Old West Book Reviews Archives

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.

Old West Book Review: Victorian Wedding Dress

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

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

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

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

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. 

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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