Old West Book Reviews Archives

Old West Book Review: Nighthawk Rising

Nighthawk RisingNighthawk Rising, Diana Allen Kouris, High Plains Press, $19.95, Paperback 416 pp, Photos, Maps, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

Nighthawk Rising is the fascinating story is the biography of “Queen” Ann Bassett, an accused cattle rustler living in Brown’s Park in the 1880s through the turn of the century.  Brown’s Park is a wildly beautiful area spanning the rugged mountains throughout western Utah, southern Wyoming, and eastern Colorado.  This is the land of the Wild Bunch, Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, deadly range wars and Tom Horn.

Ann Bassett’s parents settled here, trying to make a living in the difficult cattle business.  Ann’s mother ruled the roost, a tough woman who rode sidesaddle while directing her cowboys.  Ann’s father was a quiet gentleman more likely to be found at home writing poetry.

Ann and her three siblings grew up learning self-sufficiency.  The little girl was a tough cookie, riding the most spirited broncs, and refusing sidesaddles.  She dressed in buckskin trousers, was a top hand with a lariat, and could handle guns.  Headstrong and resisting discipline, as a teenager she roped a grizzly cub and got her horse killed when mama bear came to the rescue.  Ann got a well-deserved spanking from one of the cowboys who saved her life, but even that did not deter the girl from adventuresome deeds.  She was always in the middle of things, whether driving cattle in a snow storm or crawling into a cave to kill coyote pups.

Sadly, Ann’s mother died suddenly of appendicitis.  It now fell on Ann to be a leader in the family.  These changes in the girl’s life coincide with the range war sweeping through Brown’s Park as the big ranchers tried to rid themselves of competition from smaller outfits.  Tom Horn was hired as a “range detective”.  Unsolved murders occurred thereafter, including the shooting death of Mat Rash, a handsome young cattleman who dated Ann Bassett and was destined to become her husband until his bullet-riddled body was found in the hills, most likely murdered by Tom Horn.

This tragic loss undoubtedly shaped Ann’s personal life thereafter.  She never had a young husband.  She had several husbands, all older men, and divorces.  Her life seemed forever in turmoil in her effort to protect her ranch way of life.  She moved from one place to another, was involved in legal disputes, was accused of being a “”rustler”, and nicknamed “Queen Ann” because of her rebellious nature.

Don’t look here for a hard riding bandit queen leading a gang of outlaws.  Ann’s day by day life shows a gritty woman determined to survive against powerful men and forces beyond her control.

Diana Allen Kouris, the author of Nighthawk Rising, herself grew up in the Brown’s Park region. Her family is in the cattle business.  Even though she was born many years after Queen Ann rode the range, Kouris has been able to relate to Brown’s Park and the people.  Her writing is filled with original detail.  We detect the author really knows what she is writing about, generating a feeling of respect and empathy for Queen Ann when readers turn the last page: a truly haunting story.

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 Benders 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.

Old West Book Review: Health of the Seventh Cavalry; A Medical History

Health of the Seventh CavalryHealth of the Seventh Cavalry; A Medical History, Edited by P. Willey and Douglas D. Scott, University of Oklahoma Press, (405) 325-3200, $3295, Cloth. 480 Pages, Illustrations, Maps, Graphics, Charts, Bibliography, Index.

Persons interested in the life and times of members of Custer’s Seventh Cavalry will find this book a treasure trove of information pertaining to the health of these soldiers.

The time period covered is 1866 through the early 1880s.  The first chapter talks about the Regimental history of the Seventh, beginning at the end of the Civil War.  At this time the Seventh began moving westward to deal with hostile Indians of the Plains.  Of course anything to do with the Seventh Cavalry must include information about General George Armstrong Custer, eventually leading to the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

But long before the Little Big Horn, in July 1866, Seventh Cavalry troops were assembling at Fort Riley, Kansas.  From here they were dispersed toward the western Plains from Ft. Riley and beyond.  One table in the book shows the Seventh Cavalry company assignments by year all the way to 1882.

The authors give detailed descriptions of the various living quarters, expeditions, care of horses, weather conditions and the like.  There is one particularly sobering photograph of the arrow-riddled Sergeant Frederick Wyllyams of Company G where he was murdered and mutilated by hostile Indians in 1867.

Always the book’s focus is on the health of the soldiers from information gleaned from, medical records as well as personal accounts written by those who lived and traveled with the troops.  Occasionally we hear from Elizabeth Custer and a few other wives as they described weather conditions, injuries, epidemics, living quarters and social events within the forts.

The men of the Seventh were attended by military physicians who had been doctors during the Civil War.  A list of their names and dates they served is included here.  They treated insect and snake bites, gunshot wounds, venereal disease, horse- related injuries, results of bar brawls, frostbite and contagious diseases such as cholera.  The lists include everything from lacerations to mumps. These doctors were also expected to treat civilians who worked at the forts that included officers’ wives and children, and laundresses.

Military doctors were not always looked upon with respect, behind their backs some were referred to as “Pills” and other uncomplimentary nicknames.  However, some surgeons such as Assistant Surgeon Leonard Wood earned the Medal of Honor for carrying dispatches through hostile Indian Territory during the 1886 campaign against Apaches in Arizona.  Wood was later credited with discovering the cause and treatment of yellow fever.

Eventually the reader arrives at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and much information is gleaned through forensic examination of the remains of the men who died with Custer.  Extensive examination of bones and teeth reveal many physical ailments the men suffered throughout their lifetimes, and including whenever possible wounds received on the battlefield that led to their deaths.

At the end the authors declared the men of the Seventh were “neither the unsoiled, healthy heroes represented by Errol Flynn in They Died With their Boots on, nor the maniacal one-dimensional soldiers portrayed in Little Big Man”.  One observer in the old days described the Seventh Cavalry as “good fighters but mostly heavy drinkers.’

And so be it.  They rode with Custer. May they rest in peace.  This unique book has everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the health of those brave fighting men. The book belongs in your Old West library.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de Ia Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West, including the true crime Death For Dinner, The Benders of (Old) Kansas,, published by Silk Label Books, P. Box 700, Unionville, New York, 10988-0700 www.silklabelbooks.com

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

Old West Book Review: Dark Territory, A Sheriff Aaron Mackey Western

Sheriff Aaron Mackey WesternDark Territory, A Sheriff Aaron Mackey Western, Terrence McCauley, Pinnacle Books, $7.99, Paperback.  Western fiction.

This second book in the Aaron Mackey series finds Mackey once again keeping law and order in his old Montana home town of Dover Station.  This time a group of investors have descended upon the town with an eye on taking over the business interests of this booming community.  Mackey determines to defend his town, friends and relatives from those who are devious and have selfish interests in the local mining ranching, and railroads.

Shootouts, bad actors, murder, skullduggery and unresolved love interests all present a myriad of problems to be solved by the sheriff.  By now readers have become used to his hair-trigger temper and no-nonsense demeanor, and we can only wonder what will come next in the life of this hero if there is a Book Three.

Editor’s Notes: The reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West including the novel, Nine Days at Dragoon Springs, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 399, Unionville, New York 10988 www.silklabelbookscom

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

Old West Book Review: Where the Bullets Fly, A Sheriff Aaron Mackey Western

Sheriff Aaron Mackey WesternWhere the Bullets Fly, A Sheriff Aaron Mackey Western, Terrence McCauley, Pinnacle Books, $7.99, Paperback. Western fiction.

The first book in the Sheriff Aaron Mackey series, this story introduces readers to Aaron Mackey, the sheriff of Dover Station in Montana Territory.  Mackey is an ex- cavalry officer, now sheriff.  His deputy is a black man who once rode with him in the cavalry.  Together, these men try to keep law and order, but when a crazy outlaw named Duramont, leading a band of killers, appears on the scene, Mackey has more than his share of trouble.

Dover Station is surrounded by the Duramont gang, a group of “soiled doves” become Duramont’s hostages along with Mackey’s mistress, who owns the local hotel.  The outlaws need guns, horses and supplies while they are on a ride through the west, murdering and robbing along the way.  Mackey must rely on a few faithful buddies for help since most of the townspeople understandably want to be left alone without losing their hides.  Meanwhile, Mackey’s wife, a beautiful young shrew who hates him, finds out about his mistress and the plot thickens.

Between the killers, the robbers, nighttime ambushes, flying dynamite, burned buildings, runaway stagecoaches and feuding women, the sheriff has more than his hands full.  And did I mention he is in the middle of all this while battling pneumonia?

If you like plenty of western action, this is the book for you.

Dark Territory, A Sheriff Aaron Mackey Western, Terrence McCauley, Pinnacle Books, $7.99, Paperback.  Western fiction.

This second book in the Aaron Mackey series finds Mackey once again keeping law and order in his old Montana home town of Dover Station.  This time a group of investors have descended upon the town with an eye on taking over the business interests of this booming community.  Mackey determines to defend his town, friends and relatives from those who are devious and have selfish interests in the local mining ranching, and railroads.

Shootouts, bad actors, murder, skullduggery and unresolved love interests all present a myriad of problems to be solved by the sheriff.  By now readers have become used to his hair-trigger temper and no-nonsense demeanor, and we can only wonder what will come next in the life of this hero if there is a Book Three.

Editor’s Notes: The reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West including the novel, Nine Days at Dragoon Springs, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 399, Unionville, New York 10988 www.silklabelbooks.com

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

Old West Book Review: Valley of the Guns

Valley of the GunsValley Of The Guns, Eduarado Obregôn Pagan, University of Oklahoma Press, $29.95, Cloth. Maps, Illustrations, Photos, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

“Pleasant Valley” conjures up images of warm summer evenings, horses quietly munching hay in the corral, Mom and Dad laughing quietly on the porch while kids play with a favorite pet lamb.  But don’t be fooled. Pleasant Valley was only a name.

The location is northern Arizona below the Mogollon Rim, made up of rough, mountainous country near Indian reservations and a long way to town. Men of derring-do pioneering spirit, determined to find success in a world of sprawling cattle and mining opportunities settled here.  Some brought wives with them, while most came alone.  They built sturdy one-room cabins compete with gun ports in the log walls.  Roving Apaches, sometimes fleeing the nearby reservation skulked amid the tall trees while coveting white man’s supplies and horses.

The late 1880s saw these settlers always on the lookout for trouble, while determined to make a good life.  Folks settling in the area soon made friendships and alliances with neighbors.  A long way from law enforcement, they learned to band together to protect one another.

However, a series of misunderstandings, revenge and stubborn pride led to the violent deaths of eighteen men, four seriously wounded, and one man missing.  The leading families involved were the Grahams and the Tewksburys.  The Tewksburys were Arizona natives with an Indian mother and white father.  The Grahams, originally from Iowa, like many young men of that era, decided to head “west” eventually meeting the Tewksburys in Pleasant Valley, Arizona.

The author of this book does a careful background search into the lives and origins of both these families and their friends. He delves into their history, what made them act and react to situations resulting in the Pleasant Valley War.  Over the years many historians have suggested the conflict was between sheep men and cattlemen, but this is not exactly true.  While the Grahams specialized in raising horses, the Tewksburys had both cattle and sheep, and at times shared grazing land with not only the Grahams, but others in the valley that had both cattle and sheep.  Many families helped one another in their quest to protect themselves from both rustlers and Apaches, thus the exact cause of the feud is hard to pin down.

What is known is that a lot of men died.  There was great fear in the community as even vigilantes and night riders took to the trails.  One by one, men died violently, while friends and relatives got revenge.  There was even the ghastly lynching of three young ranchers whose bodies were left dangling from a tree for many days as a warning to others who might consider stealing cows.

This book is easy to read, written in a style designed to inform as well as keep the reader turning pages.  The author digs into the underlying causes of fear, revenge, guilt, anger and hatred.  Blood feuds always result in senseless tragedy, and when they end, nobody seems able to remember what really started it all.  The author explains how humans react naturally during moments of grave danger.  We either fight, flee, or freeze.  We don’t know what we will really do until actually confronted with the emergency that requires instant decision.

Fear, murder and revenge rode those mountain trails.  The author of this book has done a creditable job of bringing the story of the Pleasant Valley War to life.  He has weeded through all the controversy, explains what happened to all of the participants of the conflict, and leaves the reader with much to ponder after turning the last page. This is a good addition to your Old West library.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West including Nine Days at Dragoon Springs, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 399, Unionville, New York ,10988. www.silklabelbooks.com

 Page 1 of 10  1  2  3  4  5 » ...  Last »