Old West Book Reviews Archives

Old West Book Review: Riding the Edge of an Era

Riding the Edge of an EraRiding the Edge of an Era; Growing up Cowboy on the Outlaw Trail, Diana Allen Kouris, High Plains Press (800) 552-7819, $17.95, Paperback.

High mountain trails deep with snow, ice storms and hail, bone-chilling wind mingled with the faraway cries of wily coyotes fill the pages of this real-life adventure.  Carefully written from beginning to end by a lady whose family spans several generations of ranchers, the setting is Butch Cassidy country where Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado meet.  From the writer’s earliest days, there was a no-nonsense approach to life where one mis-step could lead to serious injury and even death.  The family consisted of parents and six children; a cowboy father, and a mother who could ride and rope as easily as rustle up Christmas dinner.

There was no TV or electricity, but the kids had many horses and memorable days filled with everything from hummingbirds to snowflakes.  Picnics, swimming, and favorite pets are remembered, including a pony named Comet whose favorite sport was scraping his riders off under trees.  Long trail drives, wild horse roundups, killer storms, and the learning of independence, the children grew into teenagers, and eventually adults.  The reader grieves when a favorite horse is found dead where he fell in the mountains, and when another struggles in vain against fever, leaving his heart-broken young owner to mourn over the carrion remains.  When the seven-year-old sister is crushed under the back wheels of a farm truck, and when at the end of the story the brave mother dies of cancer, and a favorite brother is lost in an accident, you will close the last page with a lump in your throat and tears in your eyes.

The author has captured real ranch life as it existed in the days between the old and new West, before battles between ranch families and the government’s Bureau of Land Management. Eventually the land is lost to Uncle Sam for a recreation area, and the family must make profound decisions.

Along the way, the author rides past crumbling cabins and deserted home sites where historic murders took place, and bodies were found.  Most crimes were never solved due to a lack of enough lawmen in territories too sparsely populated for a sheriff to be interested.  People faced life as it came at them on a daily basis.  They were tough and independent, they solved their own problems, they never asked for a handout.

Filled with photographs complimenting the text, we see Nonie and Diana, Bob and Marie and Bill Allen and the others in the story as they grin back at camera lenses.  The author writes with a sharp eye for detail and never misses describing scenes of “candy colored cactus flowers,” or “nighthawks darting overhead in evening coolness.”  There is love, devotion, loyalty, sacrifice, and through it all, the powerful bond existed between Marie and Bill Allen, and their children.  There were no crybabies here.  If you fell off your horse, bloodied your knee, bumped your head or fell into the creek, you learned to laugh about it.  This book is not about fluffy toy animals on Sesame Street or even fairness.  It’s about surviving the elements, self-sufficiency and courage.  It’s about cold winter cabins deprived of hot water, indoor plumbing or electric light.  It’s about doing laundry by hand, milking a cow, and stacking hay during school vacations.  It’s about Diana Allen, the smallest of the children helping drive a herd of cattle in a snowstorm when she was only 6 years old.

This highly memorable book reminds us of what good writing is about, how important original detail is to the text, and in the age of hard to find good stories, we can be grateful some wise storytellers still exist.  This book is almost breathtaking in its sincerity; a most memorable read. You can grab a copy of Riding the Edge of an Era; Growing up Cowboy on the Outlaw Trail HERE.

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

When Law Was In The Holster- The Frontier Life of Bob PaulWhen Law Was In The Holster – The Frontier Life of Bob Paul, John Boessenecker, University of Oklahoma Press, (1-800-627-7377) $34.95, Hardcover.464 pages, Illustrations, Maps, Footnotes, Bibliography, Index.

This is the biography of Sheriff Bob Paul, a frontier lawman in Old Arizona.  He is remembered mostly as the shotgun messenger riding the Tombstone stage that was ambushed one night in March, 1881.  The driver, Bud Phitpott was killed during a volley of gunshots fired by the robbers hidden beside the road.  Philpott’s body hurled over the side of the coach while the driving lines slipped away and the terrified horses bolted.  Bob Paul worked the brake for nearly a mile until he finally got the runaway team under control.

This stage holdup had to do with Tombstone history and has been told many times in connection with the days of Doc Holliday and the Earps.  However, Bob Paul was far more important as a lawman, and his history is filled with excitement and derring-do that more than matched the Earps who dabbled periodically in law enforcement while Bob Paul spent nearly 50 years behind a badge.

Paul was born on June 12, 1830 in Lowell, Massachusetts.  The youngest of three brothers, Paul spent his first few years in Lowell before the family moved to the seaport town of New Bedford.  Here, they worked hard in their boardinghouse.

Paul’s father died in 1839, leaving the family in dire financial straits.  Young Bob, only 12 years old, signed on as a cabin boy with the 197-ton whale ship Majestic.

Thus began a succession of experiences on a variety of whale ships for the next 8 years. Bob Paul advanced from cabin boy to second or third mate, sailing the South Pacific from Peru to the Sea of Japan and back to Hawaii.

In 1848, Paul learned of the huge gold strike in California, and seething with gold fever, asked for a discharge from the whale ship Nassau.  He sailed right away for San Francisco.  In time his prospecting led to law enforcement, as he learned the vagaries of the gold mining business did not always lead to economic security.  Paul, a straight-shooter who stood over six feet tall, with massive frame and lighting fists, had a no-nonsense demeanor.  In the rough and tumble goldfields, he arrested claim jumpers, rescued a number of individuals from vigilante justice, and himself oversaw legal hangings when he became sheriff of Calaveras County.

The book discusses his marriage to a young Catholic woman, followed by his employment as a Wells Fargo detective.  Eventually the Paul family, having added a number of children, moved from California to Pima County, Arizona where Margaret lived with the children in Tucson.

In Cochise County Paul dealt with Tombstone politics, the rustler element, and a succession of notorious outlaws.  He supervised the execution of the murderers who perpetrated the “Bisbee Massacre”, and eventually ran for Pima County Sheriff.  For the rest of his life he dealt with political enemies, newspaper critics, and family tragedies.  Sheriff Paul is the man who arrested and held the infamous lady stagecoach robber Pearl Hart in his Tucson jail.

Sheriff Bob ‘Paul is not a romantic figure wearing a long black coat, or having a squadron of brothers who looked just like him.  The one woman in his life was his beloved wife from whom he never strayed.  Hollywood did not single him out to star in romanticized flicks, but Sheriff Bob Paul was the real deal, and deserves to be finally recognized.  This fascinating story so well written and carefully researched is certainly an important addition to your Old West library.  Kudos to author John Boessenecker for a job well done. You can get John’s book HERE.

Editor’s Note:  The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of 15 published books about the Old West, including Nine Days at Dragoon Springs, published by Silk Label Books, P. 0. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988-0700 www.silklabelbooks.com.

Valentine T. McGillycuddyValentine T. McGillycuddy; Army Surgeon, Agent to the Sioux, Candy Moulton, University of Oklahoma Press, (405) 325-3200, $26.95, Paperback.  Biography/U.S. History, 292 pages, Map, Illustrations, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

Valentine Trant McGillycuddy was born in 1849 in Racine, Wisconsin.  His parents were shopkeepers.  The boy had several siblings, and even as a child was drawn to healing the sick, practicing on the family pets.  He entered the University of Michigan at age seventeen, and became a doctor at age twenty, completing medical school at the Marine Hospital of Detroit.  The young doctor treated a variety of ailments from accidents and injuries to the hopeless mental conditions of patients at the Wayne County Insane Asylum.

Soon McGillycuddy’s own physical and mental conditions began to fail, and by 1870 he took some engineering courses and joined the U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers.  He headed Out West into the great outdoors to recover his health.  Soon he became a cartographer and surveyor as well as physician.  Tall and thin, McGillycuddy had a short beard and sharp eyes.  He became a rugged outdoors man, good with fractious horses and able to withstand harsh weather conditions as he worked with various surveying crews, and to “keep warm” he became a hard drinker.

A member of the Boundary Commission in 1874, he entered the Northern Plains Indian Territory.  From here it was on to the Black Hills where he met eccentric characters such as Calamity Jane tagging along with the Black Hills Expedition.  In later years McGillycuddy wrote about Jane’s involvement with the expedition and we see how her imaginative legend was perpetrated as she told many whoppers to anyone who would listen.

McGillycuddy’s adventures led him deeper and deeper into the Territories where he would eventually meet Chief Red Cloud and many of the other important Indian leaders.  His had dealings with General George Crook, including events swirling around the days of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  In time he was federally appointed Indian Agent to the Sioux

For a while this book concentrates mostly on all the politics surrounding the Sioux wars, military people, harangues between the generals and politicians in Washington D.C., treaties made and promises broken.  All of this information is found in books written with greater detail than found here, but this one gives a quick and easy to understand evaluation of the Indian Wars problems.  We wish this were told from McGillycuddy’s point of view, since many pages sometimes go by when he is not mentioned, thus he drifts into the background.

McGillycuddy had a wife named Fanny Hoyt whom he met early in his career, and who traipsed along with him as much as possible keeping a diary about army life and loneliness for a woman in the wilderness.  She seemed to be a good sport however, learning to ride horseback and keeping the home fires burning.  Rough housing, few female companions and harsh living conditions could not have been easy.

McGillycuddy was present at Camp Robinson the day Crazy Horse was murdered at the fort, where he demanding the dying chief be put into the adjutant’s office rather than the guardhouse.

After Fanny’s death from stroke, McGillycuddy married a second time to a woman much younger than himself who had a daughter with him and wrote his biography.  McGillycuddy died in 1939.  His cremated remains are buried on Harvey Peak in the Black Hills.  He is much to be admired for his hard work, gumption, and straightforward dealings with those around him.  He was a good husband and father.

This is a good, well-written book about a fascinating character who has been mostly overlooked by historians until now.  Kudos to Candy Moulton for bringing this man to our attention. You can grab this book HERE.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West including The Apache Kid, published by Westernlore Press, P.O. Box 35305, Tucson, Arizona 85740.

Old West Book Review: The Gray Fox

519RXxx2b+L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Gray Fox; George Crook and the Indian Wars, Paul Magid, University of Oklahoma Press, (800 627-7377), $29.95, Cloth, 480 pages, Photographs, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

This book is the second of a trilogy written about the life and military career of General George Crook.  The author concentrates here on the years 1866-1877.  (The first book is titled From the Redwoods to Appomattox, telling about Crook’s early life and including his involvement in the Civil War, check it out HERE).

Born in Ohio in 1829, raised on the family farm, Crook was admitted to West Point when he was eighteen years old.  He graduated near the bottom of his class in 1852.  The Indians nicknamed him “The Gray Fox,” which was not exactly a compliment.  Crook stood close to six feet tall, with blue eyes a little too close together, a sharply pointed nose, graying close-clipped hair, thin lips and humorless personality.  He served for eight years on the Pacific Coast where he campaigned against Indians in both the Rogue River War and the Yakima War.  When necessary, he could live off the land.  His hunting expeditions while in the field became one of his peculiarities.  Crook rarely dressed in military garb while campaigning.  He was usually found wearing canvas clothing, high work boots and a straw hat.  In Arizona he rode a mule named Apache.  Crook relied heavily on mule packing opposed to hauling supplies and equipment in slow-moving wagon trains.

Author Magid follows the tortured and twisting trails of General Crook throughout the early Apache campaign in Arizona, and then Crook is transferred to the Northwest where he is embroiled in battles against Sioux and Cheyenne warriors.  Readers follow him through long, grueling marches, freezing winter snows, forage shortages, sick and starving horses, loss of life and always the political harangues he faced with his superiors in Washington, D.C.

Crook was notorious for keeping battle plans to himself, much to the annoyance of some officers in his command.  He was known to go off by himself to hunt game, returning to camp with fish and fowl, and occasionally deer or buffalo meat for the troops.  He eventually learned the art of taxidermy to preserve some of. his best trophies.  He was eccentric, somewhat mysterious, tough on himself as well as the men around him, but the Indians considered him a worthy and dangerous foe.  They knew he was a man of his word.

This book is hardly a long, dry history lesson.  The talented author keeps the story rolling forward with easy-to-read prose.  Crook’s personality is fairly dealt with, even though the man was difficult to understand.  Crook had a myriad of complicated issues to deal with, but kept his stoic silence most of the time.  The author obviously is a Crook fan, and is to be commended for writing about the murder of Crazy Horse as honestly as possible, telling all sides of the story.  Most likely Crook was aware of the skullduggery afoot.  When, at the end of the Sioux War, Crazy Horse was lured to Camp Robinson on the pretext of talks about a reservation for his people, the war chief was captured instead, and brutally murdered inside the fort.

When we turn the last page, we have mixed emotions about General Crook.  He left no personal diaries or notes about himself, so history must rely on the observations of those who worked and lived with him, as well as his military successes and failures.  Criticized by some, praised by others, General Crook is a fascinating personality.

We look forward to the third book in Magid’s trilogy focusing on Crook’s involvement ending the Apache Wars in Arizona. You can get this book HERE.

Editor’s Note:  Reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West, including the novel Hell Horse Winter of the Apache Kid, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988-0700, www.silklabelbooks.corn.

Old West Book Review: Tracing The Santa Fe Trail

Santa Fe TrailThis photographic journey along the Santa Fe Trail is a treasure of outstanding color photos combined with a detailed, step by step history of this important trail wending its way across the American West between the Missouri river valley and northern Mexico.

Readers turn the pages of history from 1821 through 1880, witnessing caravans of freight wagons, lumbering oxen, stoic Missouri mules, and faithful horses traveling this international route used by military men, hunters, pioneers, homesteaders, tradesmen, bullwhackers and every sort of adventurer.  By 1880 the railroads put the Santa Fe Trail out of importance but before trains on rails edged out horses and mules, this road seethed with adventure.

Maps inside the book give a detailed description of the trail running from St. Louis, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico.  As we turn the pages, magnificent photos combined with carefully written essays tell the story. Scenes of trapper’s tents along the Missouri River, historical markers explaining old battle scenes, patient oxen ready for work, military forts, restored buildings in Kansas boom towns, and haunting wagon ruts are still visible across the prairie.

The author takes us along this spectacular tour of historical places while explaining the importance of each scene. We get an emotional glimpse of what it must have been like to walk or ride along this trail. We imagine the squeak of freight wagons, the clank of trace chains, and can almost feel the lonesome prairie vastness surrounding brave travelers as they went along their way.

Every type of conveyance from buggies to huge Conestogas lumbered along.  Trade goods included salt, tools, furs, medicine for fever and malaria, castor oil and opium. Some packages contained wines and brandies, chess sets, violin strings, playing cards, cooking utensils, cloth and leather goods as well as silver and gold. Businessmen Russell, Majors and Wadell, who would eventually come up with the idea of a Pony Express, first ran a freight business that consisted of over 3,500 freight wagons carrying thousands of tons of material.

Fortunes were made and lost, armies tramped cross-country while cemeteries sprang up along the way.  This book is filled with surprising historical tidbits that we sometimes forget existed.  For instance, we see pictured the historical landmark of Fort Osage built to house soldiers guarding the new Louisiana Territory.  Pictures of the soldier’s quarters give us insight about how they lived.  Plank floors, spartan bunk beds and a wood kitchen counter remind us of days gone by.  Turning the pages we find everything from old adobe buildings to the Palace of the Governor in old Santa Fe. There are churches, Pueblos and Indian kivas inviting exploration.

Every page of this book causes the reader to reflect on the thoughtful and sentimental scenes chosen by the photographer. Faithful mules pulling a U.S. Army wagon, crumbling stone walls of an 1860 stage station, gushing water at a river crossing, remnants of two-hundred year-old cottonwood trees and historical grave markers show what lined the old Santa Fe Trail. We are filled with awe and admiration for the people who braved the new and dangerous land.  Photographer Ronald J. Dulle is to be congratulated for his beautifully orchestrated photography combined with this important history lesson.  This book belongs in your Old West library. You can grab this beautiful book HERE.

Editor’s Note:  The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West including The Apache Kid, published by Westernlore Press, P.O. Box 35305, Tucson, Arizona 85740

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

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