Old West Book Reviews Archives

Old West Book Review: Dragoons in Apacheland

Dragoons in Apacheland Dragoons in Apacheland details the fifteen years from 1846 through 1861 when the U.S. Army was engaged in dealing with the Apaches in southern New Mexico Territory. The conflicts and misunderstandings led to daily turmoil as the dragoons tried bringing peace and order to the region.

Deadly Apache raids, heat, dust, long marches in the desert, lack of decent food and shortages of equipment were only part of what the men were forced to put up with.  Army posts usually consisted of crude huts, shabby tents, harsh weather, sick horses and mules, and sometimes squadrons of mosquitoes.

Meanwhile, civilian leaders and politicians from Washington to the Territorial governors, lawmen and regional mayors only added to the confusion.  No one seemed to agree on how to handle this new land with its new problems.  At the same time, various Apache bands including Mescalero, Mimbres, Mogollon and Chiricahua fought to hold their ancestral homelands.  Indian raiding, kidnapping, horse and mule rustling and murder occurred regularly.  Some of these Indians took the blame for others, while a few wise old leaders like Mangas Coloradas tried to negotiate peace.  Mangas knew instinctively that the wave of white settlers would eventually wipe out the Apache bands by sheer numbers alone.  He held off the inevitable as long as he could.  The disputes raged endlessly between military men, Apaches, Mexicans, white settlers, and adventurers crossing the territory.

The author gives detailed accounts of the many skirmishes and battles between Apaches and the U. S. Military during those fifteen years prior to the Civil War.  Anyone doing research about the Apache Wars and what led up to the 1880s Indian Wars will find this a valuable source of information.  Readers will find this book a wonderfully detailed and accurate account of the pre-Civil War period in New Mexico Territory not often written about.  This time period seems to have been skimmed over until now, perhaps because people think of the Indian Wars having always to do with the names we are familiar with such as Geronimo, who came much later.

Kiser points out the Apaches presented an obstacle to those politicians, ranchers, farmers and businessmen working toward civilizing the new frontier.  Meanwhile, the Apaches driven from their land had good reasons of their own to offer resistance to those encroaching on their old way of life.  Both sides of the problem are presented here in careful detail, without taking sides.  The reader is given the opportunity to judge for his or herself what can happen when one civilization takes over another.

The book has maps showing the Chiricahua Apache homelands that extended from New Mexico (part of what is now southeastern Arizona) and far into Sonora, Mexico.  Eventually part of New Mexico Territory would split off and become Arizona Territory.  At the outbreak of the Civil War, the American troops were called back east for the horrific fighting about to begin. At that time New Mexico was not a priority for the United States government until the Civil War ended, and troops returned to the Western Frontier.

Carefully written and accurately documented, the author has gleaned his information from military records, U.S. government documents and publications, newspaper accounts and important books and papers on the subject.  Personally, he explains how when he was a child, his father took him to some sites of the old abandoned forts.  Here, sifting through the debris with a metal detector, he found a few precious mementos that piqued his interest to eventually write this book, an important addition to your Old West library. Be sure and get your copy HERE.

Editor’s Note:  The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de Ia Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West, including Hell Horse Winter of the Apache Kid, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York, 10988-0700 www.sllklabeIbooks.com.

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

Old West Book Review: Reshaw

ReshawA Frenchman, his surname Richard was pronounced Reshaw by those who knew him, and this 1850s Old West character crisscrossed the frontier in what is now known as Wyoming and Colorado.  While reading the book, it occurs to us that perhaps Reshaw was the inspiration for the Pasquinel character featured in James Michener’s Centennial.

Richard was a contradiction who could be at one time very generous and at other times confrontational.  The Indian tribesmen gave him a name in Sioux that meant “Always has plenty of meat” because he was willing to share with those in need.  On the other hand, he could display a vicious temper and it was said that during a whiskey-drinking spree, he wildly drove his carriage into an emigrant train causing a stampede that killed several people.

Richard bought and sold commodities such as bacon in St. Louis, and sold it at highly inflated prices to the miners and travelers.  He was a fur trapper, buffalo hide trader, whiskey peddler, livestock dealer and all around opportunist who always looked for ways to make money.  By the time he was fifty years old the 1860 Colorado census records show his personal estate was worth $50,000, a huge sum for those days.

He married an Indian woman, and some of their children were eventually sent to St. Louis to be educated.  This book goes into great detail about the lives of Richard’s children as well as his many business associates, as well as information about the history of Wyoming and Colorado, fights between the U.S. military and Indian tribes, attacks at stage stations and the numerous depredations that took place.

One of Richard’s most lucrative business ventures had to do with a toll bridge he constructed across the North Platte River near present day Casper, Wyoming.  Richard was quick to see the advantage of charging the emigrant trains to cross their wagons, livestock and equipment over his bridge as they made their way west.  He ran this operation for many years, but around 1865 he departed from his toll bridge business on the North Platte.  It was suggested that due to his family connections with the Sioux Indians and other tribesmen, he was warned that big trouble was coming between the Indians and the U.S. government, and he would be wise to make himself scarce before it was too late.  The Plains Indians were on the prod following the Sand Creek Massacre, and retribution would be forthcoming.

Even without his toll bridge business, Richard continued to be involved in various business ventures.  He died a violent death where he camped along the banks of the Niobrara River.  Supposedly he was transporting a large quantity of gold.  While his body was recovered, it was never known for sure who the killers were.  Both boot prints and moccasin tracks were found at the murder scene.  Some men were suspected, one was arrested, but due to lack of evidence the murder of John Baptiste Richard remains an unsolved mystery.

This man was kind, he was clever, he was mean, he was generous, he was complicated.  A husband, father, trail blazer, entrepreneur, he was a fascinating character that history has mostly overlooked until now.

The author has done a huge amount of careful research, presenting here not only the life of John Baptiste Richard but including a great deal of Wyoming and Colorado history.  One photo in the book may or may not be that of John Baptiste Richard.  It was labeled differently by several different historians.  We might never know exactly what he looked like which only adds to his mystique. Grab your copy of this interesting book HERE.

Editor’s Note:  The reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West including Hell Horse Winter of the Apache Kid, 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.

Old West Book Review: Riding Lucifer’s Line

Riding Lucifer's LineRetired lawman and veteran writer of more than a dozen non-fiction books about Old West history, Bob Alexander again writes a hard-hitting book.  Riding Lucifer’s Line is a collection of 24 profiles about Texas Rangers who lost their lives on the Mexico-Texas border known as “Lucifer’s Line.”  The chosen time period covers the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century through the first quarter of the Twentieth Century.

Carefully researched including newspaper accounts, personal letters, courtroom papers and official Texas Ranger documents, Alexander shows how the hard riding, straight-shooting Rangers rode with boldness into mortal danger.  Their weapons of choice included Winchesters and the Colt’s .45 caliber six-shooters.  They relied on horses for transportation, and faced every weather condition while crisscrossing the vast and untamed land.  From choking dry desert and cactus-studded hills, to the swampy, mosquito infested marshes to the south, these men answered the call.

Alexander points out that Texas Rangers were sometimes hated and despised by the Hispanic population, even referred to as “devils”, by those who naturally resisted the new boundary after Texas split from Mexico.  And while not all of the Rangers were angels on horseback, they dealt with the harsh realities of an unforgiving adversary good at ambush and body mutilation.

Sonny Smith was the youngest Ranger killed in the line of duty.  At seventeen years he was shot down ambushed by a wounded desperado hiding in the weeds near a pond.  John McBride and Conrad Mortimer were caught in a crossfire, trapped inside a shack by a Mexican lynch mob.  Sam Frazier was killed by people he had threatened, and George R. “Red” Bingham was shot through the heart during a running gun battle with outlaws.  Frank Sieker’s death was the result of a “terrible mistake” when Rangers mistook two Mexicans as horse thieves who were really leading horses of their own that had escaped, but due to language differences, the fight was on.  Charles Fusselman was shot in the head during an ambush while chasing cattle thieves.  Grover Scott Russell was ambushed inside a grocery store by the mother of the man he was trying to arrest. The lady used an axe.

The list of murdered Texas Rangers goes on and on, as readers find out what happened to whom, who the killers were and if they were brought to justice.  These stories are real, and there are no happy endings when a young man in the prime of life is suddenly left dead riddled with bullet holes, or his skull crushed with an axe.

Two sections in the book provide photographs of many of these men and some others. A brief history of the Texas Rangers is explained in the book’s Foreword, and the Afterword gives yet another brief history lesson in what it took to be a Texas Ranger, details of their enlistment requirements and pay.  Bob Alexander also explains how life on the Texas-Mexico border continues to this day to be a dangerous proposition.  Horse and cattle rustling have now become mostly a war with drug cartels and human smugglers.

This book is a fast-paced, sentimental eye-opener into the lives of these twenty-four brave men who were determined to make Texas a safer place, but forfeited their own lives in the name of law and order.  The struggle continues to this day.

Bob Alexander’s vast experience in law enforcement, border issues, and his love of Texas history once again come through in this latest book. 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 Silk and Sagebrush, Women of the Old West, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988 www.silklabelbooks.com

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

Calamity JaneMartha Canary, better known as Calamity Jane, was a legend in her own time.  Martha was born in Missouri in 1856, and had several younger siblings.  Her father was a farmer and her mother a housewife who herself gained local notoriety as an eccentric with a volatile temper and a sharp tongue.  When Martha was seven years old, the family left Missouri and headed “Out West,” first to Iowa and eventually to Montana.  By the time Martha was eleven years old, both of her parents had died and she was alone in the world caring for the other children.

This book carefully delves into what is always challenging about the life of Martha Canary. Martha was illiterate; there is no known record of her writing or even a signature.  As her life evolved, she became a tough character facing a tough world. Martha Canary traded face powder for gun powder, smoked cigars, drank whiskey, chewed tobacco, used rough language, drove mules and ox teams, quite possibly was involved in prostitution and during her drinking bouts was notorious for entertaining her bar buddies by howling like a coyote which resulted in her being thrown into jail more than once.

Martha’s reputation reached the ears and imagination of eastern writers who featured her character as the protagonist in a large collection of dime novels designed to entertain and shock eager readers anxious to learn about life in the Wild West.

Martha did travel in 1876 with General Crook’s expedition organized to fight the Sioux Indians.  Known as the Big Horn and Yellowstone Expedition, the group consisted of nearly nine hundred officers, enlisted men, scouts and civilians.  They headed up the Bozeman Trail with eighty supply wagons. Martha Canary was involved in this adventure, but her real role is difficult to pinpoint. She claimed later to have been a scout whose bravery dubbed her the nickname “Calamity Jane” when her derring-do saved one of the officers during an Indian attack.  However, it is likely that she was merely a cook, or even a camp follower, since there is no official military record showing that she was hired as a scout.

It is true she was an eccentric woman who, long before it was socially acceptable, dressed like a man, drank, smoked, brawled, swore and fought her way in a rough and tumble frontier world.  She did travel with a Wild West Show for a time, she did live in Deadwood, she did meet Wild Bill Hickok but it is highly unlikely there was a romance between them. Calamity was probably married at least once and gave birth to a daughter named Jessie.  This poor child raised by an alcoholic mother and with no real father figure in her life, became a troubled person who in her old age was confused as to whether Calamity was her mother, grandmother or aunt.

This biography of Calamity Jane covers every facet of her life beginning with her ancestors to her death from alcoholism in Deadwood at age 47, in 1903.  In her last years she sold a pamphlet filled with tall tales she dictated about her life.  Readers were less interested in historical accuracy than entertainment.  Since her death, numerous biographies, dozens of novels, hundreds of magazine articles and nearly twenty Hollywood movies have featured Calamity Jane.

From Doris Day to Angelica Huston, audiences have been treated to a gun-totin’ tobacco spittin’, buckskin clad gal who aimed to git her man with a gun.  If you want to know anything about the life and legend of Calamity Jane, this is the book for you.  The author has spent many years delving through books, articles, archival collections, old newspaper stories and family reminisces to set the record as straight as possible.  But remember, once Hollywood gets hold of a character with a name like Calamity Jane, Billy the Kid, Wild Bill Hickok, Jesse James, Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp or Johnny Ringo, there will never be an end to it. To get at the real story, get your copy HERE.

Editor’s Note:  The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de ía 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.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York, 10988.  www.silklabelbooks.com

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

617vO6chdkL“He had a reputation as a cardsharp, cattle rustler, bandit, and killer,” and if George Musgrave had had a more romantic-sounding name, Hollywood might have cashed in on this amazing Old West character. In Last of the Old-Time Outlaws, you’ll get the true story.

George West Musgrave was born May 27, 1877 in Atascosa County, Texas.  His family ran a thirty-five hundred acre cattle outfit, and baby George was surrounded by tough people earning a hard living.  The boy grew up surrounded by work, horses and guns.  The Musgrave family consisted of various characters involved in gambling, horse rustling, and cattle theft which resulted in arrests and jailhouse stints.  George even had a grandfather who had a long history of dueling, fights with Comanche, feuds with neighbors and “an inclination toward larceny.”

Excuses can be made for these influences on George, however, he began his career as a cowboy who could ride, rope, shoot and show off.  He was known for “putting on shooting displays with a number of revolvers.”  Soon he became involved in rustling with a devil-may-care attitude.  He seemed always ready with a string of wisecracks.  His popularity among his pals and cohorts became legendary.

His adventures led him back and forth from Texas into Old Mexico, then to New Mexico and sometimes Arizona.  He joined what was known as the High Five or Black Jack gang.  They spent years holding up stores, rustling cows, stealing horses, robbing banks and even trains.  Musgrave was one of the gang members who took part in the first bank robbery in Arizona Territory.  They also held up stagecoaches, and eventually pulled off the largest heist in the history of the Santa Fe railroad.

Musgrave was arrested and tried for the shooting death of a former Texas Ranger.  When he miraculously avoided conviction, he migrated to South America where he took up his same old ways, now getting involved on a large scale with some big ranchers and South American politicians.

George was tail, handsome, soft spoken and popular with the ladies, too.  During a trip back to Wyoming, Musgrave met an adventurous young woman named Jeanette “Jano” Magor.  Twelve years younger than George, Jano was known for her smarts and toughness.  Smitten with one another, the pair eloped. Jano followed Musgrave back to South America where she joined his dubious lifestyle.  One photo shows the beautiful brunette dressed like a gaucho complete with her own shootin’ iron.  She eventually grew weary of her husband’s philandering, and returned to the U.S. for a divorce.

After this, Musgrave had a succession of South American wives who produced children, all eventually either leaving him or hating him for his cavalier treatment of marriage vows.

Whether Musgrave was cheating at cards, robbing a bank, or shooting alligators, he joked about it all.  He died in South America at age 70 of natural causes.

The Tanners have written a compete and thoroughly researched book about a tough, strong-willed man who could not resist danger and deviltry.  The authors have a keen eye for unusual facts combined with a subtle and wonderful sense of humor that results in bringing the character of George Musgrave back to life.  Readers will enjoy this book. Get yours HERE.

Editor’s Note: 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, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988 (845) 726-3434. www. silklabelbooks.com.

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

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