Old West Book Reviews Archives

Old West Book Review: The Frontier World of Fort Griffin

Fort GriffinThe Frontier World of Fort Griffin, Charles Robinson Ill, University of Oklahoma Press, 800-627-7377, $14.95, Paper. 236 Pages, Illustrations, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

This fast-paced, fun to read book tells of the exciting, albeit short, life of the rip-roaring Texas town called Fort Griffin.  Wild and dangerous, it sprouted from the desolate prairie to fulfill the needs of pioneers battling Indians, thus an army post was established.  Next came buffalo hunters with hides to sell, then cowboys on cattle drives. Nicknamed “The Flat”, Fort Griffin was also known as “Hide Town”.  The biggest settlement between Fort Worth and El Paso back in the 1870’s, it eventually dwindled into little more than a few stone foundations found today.

When the buffalo hunting days ended, and the great Indian raids ceased, the army moved out.  The only real business for the town ended too when the great cattle drives no longer came through the area.  Cattle were shipped by train, and into the late 1880s the land around Fort Griffin was slowly turned into small farms crossed by barbed wire fences.

Today, Fort Griffin does not exist as a town at all. But Western historians frequently come across stories about it as one of the wildest towns in the Old West.  The author has delved through newspapers, court documents, and personal interviews to find the stories about what happened here.

It all started when the Republic of Texas was annexed to the United States in 1845.  Next came a few hardy settlers demanding protection from marauding Indians.  Protecting the early settlers came the Army, followed by ranchers with cattle raising ideas.  More feuds, more fights, and eventually the buffalo hunters arrived decimating the great buffalo herds that provided sustenance for the Indians.  Through all this Fort Griffin with its bustling activity naturally attracted gamblers, prostitutes, rustlers and gunmen who in turn were soon at odds with the local vigilance committee.

Rustlers and thieves were regularly hanged by night-riding locals seeking law and order, and sometimes revenge.  Meanwhile, infamous people such as Henry “Doc” Holliday. Big Nose Kate, Pat Garrett, Lottie Deno, Wyatt Earp and a passel of lesser-known characters who were just as vicious and handy with guns came through town making plenty of trouble.  Several chapters in the book are dedicated to downtown merchants, newspaper editors and the otherwise law abiding, but the real story concerning Fort Griffin seems to be about the tough, gritty, ambitious folks who were willing to shoot first and ask questions later.

This book is filled with odd and unusual characters who lived and sometimes died in Fort Griffin. For instance, Mrs. Lam drove a fast-moving buggy to town to try to save her husband from the vigilantes, but arrived too late.  A man named Brock spent years traveling about the country trying to find a man he was accused of murdering in Fort Griffin because Brock wanted to clear his name.

Fort Griffin is compared with other tough towns such as Dodge City and Tombstone, but Fort Griffin was not to become a tourist town or a modern-day survivor.  Only a few scraps of lumber and the walls of the Fort Griffin Lodge No. 489 remained in 1992 when this book was written.  Each year locals gathered to celebrate the old town’s history filled with cowboys, buffalo hunters, soldiers, soiled doves, gamblers and vigilantes.  Researchers will find that browsing through the various chapters will likely turn up some valuable information not easily found elsewhere.  I discovered Glen Reynolds, a sheriff killed by Apaches in Arizona, had originally ridden at least one time with the vigilantes in Fort Griffin.  This book is a little treasure for sure.  It belongs in your Old West library.

Publisher’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, Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988-0700. Phone (845)-726-3434.  Www.silklabelbooks.com

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: Thunder in the West; The Life and Legends of Billy the Kid

Thunder in the WestThunder in the West; The Life and Legends of Billy the Kid, Richard W. Etulain, University of Oklahoma Press, $29.95, Non-fiction, Cloth. Illustrations, Photos, Essay on Sources, Bibliography, Index.

At various times he was called Henry McCarty, Kid Antrim, and Billy Bonney.  However, most of us know him as Billy the Kid.  This biography of the Western outlaw is carefully researched and well written in a style that keeps readers turning pages even though we have been exposed to this character via books and movies as far back as we can remember.

The author, Richard W. Etutain is the former Director of the University of New Mexico. He has had a long and important career as a writer and editor of more than 50 books pertaining to the American West.  This book takes the reader on a journey beginning with Billy’s original birth place in New York in 1859.  His mother moved west with young Billy and his one brother when the boys were children; it is not known who Billy’s father was.  The family’s trait continued to New Mexico Territory, and the information includes the death of Billy’s kind, hardworking mother of consumption.  Billy meandered after that from one situation to another.

Without real parental supervision or help, he drifted in and out of trouble, killed a man in Arizona before his 20th birthday, fled back to New Mexico ahead of a hot Arizona posse, and was arrested several times always managing to escape.  Later, arrested for murders in New Mexico, he was jailed and awaited execution when he escaped again this time shooting and killing two sheriff’s deputies in Lincoln, New Mexico.

New Mexico politics comes into the life of Billy the Kid as he got mixed up in shoot-outs and became a gun-for-hire as various powerful political factions and wealthy land owners vied for power.  In time, Billy ran with a gang of outlaws stealing horses and cattle.

Meanwhile, there were many people who considered Billy a good friend and many girls were attracted to him.  He had friends in the Hispanic community, and spoke Spanish fluently.  Eventually Billy was shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garret inside a house in Fort Sumner, New Mexico in 1881.

Everything pertaining to Billy the Kid has some controversy involved.  His birth, his little known family history, his mothers brief life, her marriage to a man who seemed to take no interest in his stepson, Billy’s involvement with politicians as well as land owners and desperadoes is all mired in controversy.  As his fame grew, many people remembered him and wrote or talked about their relationships with him even many years after his death, thus adding to the intrigue.

The second part of the book delves into all the best-known books and movies featuring Billy the Kid.  Etulain separates fact from fiction, complimenting those authors who have done serious and lengthy research.  The movies featuring Billy the Kid are mostly contrived plots filled with fistfight action and gun battles.  In the end we are still wondering why all the interest in a young, wayward character who even by modern standards would be known as little more than a dangerous juvenile delinquent.

This book takes the reader on a detailed, from beginning to end, Wild West journey featuring everything you ever wanted to know about Billy the Kid. It belongs in your Old West library.

Editor’s Note:   The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de La Garza is the author of many 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. www.silklabelbooks.com

Old West Book Review: Wrecked Lives and Lost Souls

Wrecked Lives and Lost SoulsWrecked Lives and Lost Souls; Joe Lynch Davis and the Last of the Oklahoma Outlaws, Jerry Thompson, University of Oklahoma Press, $24.95, Paper. Nonfiction, U.S. History, Illustrations. Maps, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

Born in 1891, Joe Lynch Davis was the second of five children born to Jack Davis and Bessie Satterwhite.  The first part of this biography explains how the early Davis family migrated from northern Georgia to Oklahoma before the Civil War, accumulating land and becoming successful ranchers.

Jack Davis and his kin were tough people, allowing nothing to stand in their way of gaining vast amounts of cattle, horses, and other business interests through hard work.  However, friends and neighbors were of the same cloth, and some of their endeavors were mixed with cattle rustling, horse theft, bank heists, train robberies and murder.  In the midst of all this, Joe Lynch Davis, the main subject of this nook, grew into a tough young hellion good with guns and horses.  By the time he was in his late teens he had already been involved in much of the mayhem.  He seemed never to quell his enthusiasm whether in a roping contest at the local rodeo, or riding hard one step ahead of a sharp-shooting posse.

Joe’s family was mixed up in a Porum, Oklahoma feud that left more than 20 men dead.  The Davis clan along with friends and enemies shot it out resulting in night-riding, arson, ambushes, missing persons, maimed bodies, and bloody folks getting even with each other by a variety of aggravated misunderstandings that end like all feuds do – with nobody knowing for sure what started it all.

During and after all this, young Joe was involved in one scrape after another quite  fearlessly planning and carrying out cattle rustling, bank holdups and train robberies. Sometimes he and his gang pulled off more than one heist in one day. When occasionally Joe got caught and had to stand trial, he was let go by juries too scared of his family to find him guilty.  Behind the scenes was Joe’s rich daddy who always found top-notch, high-priced lawyers to defend his son.

The book goes into detail about all the train and bank robberies, how much was stolen, and the aftermath.  Somewhere along the way Joe met an attractive young lady named Lula Cobb, and together they had a little girl.

In 1917 Joe got caught after another train robbery that included the shooting death of a railroad employee.  Railroad and Postal detectives this time got their man. Joe and his buddies did not get away with it.  Joe did 17 years at Leavenworth Penitentiary, including several years in solitary confinement living on bread and water.  The Davis family spent all their money hiring lawyers to free their son.  Eventually President Herbert Hoover gave him a conditional commutation.  Joe quietly returned to a desolate Oklahoma, ravaged by the Dust Bowl era’s Great Depression.  His family was now poor, and Lula had been murdered years before by a violent and abusive husband who committed suicide.

Old and broken, in poor health, rebuffed by his family for having caused so much pain, Joe minded his own business, got a job, and never gave an interview.  Joe died at age 86 in 1979.  The author of this book is the son of Joe’s orphaned daughter.  His interest in his grandfather was piqued when he found some old letters in a dresser drawer after his mother’s death.  This led to years of painful research, thus readers feel the strength of his writing and depth of emotion, as he finds out about a grandfather whose outlaw life had been kept secret by the Davis family.  Jerry Thompson is to be commended for his story, neither condemning nor defending a grandfather who was never part of his life.

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 Reviews: Last Warrior

Last WarriorThe Last Warrior, W. Michael Farmer, Five Star Publishing, $25.95, Cloth. Historical Fiction.
This is the third book in the series featuring the Mescalero Apache known as “Yellow Boy.” Earlier books in this series are Killer of Witches, and Blood of the Devil.
Yellow Boy lived sometime from 1860 through 1950, giving the author Michael Farmer an historical time frame through which the Mescalero Apaches survived the great changes brought upon them due to the arrival and domination of white men in the Southwest.
These Yellow Boy books are not only exciting, but help give readers an understanding of Apache culture. Their food, living conditions, beliefs and traditions are carefully woven into the stories. Some words in Apache are introduced, and fictional characters are mixed with some real people who lived during this time. Everything is carefully researched.
This third book is narrated by Yellow Boy himself as he tells his life story to another fictional character, Henry Fountain, who, as a child, had been rescued by Yellow Boy and has remained a close friend and ally of his Apache friend and teacher. While Henry listens, Yellow Boy explains about the most important adventures of his life dealing with both white people and various Apache enemies, plus some escapades that took Yellow Boy far into Mexico while having to deal with characters such as Pancho Villa.
Readers like Yellow Boy. He is not only a straight shooter in life, but a keen marksman having special Powers. A crack shot with his rifle, he is highly respected and carries great pride in the handling of firearms. He uses that to his advantage, but remains always fair in his dealings with friends as well as foe.

In this story Yellow Boy is determined to keep his family safe, while making necessary adjustments to their new life on a reservation. The story moves along quickly with good descriptions of the countryside, weather, animals, and all that is encountered during long rides through this unforgiving desert region.

We learn how a vindictive witch, who is the half-sister of the villain in a previous story, is determined to get even with Yellow Boy for having killed her murderous brother. This witch is nearly as bad as her brother and Yellow Boy must find a way to settle her hash. Her name is Ojo Verde, having one green eye and one brown eye. She plots the demise of Yellow Boy, cooking up all sorts of terrible revenge.

Of course Yellow Boy wins at the end of the story, but just when he is resting on his laurels and enjoying a peaceful smoke, there is more trouble on the horizon. Yellow Boy and both his wives hear talk about some missing friends. Supplies are short, and winter is coming on. It looks like Yellow Boy is in for yet another exciting adventure.

Stay Tuned.

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.

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