Old West Book Reviews Archives

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.

Old West Book Review: Villa Lobos

Villa LobosVilla Lobos, Michael Zimmer, Five Star Publishing, $25.95, Hardcover, Western Fiction.

Author Michael Zimmer has written an action-packed, fast-paced western novel that will appeal to readers thirsty for tough adventure tales about the Old West.  Sit back, read, and have fun with it, but don’t try to spend much time trying to figure out who all the characters are.  The names are many.

The story titled Villa Lobos, means “Village of Wolves” giving an apt description of where this story is headed.  You will find four groups of individuals riding south out of Texas and across the Rio Grande river where they are going to collide in a flurry of treachery, gun smoke, slashing knives, and dynamite.

The first group is made up of a gang of American outlaws who have just robbed a bank in Texas.  Some people were killed, the town is in shock, and the gang now heads south where they plan to divide the loot.  The leader is an ex-Confederate soldier named Hollister.

The second group consists of the American sheriff, leading a posse of adventuresome cowboys and townspeople who want their money back.  The sheriff is an old hand at law enforcement and trailing felons, but desert heat and whining store keepers not used to riding with a posse slow him down.

The third group presents a half dozen soldiers escorting three runaway prostitutes back to the town they came from.  The women are riding in a wagon, dressed as soldiers, and voicing more than their share of complaints as they plod along only to be ambushed and taken prisoners by the outlaw Hollister gang who seem to think the women will make valuable hostages in case the sheriff catches up.  The surprised soldiers are embarrassed, and decide to go after the outlaws to get the women back.

Now the story presents a fourth group made up of Mexican bandits, cutthroats, liars and thieves.  They are scalp hunters attacking Indian bands in Mexico for scalp bounty.  They also take children and young women prisoners to be traded or sold deep in the Mexican interior as household servants, prostitutes and slaves.  Known as “The Hunters” this outfit has not one individual that readers would care to-deal with.  They headquarter in Villa Lobos, giving the town its name, and through murder and fear, control everybody.  The leader is so vicious and corrupt we despise him instantly. (Remember The Magnificent Seven?)  The old priest in town is the only person who escapes the bandit leader’s wrath.

By now, you have guessed you will have lots of names to wend through, but still there is no clear-cut protagonist whom we can cheer for, worry about, or hope he or she will come out on top.  A character brave, respectable, wise, admirable, memorable, does not surface here.  While we wonder why we are even reading this book, we find we cannot put it down.  The action never stops, one shocking surprise after another finds us turning pages because we don’t want to miss anything.

The author has a good understanding of horses, guns, desert heat, the Spanish language, military procedure, historic Mexican villages, and the ability to put it on paper.  Without a memorable protagonist the plot is shaky, but if you like western adventure stories, Villa Lobos will entertain you to the last page

Publisher’s Note: The reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West including the novel Lost Roundup, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 399, Unionville, New York 10988. www.silklabelbooks.corn

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

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.

Old West Book Review: Contention and Other Frontier Stories

Contention and Other Frontier StoriesContention and Other Frontier Stories: A Five Star Anthology of original Western stories by seventeen authors, Edited by Hazel Rumney, Five Star Publishing, $25.95, Cloth, Frontier Fiction.

Most of the authors of these short stories are well-known winners of writing awards, having plenty of experience with word-wrangling. These stories are fast- paced, filled with original detail. Here you will find a wide selection of ideas and varied circumstances pertaining to our American frontier.

A good short story hooks the reader right away, and almost always ends with a surprise. The reader will arrive at the end and get a laugh, or perhaps be entertained when the villain gets his or her comeuppance.  Nearly all of these stories live up to our expectations.

The editor is Hazel Rumney who began working for Thorndike Press in 1983.  By 1995 Thorndike began publishing the Five Star western series, and soon the books began winning awards.  Hazel Rumney was right in the middle of it all.  She retired in 2011, but in 2012 Five Star called her back, offering her the job doing work from home, via computer.  She grabbed the opportunity to edit in the comfort of her own home “drinking coffee” and avoiding travel; her dream job.  Writers will tell you she is strict, she’s demanding, she looks for good stories that are exciting, believable, and true to Old West authenticity.

This collection has all the right combinations that make short stories work.  The authors keep you guessing until the last page.  Here you will find a deserter from Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders; another is about a young ranch wife avenging the brutal and sudden murder of her husband; a wounded Pony Express rider brings in the mail during a blizzard; Geronimo sends one of his wives away to save her from life in captivity; a young cowboy and his sweetheart get even with a nasty gambler; a Mormon wife treks across the plains toward Utah, protecting her family even after her husband was killed; a tough old buffalo hunter stands firm in the face of removal from his home by encroaching civilization; two cowboys stranded in the mountains with a cantankerous old cook resort to cannibalism; a mysterious rider rescues two young girls held captive on a lonely ranch-far from town; a cocky young troublemaker finds himself involved in a shotgun wedding; a city girl newspaper reporter gets stranded in a dust storm, a miner tries a variety of imaginative ways to bury his dead partner, an aged colonel from Civil War days struggles with his memory; a preacher is embroiled in a Texas blood feud; a baseball player living in the past tries to avoid the reality of giving up the team; a young man with a speech impediment finds clever ways to defend himself.

These stories highlight protagonists with grit and imagination, who forge ahead against difficult circumstances.  A variety of provocative issues are explored.  These were tough people surviving tough times.  This is good frontier fiction, a fun book to read.

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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