DND MINI-POD – Chapter 1: Hollywood Westerns & Primary Sources, with musician & local historian Chris Vallillo


This Dime Novel Desperados MINI-POD profiles a Hollywood Western & primary source that Dr. Hallwas used to write the book. We recommend first listening to the episode this MINI-POD accompanies:

Chapter 1: The Maxwell Family Moves West 
CHS student Andrew Christian interviews musician & local historian Chris Vallillo


“Open Range” (2003) starring Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall, & Annette Bening


  • How does this film reflect themes found in DND?
  • Is this a western or anti-western? How do you know?
  • Does this film celebrate or romanticize violence as a form of resolution? What realities do you see? What is sensationalized?
  • What other thoughts, lessons, and illustrations come to mind when you think about this film?


Song “Elanoy” performed by Chris Vallillo

Chris is a singer/songwriter & folk musician who “makes the people & places of nonmetropolitan America come to life in song.  Chris is also a fantastic local historian whose many songs and performances reflect rural culture; especially the rural Midwest which we’ve come to call Forgottonia and where Chris has lived for the past 35 years.

In the book DND, author John Hallwas talks about the Illinois Fever that swept across America in the 1850s. The song “El-A-Noy” was heard nationwide and attracted countless settlers to the state. 


  • How did Chris first hear about this song? (Where did it originate)
  • How difficult does he say it is to play? 
  • How has the song “Elanoy” changed over the years?
  • Why does Chris say this song is important?


  • This is one of Chris’s most popular songs. It’s constantly used on videos, and documentaries throughout IL. Most folk singers in IL know about this song. (Wow, Abe Lincoln even said he heard the song way back in the early 1800s)!
  • The song really reflects the nation around this time as America views itself as the new classical world. It’s a perfect capture of the optimism during this time
  • Credit for the discovery of the song perhaps goes to Carl Sandburg who back in the 1890s worked as a Dairyman in Knoxville, IL. He put the book into his American song bag & references the connections to Abraham Lincoln there. 
  • We also learned a little bit about the nuts & bolts behind playing the song. Chris is a really gifted musician and shared a couple different ways the song could be approached. 
  • How the song has changed: It’s interesting how the song references Chicago which was only a growing commercial city in its day. This probably indicates the song was written sometime after 1825 because before then, as Chris says, Chicago was only barely growing (and some didn’t think it would amount to anything).
    • Historically people change songs over time, they adapt them. Chris even added a versus about Lincoln during an event for New Salem. 
    • Music, culture, art – these are essential for young people to live in a vibrant community. A sense of place and connections are a must if we want to grow these communities again
  • Chris shares his new Forgottonia piece
  • You can check out the song on Chris’s Abraham Lincoln collection and be sure to look forward to his upcoming “Forgottonia” piece.

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