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

Old West Book Review: The Cornett-Whitley Gang; Violence Unleashed in Texas

Cornett Whitley gangThe Cornett-Whitley Gang; Violence Unleashed in Texas, David Johnson, University of North Texas Press, $29.95, Cloth. Non-fiction, 320 pages, Illustrations, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

The time period for this book is the late 1880s, the location is Texas, and the topic is about a gang of train robbers.  The names of these men are mostly unfamiliar to readers of today.  None of them stood out above the rest in romantic familiarity.  Don’t look for Butch and Sundance, or the James brothers.  These men came together in a secret hide-away, made their plans, and then held up the trains.  Afterwards they parted, at least for a while, and did a good job of fooling law enforcement.  Some were married with children, most were solitary drifters who kept low profiles.

There were three important train robberies that made headlines.  One at McNeal Station, another at Flatonia, and finally a third robbery at a place called the Verdigris Bridge.  All three robberies were daring, well-planned, done ruthlessly and with precision.  Some people got hurt, a few were killed, one lady passenger was pistol whipped for being too slow in turning over her valuables.  Money and personal items were grabbed before the gang mounted up and disappeared into the darkness.

The book tells how law enforcement was blamed and even chided in newspaper accounts, embarrassed by the Media for their inability to catch the bad guys right away.  The Texas train robberies made headlines all across the United States and even some foreign countries.  Newspaper editors were certain all the bad publicity would be detrimental to the financial growth of Texas.

Law enforcement entities such as the Texas Rangers, federal marshals, railroad detectives and Wells Fargo eventually worked together sharing information until most of the robbers were caught.  Some of this work remains in place even to this day.  However, in the old days before computers and telephones, news about the robberies moved laboriously via telegraph, word of mouth or riders on horseback.

Letters at the back of the book contain personal accounts from various individuals who were involved in all this.  Some romantic stories told were clarified.  It seems a lot of people had a lot to say as the robbing of trains made big news.  Eventually arrested, one robber, “Bud” Powell, alias John Thompson wrote a lengthy autobiographical account filled with original detail as he explains about some of his adventures after he left the gang.  He traveled for several years evading the law and claimed he tried to “go straight.” Words coming directly from the outlaw give readers much to think about.

The author of the book, David Johnson has penned other important nonfiction books including John Ringo, King of the Cowboys; The Mason County “Hoo Doo” War, and The Horrell Wars.  All of David Johnson’s books are well-researched, easy to read, and packed with plenty of information.  If you are particularly interested in Texas train robbers, this book is for you.

Publisher’s Notes: The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West, including Death For Dinner, the Bender of (Old) Kansas.  Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 399, Unionville, New York, 10988. Ph. (845) 726-3434. www.silklabelbooks.com

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

Texas – New York Cattle Drive

Texas - New York Cattle DriveOn July 1, 1854 the first cattle driven from Texas arrived in New York City. New York City? That’s right New York City. Here’s the story of the Texas – New York Cattle Drive.     
As early as the 1840’s there were stories of cattle being driven from Texas to Missouri. However, cattle drives from Texas didn’t start in earnest until around 1866. But there was one cattle drive that took place over ten years earlier, taking cattle all the way to New York. And it wasn’t done by a Texas cowboy, but an English immigrant who grew up in Illinois, by the name of Thomas Ponting.

Now, Ponting wasn’t a novice around cattle. As a youth in England he drove cattle to London. And later in Illinois he drove cattle up to Wisconsin. Hearing about cheap cattle in Texas, he and partner Washington Malone went down there and bought 800 longhorn cattle.
               
They hired men to drive the supply wagon. An ox with a bell around his neck was tied to the back of the wagon. He was the lead steer, and the cattle followed him wherever he went.
 
While traveling through Missouri they restocked their provisions from local farmers. Four months after their start they got to Illinois. It was winter. So they took time to fatten the cattle on corn. In the spring Ponting sold all but 150 of the longhorns. Those 150 he wanted to take to New York. When they got to Muncie, Indiana, Pointing got the idea of transporting them the rest of the way by rail car.
 
On July 1, 1854 the cattle arrived in New York. They were taken to the Hundred Street Market and auctioned off.
 
Although Ponting’s cattle drive was a great feat in itself, his greatest achievement was to show that cattle could be brought 2,000 miles from Texas and sold at a profit. And with this a new page in Old West history was opened.

Old West Book Review: The Ranger Ideal, Texas Rangers in the Hall of Fame

The Ranger Ideal; Texas RangersThe Ranger Ideal, Texas Rangers in the Hall of Fame, Volume 1, Darren L. Ivey, University of North Texas press $39.95, Cloth. 672 p.p., Photos, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

For anyone interested in the history of the Texas Rangers, this book is a must read.  It is the first of a three-book series telling about the lives of the most important men involved with the founding of the Texas Rangers.  The time period it covers is from 1823 – 1861, and includes Stephen F. Austin, John C. Hays, William A. A. “Big Foot” Wallace, Samuel H. Walker, John S. Ford, and Lawrence S. Ross.  All of these men have been inducted into the Hall of Fame and Museum at Waco, Texas.

The author points out in his Preface that several of these men are well-known, but the others have been mostly overlooked and do not have biographies or even extensive coverage in history books.  All of these men are honored in the Texas Ranger Museum at Fort Fisher located near the Texas city of Waco. Visitors to the museum find Ranger displays including guns, clothing, saddles, equipment and artwork.  The museum opened to the public in 1968, and continues its work educating the public about the important contributions Rangers made to Texas.

Readers find a timeline of Ranger history to help us better understand the enormous upheavals Texas went through beginning in 1821 when Americans established a colony on land that originally belonged to Mexico.  Political changes are explained as Texas went from Mexican control to annexation to the United States in 1845.

Each of the seven men featured here were vastly patriotic, and did not hesitate to join in any and all of the fights, shoot-outs, military campaigns, long marches, sometimes capture and imprisonment in Mexico, and including every hardship imaginable.  By the 1860s, two Rangers featured here joined the Confederate Army when civil war was declared and Texas went with the South.  The battle records of these men are shown here, their adventures and derring-do included a multitude of battles and skirmishes reminiscent of Bruce Catton’s Civil War books where readers follow the amazing courage these soldiers displayed under the most difficult circumstances.

In 1860 Ranger John Ford was involved in the recovery of the highly publicized white woman Cynthia Ann Parker who, when still a child, was taken captive by Comanches.  By the time she was rescued years later, she had mostly forgotten her white way of live, and even how to speak English.

Of the seven Rangers featured in the book, only three ever married while the others seem to have dedicated their lives to Texas.  Two of these men died fighting.

The author has done an impressive job of researching for truths related to this material. Anyone looking for information about the Texas Rangers will find this tome invaluable.

Darren L. Ivey is to be commended for his good writing and careful research into an important topic about the American West.  In addition to The Ranger Ideal, Texas Rangers in the Hall of Fame his writing includes a previously published book on this subject titled The Texas Rangers; A Registry and History.

Thus far, thirty-one individuals have been honored in the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame. If you are a Texas Ranger fan, you will want this one for your Old West library, and will look forward to reading the next two books in the series.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of many books including Death For Dinner; The Benders of (Old) Kansas, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York, 10988-0700. Ph. (845) 726-3434. www.silklabelbooks.com

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

Texas Ranger Frank Jones

Texas Ranger Frank JonesBorn in Austin, Texas in 1856, Frank Jones joined the Texas Rangers at the age of 17. He saw his first action when he and two other Rangers were sent after some Mexican horse thieves. In the process, the horse thieves ambushed the Rangers. Frank’s two companions were immediately taken out, but Frank was able to kill two of the bandits and capture a third.
Frank was promoted to corporal and later to sergeant. Once again while chasing a large gang of cattle rustlers, Frank and his six Ranger companions were ambushed. Three of the Rangers were immediately killed, and Frank and the other two Rangers were captured.
Now, it would have been much better for the rustlers if they had also killed Frank, for while the rustlers were congratulating themselves on their victory, Frank grabbed one of their rifles, and proceeded to kill all of them.
A few years later, now a captain, while traveling alone, Frank was again ambushed. This time by three desperadoes who shot him, and left him for dead. With a bad chest wound, Frank tracked the three men down on foot until he found their camp. He waited until dark; took one of their rifles; shot one and brought the other two back to stand trial.
Over the next few years Frank continued his confrontations and victories over outlaws. But on June 29, 1893 Frank went on his last mission. He and four other Rangers went after some cattle thieves on the Mexico border. This time they did the ambushing. But it didn’t turn out well for Frank. In the ensuing gunfight he was finally killed.
Now, I’m sure you agree that Captain Frank Jones definitely does typify the grit of the Texas Rangers.
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