Old West Book Reviews Archives

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

 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.

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