More from the American West from Old West Books

- by Michael Stillman


More from the American West from Old West Books

Old West Books has issued their Catalog 56 November 2021. Their specialty is “rare, out of print books on the American West.” If the American West is the focus of your interests or collecting, you will want every book in this catalogue. If not, there won't be many titles you find that appealing. The focus is intense. You will meet famous western personalities, Buffalo Bill and Custer, a few gunslingers, cattle drivers, settlers, warriors, travellers and visitors. They were a hardy lot, though maybe not as sophisticated as their countrymen from the East. If nothing else, they are entertaining, which is why people for generations went to the movies to see westerns, but not to see easterns. These are some of the books you will find in this catalogue.


We begin with Our Western Border, its Life, Forays, Scouts, Combats, Massacres, Red Chiefs, Adventures, Captivities, Pioneer Women, One Hundred Years ago, by Charles McKnight. This is a book about the even older Old West, even if not immediately obvious. The one hundred years ago is not from today, but from 1876, its publication date. According to Peter Decker, it “contains an immense amount of original material from authentic sources; strange and thrilling narratives of captivities, daring deeds, desperate conflicts, exciting adventures, personal prowess, etc.” However, a word of caution here. The western border was not Mexico or the Pacific Ocean in the late 18th century, which was the period described here. The West was what we now think of as the Midwest, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, when the border was at the Mississippi River prior to the Louisiana Purchase. Item 16. Priced at $375.


One of the pioneers to the settlement of the West by non-native Americans was Robert Stuart, though he was not aware of it at the time nor likely even gave it much of a thought. Stuart worked for John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company, sent by boat all the way around the tip of South America to help settle an outpost at Astoria, Oregon. Troubles with the natives resulted in their having to reach Mr. Astor, but with no means of communication or knowing when another ship might arrive, they decided to travel east overland. Hence, he was involved in the discovery of the Oregon Trail, though his direction was away from the West, not toward it. It took him almost a year to get back, and parts of his route differed from what became the Oregon Trail, but others were similar, including the climb over South Pass in Wyoming. Stuart's account from his diary is found in The Discovery of the Oregon Trail: Robert Stuart's Narratives of His Overland Trip Eastward from Astoria in 1812-13. This is the first edition in English, though it was not published until 1935. It was first printed in French in 1821. Item 42. $500.


Here is a look at the Old West from the viewpoint of a visitor, A Lady's Experiences in the Wild West in 1883 by Rose Pender, published in 1888. To say Mrs. Pender was not impressed would be an understatement. She and her husband did a four-month “grand tour” of the West. Starting from New York, they travelled by train to California, but then by more primitive methods to numerous inland states, including Montana, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska. Mrs. Pender was an aristocratic English lady, and the rough mode of travel, quality of accommodations, food, and uncouth cowboys were not in keeping with her standards. Howes succinctly describes the book as an “unflattering picture of an un-heroic West.” Item 21. $1,250.


This is Testimony of Gen. George A. Custer, Before the Committee of Expenditures of the War Department Washington, March 29, 1876. This was less than three months before Custer's untimely demise at Little Big Horn. Custer had been called to Washington to testify in an investigation into Secretary of War William Belknap. Belknap was accused of corruption in awarding of positions at lucrative military trading posts in the West. He was impeached, though later acquitted in his senate trial, though by then he had already resigned. Custer was certainly suspicious of Belknap's behavior, but did not want to testify. Plans were already being made for the Sioux campaign and Custer did not want to miss his opportunity to be a war hero. Custer attempted to leave Washington but Grant forced him to stay on, telling the military to find another commander for Custer's role. Grant was displeased with Custer's testimony implicating Belknap. Custer urged his commanders to petition Grant to let him go back to the battlefield. Grant finally relented after being warned that a defeat in the campaign if Custer was not allowed to participate would be blamed on him. In hindsight, Custer would have been better off if he had just consented to Grant's wishes and stayed in Washington. Hindsight is always better. You know the rest of the story. This copy is signed by Belknap, “Wm. W. Belknap May 8, 1876.” Item 47. $3,750.


Here is an account of the beginning of the end for some of the West's most notorious outlaws: Robber and Hero: The Story of the Raid on the First National Bank of Northfield, Minnesota, by the James-Younger Band of Robbers, in 1876. The author was George Huntington and it was published in 1895 by the Christian Way Company. In an internet search, I have not been able to find anything else published by this company. The James-Younger gang includes Jesse and Frank James and three Younger Brothers, plus a few others. They had had many successful robberies over a decade, but Northfield was when their luck ran out. They attempted to gain access to the safe, but one of the three tellers on duty, Joseph Lee Heywood, lied, saying the safe was on a timer and could not be opened. As this played out, Northfield citizens noticed the guards the gang placed outside and realized something was wrong. A gunfight ensued outside even as the attempted robbery continued inside. One of the tellers, Alonzo Bunker, noticed his guard distracted and made a mad dash for the back door. He escaped but was wounded in the shoulder. As the situation deteriorated, the robbers inside the bank escaped with only a few dollars, halting just long enough to shoot and kill Heywood. Several in the gang now lay dead while others, including the James and Younger Brothers, escaped. The three Younger Brothers were captured a few days and hundreds of miles later. Their careers in crime were over. The James Brothers successfully got away, and while Frank gave up his life of crime, Jesse continued until killed by a member of his new gang in 1881. This book contains a detailed account of the Northfield robbery and the chase that followed. This copy is inscribed by teller Bunker to his brother. Item 13. $5,750.


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