Old Western Books from...Old West Books
Old books from Old West Books.
By Michael Stillman
Old West Books of Colorado Springs has issued Catalog 24 of Rare, Out of Print Books on the American West. If the name, but not the location sounds familiar, this is the same Old West Books previously located in Arlington, Texas. This move is appropriate, as Colorado Springs is farther west, and Arlington, in the middle of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, is definitely New West. From their door, Old West can undoubtedly see Pike's Peak, gateway to America's first southwestern exploration, and a perfect starting point for the items inside this catalogue.
Zebulon Pike made it to Colorado Springs two centuries ahead of Old West Books, which is why the nearby mountain was named "Pike's Peak." After an unsuccessful attempt to find the source of the Mississippi, Zebulon Pike turned west. His explorations, though not as thorough or well-planned, were something of a Southwestern equivalent of Lewis and Clark's journey into the Northwest. He discovered the peak which bears his name, along with much else about the territory, but ended up being imprisoned for a while by the Spanish. At the time, today's Colorado was a border state with Mexico, and Pike journeyed a bit too far south for the always suspicious Spanish to tolerate. Item 158 is Pike's Exploratory Travels Through the Western Territories of North America... This is the 1811 London edition, generated from a manuscript prior to the release of the American edition. As a result, the arrangement of this edition differs from the American, and numerous corrections in grammar have been made. Item 158. Priced at $6,750.
Billy the Kid is one of those legendary names from the Old West, a man loyal to his friends and most adept with a gun. The Kid worked a few ranch hand types of jobs and later shifted to the business of small-time cattle rustler. However, it would be in New Mexico's Lincoln County War that he would make a name. When a friend and ally was gunned down in cold blood, Billy sought revenge. Something between 4 and 21 men (probably closer to the low end) died on the other side of Billy's gun before Sheriff Pat Garrett shot down the supposedly personable and loyal gunslinger. Still, Billy never gained that much notoriety during his lifetime, his legend, with some help from Garrett, being built after he died. The legendary status was sealed by the ultimate recognition in the years ahead - claims that he was still alive. Like Jesse James and Butch Cassidy, people showed up many years later claiming to be an aged Billy. One such man was Brushy Bill Roberts of Hico, Texas. Toward the end of his life, Roberts "admitted" to being the Kid, saying that he wanted an official pardon from the Governor of New Mexico. His story is recounted by C.L. Sonnichsen and William V. Morrison (the latter extensively interviewed Roberts) in Alias Billy the Kid. I Wanted to Die a Free Man, published in 1955. Roberts died in 1950, a year after he was discovered, and almost 70 years after Billy was believed to have died. Roberts evidently had much in common with Billy, including knowledge of very obscure events and scars on his body. Some who knew Billy many years earlier also identified him as the same. However, there were also some serious discrepancies, including Billy's literacy and fluency in Spanish, which Roberts lacked, and the fact that Billy would not likely consent to disappear, nor would Garrett likely risk the embarrassment of being discovered a fraud if he claimed to have killed Billy, only to have the latter reappear. You decide. Item 117. $40.
Old Western Books from...Old West Books
Billy the Kid and Brushy Bill Roberts. One and the same or imposter?
Item 105 is a book about the definitely real Billy the Kid: The True Life of Billy the Kid, by Don Jenardo (likely pseudonym for John Woodruff Lewis). However, this does not make the book an accurate "true" portrayal. This is where the legend begins. Published just six weeks after the Kid's death (or "death"), Lewis paints his subject as evil personified, a psychotic killer with no recognizable humanity. In time, the image would soften, and some would come to see him as more of a Robin Hood than merciless killer, the true Billy likely being something in between. This earliest account/exaggeration should be considered more as historical fiction than unbiased biography. Today it is very rare, with only a few copies known to exist. $8,750.
The details of the lives of most western gunslingers are filled with more disputes than facts. This would certainly apply to perhaps the most notorious of them all, Jesse James. However, author Frank Triplett believed he had it right, and was not shy to so proclaim in the title of his 1882 book: The Life, Times and Treacherous Death of Jesse James. The only correct and authorized edition. Giving full particulars of each and every dark and desperate deed in the career of this most noted outlaw of any time or nation. The facts and incidents contained in this volume were dictated to Frank Triplett by Mrs. Jesse James, wife of the bandit, and Mrs. Zeralda Samuel, his mother. Consequently every secret act, every hitherto unknown incident, every crime and every motive is herein disclosed. Truth is more interesting than fiction. Triplett published his book almost as quickly as Lewis, just seven weeks after James' death, interviewing family members barely after the body turned cold. The speed of publication indicates he was probably preparing this book even while James was alive. Is Triplett's book quite as accurate as he portrayed? Those he interviewed were not necessarily impartial witnesses and it is not clear just how right he got it. Nevertheless, this is an interesting, contemporary account of James life, a book now rare, perhaps because it was to some extent suppressed. Item 138 is a first issue of the first edition. $2,950.
Old West Books may be reached at 719-260-6030 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Their website is www.oldwestbooks.com.