Old West Book Reviews Archives

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

 

Book Review: Six-Shooters and Shifting Sands

512-Y18uBYL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_Author Bob Alexander had a long career in law enforcement.  Combining this with his love of Texas, he now specializes in writing the biographies of various outlaws as well as lawmen, and here he takes aim at Captain Frank Jones of the Texas Rangers.

The book contains carefully researched information about the life and times of this brave man who was born in 1856 and died young, at age 37 in 1893.  Jones’ remarkable career is filled with straight-shooting combined with faithful adherence to the laws of his State of Texas.  These Rangers withstood unbelievable hardship as they helped create a safe environment for ranchers, settlers, townsfolk and adventurers alike.  They dealt with never ending long days in the saddle, cold and heat, sudden political harangues and many uncertainties regarding their jobs and futures.  Many of these men had no real personal lives, they were expected to be nearly superhuman in their promise to keep the peace.

Captain Frank Jones was born during tumultuous times in Texas during which Comanche swooped down on homesteaders, often kidnapping and murdering men, women and children.  Comanche raiders combined with white rustlers, robbers, Mexican bandits and many miles between settlements and help was not a place for folks lacking grit.  Frank’s mother Keziah Jones gave birth to her son on their lonely ranch while marauding Comanche terrorized the neighborhood.

Keziah’s photograph shows a severe, straight-laced and grim woman whose stare alone could stop most Comanche in their tracks.  This photo and many others in the book show Frank’s family members, Ranger cronies, and important political figures he knew.  With surnames like Hogg, Outhouse and Outlaw, this is better than what any fiction writer could possibly make up.

When Frank Jones joined the Frontier Battalion (later known as the Texas Rangers) he began chasing outlaws, and riding to the scenes of robberies, cattle rustling, fence cutting, murder, and every other depredation imaginable.  No one could ask for a more exciting profession.  Guns, horses, brawls, skulduggery. . . , it’s all here.

The book delves mostly into the career of Frank Jones, and touches only briefly upon his personal life.  We find out he was married twice, his first wife was in fragile health and died soon after the couple’s second child was born.  Frank had to put both children to live with relatives while he pursued his career.  Sadly, the second child soon died.  Several years later Frank married a divorced woman who had one son from her first marriage.  Her ex was also a lawman, and a friend of Frank’s.  She was pregnant with Frank’s son when Frank was killed during an ambush perpetrated by a gang of Mexican outlaws at a place called Pirate Island.

Frank Jones’ story ends with a tragic and fiery shoot-out between his group of Texas Rangers, and a Mexican gang well-hidden behind adobe walls.  The Rangers rode right into a trap, and were cut down in a thunderous fusillade, leaving Captain Jones mortally wounded but still fighting back until his dying breath.

Today Frank Jones lies buried beneath his memorial monument in a cemetery near Ysleta, Texas.  A sentimental photograph shows his old pals and comrades in arms circling his grave in remembrance.  We see tough old Rangers in their twilight years respectfully resting their hands on the grave marker, their eyes shining with sadness, courage and respect.  Some of these men were with Frank at Pirate’s Island the day he died.

Bob Alexander has once again written a valuable and memorable biography of an old-time Texas Ranger who deserves to be remembered.  This book belongs in your Texas Ranger collection.

Author’s Note:  The Reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of many published books, including the novel Hell Horse Winter of the Apache Kid, 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

Book Review: Killer of Witches

Killer of WitchesIn Killer of Witches, the Spur Award winning author W. Michael Farmer delivers a carefully researched story of a Mescalero Apache’s adventures. Beginning in 1865, the boy, along with a small group consisting of his family and friends, “jump” the reservation at Bosque Redondo, New Mexico Territory where they have been unhappily confined.

Their well-planned escape in dead of night is rewarded when they join a larger group of Apache fugitives hiding in Mexico. The reader is swept along with the Apaches, particularly Yellow Boy, as he grows into a much-feared warrior. He rides, shoots, becomes expert with bow and arrow as well as guns and practices all the rituals and traditions of his People. Along the way he meets some famous Apaches such as Juh and Victorio.

The location of the story includes New Mexico Territory, Arizona Territory, and Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico. The reader really feels the descriptions of a harrowing life on the bronco trail. Heat, cold, storms, water shortages, dangers from wild animals and possible ambush by American troops, Mexican soldiers or renegade killers along the border is constant.

Yellow Boy dreams of a girl he likes, but wisely chooses another more suited to his dangerous lifestyle. Juanita fights beside him and is a woman to be counted on. She’s strong and smart, and totally devoted to her man.

A cantankerous old white man named Rufus Pike takes Yellow Boy under his wing and teaches him passable English as well as the expert handling of guns. Yellow Boy is tough and determined yet a thoughtful young man who tries to understand the rituals of the Apache god, Ussen. Both Apache and Spanish words and phrases are found throughout the story including their meanings.

As the story progresses, Yellow Boy has a frightening dream during which he thinks he has been spoken to by Ussen. He is warned that a mysterious apparition too horrible to think about has attacked Yellow Boy’s family campground in the mountains. When Yellow Boy rides to the rescue he discovers that sure enough, a sort-of Comanchero cross between a Mexican and a Comanche giant has murdered many of Yellow Boy’s relatives including his beloved father.

Known as “The Witch”, this hideous individual has taken over a hacienda and surrounds himself with captive women, fellow marauders, scalp hunters, murderers and thieves. The Witch, covered with tattoos, bird feathers and paint, dresses in an odd getup found only in poor Yellow Boy’s wildest nightmares. Armed with a pet owl trained to kill humans, this Witch becomes the villain of all villains. Quite likely the guy has smoked a little too much peyote.

Yellow Boy, armed only with his aged grandfather, his favorite gun, and two boyhood pals, must settle the score. The reader knows he’s being put-on by a clever and imaginative author who keeps readers glued to their book far into the night.

Well…, not too far into the night. I suggest you finish the story in the morning in the light of day when The Witch’s horrible face, his murderous rages, his gang of cutthroats, his mistreatment of women, and his diabolical urges to torture and kill anybody defying his authority won’t seem so scary. Besides, we have to find out what happens.

Does Yellow Boy beat The Witch? Read the book. You won’t be disappointed. But be careful, this book is the first of a trilogy featuring Yellow Boy and his nemesis, so we suspect even after turning the last page, there is still a lot more hard riding to do. Get your copy HERE.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of many books 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

Book Review: Wyatt in Wichita

download (1)In the novel Wyatt in Wichita, readers of Western fiction will enjoy a look into the early life and times of Wyatt Earp. The author begins the story with the death of Wyatt’s wife Urilla, who died in Lamar, Missouri in 1870. At this time, Wyatt was 22 years old. Following this traumatic event, Wyatt travels to various towns throughout Kansas, and even up to Deadwood in the Dakotas while deciding what to do with his life. Heartbroken, confused, short of cash and blaming himself for the dearth of his wife, he runs into a variety of people both good and bad, who shape his future.

The problem with writing fiction using famous characters for the leading role is that the author must appeal to readers who have usually made up their minds well in advance of picking up a book. So much has been written about all the Earps, good, bad, and otherwise, it is hard to find anybody who does not have some preconceived ideas of what Wyatt Earp was really like. Was he a hero, or a self-serving cad?

The challenge for author Shirley, himself obviously a Wyatt Earp fan, was to keep readers turning pages even if they did not always agree with the author’s assessment of certain situations. Shirley is an experienced and clever writer who is able to keep the story moving forward by his good descriptions of life in the Old West, plus, he includes glimpses of other famous Western characters such as teenage Billy the Kid whom Wyatt tries to steer in constructive directions. Billy tags along with Wyatt throughout most of the book, and we see glimpses of his character as the young man struggles between right and wrong. He tries listening to Wyatt, but we can see a dark side to Billy that we know will eventually erupt in Lincoln County, New Mexico.

Meanwhile, to keep the reader guessing, Shirley has Wyatt involved in solving the murder of a beautiful young woman found strangled in his sister-in-law’s brothel. Bessie Earp, a madam in Wichita, is married to Wyatt’s older brother, James.

The story includes good descriptions of towns bustling with saloons, card games, buffalo hunters, peace officers and others who lived in these frontier settlements. Wyatt plays cards, gets into personal disagreements, and makes friends with the likes of Bat Masterson. Even Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane put in brief appearances.

Trying to earn a living, Wyatt does wood cutting, law enforcement, riding shotgun for Wells Fargo, and even does a bit of gold prospecting. He stays in touch with his brothers and meets the difficult Mattie Blaylock who will eventually follow him to Tombstone, Arizona. While Mattie fawns over Wyatt now, she will eventually become a thorn in his side. However, this book does not get into the Tombstone part of Wyatt’s life. This story ends with him still in Kansas, trying to figure out where he will go next. Perhaps another Wyatt Earp story by this author will be forthcoming as a sequel, but don’t look here for the shootout at the O.K. Corral.

If you enjoy Western fiction filled with guns, card games, bad guys, peace officers and fast rides, you will like Wyatt in Wichita. Author Shirley has among his many credits co-screen writing the motion picture, The Crow, as well as having written television films for FOX and Paramount. Wyatt in Wichita is entertaining and fun in the tradition of historical western fiction. Shirley is an experienced storyteller who knows how to spin a good yarn. Grab your copy HERE.

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

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

Book Review: First Territory

41mmmwV02TL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_This novel tells of a young white man’s experience during the 1855-1856 Yakima War in the Pacific Northwest. The protagonist is Andrew Eaton, who works as a translator between American politicians, the U.S military commanders, and the Indians, thus he is traveling with important people and getting in on all that is happening.

Andrew has learned the Indian language from his friendship with a beautiful Indian girl named Lalooh who ultimately does some translating too, since she has learned passable English from Andrew. However, throughout the story she stays with her family and as the story unfolds, she and Andrew only catch glimpses of one another.

Some background leading to this story, while only touched upon here, is the true debacle of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman who, ten years earlier before this story begins, had been brutally massacred along with twelve other white persons at their Mission in the Waiilatpu in what is now Oregon. Marcus was an American pioneer, doctor, and missionary among the Indians. Narcissa was one of the first white women to cross the continent. Their deaths occurred November 29, 1847. It is believed the Indians Marcus was trying to convert to Christianity became suspicious and enraged when a number of Indian children died in a measles epidemic and the Indians thought the Whitmans had poisoned them. Not until several white children died did the Indians understand the situation, but by then it was too late.

Now, ten years after the Whitmans’ deaths, there is continued feuding between the U.S. government, the various Indian tribes and white religious groups. Young Andrew finds himself caught in the desperate struggle between all these people as the Indian Wars in the Northwest finally grind to a close. Indian reservations are being established while leaders of the various tribes struggle between themselves as well as the new white government. Many misunderstandings, deep personal hatreds, loss of life and old traditional ways all come to a tumultuous clash by the end of the story.

Meanwhile, Andrew is in love with Lalooh and probably she has feelings for him too, but the situation is far too desperate and emotionally-charged for these two young people to resolve their differences and live happily ever after. Lalooh is faithful to her own people, even though she is roughly treated by an Indian who takes her for his wife. Andrew must watch and record while translating, and becomes embroiled in all the brutality on both sides. Andrew travels with his own people, while always on the lookout for Lalooh. His hared for the white governor becomes deeply entrenched in his feelings as he is caught between his job as translator and what is happening to the Indians.

Author Richie Swanson spent nearly thirty years beginning in 1977 exploring Indian reservations in the Northwest and researching the People’s long traditions. He writes with carefully crafted original detail, painting word pictures that sometimes cause the reader to flinch. Swanson’s writing is bold and unforgiving, some battle scenes are painfully revealing. The surprise, the sudden and fearful attacks and their aftermath remind us of all our years of human tragedy, war after war. Swanson’s writing goes deeper than an easy to read novel, he teaches truth along with entertainment. He really drives home what a gutsy, well-schooled novelist can do when endeavoring to rise above the average story-teller. Get your copy HERE.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous published books about the Old West, including the novel Widow’s Peak, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988. Www.silklabelbooks.com

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