Gothic Accusation against Buffalo Extinction
In 1836, William J. Snelling published “A Night in the Woods” in which he revealed a national foreboding about the destruction of the buffalo and anxieties about the environmental consequences of the fur trade. In this telling, the author plumbed the national angst over the decimation of the North American buffalo, conspicuously engaging the ecogothic that encoded misgivings about the human impact on nature. Specifically, Snelling expressed the national guilt over species extinction. He and his contemporaries, like artist George Catlin or trader Josiah Gregg, used the gothic as an intervention against American avarice. They embraced the grotesque and terrible when they admonished their nation with tales of the buffalo becoming monstrous in defiance of its slaughter.
Dawn Keetley and Matthew Wynn Sivils, eds., Ecogothic in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (New York: Routledge, 2018), 65-82.