Old West Book Reviews Archives

Old West Book Review: Comanche Jack Stilwell

Comanche Jack StilwellComanche Jack Stilwell, Clint E. Chambers and Paul H. Carlson, University of Oklahoma Press, $24.95, Paperback, Non-fiction, 288 Pages, 2 Maps, 26 Illustrations, Notes, Index, Bibliography.

When Arizona history buffs hear the name “Stilwell,” we immediately think of Frank Stilwell, killed by Wyatt Earp at the Tucson, Arizona train station in 1882.  However, Frank had an older brother “Comanche Jack Stilwell” who led a far more productive and adventuresome life than his younger brother, but not in Arizona.

This book delves into the life and times of Jack Stilwell, beginning with his family history and looking into Jack’s running away from home in Kansas when he was thirteen years old.  Unhappy about the separation of his parents due to his father’s infidelity, young Jack decided to head West with a freight outfit lumbering along the Santa Fe Trail.  A family story says he went to the local water well where he met a group of lusty men with wagons filled with goods, and the boy signed on.

Thus began years of adventures first as a freighter crisscrossing the vast prairies, learning to speak Spanish as well as several Indian languages, including Comanche, earning him the nickname “Comanche” Jack.  He eventually found work as a civilian scout for the U.S. Cavalry.

The Battle of Beecher Island comes up frequently in Stilwell’s biography.  This event took place in September 1868 in northeastern Colorado.  The fight lasted nine days between Cheyenne, Lakota and Arapaho warriors against soldiers of the Ninth Cavalry.  During fierce fighting, Major Forsyth requested that Stilwell try to make the ninety-mile run for help to the closest army fort.  On foot, draped in blankets, living on raw horse meat, Jack somehow got through enemy lines and is forever remembered as the hero of the Battle of Beecher Island.

Stilwell met Custer and scouted for him, was a friend of Buffalo Bill Cody, and knew many other famous westerners including Quanah Parker and Frederick Remington.  Everyone seemed to like him, speaking and writing favorably about his willingness and good disposition.  When his health began to fail he quit scouting and became a cowboy for several years.

In 1882 his younger brother Frank, who lived near Tombstone, Arizona was shot and killed by Wyatt Earp.  Jack came to Arizona only long enough to settle his brother’s estate before returning home.  With his health deteriorating badly, but still determined, he studied law, became a sheriff, and eventually a judge.  Late in life he married a woman half his age.

His health continued to fail, and after a long series of painful issues related to his many years of hard outdoor living, he died February 17, 1903, probably of Bright’s disease.  Today he lies buried at Old Trail Town, on the west side of Cody, Wyoming, and is remembered as a true Old West frontiersman.

This book goes into great detail about this man’s personal history, and is a fitting tribute to Comanche Jack Stilwell, “army scout and plainsman.”

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: According To Kate – Tale of Big Nose Kate

According to Kate - Big Nose Kate bookAccording To Kate, Chris Enss, Two Dot, $24.95, Cloth. Non-fiction, Photos, Notes, Bibliography, IndexThis book chronicles for the first time the life story of Mary Katherine Horony, known as Big Nose Kate.  Previously small parts of her life have been entwined with stories regarding her association with the Earps and Doc Holliday.  If not for her relationship with Doc, it is likely that nobody would have heard of her, or even cared.  Kate was a prostitute, a soiled dove, a lady of easy virtue who traveled throughout the rough Kansas cow-towns and mining camps in Arizona.

Her early life seems to have been stable.  Her father was a doctor.  She claimed to have had one early marriage and a child who died.  However, she soon took up life on the wild side and stuck with it until old age caught up to her.

According to Kate, which is the title of this book, she hated the Earps and the nickname Wyatt bestowed upon her, “Big Nose Kate.”  This name had little to do with the size of her nose, but because she stuck her nose into other people’s business.  Kate and Wyatt contended for the attention and loyalty of Doc Holiday; Wyatt usually won.

After Doc Holliday’s death of tuberculosis in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, Kate married George Cummings, a mining man/blacksmith.  In time she left this abusive drunk, and became a housekeeper at a tiny hotel in Cochise, Arizona.  From here she became a housekeeper for Jack Howard, a mining man living in Dos Cabezas, Arizona.  Thirty years later when Jack Howard died, Kate, nearly destitute was admitted to the Pioneer’s Home in Prescott, Arizona.  She spent the last ten years of her life (to age 90) complaining about the food and accommodations white attempting to sell her memoirs to writers who might use the material for a book.  There were no takers willing to give her money for her stories.  Kate died at the Pioneer’s Home and is buried there.

This book is an accumulation of Kate’s lifetime adventures.  Much of Kate’s story here is gleaned from a combination of her memoirs, some accurate and some not, plus the author Chris Enss’ having gathered historical facts from legal documents, census records, and newspaper articles.

Readers of this book should understand that Kate’s personal letters and memoirs have been picked over tong ago by Earpiana researchers.  Nothing here is really new, but it is now well organized.  There are only three photos of Kate in the book that are authentic.  We have seen them long ago.  A fourth shows an attractive teenage girl on the book cover, but it is hard to imagine this is really Kate.  Mary Katherine Horony was not a pretty woman.  She told some windies in her memoirs probably to help sell her story, but we can excuse an eighty-year-old lady for this.  She had no idea that after her death legions of professional researchers would sift carefully through every facet of the lives and times of the Earps and their associates, including “Big Nose Kate.”

Author Chris Enss has done a creditable job accumulating information, both factual and fictional concerning a famous Old West figure who survived hard times; living to old age still feisty and determined to the end According To Kate is a fascinating read, worthy of inclusion in your Old West library.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous published books about the Old West, including 9 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: The Ranger Ideal, Texas Rangers in the Hall of Fame

The Ranger Ideal; Texas RangersThe Ranger Ideal, Texas Rangers in the Hall of Fame, Volume 1, Darren L. Ivey, University of North Texas press $39.95, Cloth. 672 p.p., Photos, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

For anyone interested in the history of the Texas Rangers, this book is a must read.  It is the first of a three-book series telling about the lives of the most important men involved with the founding of the Texas Rangers.  The time period it covers is from 1823 – 1861, and includes Stephen F. Austin, John C. Hays, William A. A. “Big Foot” Wallace, Samuel H. Walker, John S. Ford, and Lawrence S. Ross.  All of these men have been inducted into the Hall of Fame and Museum at Waco, Texas.

The author points out in his Preface that several of these men are well-known, but the others have been mostly overlooked and do not have biographies or even extensive coverage in history books.  All of these men are honored in the Texas Ranger Museum at Fort Fisher located near the Texas city of Waco. Visitors to the museum find Ranger displays including guns, clothing, saddles, equipment and artwork.  The museum opened to the public in 1968, and continues its work educating the public about the important contributions Rangers made to Texas.

Readers find a timeline of Ranger history to help us better understand the enormous upheavals Texas went through beginning in 1821 when Americans established a colony on land that originally belonged to Mexico.  Political changes are explained as Texas went from Mexican control to annexation to the United States in 1845.

Each of the seven men featured here were vastly patriotic, and did not hesitate to join in any and all of the fights, shoot-outs, military campaigns, long marches, sometimes capture and imprisonment in Mexico, and including every hardship imaginable.  By the 1860s, two Rangers featured here joined the Confederate Army when civil war was declared and Texas went with the South.  The battle records of these men are shown here, their adventures and derring-do included a multitude of battles and skirmishes reminiscent of Bruce Catton’s Civil War books where readers follow the amazing courage these soldiers displayed under the most difficult circumstances.

In 1860 Ranger John Ford was involved in the recovery of the highly publicized white woman Cynthia Ann Parker who, when still a child, was taken captive by Comanches.  By the time she was rescued years later, she had mostly forgotten her white way of live, and even how to speak English.

Of the seven Rangers featured in the book, only three ever married while the others seem to have dedicated their lives to Texas.  Two of these men died fighting.

The author has done an impressive job of researching for truths related to this material. Anyone looking for information about the Texas Rangers will find this tome invaluable.

Darren L. Ivey is to be commended for his good writing and careful research into an important topic about the American West.  In addition to The Ranger Ideal, Texas Rangers in the Hall of Fame his writing includes a previously published book on this subject titled The Texas Rangers; A Registry and History.

Thus far, thirty-one individuals have been honored in the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame. If you are a Texas Ranger fan, you will want this one for your Old West library, and will look forward to reading the next two books in the series.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of many books including Death For Dinner; The Benders of (Old) Kansas, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York, 10988-0700. Ph. (845) 726-3434. www.silklabelbooks.com

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

Old West Book Review: Nighthawk Rising

Nighthawk RisingNighthawk Rising, Diana Allen Kouris, High Plains Press, $19.95, Paperback 416 pp, Photos, Maps, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

Nighthawk Rising is the fascinating story is the biography of “Queen” Ann Bassett, an accused cattle rustler living in Brown’s Park in the 1880s through the turn of the century.  Brown’s Park is a wildly beautiful area spanning the rugged mountains throughout western Utah, southern Wyoming, and eastern Colorado.  This is the land of the Wild Bunch, Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, deadly range wars and Tom Horn.

Ann Bassett’s parents settled here, trying to make a living in the difficult cattle business.  Ann’s mother ruled the roost, a tough woman who rode sidesaddle while directing her cowboys.  Ann’s father was a quiet gentleman more likely to be found at home writing poetry.

Ann and her three siblings grew up learning self-sufficiency.  The little girl was a tough cookie, riding the most spirited broncs, and refusing sidesaddles.  She dressed in buckskin trousers, was a top hand with a lariat, and could handle guns.  Headstrong and resisting discipline, as a teenager she roped a grizzly cub and got her horse killed when mama bear came to the rescue.  Ann got a well-deserved spanking from one of the cowboys who saved her life, but even that did not deter the girl from adventuresome deeds.  She was always in the middle of things, whether driving cattle in a snow storm or crawling into a cave to kill coyote pups.

Sadly, Ann’s mother died suddenly of appendicitis.  It now fell on Ann to be a leader in the family.  These changes in the girl’s life coincide with the range war sweeping through Brown’s Park as the big ranchers tried to rid themselves of competition from smaller outfits.  Tom Horn was hired as a “range detective”.  Unsolved murders occurred thereafter, including the shooting death of Mat Rash, a handsome young cattleman who dated Ann Bassett and was destined to become her husband until his bullet-riddled body was found in the hills, most likely murdered by Tom Horn.

This tragic loss undoubtedly shaped Ann’s personal life thereafter.  She never had a young husband.  She had several husbands, all older men, and divorces.  Her life seemed forever in turmoil in her effort to protect her ranch way of life.  She moved from one place to another, was involved in legal disputes, was accused of being a “”rustler”, and nicknamed “Queen Ann” because of her rebellious nature.

Don’t look here for a hard riding bandit queen leading a gang of outlaws.  Ann’s day by day life shows a gritty woman determined to survive against powerful men and forces beyond her control.

Diana Allen Kouris, the author of Nighthawk Rising, herself grew up in the Brown’s Park region. Her family is in the cattle business.  Even though she was born many years after Queen Ann rode the range, Kouris has been able to relate to Brown’s Park and the people.  Her writing is filled with original detail.  We detect the author really knows what she is writing about, generating a feeling of respect and empathy for Queen Ann when readers turn the last page: a truly haunting story.

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: Health of the Seventh Cavalry; A Medical History

Health of the Seventh CavalryHealth of the Seventh Cavalry; A Medical History, Edited by P. Willey and Douglas D. Scott, University of Oklahoma Press, (405) 325-3200, $3295, Cloth. 480 Pages, Illustrations, Maps, Graphics, Charts, Bibliography, Index.

Persons interested in the life and times of members of Custer’s Seventh Cavalry will find this book a treasure trove of information pertaining to the health of these soldiers.

The time period covered is 1866 through the early 1880s.  The first chapter talks about the Regimental history of the Seventh, beginning at the end of the Civil War.  At this time the Seventh began moving westward to deal with hostile Indians of the Plains.  Of course anything to do with the Seventh Cavalry must include information about General George Armstrong Custer, eventually leading to the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

But long before the Little Big Horn, in July 1866, Seventh Cavalry troops were assembling at Fort Riley, Kansas.  From here they were dispersed toward the western Plains from Ft. Riley and beyond.  One table in the book shows the Seventh Cavalry company assignments by year all the way to 1882.

The authors give detailed descriptions of the various living quarters, expeditions, care of horses, weather conditions and the like.  There is one particularly sobering photograph of the arrow-riddled Sergeant Frederick Wyllyams of Company G where he was murdered and mutilated by hostile Indians in 1867.

Always the book’s focus is on the health of the soldiers from information gleaned from, medical records as well as personal accounts written by those who lived and traveled with the troops.  Occasionally we hear from Elizabeth Custer and a few other wives as they described weather conditions, injuries, epidemics, living quarters and social events within the forts.

The men of the Seventh were attended by military physicians who had been doctors during the Civil War.  A list of their names and dates they served is included here.  They treated insect and snake bites, gunshot wounds, venereal disease, horse- related injuries, results of bar brawls, frostbite and contagious diseases such as cholera.  The lists include everything from lacerations to mumps. These doctors were also expected to treat civilians who worked at the forts that included officers’ wives and children, and laundresses.

Military doctors were not always looked upon with respect, behind their backs some were referred to as “Pills” and other uncomplimentary nicknames.  However, some surgeons such as Assistant Surgeon Leonard Wood earned the Medal of Honor for carrying dispatches through hostile Indian Territory during the 1886 campaign against Apaches in Arizona.  Wood was later credited with discovering the cause and treatment of yellow fever.

Eventually the reader arrives at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and much information is gleaned through forensic examination of the remains of the men who died with Custer.  Extensive examination of bones and teeth reveal many physical ailments the men suffered throughout their lifetimes, and including whenever possible wounds received on the battlefield that led to their deaths.

At the end the authors declared the men of the Seventh were “neither the unsoiled, healthy heroes represented by Errol Flynn in They Died With their Boots on, nor the maniacal one-dimensional soldiers portrayed in Little Big Man”.  One observer in the old days described the Seventh Cavalry as “good fighters but mostly heavy drinkers.’

And so be it.  They rode with Custer. May they rest in peace.  This unique book has everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the health of those brave fighting men. The book belongs in your Old West library.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de Ia Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West, including the true crime Death For Dinner, The Benders of (Old) Kansas,, published by Silk Label Books, P. 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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