Rare Books from the American West from Old West Books
Rare books on the American West from Old West Books.
By Michael Stillman
Old West Books has published their Catalog 19 of rare and out of print books on the American West. Collectors of the West will not be disappointed. There are over 300 books, including many first and early editions from the 19th century, along with more recent titles and reprints from the past century. Many of these books are obscure or quite hard to find. We can only describe a few as samples, but anyone trying to fill holes in a western collection should have this catalogue. It almost certainly has some missing pieces of your collecting puzzle. The catalogue is particularly strong in travel histories by some of the less well-known settlers who traversed the Oregon and other trails, along with stories of gunmen and other outlaws, and histories of that most iconic and ironic western figure, General George Armstrong Custer.
Here is one of the few Custer biographies that leaves out that last, unpleasant incident for which he is best remembered. The reason it is ignored is this biography was written by Custer himself -- My Life on the Plains or Personal Experiences With Indians. Just as well he left out his last personal experience with Indians. Custer may not have been one of the greatest military leaders, but he was one of the best at self-promotion. That served to provide a higher starting point from which his reputation would fall. In this edition, published in 1876, the year of his demise (it was originally published in 1874), Custer recounts his earlier campaigns against the Indians, in what many believe is a bit of an exaggerated though entertaining style. Item 16. Priced at $675.
Joseph I.C. Clark was a newsman for the old New York Herald. Near the end of his career, he wrote My Life and Memories, published in 1925. He interviewed many people along the way, including Custer in 1876, shortly before he left New York for his final Indian campaign. Three pages in this book cover that interview. There are also recollections of other interviews, including of explorer Henry Stanley and inventor Thomas Edison. Item 12. $100.
Jacob Horner was an unlucky man. He enlisted to fight the Indians, but he had no horse. He had to walk 318 miles to reach the Montana Territory. Then, when the 7th Cavalry mounted to accompany Custer to the Little Big Horn, Horner was still without a horse. He had to stay home while the others went off to battle. Well…maybe Horner wasn't such as unlucky man after all. He was unlucky in that he that he never got to see his friends again, but Jacob Horner did get to outlive Custer by 75 years. Item 10 is a 1942 biography of him by Usher Burdick and Eugene Hart: Jacob Horner and the Indian Campaigns of 1876 and 1877. $150.
Rare Books from the American West from Old West Books
Donner Pass as it appeared at the time McGlashan was writing his account.
Here's one more Custer item before we move on: The Arikara Narrative of the Campaign Against the Hostile Dakotas June 1876, by Orin Libby. The Arikara were Indian scouts who worked for Custer, kemosabes, so to speak. This is an account of the great battle given by surviving scouts many years later, and published in 1920 by the North Dakota State Historical Society. Item 51 is Elizabeth Custer's personal copy of this book, with her signature inside. Libbie Custer was her husband's most loyal and devoted follower. Like the aforementioned Jacob Horner, she outlived Custer by a very long time, but her devotion never wavered. $1,750.
Unlike Mr. Horner, Charles Fenno Hoffman didn't walk west. He rode a horse -- alone -- through what was the West back in 1835 (more like the Midwest today). If riding a horse seems comparatively easy, it should be noted that Hoffman had only one leg, so walking would not have been practical. Item 123 is A Winter in The West By A New-Yorker. Hoffman made it as far as St. Louis, and hoped to continue up the Missouri with fur traders but was not permitted to do so. Hoffman was a writer and journalist as well as traveler, but was best known for his poetry. $160.
William "Buffalo Bill" Cody was an adventurer in the Old West. Cody began working on wagon trains by the age of 11, and went on to be a Pony Express rider, unofficial soldier, Indian scout, and the career for which he earned his nickname, buffalo hunter (to feed soldiers and railroad workers). There were many other activities in which he may have been involved, such as gold prospector, but it's hard to tell where fact turned to exaggeration. However much he may have exaggerated, he was still a remarkable man. Nevertheless, most of his career was spent not on such adventures, but retelling his exploits in his famous "Wild West Show." He turned in his western career while still in his twenties to become a master showman, which occupied almost two-thirds of his lifetime. Item 261 is The Life of Hon. William F. Cody Known as Buffalo Bill, The Famous Hunter, Scout and Guide. This 1879 book, published in the earlier years of his show, would help to build his reputation. $550.
Item 137 is Charles McGlashan's History of the Donner Party. A Tragedy of the Sierras. The Donner party got trapped in the snows of the Sierra Nevadas while trying to cross in 1846, leading to unspeakable horrors. If you don't know what they are most famous for, you are not a Donner collector anyway. With so many stories being told about this tragedy, McGlashan set about to find the truth three decades later. As a newspaper editor in Truckee, California, the closest town to Donner Pass, he had access to the most information. He was able to interview 24 of the remaining 26 survivors before publishing his account in 1879. This rare first edition bears a "Compliments of the Author" inscription. $3,750.
There is, of course, much more in this catalogue, but this should provide a glimpse of the exciting material available. Old West Books may be reached at www.oldwestbooks.com, telephone 817-557-4830.