George Crook and the Indian WarsThe Gray Fox; George Crook and the Indian Wars, Paul Magid, University of Oklahoma Press, (800 627-7377), $29.95, Cloth, 480 pages, Photographs, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

This book is the second of a trilogy written about the life and military career of General George Crook.  The author concentrates here on the years 1866-1877.  (The first book is titled From the Redwoods to Appomattox, telling about Crook’s early life and including his involvement in the Civil War, check it out HERE).

Born in Ohio in 1829, raised on the family farm, Crook was admitted to West Point when he was eighteen years old.  He graduated near the bottom of his class in 1852.  The Indians nicknamed him “The Gray Fox,” which was not exactly a compliment.  Crook stood close to six feet tall, with blue eyes a little too close together, a sharply pointed nose, graying close-clipped hair, thin lips and humorless personality.  He served for eight years on the Pacific Coast where he campaigned against Indians in both the Rogue River War and the Yakima War.  When necessary, he could live off the land.  His hunting expeditions while in the field became one of his peculiarities.  Crook rarely dressed in military garb while campaigning.  He was usually found wearing canvas clothing, high work boots and a straw hat.  In Arizona he rode a mule named Apache.  Crook relied heavily on mule packing opposed to hauling supplies and equipment in slow-moving wagon trains.

Author Magid follows the tortured and twisting trails of General Crook throughout the early Apache campaign in Arizona, and then Crook is transferred to the Northwest where he is embroiled in battles against Sioux and Cheyenne warriors.  Readers follow him through long, grueling marches, freezing winter snows, forage shortages, sick and starving horses, loss of life and always the political harangues he faced with his superiors in Washington, D.C.

Crook was notorious for keeping battle plans to himself, much to the annoyance of some officers in his command.  He was known to go off by himself to hunt game, returning to camp with fish and fowl, and occasionally deer or buffalo meat for the troops.  He eventually learned the art of taxidermy to preserve some of. his best trophies.  He was eccentric, somewhat mysterious, tough on himself as well as the men around him, but the Indians considered him a worthy and dangerous foe.  They knew he was a man of his word.

This book is hardly a long, dry history lesson.  The talented author keeps the story rolling forward with easy-to-read prose.  Crook’s personality is fairly dealt with, even though the man was difficult to understand.  Crook had a myriad of complicated issues to deal with, but kept his stoic silence most of the time.  The author obviously is a Crook fan, and is to be commended for writing about the murder of Crazy Horse as honestly as possible, telling all sides of the story.  Most likely Crook was aware of the skullduggery afoot.  When, at the end of the Sioux War, Crazy Horse was lured to Camp Robinson on the pretext of talks about a reservation for his people, the war chief was captured instead, and brutally murdered inside the fort.

When we turn the last page, we have mixed emotions about General Crook.  He left no personal diaries or notes about himself, so history must rely on the observations of those who worked and lived with him, as well as his military successes and failures.  Criticized by some, praised by others, General Crook is a fascinating personality.

We look forward to the third book in Magid’s trilogy focusing on Crook’s involvement ending the Apache Wars in Arizona. 

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

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

Old West Book Review: Tracing The Santa Fe Trail

Santa Fe TrailThis photographic journey along the Santa Fe Trail is a treasure of outstanding color photos combined with a detailed, step by step history of this important trail wending its way across the American West between the Missouri river valley and northern Mexico.

Readers turn the pages of history from 1821 through 1880, witnessing caravans of freight wagons, lumbering oxen, stoic Missouri mules, and faithful horses traveling this international route used by military men, hunters, pioneers, homesteaders, tradesmen, bullwhackers and every sort of adventurer.  By 1880 the railroads put the Santa Fe Trail out of importance but before trains on rails edged out horses and mules, this road seethed with adventure.

Maps inside the book give a detailed description of the trail running from St. Louis, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico.  As we turn the pages, magnificent photos combined with carefully written essays tell the story. Scenes of trapper’s tents along the Missouri River, historical markers explaining old battle scenes, patient oxen ready for work, military forts, restored buildings in Kansas boom towns, and haunting wagon ruts are still visible across the prairie.

The author takes us along this spectacular tour of historical places while explaining the importance of each scene. We get an emotional glimpse of what it must have been like to walk or ride along this trail. We imagine the squeak of freight wagons, the clank of trace chains, and can almost feel the lonesome prairie vastness surrounding brave travelers as they went along their way.

Every type of conveyance from buggies to huge Conestogas lumbered along.  Trade goods included salt, tools, furs, medicine for fever and malaria, castor oil and opium. Some packages contained wines and brandies, chess sets, violin strings, playing cards, cooking utensils, cloth and leather goods as well as silver and gold. Businessmen Russell, Majors and Wadell, who would eventually come up with the idea of a Pony Express, first ran a freight business that consisted of over 3,500 freight wagons carrying thousands of tons of material.

Fortunes were made and lost, armies tramped cross-country while cemeteries sprang up along the way.  This book is filled with surprising historical tidbits that we sometimes forget existed.  For instance, we see pictured the historical landmark of Fort Osage built to house soldiers guarding the new Louisiana Territory.  Pictures of the soldier’s quarters give us insight about how they lived.  Plank floors, spartan bunk beds and a wood kitchen counter remind us of days gone by.  Turning the pages we find everything from old adobe buildings to the Palace of the Governor in old Santa Fe. There are churches, Pueblos and Indian kivas inviting exploration.

Every page of this book causes the reader to reflect on the thoughtful and sentimental scenes chosen by the photographer. Faithful mules pulling a U.S. Army wagon, crumbling stone walls of an 1860 stage station, gushing water at a river crossing, remnants of two-hundred year-old cottonwood trees and historical grave markers show what lined the old Santa Fe Trail. We are filled with awe and admiration for the people who braved the new and dangerous land.  Photographer Ronald J. Dulle is to be congratulated for his beautifully orchestrated photography combined with this important history lesson.  This book belongs in your Old West library. You can grab this beautiful book HERE.

Editor’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.

51dRYUl3KSL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Texas Devils: Rangers and Regulars on the Lower Rio Grande, 1846-1861, by Michael L. Collins, University of Oklahoma Press, (405) 325-3200, $19.95, Paper. Photographs, Notes to the Chapters, Bibliography, Index.

This book is a carefully researched account of the turbulent times along the Lower Rio Grande in Texas from 1846-1861.  The author delves into these fifteen years filled with conflict between Anglo ranchers, homesteaders and businessmen at odds with the Hispanic people after the Mexican War.  New International boundaries pointed to trouble when people lost their old homelands and the Republic of Texas established a new government as well as new political rules.

The author creates a page-turner that reads in places like an exciting novel.  With measured cadence and vivid word descriptions, the warring factions are brought to life.  He explains how the Rangers were hired to defend the homeland, protect the new border and keep the peace.  Understandably, the Mexican people were mostly filled with resentment toward these armed posses riding across their old homeland.  Known by the Mexicans as Ids diablos Tejanos, or Texas Devils, these men patrolled the countryside often clashing with Mexican bandits and roving Comanches.  Here are details regarding the various battles, what happened, who lived and who died.  Often young Rangers were brutally murdered, their hacked remains left rolling in the sun.

In retaliation, the Rangers were known to exact their own brand of vengeance, and sometimes committed atrocities with equal savagery upon those they fought against.  The book aims to tell the Ranger story with fairness, dispelling some of the romanticized myths surrounding the early Ranger companies.

Important leaders of the Ranger units are given biographical coverage as to their places in history.  Some had political ambitions; some were mercenaries interested in land and plunder.  Still others, like Major Samuel Heintzelman and Col. Robert E. Lee were military gentlemen performing their duties in Texas with dignity, and who were destined to fight in terrible battlefields back east.

A clear and sentimental portrait is drawn here regarding Robert E. Lee who left his beloved Virginia plantation (now Arlington National Cemetery) in service to his country.  He knew the winds of war would call him home to face heart wrenching decisions that would linger to the end of his days.

Too, this Ranger story includes the well known Juan Cortina known on the border as the “Red Robber.”  The son of wealthy Mexicans who owned vast ranch lands, he became a champion for the Mexican cause after his mother lost most of their land to gringo lawyers and speculators after the Mexican War.  Filled with bitterness and revenge, he led his Mexican followers against the Texas Rangers.  Somewhat of a Robin Hood, he became an illusive adversary much loved by the Mexican people.

The author points out that injustice on both sides of the border conflict were experienced by many people.  In 1860 Civil War broke out in the United States, and Texas went with the Confederacy.  So much turmoil ensued due to that cause, the fighting on the Texas border settled down since there was a much larger conflict to deal with.  Meanwhile, old myths and fables die hard because we all need our heroes.  However, still to this day Anglos and Hispanics on the Lower Rio Grande have their reasons to mistrust one another.  Even after 150 years, there is still much work to be done.  Western history readers will reflect on what is written here long after turning the last page. You can grab Michael’s book HERE.

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.0. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988 Ph. (845) 726-3434 www.silklabelbooks.com

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

Old West Book Review: The Boys Of Company K

co KThis book is a very carefully researched, well-written documentary about the men who volunteered to “go west” during the Civil War to fight Indians on the northern plains.  They marched on foot (horses were scarce due to the war back east) to Wyoming where they built forts, protected telegraph lines, lived in remote outposts where they were sometimes deprived of proper shelter, food and clothing.

The Eleventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, Company K is fascinating reading for anyone interested in the Plains Indians and their last days in relation to America’s Westward expansion.  Important skirmishes, battles and fights are chronicled here sometimes by the men themselves who wrote letters home to family members, or to their local newspapers.

The soldiers suffered greatly, sometimes putting up with commanding officers who did not always have their welfare in mind.  Food and supply shortages hindered camp life as did some horses who were little more than rugged Indian ponies bolting and bucking, offering more danger during emergencies than the Indians did.

Some letters included stories about Jim Bridger, a mountain man known for spinning wild yarns that entertained the troops.

The book is divided into sections beginning with “The Long Road to Laramie,” then comes “Life at the Fort”, which tells about such things as teamsters quarters, sutlers store, horse corrals and graveyard. Information covers daily drills, horse grooming, inspection and maneuvers, pulling guard duty or cutting wood.  Laundresses on “Soapsuds Row” charged one dollar per month which was taken immediately out of soldiers pay.  Terrible weather conditions included blizzards and sub-zero temperatures.  More than one soldier froze to death when caught overnight on the plains.  The term “firewater” came from the buyer tossing a splash of whiskey into a fire to see if it flared up.  If not, that meant the whiskey had been watered down.

By July 1862 Indian attacks along the Oregon Trail forced the migration of travelers to stop for a while to allow time for soldiers to ride to the rescue.  The government was worried that Indians could stop communication between East and West.  Stage holdups, cut telegraph lines, and attacks on freighters kept the soldiers riding day and night.

For three years the men battled hot dry summers, cold winters, hail storms, sudden drops in temperature, unrelenting thunder storms, lice, poor rations, barren living quarters and always Indians.  Readers get a glimpse of a soldier’s life on the lonely prairie where death could come at any moment.

The book tells of some chiefs who came to the fort with their followers seeking peace, food and a chance to voice their opinions concerning white people who had invaded their land and driven away buffalo and deer previously found in abundance.

The boys were glad when the 1866 they were told they were finally going home to Ohio.  This time they rode their horses on the trip.  Some friends were left in graveyards, killed by Indians, disease, and even suicide.

This book covers an important chapter in our Old West history that has been overshadowed by the eastern fighting during the Civil War time period.  This chronicle is a must read for anybody interested in the Plains Indians Wars during the 1860s. You can grab it 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 (845) 726-3434. Www.silklabelbooks.com

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

Lost Mines & Buried Treasures

Lost Mines and Buried Treasures. This dandy little book is fun to read, easy to understand, and is chock full of ideas about hunting for lost treasure in Wyoming.

The author, W.C. Jameson has long been interested in searching for hidden loot, and when still a boy, helped cart gold bars out of the Guadalupe Mountains in Old Mexico.  Thus gold fever hit him hard.  Now Jameson writes books, conducts writer’s workshops, plays a guitar and sings his Western songs all across the United States.  I myself met Jameson in El Paso, Texas some years ago when he was the president of Western Writers of America.  Cordial, witty, and easy to like, wearing a beard and long Wyatt Earp coat, he helped aspiring writers find publication.  He was even instrumental in having the SPUR awards televised that year at the Camino Real on the Mexican border.

Inside this latest book readers will find 16 stories about lost treasure and how it came to be.  Some have to do with stagecoach robberies, holdups and bank shoot-outs that went wrong.  Others tell of gold nuggets glistening under the water of cold mountain streams.

Sometimes robbers hid the loot, only to be gunned down by local posses before they could tell the location of buried strong boxes.  Other individuals panned gold from creeks only to be murdered by Indians.  Some men found the gold all right, but were unable to carry it out of the hills and when they returned later with help, they became disoriented and never could pinpoint the location of the stash.

The idea of sinking a shovel into the earth, hitting a strongbox, and pulling up a million dollar bonanza is a fantasy to many of us, but some brave souls really do strike out with maps and shovels to try their luck.  Here you will find the Lost Cabin Gold Mine where rich men lost their lives to marauding Indians and the Snake River Pothole Gold where glistening nuggets lured men to their deaths. The Birdseye Stage Station Gold heist resulted in $30,000 in gold coins buried somewhere near the robbery site.  But who can find it now?

Indian raids, lost jade deposits, shoot-outs and the usual double-cross when gold is involved fill these pages.  Jameson makes the stories sound believable since he gives directions and information gleaned from original sources.  My particular favorite is the buried treasure of Nate Champion, whom I have always considered one of the heroes of the Johnson County Range War.  Nate Champion single-handedly held off a passel of hired Texas gunmen.  Alone inside his cabin, Champion kept a diary of what happened throughout that long day so those who found his body would know what happened there.  According to the Jameson account, Nate had a stash of gold buried outside the cabin his killers never found.

There is the story of Big Nose George Parrot who was not only the ugliest man alive, but a killer and gun-slinging outlaw reported to have buried $150,000 in stolen loot.  Of course George died with his lips sealed and his neck stretched by vigilantes.  The desecration of his body parts by the local doctor gets even worse as Parrot’s tanned hide became a pair of shoes, and the top of his skull an ashtray.  To this day folks still hunt in vain for poor Parrot’s buried treasure.

I suspect the sale of this book will provide more loot than might be found buried beside a burned-out cabin, but readers will have a grand time exploring these tales and who knows?  You might be the lucky one.

Jameson’s stories are always fun.  Sometimes his topics are controversial, like who is really buried in Billy the Kid’s grave.  You will have a good time reading his stories, but remember Jameson might just be pulling your leg. You can join in on the fun and grab this book HERE.

Editor’s Note:  The Reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of many published books about the Old West. Her most recent is a novel titled Hell Horse Winter of the Apache Kid 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.

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