CowboysCowboys, John Eggen, Schiffer Publishing Co., schifferbooks.com, $19.95, 128 pages, Photos, Paper.

Beginning with the cover photo, western buffs will be mightily entertained by this unusual book made up mostly of beautiful, large, clear photographs.  On the cover readers see the chuck wagon cook pouring flour from a bucket into a washtub, one cowboy sitting inside a storage box on top of the chuck wagon, while another pours what looks like “white lightning” from a jug into somebody’s tin cup.  Here you have the makings of a fine outdoor dinner.  Bed rolls on the ground and smoke rising from the fire under enormous Dutch ovens tell it all.

The book begins by telling the story of the original photographer Frank M. Sherman, who, along with his three cowboy brothers before 1900 rode the old-time trails driving cattle throughout Colorado and beyond.  Frank eventually became a photographer, and by 1903 he owned a photo studio in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  He wanted to expand his post card collection, so re-joined his brothers on a cattle drive at that time.  During the drive he unexpectedly got information that President Theodore Roosevelt was traveling by train through Colorado, and the cowboys invited him to stop and enjoy a “cowboy chuck wagon breakfast” with them.  Thus the president appears in this book laughing with the crew.  His silk high-hat and elegant suit makes a comical contrast with the battered cowboy garb assembled around him.  Everybody looks like they are having a great time.

In 1906 Frank re-located to Oregon where he opened a photo shop, and also became a prominent small fruit grower.  He married, had a family, but was tragically killed in a shooting accident at his farm in 1921.  His widow abandoned the property, including Frank’s collection of glass negatives

These precious negatives languished in the basement of the house until 1966 when a new lady owner of the property discovered the box and just before hauling it all to the city garbage dump, contacted the local photographer John Eggen.  She asked if he would like to have the plates since she did not know anything about them and had no interest in it. Mr. Eggen accepted the offer, and when examining the contents of this mysterious box he found three hundred 5 X 7 glass plates, a treasure chest record of real old-time cowboys working on the open range.

Mr. Eggen compiled a book which was published in 1992. Having grown up on a ranch in western South Dakota, Mr. Eggen appreciated these wonderful photos and carefully preserved them here for us to see.

Page after page, readers will find the guns, the spurs, the chaps, the steely-eyed expressions on the faces of real working cowboys.  The chuck wagons and all the gear, bucking horses, cattle branding, ranch buildings and corrals, throwing a bronc to trim its hooves, roping steers, and the desolate plains are here.  Cowboys chop wood, haul “buffalo chips”, harness horses, run cows through the dipping pens, and doctor sick calves.  Readers see the dust and the smoke and the brand inspection.  Some of these men grinned for the cameraman, but most were a no-nonsense crowd doing a hard job.

Who said the Old West was merely a fantasy?  Surely that remark came from somebody who lived in Hollywood.  This book shows what true grit is all about.

Cowboys by John Eggen belongs in your Old West library.

Editor’s Note:  The Reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of many published books, including the novel Widow’s Peak, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988 (845-726-3434) www.silklabelbooks.com

*Courtesy of Chronicle of the Old West newspaper, for more click HERE.

Filed under: Old West Book Reviews

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