Old West Book Reviews Archives

Old West Book Review: They Called Him Buckskin Frank

Buckskin FrankThey Called Him Buckskin Frank, Jack Demattos an Chuck Parsons, University of North Texas Press, $29.95, Cloth, Photos, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

The name Buckskin Frank Leslie seems always to appear in the old Tombstone stories.  Doc Holliday the Earps, Johnny Ringo and some others had some association with him, but he was always on the “fringe.”  (No pun intended.) He was tagged with the name “Buckskin Frank” probably because he nearly always wore a buckskin jacket.

The reality was that he handled guns, sometimes rode with the sheriff, scouted for the Army during the Geronimo campaign, and owned saloons in Tombstone.  He was notorious for having shot and killed his girlfriend but never really became a major figure in the Tombstone story we have seen in countless movies and television shows.

The authors of this book have sorted through the wild tales and incomplete history of Buckskin Frank, but information such as exactly where he was born, and parental history remain vague.  He claimed to be college educated, and this may very well be true.  A long letter he wrote for a San Francisco newspaper in 1900 detailing his participation in trailing Apaches is extremely well-written.  This alone shows he was probably educated beyond the usual Tombstone cowboys of that time.

Buckskin Frank was short in statue, but handsome nonetheless, able to attract the ladies in droves.  He had a long list of girlfriends, lovers and wives. He shot and killed the husband of one of his future wives, he left others in divorce court or simply vanished when convenient.  One lady scheduled to be his wife was left quite dead as a result of the business end of his shootin’ iron after a drunken brawl at his ranch near Tombstone.  Her grave marker in the Arizona desert says “Mollie Williams”, but her real name was Mollie Edwards.  The result of her death sent Buckskin Frank to Yuma Territorial prison for eight years.

He was a model prisoner, put in charge of the prison pharmacy, and was released early due to his good behavior on November 17, 1896.  He was met at the prison gates by a love-sick widow whom he married fifteen days later.  After promising her a honeymoon trip to China, he dumped her in April.  Apparently China was the farthest thing from his mind.

He spun some good yarns about himself, which got mixed up with reality thus making it difficult for biographers to sift through the information, real and otherwise.

 For instance he claimed to have been a scout for General George Armstrong Custer, but no military records can be found giving proof of this.  He did scout during the Geronimo Campaign in Arizona, having gone deep into Mexico hunting for runaway Apaches. He did kill several men in gunfights, and he was involved in the Spanish American War in Cuba.

The authors have trailed Buckskin Frank to San Francisco where he continued to move from one house to another, frequented billiard parlors and saloons, had mining interests South of the Border, and eventually in his old age disappeared all together.  It is suggested he was the victim of foul play, complete with skeletal remains, outside Oakland, California.

This book is enchanting, putting some old fictionalized tales regarding Buckskin Frank to rest, but also pointing to some new and tantalizing information about the man. Buckskin Frank’s life was certainly filled with unusual adventures. Gambler,

Who really was Buckskin Frank Leslie?  This book is a fascinating read.

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 399, Unionville, New York 10988 www.siIklabelbooks.com

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

Old West Book Review: Butch Cassidy My Uncle

Butch Cassidy My UncleButch Cassidy My Uncle, Bill Betenson, High Plains Press (1-800-552-7819), $1995, Paperback. 300 pages, Photographs, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

Back in the 1960s, most of us who love western movies went to see a flick called Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Paul Newman and Robert Redford played the important roles, and we came away impressed and intrigued having seen a cowboy movie we were told was based on facts.

Butch and Sundance were real, and most of their exploits have been delved into now that Hollywood brought the pair to light.  So much has been written and told about Butch Cassidy, that one family member Bill Betenson, the great-grandson of Butch’s youngest sister, decided to try to set the record straight.  Butch Cassidy came from a large and mostly law-abiding family.  Except for one uncle, Dan Parker, who spent time in the Detroit House of Corrections for holding up a store, the rest of the Parkers were embarrassed by Butch’s outlawry.

This book begins with the early life of Butch, whose real name was Robert LeRoy Parker, telling of his youth, schooling and employment.  Betenson has access to family memorabilia, plus he has done an admirable job of searching through historical documents, newspaper articles, and public records as well as visiting many of the places where Butch lived.

Butch (a nickname he acquired after working as a butcher), seemed easily attracted to life on the wild side.  He did have real jobs in ranching and mining, and his employers always spoke highly of his good manners and careful attention to his duties.  But he was also intrigued with adventure and easy money.  At various times he took up with characters of questionable integrity, and was therefore involved in a variety of robberies. He rode with a gang holed up in the wilds of Utah.  Robbing banks, stagecoaches, trains and even horse rustling were the usual endeavors.  Butch spent most of his adult life hunted by sheriff’s posses, cavalry units and detectives working for Pinkertons

This book is filled with family photos and various scenes from Butch’s past, including images of his friends and relatives, besides members of the gang when he hooked up with Harry Longabaugh, (the Sundance Kid).  Butch traveled with Sundance and a variety of other gang members, even going as far away as New York City, joined by an attractive young woman known as Ella Place.  Butch, Sundance and Ella finally drifted to South America where authorities in the United States continued to hunt them.  They wound up in Argentina, and even bought a cattle ranch where they planned to start anew.  But alas the Pinkertons and other law enforcement people seemed always lurking nearby.

Again the trio got involved in bank robberies, and conflicting reports has them either killed in South America, or having gotten away due to some other American outlaws killed by police, being mistakenly identified as Sundance and Butch.  This of course led to all the modern day controversy. Did Butch die in South America?  Did he really come home years later as some of his friends and relatives insist?  It has long been told, even in the movie, that Butch and Sundance died in a hail of lead in South America after they robbed a bank.  However, there is a strong case told here that while Sundance may have died there, Butch survived and returned years later to the United States.

The last chapter of the book delves into all of the available information the author has gleaned pointing to Butch’s return.  The author writes an intriguing account in a forthright manner without trying to sway the reader’s opinion one way or the other.  This book is a treasure of factual information about the life and times of Butch Cassidy, and most likely the best written so far.  It’s another good one from High Plains Press.

Editor’s Note:  The Reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of many published books, including the novel Nine Days at Dragoon Springs, published by Silk Label Books, P. 0. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988 (845-726-3434) www.silklabelbooks.com.

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

I See By Your Outfit, Historic Cowboy Gear of the Northern Plains

I See By Your Outfit, Historic Cowboy Gear I See By Your Outfit, Historic Cowboy Gear of the Northern Plains, Tom Lindmier & Steve Mount, High Plains Press, Glendo, Wyoming. $19.95, Paperback. Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index.

Here is yet another non-fiction winner published by High Plains Press.  Authors Tom Lindmier and Steve Mount have joined forces, writing a wonderfully accurate book filled with information about what real cowboys of the late 1800s looked like and wore on the American Northern Plains.

Every bit of clothing is described, from hats to boots, including favorite equipment used with their horses. Saddles, bits, bridles and spurs, ropes, saddle blankets and more fill these pages.  Readers find a list of names of providers of clothing and horse equipment like Montgomery Ward, Sears, Roebuck, and Porter Saddle and Harness Company appear, including the prices.  Additionally, the authors have not forgotten the guns.  Every type of shootin’ iron the old-time cowboys used are pictured and discussed.  Names like Spencer, Sharps and Winchester fill the chapter on revolvers and rifles.

The book is filled with original photographs showing cowboys wearing shotgun chaps, mohair “woolies”, and batwings.  Most men wore vests, a garment practical for all weather besides having pockets to stuff watches and other valuables.  You won’t see fancy Stetsons, but a different shaped, mostly-flat brimmed hat meant to resist gusty winds.  It was known as “Boss of the Plains” and looked nothing like the hat Roy Rogers wore.  The book explains how the cowboy clothing and horse gear was mostly meant for practicality rather than rodeo flair.  These cowboys needed jeans, shirts and gloves to protect them from all the harsh elements from saddle sores to rope burns.  Spurs were meant to keep a horse alert to sudden starts, and bits with rollers and chains had their practical uses, too.

Page after page keeps the reader intrigued with good information as well as some personal letters written by the cowboys themselves as they told about life on a cattle drive.  The many photographs are particularly intriguing showing the men at work, or sitting on the ground beside a campfire.  Near the chuck wagon stands a sullen cook wiping his hands down his greasy apron while a cigarette dangles from his lip.  (This leaves you wondering what may have fallen into the stew.)  The dust, the campfire smoke, the rough and ready cows and horses are all pictured here.

The chuck wagon was home. Pots, pans, Dutch ovens, water barrels and stacks of coffee, flour, sides of bacon, beans, sugar, dried apples and peaches, plus rice made up the load.  There were canned tomatoes mixed with the emergency medical supplies.  Chuck wagons and how they operated is explained, while another vehicle called a “bed wagon” was included in the roundups, but is seldom seen in movies.  This wagon carried the cowboy’s gear…blankets and bedrolls, and other personal items necessary for the long trips.

Readers learn something new with every page, the old-time pictures are marvelous.  Some studio photos the cowboys had made of themselves shaved and clipped gives us a glimpse of their showoff side, too.

Several of the pictures taken on the range show Nate Champion, a hero of the Johnson County War.  Nate, a brazen tough-guy who stood up to the big ranchers, was murdered by a gang of Texas gunslingers for hire.  Nate’s tragic story is told elsewhere, but he’s shown right here in the middle of things, riding with his pals reminding us what a real western hero was all about.

Whether you are reading for fun, or a serious writer/researcher working on an old-west project requiring authenticity, this is the book for you.

Publisher’s Note: The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de Ia 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 399, Unionville, New York 10988. www.silklabelbooks.com

Hog Ranches of Wyoming; Liquor, Lust and LiesThe Hog Ranches of Wyoming; Liquor, Lust and Lies Under Sagebrush Skies, Larry K. Brown, High Plains Press, (800-552-7819) $9.95, Paperback.

When the comment is made by those who know little about the Old West, “The Wild West is a Hollywood myth,” I always chuckle.  I can’t imagine life getting much wilder than at the “Hog Ranches” that appeared near almost every military fort on the old frontier.  Whiskey, women, card games, shoot-outs, music and murder were all part of these establishments built for the express purpose of separating lonely soldiers, wayward frontiersman and even cowboys from their wages.

This book centers around those infamous establishments far from law and order where good guys, bad guys, lawmen, cowpokes, soldiers and highwaymen gathered for a good old time.  The author has sifted through newspaper articles, court documents, letters and census records, Military Post Returns, and diaries for the facts regarding some Wyoming Hog Ranches we don’t usually read about in history books.

The origin of the name “Hog Ranch” suggests a certain unpleasantness about the property, but it is pointed out while hogs were sometimes raised here, the name probably referred to the lowdown characters who inhabited these walls.  How the name came to be has never been entirely proven, but what has been proven are the illicit activities that drew lonely people to these dens of iniquity.  Here they found camaraderie and enjoyed the crude buildings, rustic furniture, out-of-tune pianos, earthen floors, missed spittoons and mortal injuries that sometimes ended the careers of those who paid their money and took their chances.

With names like “Bad Man Charlie Anderson’s Hog Ranch”, and “Six Mile Hog Ranch”, they were visited by members of the Wild Bunch and even Alfred Packer, the notorious cannibal who had escaped from prison after dining on at least seven of his fellow travelers during a snow storm in the Rockies.

To say the characters found at these places were dangerous, is putting it mildly.  Calamity Jane worked for a time at the Six Mile Hog Ranch.  She is pictured in the book dressed in garb once worn by her military customers.  Calamity stares back at the camera while showing off a big pistol on her hip.  Other stories include women who helped their husbands run the saloons at these ranches and tell how they cheated customers when selling drinks.  One interesting character was “Old Mother Featherlegs” who ran her place of entertainment on the Cheyenne-Black Hills stage route in 1876.  The lady was said to have flowing red hair and wore a pair of long red pantalettes.  When riding horseback, she was compared by a local wag to a “feather-legged chicken in a high wind.”  In cahoots with some local road agents, Featherlegs hid their stolen money under her shack, but got mixed up with a trapper nicknamed “Dangerous Dick” who eventually murdered her for the dough.  Her body was found shot in the back; Dick’s moccasin prints were recognized nearby.

Murder, shoot-outs, venereal disease and double-cross were all part of the game people played when they associated with the hog ranches.  Tragedy struck in other ways as was evidenced by the tiny graves on nearby hillsides where some soiled doves buried children born here.  Cold, snow, dust and disease were all part of the desolate lifestyle known to these girls.

Some of the stories related here are humorous, some are harsh and sad.  This book is only 120 pages in length, but is filled of interesting material including photographs of some buildings, a few felons, a couple of sheriffs, and a peek into the wild side of life on the Old Frontier.

Grab a copy HERE.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale de la Garza is the author of numerous books including Wild Women of the Old West, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988-0700 (845) 726-3434

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

Old West Book Review: The Mysterious Private Thompson

Mysterious Private ThompsonThe Mysterious Private Thompson, Laura Leedy Gansler, Free Press a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., $25.00, Hardcover.

It is not unusual for women to become soldiers in our day and age, but back in the 1860s, it was shocking to think a girl would don men’s clothing, cut off her hair, change her name and join the Union Army.

This is the fascinating story of Emma Edmonds, born in New Brunswick, Canada in 1841.  The last of six children, five of whom were girls, Emma grew up on a hard-working farm in a remote wilderness with a father who let it be known he wanted sons.  In an effort to please her father, Emma learned to ride and shoot, follow a plow, split logs and work in the fields like a man to please her pa.  However, she was never quite good enough.  The girl developed a deep resentment toward men, read lots of books, and dreamed of becoming a missionary.  She finally ran away from home at seventeen when her father tried to marry her off to an elderly, newly widowed neighbor with a passel of children who needed a mother.

Hiding in the back of a carriage while her father was in the fields, Emma made her escape.  She worked briefly in a millinery store in town but feared her father would find her.  Desperate not to be dragged back to the farm, Emma hacked off her hair, dressed as a boy, and dared to answer an ad in an American newspaper advertising for help as a subscription salesman and book agent in the vicinity of Hartford, Connecticut.  Practicing masculine walk and talk, Emma ventured to the United States and got the job.  Having changed her name to Frank Thompson, she embarked on this daring lifestyle, always careful not to become too friendly with anyone who might discover the truth.

Cherishing her freedom as a man, she became a successful book salesman, continually moving about and even enjoying a few “dates” to keep up appearances.  By 1860, with Civil War looming, Emma got caught up in the excitement of North vs. South, and vowed to perform her duty.  She enlisted in the Union Army as a member of the Michigan Brigade.  Fortunately for her, physical examinations during those early days consisted of mere questioning by the military doctors to determine a recruit’s health.

It has been estimated that between 250 and 500 women disguised themselves as men to fight in the Civil War, so Emma was hardly the only woman to do this.  Nevertheless, Emma, now known as Frank Thompson, knew she would not like to carry a gun so she volunteered to work in the field hospitals.  This turned out to be easy since most recruits shied away from the ghastly chores associated with assisting battlefield doctors under crude field conditions.  Too, among her duties, she became a mail courier since she was lighter than most men and excelled in riding horses at a quick pace over long distances.

The book tells about battles fought, Emma’s spy escapades, her falling in love with a fellow soldier, her desertion and ultimate return to life as a civilian female.

The author of the book, Laura Leedy Gansler follows Emma all the way to her life in Kansas where she applied for her military pension, wrote about her escapades, and surprised her fellow soldiers-in-arms when they discovered the courier and hospital attendant they knew during Civil War days was really a woman.  Even after Emma became a married woman with children, she wore pants around town, rode her horse astride, and was known as an eccentric who did not care what her neighbors thought of her.  Mrs. S.E.E. Seelye of Fort Scott, Kansas had never been one to worry about wagging tongues. That said, you can get this amazing book 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

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

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