Books: The Original

LAMY OF SANTA FE

by PAUL MORGAN 523 pages. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

$15.

Half a century ago, Willa Gather gave American literature a classic, Death Comes for the Archbishop. Only Gather's art kept her protagonists credible: there are few greater incongruities than French Catholic missionaries set down in the deserts of the Southwest.

Yet the priests were based in fact.

The archbishop of the title, whom Cather called Jean Marie Latour, was the quixotic Jean Baptiste Lamy, first Bishop of Santa Fe. His affable Sancho Panza, Joseph Vaillant in the novel, was Joseph Machebeuf, later...

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