Old West Book Reviews Archives

Charles M. RussellCharles M. Russell: Printed Rarities from Private Collections, Larry Len Peterson, Mountain Press Publishing Co., (800-234-5308),74 black-and-white images, 35 historical photographs, Index, Cloth $70, Paper $45.00.

This magnificent book, filled with dozens of Charles M. Russell Western images, tells the story of a modest man who came to be one of the most famous artists of the American West.

Charles Marion Russell was born March 19, 1864 in St. Louis Missouri.  The third of six children, Charlie’s early life was one of financial security.  He wanted for nothing, and his father expected the boy to become a businessman.  However, Charlie chose to spend his time riding horses, reading dime cowboy novels, and drawing pictures.  Determined to go “Out West”, Charlie convinced his father to send him to Montana on his sixteenth birthday.  The boy traveled by train, then stagecoach and wound up on a Montana sheep ranch owned by a family friend.  Charlie’s father was sure his son would sour quickly from this experience, but Charlie fooled him.  For the next fifteen years the young man worked at various ranches; horses and cattle became his way of life. Meanwhile, he continued sketching pictures of horses, cattle, Indians, and the wilderness around him.  He carried wax in his pockets, and when not sketching, he modeled little figurines he gave away to friends.

Charlie Russell admitted he was not a good businessman.  He wanted to earn his living as an artist, but he often gave his drawings away.  Too embarrassed to ask a fair price for his pictures, he barely eked out a living.

That all changed in 1896 when he married Nancy Cooper, a seventeen-year-old who had been abandoned by her stepfather.  When Nancy’s mother died in 1894 of tuberculosis, Nancy went to work as a housekeeper for a family in Cascade, Montana where Charlie rented a small artist’s studio.  Nancy was Charlie’s most loyal fan, determined that his artwork should bring a fair price. Nancy stood by her man, driving hard bargains, promoting Charlie’s artwork, and eventually hiring lawyers, if necessary, to draw up contracts and make important business deals.

They traveled, built a new home and artist studio, and took trips while Charlie enjoyed celebrity status during his lifetime.  The Russells had no children, but adopted a boy they named Jack whom they spoiled and adored.  During his lifetime, Charlie’s friends included such notables as screen star Harry Carey and political humorist Will Rogers with whom he spun many yarns.  Charlie Russell loved to tell funny stories, had a great sense of humor and while he did not drink alcohol, spent many an evening “swapping windies” with his old cowboy buddies at the local saloons.

In his old age he suffered from gout, together with breathing difficulties due to his years of chain smoking.  Charlie Russell died of heart failure on October 24, 1926 in Great Falls, Montana. The “Cowboy Artist” was buried at the Highland Cemetery in Great Falls on a day when all businesses and schools in that community closed in his honor.

His widow lived another fourteen years until dying of a heart attack in 1940.

Nancy spent all of her remaining fourteen years promoting Charlie’s work, and finalizing the disposition of his estate.  Much of his artwork including his sculptures are today found in museums throughout the United States.

This book contains images of famous paintings, as well as rare sketches commissioned to appear on advertising trays, phony money, menus, stationery, business flyers, Western novels, rodeo flyers and calendars.  Charlie Russell’s artwork is known for its authenticity depicting ornery broncs, marauding Indians, killer snow storms, bawling cattle, howling wolves and buffalo hunters.  This book makes a wonderful gift, or a treasured keepsake for your Old West library. You can get it HERE.

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

The Wild West Story of S. F Cody & Maud LeeA Pair of Shootists; The Wild West Story of S. F Cody & Maud Lee, Jerry Kuntz, University of Oklahoma Press, (405‑325‑3200) $29.95, Hardcover. Photos, Notes to the Chapters, Index.

This carefully researched book brings to light the story of S. F. Cody, a Wild West performer who was in no way related to the famous Buffalo Bill Cody.  Included in this book is background information regarding many of the Wild West performers and the numerous shows that featured cowboys, Indians, acrobats, wild horse stampedes and the carnival atmosphere surrounding the entertainment of long ago.  Beginning around 1888, these shows became popular and grew in number. Touring every state in the Union, they hauled horses, cattle, equipment, Indians, trick riders and shootists who dazzled audiences with their derring‑do.

The forerunner of the Wild West shows actually began around 1883 when various sharpshooters held public contests to see who could out‑shoot the other using moving targets.  In the beginning live birds were used, but eventually the sport graduated to glass‑ball targets.  Soon these shooting contests added wild horse races, stagecoach holdups, and circus acts.

In this book, Samuel F. Cowdery is the central figure.  Born in Davenport, Iowa in the 1870s, he traveled Out West seeking adventure and became an experienced buffalo hunter, horse trainer, cowboy and miner.  In the late 1880s he joined the Forepaugh’s Wild West Show.  His name was shortened to S. F. Cody by show promoters who were not bashful about fooling people into thinking Cowdery was either Buffalo Bill himself, or, at least Bill’s son.

There was no question that S. F. Cody could ride hard and shoot straight.  He even looked like Buffalo Bill with his long hair, distinctive moustache and fringed buckskin garb.  Next came Maud Maria Lee, a sixteen year old girl in 1888 who hailed from Norristown, Pennsylvania. Maude was the same size and shape as the famous Annie Oakley.  An attractive brunette, Maud had some gymnastic training, loved the circus life, rode horses and was a crack shot.  Also a member of the Forepaugh Wild West Show, it did not take long for Maud to meet Cody, and it did not take long for the Forepaugh promoters to seize upon the opportunity to make audiences believe that Maud Maria Lee was Annie Oakley.

The story tells of the pair’s travels with various touring groups, their trip to Europe with the Wild West extravaganza complete with advertising posters done in England bragging that S. F. Cody was the son of Buffalo Bill.

Long travel, harsh weather conditions, serious injuries, and the vagaries of salary payment took their toll.  Maud began using narcotics to ease her pain and she gradually slid into mental instability.  Maud returned to her parents in America while Cody took up with a new lady partner for his shooting act as well as in real life.While still in England, Cody developed an interest in the early airplane experiments.  Certain the airplane would be invaluable for war, he even worked for a time for the British government.  Cody was killed in 1913 in a crash with his biplane, and is buried in the military service cemetery at Thorn Hill.

After drug use, arrests, lawsuits, and brushes with the law, Maud was committed by her parents to the Norristown State Hospital, a mental institution where she died in 1947 from head failure at age seventy‑five.

The wild west story of S. F. Cody and Maud Lee is not a happy one.  Their best years together were those few when they first met, when the world was young, when they were the center of attention.  Crowds cheered, the horses were fast, the shooting was usually straight, but they were never really Buffalo Bill or Annie Oakley.  They had to settle for second best, and until now have been mostly forgotten.

A haunting story, this book is filled with good information heretofore overlooked. 

Editor’s Note: The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale‑de la Garza is the author of numerous books including the novel Silk and Sagebrush; Women of the Old West, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988‑0700.

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

The Texas Frontier and the Butterfield Overland MailThe Texas Frontier and the Butterfield Overland Mail 1858-1861, Glen Sample Ely, University of Oklahoma Press, $34.95, Cloth, 440 pages, Illustrations, Maps, Photographs, Notes, Index.

Anyone interested in early Texas history will find this book a fascinating journey across that state during the years prior to the Civil War.  While the Butterfield Overland Mail extended 2,795 miles from St. Louis, Missouri to San Francisco, California this book targets the 740 miles, border to border, across the Texas frontier.

The book combines Texas politics and intrigues while at the same time explaining the history and workings of the Butterfield stagecoach line.  Throughout the book readers find both early photos taken by original Butterfield researchers Margaret and Roscoe Conkling, with modern-day pictures taken by author Ely as he meticulously followed their trail.  Comparisons are made between Conkling photos taken 80 years ago, and the new pictures and how the sites look today.  Changes due to weather erosion and human agricultural disruptions are noted.

All of the stagecoach sites are pictured; the crumbling walls, rock foundations, and long-forgotten artifacts help tell the story.  Belt buckles, bullets, bridle bits, forks and knives plus various tools have been unearthed and on display here, including some graves with the stories of their occupants.  At the end of the book readers will find notes containing all of the information available regarding dates, locations, employees, station masters, Indian raids, and everything you could ever possibly want to know about these stagecoach station sites.

As the author and friends traipsed from one location to the next across Texas, he brings to us the stories of those people who braved this frontier at a time when great changes were occurring in our country.  Prospectors, adventurers, cattle ranchers, military men, schemers as well as honest pioneers tried to build and tame this unforgiving land.  Always the threat of murderous Indian raids loomed as hardy people determined to make homes for themselves.

Meanwhile, scattered throughout the book are wonderful paintings done by Frederic Remington showing the dangerous journey traveled by these coaches.  Butterfield crews, passengers, and hostlers alike braved this rugged road.  Indians lurked along the way, and the accommodations at home stations usually offered little more than poor food and scant lodging.  The coaches are described as rough-riding, jostling contraptions rattling over hard-packed roads or wallowing in muddy streams.

Apart from the actual everyday management of the stagecoaches, there were business executives back east busily working to make the enterprise financially lucrative.  Some joined with Texas politicians and businessmen to make decisions about everything from toll bridges to the establishment of small communities.

Readers are taken on a journey through a rough and tumble time in antebellum Texas, covering everything good and bad about people striving to settle a wild frontier.

This book is a huge project by author Glen Sample Ely, a Texas historian and documentary producer. His love for Texas history is proudly displayed here, along with his talent for careful research and dogged determination to get it right.  Readers will learn from the narrative, while being mesmerized by the haunting photographs showing what happened here.  He also authored the book Where the West Begins: Debating Texas Identity.

The book is a must for your Old West library if you are interested in Texas history and the Butterfield Overland Mail.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de Ia Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West including the novel Charissa of the Overland, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988 (845) 726-3434.  www.silklabelbooks.com

Charles GoodnightCharles Goodnight: Father of the Texas Panhandle, William T. Hagan, University of Oklahoma Press, (405) 325‑3200, $19.95, Paperback. Illustrations, 168 pages, Maps, Bibliography.

Pioneer rancher and cattle baron of the Southwest, Charles Goodnight is known for his exploits as a Texas Ranger, scout, Indian fighter, and businessman.  This book only touches upon Goodnight’s early life, and is really aimed at the last 30 years of his life.  Complete biographies about Goodnight are written by J. Evetts Haley titled Charles Goodnight: Cowman and Plainsman, and The No‑Gun Man of Texas, by Laura V. Hamner.

Born in Illinois in 1836, Goodnight’s childhood included hard work, poverty, and long hours of drudgery on a farm.  His education included only two years of school.  However, he grew into a man of sharp business ability combined with his dedication to hard work.  He blazed cattle trails in Texas, Colorado and Kansas but is best known for his exploits during the early days of Texas.  When Goodnight was 28 years old, he was a member of the Ranger unit who found the white Indian captive Cynthia Ann Parker.  Years later, Goodnight would become friendly with her son, Quanah who became a Comanche spokesman.

One incident in the life of Charles Goodnight is told about in the memorable Larry McMurtry Western movie “Lonesome Dove.”  During a cattle drive through Colorado, Goodnight’s business partner Oliver Loving was fatally wounded by Indians, and the dying man requested that his body be returned to Texas.  Goodnight made good on his promise, having Loving’s body packed in charcoal to make the long wagon journey back home.

This book covers the years spent building his ranches in the Texas Panhandle, with the financial banking of wealthy investors from as far away as Ireland.  Foreign speculators had the money, and Goodnight had the experience and guts.  Standing over 6 feet tall, weighing 200 pounds, a six‑gun on his hip and with grizzled beard and no‑nonsense steely eyes, Charles Goodnight seemed to fear no one.

Goodnight married a Texas school teacher named Mary Dyer, whose portrait shows her to be a thin‑lipped, cold‑eyed woman whose no‑nonsense demeanor seemed to match her husband’s.  The couple had no children.  After many years of hard ranch life, Goodnight described his wife as being a truly strong woman who even though living with no female companionship, and 75 miles from town, made married life cheery and pleasant.

Fights with partners, the railroad, encroaching neighbors, and politics are covered in this book. Goodnight remained sympathetic to the Indians’ plight, even though having been an Indian fighter in the 1870s with the Texas Rangers, he understood how these people had been forcibly removed from their land.

During the last year’s of Goodnight’s life, he sold most of his ranch holdings.  Mary died several years before Goodnight did, and he was about to spend the last few years of his life in lonely isolation when a 26‑year‑old lady named Corrine Goodnight showed up wondering if they were related.  The 91‑year‑old Goodnight enjoyed her company, hired her to be his secretary, and soon thereafter married her.

The couple traveled to Arizona, taking up residence first in Phoenix and then moving to Tucson where Goodnight died Dec. 12, 1929.  Corrine had him laid to rest beside his first wife Mary, in Goodnight, Texas.

Charles Goodnight out‑lived most of his friends, and all of his enemies.  He and Mary built a ranching empire in Palo Duro Canyon in the 1870s, and they are remembered for their contributions to the cattle industry, as well as being an inspiration to those dedicated to hard work, determination, and honest dealings. 

Editor’s Note: The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale‑de la Garza is the author of many books about the Old West including Hell Horse Winter of the Apache Kid, Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988 Ph. (845) 726‑3434 www.silklabelbooks,com

Cowboy's LamentCowboy’s Lament, A Life on the Open Range, Frank Maynard, Texas Tech University Press, www.ttuDress.org, $29.95, Cloth. Maps, Photos, Bibliography, Index.  Foreword by David Stanley, professor emeritus of English, Westminster College, Salt Lake City.

The Introduction to the book is a biography of the life and times of Frank Maynard, written by Jim Hoy, director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at Emporia State University in Kansas.  The book is included in the “Voice in the American West” series, published by Texas Tech University Press.

This book is “dedicated to all the old-time cowboys whose stories didn’t get told.”  It was written by a man who spent part of his early life riding the open range for a variety of cattle companies beginning in the 1870s when the great roundups were at their height.  Maynard was a teenager when he left his happy home in Iowa and headed for Towanda, Kansas where he signed on with an outfit heading for Colorado.

For the next 15 years he experienced every exciting event in the life of a working cowboy that included rough horses, shooting scrapes, injuries, illness and uncertainty, plus wild and free comradery with his pals.  What made Frank Maynard different is that he was a romantic who chronicled his experiences, writing stories and poetry about life as a cowboy.  Meanwhile, he handled guns, broke horses had some narrow escapes dealing with disgruntled co-workers, cattle rustlers and Indians, but he always remained on the side of law and order.  Maynard remained in touch with his family, having a close relationship with his parents and sisters.

In time he met a young lady named Flora Vienna Longstreth whom he fell in love with.  However, it took Flora nearly three years to make up her mind about marrying a cowboy.  Maynard’s poems indicated how his broken heart pined for her affection until she finally relented.

After the wedding Maynard gave up the cowboy life and became a successful carpenter where the couple lived the remainder of their lives in Colorado Springs.  A photo of Flora shows her to be a stem, tight-lipped individual, and people who knew the Maynards thought Flora “ruled the roost.”  Frank spent a great deal of time working in his carpentry shop, and writing about his adventures.  In time he published some magazine articles as well as poetry, which are included in this book.  He is credited with penning “The Cowboy’s Lament”, later put to music in “The Streets of Laredo.”

Maynard died of a heart attack in 1926 at age 73, and is buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs.  Flora died 5 years later.

Frank Maynard was one more cowboy who rode the open range in the old days, chasing cows, battling the elements, meeting gunslingers and lawmen who became famous such as Ed Masterson.  He wrote about aII of it as it happened and as he experienced it.  He tried having his material published in his old age but at that time there was little interest in the cowboy experience.  However, now, one hundred years later the reading public is happy to hear from somebody who was really there. Maynard remained true to himself, a straight-shooter known for his loyalty to his family and friends, who avoided scrapes with drinking, gambling, and the outlaw elements that led many other cowboys astray.

When readers turn the last page, it occurs to us that this is the haunting story of a man who gave up the life he loved for the woman he would forever be faithful to.  When looking at his photographs, we see his eyes glowing with a depth of sadness.  This man was caught between two worlds; true to his marital vows while struggling with an aching heart filled with memories about those wild and free days when he lived on the open range. 

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

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

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