Old West Book Reviews Archives

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.

Chronicling the West For Harper'sChronicling the West For Harper’s. This fascinating book tells the story of two French artists, Paul Frenzeny and Jules Tavernier who were employed in 1873 by Harper’s Magazine to travel for one year across the great American frontier to chronicle immigrant migration.  The men began in New York City and wound their way to San Francisco.

Paul Frenzeny was the son of a Hungarian nobleman.  He had been a soldier in the French army, and eventually traveled to Mexico where he served as an artillery officer in the army of Maximilian.  When Maximilian was defeated by the Juaristas, Frenzeny beat a hasty retreat back home to France by way of New York City.  Here he became enamored with America and by using his considerable artistic talent and writing skills; he began working for Harper’s Magazine.

Jules Tavernier was the son of a British candy maker and grew up in France where he studied art with a Parisian master.  After a stint in the military, he sailed for New York City were he immediately began building a reputation by producing expert artwork for important books and magazines, including Harper’s where he met Frenzeny.

When Harper’s cooked up the idea to publish realistic artwork showing immigrants crossing America, the magazine sent Frenzeny and Tavernier on a yearlong jaunt Out West.  This book follows their trail from coast to coast as these two remarkable artists produced intricate drawings taken from their experiences as they traveled across the continent.  Their sketches were transferred to wood cuts, and sent back to New York each week so readers could follow their adventures visually as well as in print.  The result was a weekly flow of exceptional artwork combined with explanations of life on the frontier.

The men traveled by train, stagecoach and even horseback as they depicted life including glimpses of the manufacture of iron, and coal mining in Pennsylvania, plus train travel across Missouri, Kansas and Texas.  There are log cabins, market days, sunsets, grazing cattle, homesteaders, woodcutters, Native Indians, prisoners en route to Ft. Smith, trader’s stores and even a vigilance committee preparing to hang outlaws for horse stealing.

Frenzeny and Tavernier worked relentlessly from place to place, following the immigrant trail, always looking for details surrounding everyday life.  Their expert artistic talents picked up each and every nuance showing playful children, concerned mothers, thin over-worked animals, and dangers that lurked.

The book contains more than 130 marvelous illustrations along with the history lessons of author Claudine Chalmers whose keen eye directs readers’ attention to each important detail in the drawings.  Chalmers has an uncanny way of observing what the artists must have seen as they watched argumentative washerwomen, snoozing pigs, defensive mother bears, dangerous river crossings, bustling cotton-gins, sugar-making in Texas, exciting deer hunts, market days and even abandoned towns after the railroads changed course.  Coyotes digging through trash barrels and gnawing on dry bones in front of a dilapidated store tell the story. You’ll see prairie gnawing on dry bones in front of a dilapidated store tell the story.  You’ll see prairie fires, buffalo slaughter, and Indian ceremonies. These wonderful illustrations include the Red Cloud Agency, work at a stone quarry, the emotions of a group of Mormon wives, and even the last of the Shoshone Indians begging at a railroad depot.  The journey ends with scenes from San Francisco’s China Town.

This marvelous book combines history lessons from the 1870s era, along with exciting artwork you will marvel at time and again. It belongs as a special treasure in your Old West library. Get your copy HERE.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of many books including Silk and Sagebrush; Women of the Old West, published by Silk Label Books, P. 0. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988-0700 www.siIklabelbooks.com

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

Old West Book Review: The Sundance Kid

The Sundance KidOld West outlaw history has many “kids”, and the Sundance Kid is among the most popular.  He teamed up with Butch Cassidy, and the two robbed banks, blew up railroad cars, stole money, buried loot, rustled horses, broke jail and foiled lawmen all the way from the United States to South America.

Along the way many romanticized stories cropped up.  Books, magazine articles, and even one popular movie had Butch and Sundance appearing in a variety of exciting situations.  lt is true they belonged to The Wild Bunch, or Hole in the Wall Gang of robbers and rustlers in Old Wyoming.  At one point in their career, they brazenly posed for a group photograph in a New York studio with members of their gang.

They rode hard, shot straight, plotted brazen holdups and get-aways, and even ran with a beautiful and mysterious woman known as Ethel (or Etta) Place.  She traveled from New York to South America with them, was thought to be a Texas soiled dove, but disappeared from history before the men were hunted down and killed in Bolivia.  All the possibilities surrounding Ethel’s life and what might have ultimately happened to her are explored here.

The author of this book is Donna Ernst, a member through marriage of the Longabaugh family, and she has spent many years delving into historical archives, family records, Pinkerton documents, letters and news accounts.  Ernst has determined to set the story straight and takes the reader step by step from Harry Longabaugh’s childhood all the way to his death in Bolivia.  She explains her sources of information and covers thoroughly Harry’s movements from childhood, to his work as an honest cowboy horse trainer, to his involvements in crime.  She corrects some information about crimes he was blamed for, but other escapades she shows what part he played.

His crime spree began in the United States, and he spent some time in jail.  Each time he was released he promised to go straight, but, but it always seemed too easy for him to drift back to a life of crime with his old pals.  Eventually, when he was closely followed by American law enforcement authorities, he and Butch and Ethel departed for South America where they planned to become honest ranchers.  However, the Pinkertons and other sheriffs were quick to figure out their whereabouts, and soon the trio was back on the run.  They made friends in South America, but once they again began their outlaw ways, the locals naturally turned on them.

According to Ernst, down to their last two bullets, Butch and Sundance died of suicide in a shack surrounded by Bolivian police throwing Iead.  Many writers show Burch and Sundance slipping back into the U.S. where they drifted in and out of their family’s lives.  Several old men even claimed to be Butch or Sundance well into the 20th century.  According to Ernst, one clever self-promoter may very well have been a Longabaugh relative, but certainly not Sundance himself.

The author makes a very strong case with good documentation that both Butch and Sundance died in Bolivia.  This fascinating book takes the reader in a clear and concise writing style, along the outlaw trail of a man who might have been an upstanding, worthwhile citizen, but instead chose a life on the wild side.

This memorable book belongs in your Old West library. Get your copy HERE.

Publisher’s Note:  The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the OId West including The Apache Kid, published by Westernlore Press, P0. Box 35305,Tucson, Arizona 85740.

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

 

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