Old West Book Reviews Archives

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

 You Are Respectfully Invited to Attend My ExecutionYou Are Respectfully Invited to Attend My Execution, Larry K. Brown, High Plains Press, (1-800-552-7819), $11.95, Paperback.

Between 1871 and 1890, seven murderers were hanged in Wyoming Territory. Some others died (including one woman) in Wyoming at the hands of angry mobs, known as vigilantes.  However, this book concentrates on the seven legal executions.

Author Larry K. Brown has sifted through court documents, family histories, newspaper articles, and historic journals.  An astute observer of human nature, Brown’s research is aimed at presenting a chilling picture of each crime, both victim as well as perpetrator, the arrest, trial, incarceration and finally the last steps of the condemned as they mounted the scaffold.

There are no happy endings here for the victims or the killers.  Murder is murder.  The victim’s life ends suddenly and brutally, while the killer’s own days are then numbered whether they want to believe it or not.  We, students of Old West history, are left trying to understand what leads a person to carry out such evil deeds while thinking they will escape the consequences.

Wyoming Territory from 1871 to 1890 was filled with adventurers, trappers, hunters, homesteaders, ex-military men packing iron, and sometimes shady individuals who experienced hard times and long waits between meals.  While some looked for work, others looked for trouble and a fast dollar.  The author explains in his introduction the purpose of the book, giving a brief history of capital punishment, its purpose and methods.  Whether the reader agrees or disagrees with capital punishment, this fascinating little book gives insight into the Old Western laws and how people dealt with this problem in the building of the new nation.

Wyoming Territory had to find ways to enforce law and order to encourage new settlement. Highwaymen, cattle rustlers and horse thieves were unwelcome.  Drifters were not encouraged to stay long.  Seven men committed atrocities that led them to the gallows, and they paid with their own lives.

John Boyer shot and killed two men for raping his mother and sister.  William “Tousant” Kensler shot a man while the two argued over a prostitute.  John Leroy Donovan beat a barber to death while the man slept, then stole his life savings.  George Cooke shot and killed his brother-in-law during a drunken argument.  John Owens killed a man with an axe for the purpose of stealing his money.  Benjamin Carter was a bully who beat up, then shot a young cowboy during a cattle drive.  George Black shot an old hermit inside his cabin over a land dispute.

Once caught, some of these men admitted their deed, others denied it; all hoped for last-minute reprieves.  Asking forgiveness, too late they craved comforting words from loved ones they had not considered when they turned to murder.  Punishment in the Wyoming Territory was swift, the executions were carried out within a short time after sentencing.  The author follows each man’s thoughts and actions all the way to their last meal and beyond.

This is not a book you should read before going to bed at night!  It is less than 200 pages, but will cause readers to reflect upon choices we make, and the responsibility people must take for their own actions.  The reader is left to ponder what really lurked inside the hearts and minds of these killers as they acted upon their baser instincts.  For us, these stories should be lessons learned. 

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

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

Old West Book Review: My Ranch, Too

My Ranch TooMy Ranch, Too.  A Wyoming Memoir, Mary Budd Flitner, University of Oklahoma Press, $24.95, Cloth. 2 maps, 23 Photos, 232 pages.

There are not many books that I read twice, but My Ranch, Too is one of them.  If you have ever lived on a ranch, or handled horses, dogs, cattle or sheep, or even thought about it, you will smile at the author’s astute observations, and wonderful way of describing it all.

Mary Budd Flitner’s great grandfather Daniel Budd, settled in Wyoming Territory in 1878.  He inherited a herd of cattle from his brother who died unexpectedly at a young age.  Budd moved his family from Kansas to Wyoming, and thus began the story.

Today, great granddaughter Mary Budd Flitner owns and operates a large cattle ranch in Wyoming, known as the Diamond Tail Ranch.  Her husband Stan is also a descendant of a Wyoming ranch family.  The land, weather cattle, horses and sheep are part of their heritage.  Mary’s wonderful stories are written chapter by chapter filled with original detail.  Every experience imaginable having to do with Wyoming ranch life is described with clear and careful thought.

Readers will enjoy her subtle sense of humor in chapters like the horse race, and the disappearance of her children’s bum lambs.  Things usually turn out for the best with happy endings, although Mary is fair and tough when circumstances require a firm hand.  Her dealings with horses, cowboys, hired and amateur helpers, terrible cold winters and seasons of drought are part of her life.  Raising four kids through thick and thin, high interest rates and livestock losses are dealt with head-on.

Mary Flitner’s great love for her land, her family and way of life comes through on every page.  This is a family story about hard-working people who have managed to survive under harsh conditions, with plans to leave the land to the next generation.

Mary admits there are times when she’s anxious to drive to town for a few hours of “girl talk” with her lady friends.  She has found a balance between life in blue jeans, driving pickup trucks, changing tires, delivering calves, mending fences, herding cattle, or getting bucked off a frisky colt.  Thus she enjoys a brief respite with female friends who themselves understand ranch life.

Her stories are true, carefully written, easy to understand, sometimes filled with sentimental humor showing her ability to laugh at herself.  She writes tenderly about the friends she has had over the years, those who worked hard and shared their personal tragedies.  She has kept a journal in which she checks back over the good times as well as bad, including scary happenings like the time her husband was pinned under a fallen horse a long way from home.  (No cell phones).  Her kids were taught to ride and rope almost as soon as they could walk, and they grew up happy and strong amid their horses, cattle drives, dogs, and lambs.

This is a story of a woman’s place on a working ranch, where she handles being a wife, mother, bookkeeper, cook, adviser, and business partner besides fixing farm machinery, and using branding irons.  Readers will feel the cold, the dust, the wind and snow through Mary’s admirable talent for describing details.  Readers sense her true grit as she drives a truckload of cattle down an icy canyon road, or stoically prepares wash tubs filled with food for hungry roundup crews.

There is no whining here, no blaming others. Mary Flitner’s story gives readers much to think about. She’s a tough, honest, kindly person you’d be proud to ride with.

Editor’s Note:  Reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West, including the non-fiction Death For Dinner, The Benders of (Old) Kansas, 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: They Called Him Buckskin Frank

Buckskin FrankThey Called Him Buckskin Frank, Jack Demattos an Chuck Parsons, University of North Texas Press, $29.95, Cloth, Photos, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

The name Buckskin Frank Leslie seems always to appear in the old Tombstone stories.  Doc Holliday the Earps, Johnny Ringo and some others had some association with him, but he was always on the “fringe.”  (No pun intended.) He was tagged with the name “Buckskin Frank” probably because he nearly always wore a buckskin jacket.

The reality was that he handled guns, sometimes rode with the sheriff, scouted for the Army during the Geronimo campaign, and owned saloons in Tombstone.  He was notorious for having shot and killed his girlfriend but never really became a major figure in the Tombstone story we have seen in countless movies and television shows.

The authors of this book have sorted through the wild tales and incomplete history of Buckskin Frank, but information such as exactly where he was born, and parental history remain vague.  He claimed to be college educated, and this may very well be true.  A long letter he wrote for a San Francisco newspaper in 1900 detailing his participation in trailing Apaches is extremely well-written.  This alone shows he was probably educated beyond the usual Tombstone cowboys of that time.

Buckskin Frank was short in statue, but handsome nonetheless, able to attract the ladies in droves.  He had a long list of girlfriends, lovers and wives. He shot and killed the husband of one of his future wives, he left others in divorce court or simply vanished when convenient.  One lady scheduled to be his wife was left quite dead as a result of the business end of his shootin’ iron after a drunken brawl at his ranch near Tombstone.  Her grave marker in the Arizona desert says “Mollie Williams”, but her real name was Mollie Edwards.  The result of her death sent Buckskin Frank to Yuma Territorial prison for eight years.

He was a model prisoner, put in charge of the prison pharmacy, and was released early due to his good behavior on November 17, 1896.  He was met at the prison gates by a love-sick widow whom he married fifteen days later.  After promising her a honeymoon trip to China, he dumped her in April.  Apparently China was the farthest thing from his mind.

He spun some good yarns about himself, which got mixed up with reality thus making it difficult for biographers to sift through the information, real and otherwise.

 For instance he claimed to have been a scout for General George Armstrong Custer, but no military records can be found giving proof of this.  He did scout during the Geronimo Campaign in Arizona, having gone deep into Mexico hunting for runaway Apaches. He did kill several men in gunfights, and he was involved in the Spanish American War in Cuba.

The authors have trailed Buckskin Frank to San Francisco where he continued to move from one house to another, frequented billiard parlors and saloons, had mining interests South of the Border, and eventually in his old age disappeared all together.  It is suggested he was the victim of foul play, complete with skeletal remains, outside Oakland, California.

This book is enchanting, putting some old fictionalized tales regarding Buckskin Frank to rest, but also pointing to some new and tantalizing information about the man. Buckskin Frank’s life was certainly filled with unusual adventures. Gambler,

Who really was Buckskin Frank Leslie?  This book is a fascinating read.

Editor’s Note: 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, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 399, Unionville, New York 10988 www.siIklabelbooks.com

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

Old West Book Review: Butch Cassidy My Uncle

Butch Cassidy My UncleButch Cassidy My Uncle, Bill Betenson, High Plains Press (1-800-552-7819), $1995, Paperback. 300 pages, Photographs, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

Back in the 1960s, most of us who love western movies went to see a flick called Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Paul Newman and Robert Redford played the important roles, and we came away impressed and intrigued having seen a cowboy movie we were told was based on facts.

Butch and Sundance were real, and most of their exploits have been delved into now that Hollywood brought the pair to light.  So much has been written and told about Butch Cassidy, that one family member Bill Betenson, the great-grandson of Butch’s youngest sister, decided to try to set the record straight.  Butch Cassidy came from a large and mostly law-abiding family.  Except for one uncle, Dan Parker, who spent time in the Detroit House of Corrections for holding up a store, the rest of the Parkers were embarrassed by Butch’s outlawry.

This book begins with the early life of Butch, whose real name was Robert LeRoy Parker, telling of his youth, schooling and employment.  Betenson has access to family memorabilia, plus he has done an admirable job of searching through historical documents, newspaper articles, and public records as well as visiting many of the places where Butch lived.

Butch (a nickname he acquired after working as a butcher), seemed easily attracted to life on the wild side.  He did have real jobs in ranching and mining, and his employers always spoke highly of his good manners and careful attention to his duties.  But he was also intrigued with adventure and easy money.  At various times he took up with characters of questionable integrity, and was therefore involved in a variety of robberies. He rode with a gang holed up in the wilds of Utah.  Robbing banks, stagecoaches, trains and even horse rustling were the usual endeavors.  Butch spent most of his adult life hunted by sheriff’s posses, cavalry units and detectives working for Pinkertons

This book is filled with family photos and various scenes from Butch’s past, including images of his friends and relatives, besides members of the gang when he hooked up with Harry Longabaugh, (the Sundance Kid).  Butch traveled with Sundance and a variety of other gang members, even going as far away as New York City, joined by an attractive young woman known as Ella Place.  Butch, Sundance and Ella finally drifted to South America where authorities in the United States continued to hunt them.  They wound up in Argentina, and even bought a cattle ranch where they planned to start anew.  But alas the Pinkertons and other law enforcement people seemed always lurking nearby.

Again the trio got involved in bank robberies, and conflicting reports has them either killed in South America, or having gotten away due to some other American outlaws killed by police, being mistakenly identified as Sundance and Butch.  This of course led to all the modern day controversy. Did Butch die in South America?  Did he really come home years later as some of his friends and relatives insist?  It has long been told, even in the movie, that Butch and Sundance died in a hail of lead in South America after they robbed a bank.  However, there is a strong case told here that while Sundance may have died there, Butch survived and returned years later to the United States.

The last chapter of the book delves into all of the available information the author has gleaned pointing to Butch’s return.  The author writes an intriguing account in a forthright manner without trying to sway the reader’s opinion one way or the other.  This book is a treasure of factual information about the life and times of Butch Cassidy, and most likely the best written so far.  It’s another good one from High Plains Press.

Editor’s Note:  The Reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of many published books, including the novel Nine Days at Dragoon Springs, published by Silk Label Books, P. 0. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988 (845-726-3434) www.silklabelbooks.com.

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

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