Books on the American West from Old West Books
The latest catalogue from Old West Books, looking rather aged itself.
By Michael Stillman
It is a land of legends, one that ceaselessly fascinates us though time has smoothed its rough edges. We have received Catalog 18 from Old West Books, Rare, Out of Print Books on the American West. The catalogue is divided into five sections: Custer; Cowboys, Cattle Trade, Wild West; Gunmen, Outlaws, Lawmen; Fur Trade; and Military/Indian Wars. The overwhelming majority of this material concerns events that took place in the 19th century, though the books themselves are a mix of contemporary publications with more recent retrospectives. In many instances, Old West also maintains reprints of older books for those interested more in reading than collecting. If you are an aficionado of the American West, and it is hard to imagine anyone not so being, you will want to see this catalogue. Now we have a few samples from its pages.
Item 148 is one of the classics of the west, noted for its suppression by wealthy cattle interests. This is Banditti of the Plains or the Cattlemen's Invasion of Wyoming in 1892 by Asa Mercer. This recounts the Johnson County War when wealthy ranchers and their hired guns from Texas set upon their smaller competitors. Their claim was cattle rustling, although it appears that the large ranchers required little evidence before shooting and lynching the small-time operators. Mercer had come to Wyoming to publish a journal on behalf of the large cattlemen's association, but as he witnessed their suppression of small settlers, he turned his pen against his bosses. In 1894, he published this expose, which the wealthy cattlemen, in control of the government, promptly had banned and destroyed. Mercer's printing office was consumed by fire. However, a fair number of copies of his book were secreted away, so that while it is scarce, there are occasional copies to be found. Here is one. Priced at $5,900.
Everyone one knows about the famed Oregon Trail, on which settlers moved from east to west during the 1840s to the 1860s. The opening of the transcontinental railroad ended any need for this torturous route. However, there was a second Oregon Trail, used during the 1870s and 1880s. On this one, traffic flowed west to east, and most of the travelers were cattle, not humans. By this time, cattle were being raised in Oregon, but they needed to be moved overland to Wyoming for further shipment east. Some 100,000 head are said to have been herded along the trail during this period. This story is told by Charles Steedman in Bucking the Sagebrush or the Oregon Trail in the Seventies. This 1904 book is primarily focused on cattle drives in 1878. It is illustrated by noted western artist Charles Russell. Item 165. $925.
Books on the American West from Old West Books
Legendary gunfighter "Wild Bill" Hickok.
Item 2 recalls what it was like serving with Custer in the years shortly after the Civil War. The book is Life in Custer's Cavalry, Diaries and Letters of Albert and Jennie Barnitz, 1867-1868. This 1977 book, edited by Robert Utley, gives a glimpse at life inside the Seventh Cavalry through the letters of this Captain who served with Custer. However, injuries forced Barnitz's retirement from the military in 1870, unpleasant at the time, though looking much more fortuitous with the benefit of hindsight. As we know, serving with Custer is 1867 was much better than doing so in 1876. $45.
Item 212 is the story of the court of Isaac Parker, the quintessential western "hanging judge." The book is Hell on the Border. He Hanged Eighty Eight Men, by S.W. Harman. Parker was a two-term congressman from Missouri who was appointed Judge for the federal court of the Western District of Arkansas in 1875. At the time, that district included most of present-day Oklahoma. It was a wild and lawless territory, and Judge Parker did his best to reign in the chaos by hanging the wild and lawless. Eventually, his severe punishment began to raise questions, and many of his convictions were overturned by the Supreme Court, while the size of his district was whittled away. Parker died in 1896, two years before this book was published. $2,250.
Wild Bill Hickok is one of those legendary names of the West that lives on to this day. Hickok was a Union soldier, gambler, lawman, and, most of all, gunfighter. His reputation was sealed in a couple of duels and gunfights, but that reputation may have been his downfall. Hickok was shot in the back while playing cards in a Deadwood, South Dakota, saloon in 1876. Item 190 is the first book written about Wild Bill: Life and Marvelous Adventures of Wild Bill the Scout...by James Buel, published in 1880. $3,000.
The website for Old West Books is www.oldwestbooks.com, telephone 817-557-4830.