Western Americana From William Reese
Western Americana from William Reese Co.
By Michael Stillman
William Reese Company’s 232nd catalogue is a collection of “Western Americana.” The West was conquered a long time ago. You can cross from the Mississippi to the Pacific in a day or two via the interstate without ever being attacked by Indians or held up by outlaws, except maybe at the gas pump. Still, there was a time, and this catalogue will bring you back to those days when the West was young, an unknown land belonging to the Indians and a few explorers and trappers. Here is the West as it was, seen by contemporary eyes, rather than 20th century Hollywood. These are a few samples.
We might as well start at the beginning, or at least as close as we can. Andres Perez de Ribas was a Spanish Jesuit who traveled to the New World to proselytize the natives in 1604. He was evidently quite good at it and converted many of the Indians. He returned to Rome in 1643 and wrote a history of Jesuit activities from 1590-1644 in Mexico and what would become the American Southwest. Contemporary histories of the area from this period are almost nonexistent. Published in 1645, Historia de los Triumphos de Nuestra Santa Fee… is item 172 in this catalogue. Priced at $45,000.
Zebulon Pike’s expedition of 1805-07 is not as well remembered as Lewis and Clark’s of almost the same time, but it was to the American Southwest what the latter’s journey was to the Northwest. Fortunately, Pike is still remembered by the peak which bears his name (ironically, while he saw the peak, he never actually climbed it). He reached that peak as part of his explorations of the source of the Arkansas River. He also traveled the Red River, explored the Mississippi, and the Spanish settlements in New Mexico. His book, An Account of Expeditions to the Sources of the Mississippi…, was published in 1810. Item 175. $25,000.
An even less well remembered travel narrative comes from Reverend Samuel Parker, a preacher who accompanied the American Fur Company’s expeditions to Oregon in 1835. The Reverend went to save the native population, but also brought back much information about this territory, which he presented in his 1838 book. His journey took him from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Walla Walla in what is now Washington State. In a time when most people had little sympathy for the natives, Reverend Parker understood their plight. He states, “While we charge the Indians with inveterate ferociousness and inhuman brutality, we forget the too numerous wrongs and outrages committed upon them, which incite them to revenge...When Indian offenses are proclaimed, we hear only one side of the story, and the other will not be heard until the last great day.” His book is a Journal of an Exploring Tour Beyond the Rocky Mountains… Item 170. $750.
Western Americana From William Reese
Cattle brands from the original Loving Brand Book.
Not forgotten is Francis Parkman’s 1849 report on his journey, though he did not travel nearly as far as the other explorers. His The California and Oregon Trail… remains one of the classic American West travel narratives, and this is a copy of the first edition, second printing (the miniscule first printing is unobtainable). Item 171. $4,250.
One of the most thorough studies of the West at mid-century was created as part of the effort to build the transcontinental railroad. Produced in 1855-1860 under the supervision of Secretary of War Jefferson Davis (yes, that Jefferson Davis), the twelve-volume set is called Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the most Practical and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. It is filled with information about the West along with important maps from the time. Item 169. $6,000.
Texas is one of the most popular subjects for collecting today, and this catalogue carries many items pertaining to the Lone Star State. One of the earlier attempts to settle Texas came from a group of French veterans in 1818. They landed at Galveston and attempted to build a settlement along the Trinity River. The attempt was not successful, and the starving survivors retreated to New Orleans. That’s why Mardi Gras and Cajun cooking are associated with New Orleans, not Houston. Le Texas…, taken from the diaries of Hartman and Millard, is item 88. $5,000.
One of the earliest biographies of a major Texas figure is Charles Lester’s very authorized Sam Houston and His Republic. Some went so far as to say that it was really Houston himself who wrote much of this work. Certainly it was not unflattering, and some found the part about “his” Texas a bit presumptuous, but with the benefit of hindsight, Houston emerges as one of if not the towering figure of early Texas. Item 114. $1,250.
Speaking of the other Houston, the city, item 94 is the Westmoreland Farms Amended First Subdivision map from 1911. There are no farms in Westmoreland Farms anymore. It is now a land of skyscrapers and freeways, encompassing part of the Bellaire area, Bellaire Boulevard, Bissonnet and the Southwest Freeway. $900.
What is Texas without cattle? Here’s George Loving’s The Stock Manual Containing the Name, Postoffice Address, Ranch Location, Marks and Brands of All the Principal Stockmen of Western and North-Western Texas… Drawings display the brands on cattle and horses of the various ranches that existed in Texas in 1881. In the era of the open range, a record of brands was essential to preventing cattle rustling. Item 127. $12,600. For those interested in brands, item 161 is the Brand Book of the Territory of New Mexico. This is a 1906 rare title providing a complete list of brands from the territory. $900.
Western Americana From William Reese
One of the best-known figures of the old West is General George Armstrong Custer, though it’s doubtful he would be pleased to know why he is remembered. Item 58 is a circa 1872 photo of the young general, who was evidently very concerned about his image. $900. Item 217 is a group of letters from physician William Turner, one of those charged with recovering Custer’s body. In these letters written many years later (1934-36) to photographer Frank Fiske, he speaks of his days as a scout under General Nelson Miles. “I knew Custer & the 7th Cav. well – was at Lincoln & saw him start out to his death. All of these historians overlook the fact that Custer only had two fights with Indians. One at the Washita which he won and the other at the Big Horn where the Sioux cleaned him." $2,250.
General Custer is also remembered in Philip Sheridan’s Record of Engagements with Hostile Indians… This book recounts over 400 engagements between the military and the Indians between 1868 and 1882, and the Battle of Little Big Horn is one of them. Item 187 . $850.
Item 28 is the manuscript log from the Mary Wilder, which sailed from Boston to San Francisco in the Gold Rush year of 1849. The Mary Wilder set off on January 30, sailing around Cape Horn, arriving in San Francisco on August 9. The log retells activities on board, sites seen, and includes drawings of several other ships she passed at sea. The log continues reporting on onboard activities for almost a month after arrival, recording the weather in San Francisco, which Reese describes as “often windy and foggy.” Some things never change. $13,500.
Item 198 is a book compiling the twelve issues of a most unusual newspaper, W.R. Steele’s The Trans-Continental. This was a newspaper published onboard a train traveling from Boston to San Francisco in 1870 (this was a much faster and more comfortable trip than it had been just 21 years earlier when the Mary Wilder sailed). It carried world and local news, advertisements from stops along the way, and descriptions of events onboard the train. It also wrote about visitors, such as Brigham Young, who joined the passengers for dinner at their stop in Salt Lake City. “Brigham Young informed our party that he had now 16 wives and 49 living children only, and that he was sixty-nine years old, and had only attended school eleven days when a boy.” $1,500.
The William Reese Company’s website is www.reeseco.com, and their phone number 203-789-8081.