Old West Book Reviews Archives

Victorian Wedding Dress Victorian Wedding Dress in the United States; A History Through Paper Dolls, Norma lu Meehan and Mei Campbell, Texas Tech University Press, (800-832-4042), 32 Pages, $12.95, Paperback.

This unusual book is a wonderful collectors’ item for anyone interested in vintage clothing, in particular the wedding dress.  Back in 1850, the Godey’s Lady’s Book featured a bridal gown on the cover, and that seemed to spark an unending fascination for brides in our country that continues today.  The authors point out that in the United States, wedding gowns are a $160 billion dollar annual business.

This book uses paper dolls as models, and shows some magnificent wedding gowns designed and worn by American brides between the years 1859 to 1899.  The authors point out that white was not always the chosen color for wedding dresses.  It was Queen Victoria of Britain who wore a white satin gown when she wed Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg in 1840.  While the queen chose white, thereby setting a fashion trend, it would be many years before most women would wear the white gown because their wedding dresses were to be worn for numerous occasions after their wedding as a matter of frugality.

Co-author Meehan is a fashion illustrator who volunteers as costume curator at the Northern Indiana Center for History. Co-author Campbell is curator of ethnology and textiles at the Museum of Texas Tech University.  Combining their talents and expertise, they have chosen twenty wedding dresses selected from both collections to give readers a unique opportunity to marvel at the lovely designs and intricate workmanship of these gowns.

Dresses in this collection are carefully sketched from the original garment; some photographs are included adding a personal touch showing the brides themselves.  Each dress is unique not only in color, workmanship and design, but a brief history of the bride, and, or the wedding is included.

For instance, in 1871 Maggie Knott married Dr. Samuel L. Kilmer in South Bend, Indiana.  She wore a two-piece, ice-blue silk-brocade gown.  In 1882, Florence Miller married Frank Dwight Austin in Leavenworth, Kansas.  The bride’s dress was made in Paris, France and cost an astonishing five hundred dollars.  It became an Austin family heirloom worn fifty-five years later by a granddaughter.  In 1893, Alice Rhawn wed Mr. Clement Studebaker, Jr., one of the founders of the Studebaker Corporation.  Their wedding was a society event in Philadelphia social circles.  The mansion the Studebakers occupied after the wedding is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

On and on, readers get to examine twenty gowns while reading about the women who wore them.  Descriptions include satin panniers, full bustles, pleated hems, long-trained skirts, pointed front bodices, sleeve ends trimmed in Spanish blonde lace, flounces and peplums.  Wool, alpaca, satin, ivory brocade silk, chiffon, crepe, velvet, ostrich feathers, beadwork, Chantilly lace and bands of pearls delight the eye.

Not every bride in the Old West had such wealth and opportunity.  Thus, we usually read about lugging water, milking the cow, rattlesnake bites, Indian attacks, hog ranches and saloon shootouts.  However, this book reminds us that there has always been wealth and privilege; not all women were ranch girls, dance hall queens or homesteaders.  Writers seem to depict women in hardship roles and poverty as a source of Old West entertainment, but here we see that refinement, manners, delicacy and careful attention to detail also had its place in our American Western experience.  The history of these magnificent gowns reminds us about the other side of life.

You can get you copy of Victorian Wedding Dress HERE.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of many published books, including Silk and Sagebrush: Women of the Old West, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988 (845-726-3434) www.silklabelbooks.com

Unsolved Arizona, A Puzzling History of Murder, Mayhem, & MysteryUnsolved Arizona, A Puzzling History of Murder, Mayhem, & Mystery, Jane Eppinga, History Press, $21.99. Paper, Photos, Bibliography, Index.

This book will entertain history-mystery buffs with thirteen true stories about unsolved, odd, and fascinating episodes pertaining to Arizona.

Readers will find the Glen and Bessie Hyde adventure ending in tragedy as the couple honeymooned for twenty-six days on the Colorado River rapids.  Their bodies were never found.

A chapter titled “Lust for the Dutchman’s Gold” takes the reader to Arizona’s Superstition Mountains where legends and scary stories abound. Spaniards, Apaches, Mexican miners, and American adventurers found, lost, hid, and died over golden treasure.  Secret maps, wandering gold-seekers, lies and wild tales still haunt these mountains where nobody has ever found the gold, but scattered throughout the hills are decapitated skeletons.  Lost treasure in the Superstitions has led more than one man to his death.

Here too you will find a chapter about the Wham paymaster robbery, a $28,345.10 loss of government funds.  It happened in May of 1889 at Cedar Spring, Arizona.  The military payroll consisting of $5.00, $10.00, and $20.00 gold pieces was stolen by a band of robbers as the payroll, carried in a wagon under escort, was ambushed and robbed.  The Wham robbery was named after Major Joseph Washington Wham whose personal history included previous robberies, thus he became one of the suspects.  In the end a variety of characters were arrested tried, and found not guilty.  Local ranchers made jokes, soldiers escorting the payroll were told to keep quiet, Wham himself was never held responsible, and after all the political hyperbole, court room haggling and wild newspaper accounts, the money has never been recovered.

A chapter about the missing evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson tells of an eccentric who led authorities on a wild chase during which she disappeared for five weeks.  Other chapters tell of a missing baby, a couple who vanished in the desert near Yuma, the mysterious disappearance of a Willcox rancher’s wife, and the kidnapping of a six-year-old girl, June Robles held in a cage in the desert outside Tucson.  One chapter dwells on the details of the frustrating saga concerning the disappearance of a National Park Service ranger, Paul Fugate.  In January 1980 Fugate walked away from his office in the Chiricahua National Monument in southern Cochise County, Arizona, and was never seen again.  The author takes readers on a trip this time, following Fugate’s activities for several days leading up to his disappearance.  Much of the information comes directly from Fugate’s wife.

The book is a mix of famous old-time mysteries and more recent crime investigations.  They are all about Arizona, and remind us of the harsh desert conditions people are faced with then and now.  Vast stretches of high desert offer scant vegetation, prickly cactus, little water and merciless heat.  Desert dwellers including rattlesnakes and coyotes, wolves and mountain lions sometimes figure into the conditions people face when finding themselves lost, alone, or abandoned.

The author Jane Eppinga has written a large number of books targeting Arizona subjects, with special interest in the macabre.  These include Arizona Twilight Tales: Good Ghosts: Apache Junction and the Superstition Mountains.  She is a member of Arizona Professional Writers, and National Federation of Press Women.

Get your copy HERE.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West including the novel Widow’s Peak published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988-0700, www.silklabelbooks.com

Old West Book Review: Riding the Edge of an Era

Riding the Edge of an EraRiding the Edge of an Era; Growing up Cowboy on the Outlaw Trail, Diana Allen Kouris, High Plains Press (800) 552-7819, $17.95, Paperback.

High mountain trails deep with snow, ice storms and hail, bone-chilling wind mingled with the faraway cries of wily coyotes fill the pages of this real-life adventure.  Carefully written from beginning to end by a lady whose family spans several generations of ranchers, the setting is Butch Cassidy country where Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado meet.  From the writer’s earliest days, there was a no-nonsense approach to life where one mis-step could lead to serious injury and even death.  The family consisted of parents and six children; a cowboy father, and a mother who could ride and rope as easily as rustle up Christmas dinner.

There was no TV or electricity, but the kids had many horses and memorable days filled with everything from hummingbirds to snowflakes.  Picnics, swimming, and favorite pets are remembered, including a pony named Comet whose favorite sport was scraping his riders off under trees.  Long trail drives, wild horse roundups, killer storms, and the learning of independence, the children grew into teenagers, and eventually adults.  The reader grieves when a favorite horse is found dead where he fell in the mountains, and when another struggles in vain against fever, leaving his heart-broken young owner to mourn over the carrion remains.  When the seven-year-old sister is crushed under the back wheels of a farm truck, and when at the end of the story the brave mother dies of cancer, and a favorite brother is lost in an accident, you will close the last page with a lump in your throat and tears in your eyes.

The author has captured real ranch life as it existed in the days between the old and new West, before battles between ranch families and the government’s Bureau of Land Management. Eventually the land is lost to Uncle Sam for a recreation area, and the family must make profound decisions.

Along the way, the author rides past crumbling cabins and deserted home sites where historic murders took place, and bodies were found.  Most crimes were never solved due to a lack of enough lawmen in territories too sparsely populated for a sheriff to be interested.  People faced life as it came at them on a daily basis.  They were tough and independent, they solved their own problems, they never asked for a handout.

Filled with photographs complimenting the text, we see Nonie and Diana, Bob and Marie and Bill Allen and the others in the story as they grin back at camera lenses.  The author writes with a sharp eye for detail and never misses describing scenes of “candy colored cactus flowers,” or “nighthawks darting overhead in evening coolness.”  There is love, devotion, loyalty, sacrifice, and through it all, the powerful bond existed between Marie and Bill Allen, and their children.  There were no crybabies here.  If you fell off your horse, bloodied your knee, bumped your head or fell into the creek, you learned to laugh about it.  This book is not about fluffy toy animals on Sesame Street or even fairness.  It’s about surviving the elements, self-sufficiency and courage.  It’s about cold winter cabins deprived of hot water, indoor plumbing or electric light.  It’s about doing laundry by hand, milking a cow, and stacking hay during school vacations.  It’s about Diana Allen, the smallest of the children helping drive a herd of cattle in a snowstorm when she was only 6 years old.

This highly memorable book reminds us of what good writing is about, how important original detail is to the text, and in the age of hard to find good stories, we can be grateful some wise storytellers still exist.  This book is almost breathtaking in its sincerity; a most memorable read. You can grab a copy of Riding the Edge of an Era; Growing up Cowboy on the Outlaw Trail HERE.

Editor’s Note: The Reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of many published books, including Silk and Sagebrush: Women of the Old West, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988 (845-726-3434) www.silklabelbooks.com

When Law Was In The Holster- The Frontier Life of Bob PaulWhen Law Was In The Holster – The Frontier Life of Bob Paul, John Boessenecker, University of Oklahoma Press, (1-800-627-7377) $34.95, Hardcover.464 pages, Illustrations, Maps, Footnotes, Bibliography, Index.

This is the biography of Sheriff Bob Paul, a frontier lawman in Old Arizona.  He is remembered mostly as the shotgun messenger riding the Tombstone stage that was ambushed one night in March, 1881.  The driver, Bud Phitpott was killed during a volley of gunshots fired by the robbers hidden beside the road.  Philpott’s body hurled over the side of the coach while the driving lines slipped away and the terrified horses bolted.  Bob Paul worked the brake for nearly a mile until he finally got the runaway team under control.

This stage holdup had to do with Tombstone history and has been told many times in connection with the days of Doc Holliday and the Earps.  However, Bob Paul was far more important as a lawman, and his history is filled with excitement and derring-do that more than matched the Earps who dabbled periodically in law enforcement while Bob Paul spent nearly 50 years behind a badge.

Paul was born on June 12, 1830 in Lowell, Massachusetts.  The youngest of three brothers, Paul spent his first few years in Lowell before the family moved to the seaport town of New Bedford.  Here, they worked hard in their boardinghouse.

Paul’s father died in 1839, leaving the family in dire financial straits.  Young Bob, only 12 years old, signed on as a cabin boy with the 197-ton whale ship Majestic.

Thus began a succession of experiences on a variety of whale ships for the next 8 years. Bob Paul advanced from cabin boy to second or third mate, sailing the South Pacific from Peru to the Sea of Japan and back to Hawaii.

In 1848, Paul learned of the huge gold strike in California, and seething with gold fever, asked for a discharge from the whale ship Nassau.  He sailed right away for San Francisco.  In time his prospecting led to law enforcement, as he learned the vagaries of the gold mining business did not always lead to economic security.  Paul, a straight-shooter who stood over six feet tall, with massive frame and lighting fists, had a no-nonsense demeanor.  In the rough and tumble goldfields, he arrested claim jumpers, rescued a number of individuals from vigilante justice, and himself oversaw legal hangings when he became sheriff of Calaveras County.

The book discusses his marriage to a young Catholic woman, followed by his employment as a Wells Fargo detective.  Eventually the Paul family, having added a number of children, moved from California to Pima County, Arizona where Margaret lived with the children in Tucson.

In Cochise County Paul dealt with Tombstone politics, the rustler element, and a succession of notorious outlaws.  He supervised the execution of the murderers who perpetrated the “Bisbee Massacre”, and eventually ran for Pima County Sheriff.  For the rest of his life he dealt with political enemies, newspaper critics, and family tragedies.  Sheriff Paul is the man who arrested and held the infamous lady stagecoach robber Pearl Hart in his Tucson jail.

Sheriff Bob ‘Paul is not a romantic figure wearing a long black coat, or having a squadron of brothers who looked just like him.  The one woman in his life was his beloved wife from whom he never strayed.  Hollywood did not single him out to star in romanticized flicks, but Sheriff Bob Paul was the real deal, and deserves to be finally recognized.  This fascinating story so well written and carefully researched is certainly an important addition to your Old West library.  Kudos to author John Boessenecker for a job well done. You can get John’s book HERE.

Editor’s Note:  The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of 15 published books about the Old West, including Nine Days at Dragoon Springs, published by Silk Label Books, P. 0. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988-0700 www.silklabelbooks.com.

Valentine T. McGillycuddyValentine T. McGillycuddy; Army Surgeon, Agent to the Sioux, Candy Moulton, University of Oklahoma Press, (405) 325-3200, $26.95, Paperback.  Biography/U.S. History, 292 pages, Map, Illustrations, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

Valentine Trant McGillycuddy was born in 1849 in Racine, Wisconsin.  His parents were shopkeepers.  The boy had several siblings, and even as a child was drawn to healing the sick, practicing on the family pets.  He entered the University of Michigan at age seventeen, and became a doctor at age twenty, completing medical school at the Marine Hospital of Detroit.  The young doctor treated a variety of ailments from accidents and injuries to the hopeless mental conditions of patients at the Wayne County Insane Asylum.

Soon McGillycuddy’s own physical and mental conditions began to fail, and by 1870 he took some engineering courses and joined the U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers.  He headed Out West into the great outdoors to recover his health.  Soon he became a cartographer and surveyor as well as physician.  Tall and thin, McGillycuddy had a short beard and sharp eyes.  He became a rugged outdoors man, good with fractious horses and able to withstand harsh weather conditions as he worked with various surveying crews, and to “keep warm” he became a hard drinker.

A member of the Boundary Commission in 1874, he entered the Northern Plains Indian Territory.  From here it was on to the Black Hills where he met eccentric characters such as Calamity Jane tagging along with the Black Hills Expedition.  In later years McGillycuddy wrote about Jane’s involvement with the expedition and we see how her imaginative legend was perpetrated as she told many whoppers to anyone who would listen.

McGillycuddy’s adventures led him deeper and deeper into the Territories where he would eventually meet Chief Red Cloud and many of the other important Indian leaders.  His had dealings with General George Crook, including events swirling around the days of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  In time he was federally appointed Indian Agent to the Sioux

For a while this book concentrates mostly on all the politics surrounding the Sioux wars, military people, harangues between the generals and politicians in Washington D.C., treaties made and promises broken.  All of this information is found in books written with greater detail than found here, but this one gives a quick and easy to understand evaluation of the Indian Wars problems.  We wish this were told from McGillycuddy’s point of view, since many pages sometimes go by when he is not mentioned, thus he drifts into the background.

McGillycuddy had a wife named Fanny Hoyt whom he met early in his career, and who traipsed along with him as much as possible keeping a diary about army life and loneliness for a woman in the wilderness.  She seemed to be a good sport however, learning to ride horseback and keeping the home fires burning.  Rough housing, few female companions and harsh living conditions could not have been easy.

McGillycuddy was present at Camp Robinson the day Crazy Horse was murdered at the fort, where he demanding the dying chief be put into the adjutant’s office rather than the guardhouse.

After Fanny’s death from stroke, McGillycuddy married a second time to a woman much younger than himself who had a daughter with him and wrote his biography.  McGillycuddy died in 1939.  His cremated remains are buried on Harvey Peak in the Black Hills.  He is much to be admired for his hard work, gumption, and straightforward dealings with those around him.  He was a good husband and father.

This is a good, well-written book about a fascinating character who has been mostly overlooked by historians until now.  Kudos to Candy Moulton for bringing this man to our attention. You can grab this book HERE.

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

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