The American West from Old West Books

- by Michael Stillman

The American West from Old West Books

Old West Books has issued their Catalog 64 of Rare, Out of Print Books on the American West. These are mostly books written contemporaneously with the events described, or later by aging participants looking back at times in which they were a part. Occasionally, some fantasy appears, but most are accurate portrayals of the times, although perhaps influenced by the writer's point of view. Here are a few selections from these books about the Old West.


Most of the personalities we associate with the Old West, gunslingers, lawmen, showmen, generals, and such appeared in the second half of the 19th century. Here is a book about two very different personalities who were exploring the West earlier in that century. The title is The Daring Adventures of Kit Carson and Fremont among the Buffaloes, Grizzlies and Indians... published in 1885 by Hurst & Co. Carson was a mountain man, a trapper, guide, sometimes Indian fighter, sometimes military man, for a while a rancher. He also became a legend back East for his exploits, real and imagined. While some men gravitate to fame and celebrity, Carson was not one of them and never liked filling that role. Fremont, on the other hand, sought celebrity. He was a controversial man, having both strong defenders and equally adamant detractors. He led several expeditions to California and Oregon. His guide was the aforementioned Kit Carson. Fremont fought Indians and later Confederates, was Governor and one of the first senators from California, later Governor of the Arizona Territory. Fremont was also the first Republican nominee for President, losing to James Buchanan in 1856. Although from the South, he abhorred slavery. Item 8. Priced at $475.


General George Armstrong Custer was certainly no shrinking violet when it came to publicity. He sought victories in the field to embellish his reputation, but his impetuousness caught up with him at Little Big Horn. He ended up with many detractors after his ignominious defeat, but one person remained loyal to his memory and spent the next 57 years rebuilding that reputation. His widow, Elizabeth Custer, outlived George by 57 years and wrote three books about his exploits and their life. Much of his lasting mystique is a result of her efforts. This one is Tenting on the Plains, or General Custer in Kansas and Texas, published in 1891. It traces his and their lives as they serve out west immediately after the Civil War. Item 13. $950.


Here is another book about tenting on the plains but this sort was so very different from that of the army and other explorers and settlers. The title is Ten Days on the Plains, by Henry E. Davies, published in 1872. These explorers arrived from the East on fancy rail cars. They were wealthy eastern businessmen. Their dinners were served on fine china on linen tablecloths. They were served wine and cigars, and meals that mimicked the finest restaurants. In the day, the men would go out hunting, the 15 of them nabbing 600 buffalo along with hundreds of elk, turkey, and “just about everything that walked or flew,” to quote Old West Books. The expedition was put together by Davies, with Civil War General Philip Sheridan as host and “Buffalo Bill” Cody as guide. A hundred cavalrymen accompanied them. They traveled 200 miles in ten days, hauling sixteen wagons of supplies, (Bill said 25), including one (Bill said three) of ice. Then they went back home. It was the grandest western tour ever, until the next year when Sheridan and Custer hosted Russian Grand Duke Alexis on a similar hunt. Fewer than 50 copies were printed, all for participants, and only a handful (including this one) came with the 18 mounted photographs. Eleven of these have captions, likely written by the recipient of this copy, Henry Davies' brother William Gilbert Davies. It includes a three-page letter Henry Davies wrote as a machinery supplier to the President of the Sharps Rifle Company. This copy also belonged to the famed Americana collector Thomas Streeter. Item 16. $37,500.


This man is better known for his exploits in Africa but Henry Morton Stanley spent time in America as a young man. He grew up in England, a bastard and an orphan, not an easy life. He traveled to America as a young man and adopted the name of an American benefactor. He served in the Civil War, both for the Confederates and then the Union, and later became a journalist for the New York Herald. It would be that newspaper which sent him to Africa for his most notable achievement, finding the missing Dr. Livingstone in darkest Africa. There would be more African adventures, but this book looks at another time in his life, My Early Travels and Adventures in America and Asia, published in 1895. Stanley participated in the Hancock Expedition to attack Indians, and became familiar with Sherman, Custer, and Wild Bill Hickok, along with various forts in the West. Item 61. $250.


Here is a western character you may not recognize. His name was Glen Coyle, and he was known from the Mexican border to Kansas as the “Wild Ranger.” Not that well known as I can find nothing about him. The pamphlet is The Wild Ranger of Santa Fe, by Dr. J. H. Schenck. If Schenck actually was a doctor, he ought to be cited for malpractice. Old West explains that “written as fact, it is no doubt fiction and an original means of advertising by a doctor who made pills and cough syrup.” They also note that it is a “historically worthless little pamphlet, but it is a collector's item because of its rarity.” Rare it is, with only one copy appearing in the auction records, and that over a century ago at Scott & O'Shaughnessy. Supposedly, this mysterious wild ranger was saved by taking Dr. Schenck's patent medicine. Item 55. $1,250.


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