Old West Book Review: A Thousand Texas Longhorns

A Thousand Texas LonghornsA Thousand Texas Longhorns, Johnny D. Boggs, Pinnacle Books Kensington Publishing, paperback, $8.99, 500 Pgs, Western Fiction.

The time period for this novel is shortly after the American Civil War.  The protagonist is a surly individual named Nelson Story living in a rough mining town in Montana Territory.  Nelson Story wants to make money and become a successful rancher, and gets the brainstorm to acquire a herd of cattle lie must buy in Texas, and drive the herd back to Montana where the population is hungry for beef.  So the adventure begins.  He heads for Texas and prepares to drive a herd of longhorns all the way across the country filled with sheriff’s posses and angry homesteaders afraid the Texas cattle will bring fever to their own stock.  Meanwhile Nelson Story has to maintain discipline among the drovers and freight wagon drivers, plus having to face electrical storms, driving rain, roaring rivers, drown cowboys, hordes of insects, cantankerous military commanders and Indians on the warpath.

Some of the cowboys are ex-Civil War veterans, both North and South.  Two young women disguised as men sign on to drive freight wagons filled with goods for the trip.  One is wanted for murder and both fool Nelson Story until one gets her clothing eaten off during a locust attack.  Tired men commit mutiny, one cowboy dies in river, another is the victim of a rattlesnake, plus several others are brutally killed by Sioux stalking the herd hoping to rustle horses and beeves.

Nelson Story left a wife back in Montana when he skedaddled for Texas, and the book switches occasionally to what is going on with her as she anxiously awaits her husband’s return.  She is pregnant when he departs, and must handle delivering and caring for a baby while keeping her meager household together.  Her doctor fails in love with her although she remains faithful to Nelson Story, the author takes his readers from the gritty trouble-filled cattle drive to the desperately poor circumstances of a Montana mining town struggling to survive hard times, including a diphtheria epidemic.

Nelson Story eventually makes it to Montana with most of the herd, and there is a happy reunion with his wife who is nearly as tough as he is.  Unfortunately readers never really get to know Nelson Story.  He’s tough and determined, but rarely shows empathy or compassion that we can relate to.  We never find ourselves cheering for his success.  His quick temper and tough as nails attitude works to bring in the herd, but we never feel like we’d want to ride with him.  Don’t look here for a John: Wayne or Matt Dillon hero.  This story is mostly about grit and determination with little room for sentiment.

Author Johnny D. Boggs, a Spur Award winner, knows his business.  Before writing this book, he followed the trail in an automobile to get the feel of the land, weather, and what it must have been like to cover all those hard miles on horseback.  It is well told, with lots of realistic Old West action, and sometimes a tough book to read, but we find this story a good Western adventure for sure.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West, including Lost Roundup, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 399, Unionville, New York, 10988, Ph. (845) 726-3434. www.silklabelbooks.com

Artist Frederic Remington

Artist Frederic Remington Although artist Frederic Remington had the look of an eastern lawyer or banker, on the inside he was a cowboy who could shoot and ride with the best. 
 
Remington was born in New York and went to college at Yale, where his size made him a powerhouse on the football field. Majoring in art, he found the structured classes boring. When Remington was 19 his father died, and Remington dropped out of school.
 
He wasn’t a lady’s man. As a matter of fact, he only painted a picture of one woman, and he destroyed that. But Remington was smitten by an Eva Caten. Denied permission to date her, a dejected Remington went to Montana. His first taste of the open spaces, and the wild, free life, changed him. 
 
While sitting around a campfire on the Yellowstone River he realized that within a few years the west he was experiencing would no longer exist, and he understood the need to chronicle it.
 
Remington spent time in Kansas City, roping and branding during the day, and painting at night. He spent his free time in bars swapping stories with cowboys. Later he headed to the Southwest where he met Comanche, Apache and Mexican vaqueros.
 
His experiences weren’t all pleasant. He failed at sheep ranching, got cheated out of a part ownership of a saloon, and searched fruitlessly for a mystical mine.
 
After countless rejections by publishers, finally on February 26, 1882 Harper’s Weekly published his first illustration. He then sold his entire portfolio to Outing Magazine.
 
Frederick Remington moved from illustrating, to painting, bronzes and stories, all depicting the authentic west. Although he only lived 48 years, the 2,500 paintings and drawings, 25 bronzes, and thousands of words produced by Remington preserves an important time in American history.

Cattle Industry Decimated

Cattle Industry DecimatedBy the mid 1880’s the cattle industry was going wild. Speculators were overstocking the grazing ranges of Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas. And with several mild winters they were also saving money by not putting up feed for wintertime. The summer of 1886 was a dry one. By autumn the range was almost barren of grass… And then winter came early with record-breaking snow falls. January 9, 1887 was the worst day of the worst winter, with an inch of snow falling each hour for 16 hours. The temperature went as low as 63 degrees below zero. It ended up with the cattle industry decimated.
 
With no stored winter feed the cattle wandered into towns. Great Falls, Montana had as many as 5,000 cattle eating trees and anything else eatable. Most ended up dying in the streets of the town.
 
In the spring the ranchers went out to check the damage. Where once cattle grazed the ranges, now there were only carcasses. Rotting cattle filled the rivers and streams so it was impossible to find water fit to drink.   
 
The Continental Land and Cattle Company lost almost all of their 30,000 head. The Swan Land and Cattle Company found only 10% of their 5,500 three-year-olds. Hundreds of ranches went into bankruptcy… including Theodore Roosevelt, who returned East. 
 
As a result of the devastating winter, those ranchers who survived decreased the size of their herds. They realized they needed more control of the cattle and stretched barbed wire across their land. They also started doing more farming to provide plenty of winter-feed. This, in turn, changed the cowboy into a farm hand.

Sitting Bull Goes to Canada

After the defeat of Custer in 1876, realizing there would be retaliations, the Indians broke up into smaller bands so they could move faster and not be easily found. But many of the bands were tracked down, and relocated to reservations.

Sitting Bull, in command of the western party, took his people to Montana, and avoided any major confrontations with the army. Four months after Little Big Horn, Sitting Bull met with American commander Nelson Miles. Sitting Bull refused to surrender. So Colonel Miles stepped up his campaign against him and his people.

With the scarcity of buffalo, the cold winter and the army’s constant pressure, Sitting Bull’s people began to suffer. So, on May 5, 1877, Sitting Bull decided to avoid war by going to Canada. The Canadian government, with a more tolerant attitude toward Indians, let them stay in peace. With plenty of buffalo and no harassment from the military, it was a great life. But within a couple of years the young warriors, who had grown up doing battle, became restless. They started making trouble with their neighboring tribes, and the Canadian government started putting pressure on Sitting Bull to leave Canada.

The final straw was the disappearance of Canadian buffalo. With promises that they would have plenty of food, and with most of his people having already returned to America, four years after he had left, and five years after his great victory at Little Big Horn, Sitting Bull returned to the United States leading just 187 Indians, most of who were old and sick.

Thomas Bowe

Thomas BoweThomas Bowe was a slightly built man, who stood about 5 foot 6 inches. He had a hair trigger, both personally and gun-wise. With a mysterious background that supposedly included murder and stagecoach robbery, Thomas showed up in Silver City, New Mexico during the winter of 1874.
           
In Ward’s Dance Hall, Thomas Bowe entered into an argument with a Jack Clark. He evidently wasn’t getting the best of the situation, because he pulled his pistol and shot Jack on the spot. Although Thomas escaped to the hills, he later returned. Eventually all charges were dropped. 
               
Tom struck up a friendship with Dick Howlett, the owner of the Silver City Saloon. On the evening of October 5, 1877, the two friends, Tom and Dick, decided to play some poker. They were joined by two other men, one, Sheriff Richard Hudson.
 
As the evening progressed, Tom’s stack of chips got smaller. And Dick’s got larger. Dick started ribbing his buddy about his card playing ability. Sheriff Hudson, sensing Tom’s building anger, cautioned Dick to lighten up.
 
In desperation, Tom tried a bluff for a big pot, hoping for a huge payoff. But, Dick had a good hand, and he called Tom. This was just too much for Thomas Bowe. He stood up, pulled his gun and shot and killed his friend Dick Howlett.
 
Thomas Bowe again fled to the hills. He went down to Mexico and finally to New York City. Not able to take the city life, Tom eventually went back out west to Montana where extradition papers caught up with him, and he was returned to New Mexico for trial. Seven years after the shooting, Tom faced justice, and his case was dismissed. It seems that in Silver City, New Mexico making fun of one’s poker playing ability is justification for murder.
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