Laut, Agnes C(hristina)
LAUT, Agnes C(hristina)
Born 11 February 1871, Ontario, Canada; died 15 November 1936, Wassaic, New York
Also wrote under: A. C. Laut
When Agnes C. Laut was a child in Winnipeg, Canada, it was still a frontier town where the Hudson's Bay Store traded for furs with trappers who came down from the mountains. Their stories provided the stimulus for her interest in the exploration and settlement of the North American continent. As a journalist, Laut wrote numerous historical articles for newspapers and magazines before publishing her first book. She then worked primarily on books and later moved to upstate New York to be nearer the major publishing centers.
Laut's first two books are novels set at the time of the opening of the Canadian fur trade. Lords of the North (1900) is a romance set against the intrigues between the North-West [fur] Company and the Hudson's Bay Company over the establishment of territories. Heralds of Empire (1902) tells the story, set against a similar background, of Pierre Radisson's adventures as one of the first explorers of the Canadian wilderness.
The Story of the Trapper (1902) established the genre in which Laut excelled—a combination of history, biography, and folklore. It opens with a history of the conflicts among the great fur companies, then moves backward in time to tales of the French trappers and of the Native Americans, and finally to animal lore.
The book displays Laut's typical strengths and weaknesses as a writer. Much of the history of the fur trade is confused, and the point is lost in her attempts to glorify the personalities involved. However, when she is repeating the tales she must have heard from the trappers of her childhood and recreating the adventures of anonymous Native Americans, the narrative achieves the compelling force of fine fiction that is better, in fact, than her own fiction ever is.
Laut's next books followed in a similar vein by chronicling adventures of the men who opened North America to the fur trade. The material in some of her books was reworked for Laut's contribution (volumes 18, 22, and 23) to the series of popular histories known as The Chronicles of Canada; however, volume 23, The Cariboo Trail (1916), is her first treatment of the Canadian gold rush that began in 1858. In many ways, these short books are superior to Laut's longer works because she achieves here a clarity and succinctness missing in the books that were intended to be more serious. Also, she uses a more temperate stylistic tone in describing her heroes. In the earlier works, the biographical sections suffer from the excesses of hagiography.
The Canadian Commonwealth (1915) is a combination of social history and commercial promotion in which Laut foresees the emergence of Canada as a world power in the 20th century. This promotional chauvinism is repeated in Canada at the Cross Roads (1921), and promotion of a slightly different sort dominates The Fur Trade of America (1921), which Laut wrote in response to an outcry against fur trapping. Her thesis is that the trapper is more humane than nature because he kills the animal quickly, a sentiment expressed in many of her earlier books about the fur trade.
In some of her later books, Laut treated the establishment of various overland trails by which settlers came west; there were also travel books about Glacier Park and the American Southwest. Laut was a prolific writer of popular histories. Her work is at its best when she draws on oral and folk traditions and writes narratives of the life of the early adventurers and settlers on the North American continent. She follows Frederick Jackson Turner's conviction that settlement comes in waves: the explorers, the traders, the settlers. Her special sympathy and interest was with the explorers and traders, but she also studied and wrote about the settlers.
Pathfinders of the West (1904). Vikings of the Pacific (1905). The Conquest of the Great Northwest (1908). Canada, the Empire of the North (1909). The Freebooters of the Wilderness (1910). The New Dawn (1913). Through Our Unknown Southwest (1913). The "Adventures of England" on Hudson Bay (1914). Pioneers of the Pacific Coast (1915). The Quenchless Light (1924). The Blazed Trail of the Old Frontier (1926). Enchanted Trails of Glacier Park (1926). The Conquest of Our Western Empire (1927). The Overland Trail: The Epic Path of the Pioneers to Oregon (1929). The Romance of the Rails (1929). Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, 1657-1730 (1930). John Tanner, Captive Boy Wanderer of the Border Lands (1930). Marquette (1930). Cadillac, Knight Errant of the Wilderness,Founder of Detroit, Governor of Louisiana from the Great Lakes to the Gulf (1931). Pilgrims of the Santa Fe (1931).
Canadian Writers; a Biographical Dictionary (1966). Junior Book of Authors (1951).
Canadian Magazine of Politics, Science, Arts, and Literature (Apr. 1909). NYTBR (17 May 1902, 13 Jan. 1906, 28 Nov. 1908, 1 Aug. 1926, 29 Sept. 1929).
—HARRIETTE CUTTINO BUCHANAN