The Old West is America’s most complex story and its greatest myth. Cowboys, Indians, ranchers, gunfighters, railroads, gold and silver. “Taming” the West was our country’s greatest adventure, brimming with grit, violence, hard work and dreams of a better life. The Old West is America’s epic, full of immigrants driven by visions of a better life, the genocide of an entire culture, of capitalism unleashed with a fury, and tens of thousands of pioneers creating the American Dream. These 50 Great Books about the Old West look at various aspects of the evolution of the most powerful country in the world.
1. The American West
The American West focuses on three subjects: Native Americans, settlers, and ranchers. It’s about cattle and the railroads. It’s about settlers who came to claim a land not originally their own and how they gradually imposed law and order on these wild and untamed places. And it’s about the destruction of the Native American way of life. This is epic history at its best and popular history at its most readable. By turns heroic, tragic, and even humorous, The American West brings to life American tragedy and triumph in the years from 1840 to the turn of the century. Brown is the author of the bestseller, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, the first fully realized, sympathetic history of Native Americans.
2. Empires, Nations, and Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860
Anne F. Hyde
The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 doubled the size of the new United States, promising not only land but prosperity for its citizens. But the West was not the virgin wilderness of common myth. America was a newcomer in a place already complicated by vying empires–native and European. Hyde traces the network of multiethnic family associations, which, along with the river systems of the trans-Mississippi West, had formed the basis for the global fur trade for centuries. Involved with this trade were trappers, hunters, merchants, bankers, and politicians by the thousands. This book provides a new look at Native nations and the economies and societies they built. It also shows the web of families, businesses, and personal empires that organized the North American West before the Civil War and the rise of the American empire.
3. The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West
Patricia Nelson Limerick
The “settling” of the American West has been perceived as a series of quaint, violent, and romantic adventures. But in fact, Limerick argues, the West has a history grounded primarily in economic reality; in hardheaded questions of profit, loss, competition, and consolidation. Here she interprets the stories and the characters in a new way: the trappers, traders, Indians, farmers, oilmen, cowboys, and sheriffs of the Old West “meant business” in more ways than one, and their descendants mean business today.
4. Wondrous Times on the Frontier
Frontier life, Dee Brown writes, “was hard, unpleasant most of the time,” and “ lacking in almost all amenities or creature comforts.” Tall tales were the genre of the day, and humor, both light and dark, was abundant. In this historical account, Brown examines the aspects of the frontier spirit that would come to assume so central a position in American mythology. Split into sections—“Gambling, Violence, and Merriment,” “Lawyers, Newsmen, and Other Professionals,” and “Misunderstood Minorities—it’s mindful in its correction of certain stereotypes of Western life, and a mesmerizing account of an untamed nation and its wild, resilient settlers.
5. Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America
This book is a comprehensive history of long distance railroads. It recreates the immediacy and contingency of the construction of these roads. It also slices through the myths of daring capitalists and visionaries. For White, the long distance railroads were economic and environmental disasters that could never have been created without massive federal subsidies and an extraordinary amount of financial chicanery. White shows that railroads weren’t free market enterprises at all. They were publicly-supported, intentional subsidies. Their ultimate success, and their incredible power to remake American life, was not due to brilliant entrepreneurs. Rather, it was a national decision to tolerate inefficient management and thieving railroad barons in order to further the public interest.
6. Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow: The Epic Story of the Transcontinental Railroads
The transcontinental railroad was the 19th century’s key to national expansion. By the mid-1800’s, settlers in Missouri and California were separated by a vast landscape that isolated them, conquerable only by “the demonic power of the Iron Horse and its bands of iron track.” Although the construction of the great railroad is widely seen as a story of romance, adventure, and progress, it also has a dark side, as profiteers nearly eliminated the American Indian, exploited workers, and destroyed ecosystems. Despite this, by the turn of the 20th century, five major railroads spanned the continent.
This account vividly illustrates the railroad builders’ skill, ambition, and ingenuity. . It’s a high-stakes tale and an exhilarating history.
7. Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad
David Haward Bain
After the Civil War, construction of the transcontinental railroad was the 19th century’s most transformative event. Beginning in 1842 with a visionary’s dream to span the continent with twin bands of iron, Empire Express captures three dramatic decades in which the United States doubled in size, fought three wars, and discovered a new national identity. The book looks at self-made entrepreneurs such as the Union Pacific’s Thomas Durant and era-defining figures such as President Lincoln, as well as the thousands of laborers whose backbreaking work made the railroad possible. It collects an astonishing array of voices to give new dimension not only to this epic endeavor but also to the culture, political struggles, and social conflicts of one of the highlights in American history.
8. Hell on Wheels: Wicked Towns Along the Union Pacific Railroad
Overnight settlements, better known as “Hell on Wheels,” sprang up as the transcontinental railroad crossed Nebraska and Wyoming. They brought opportunity not only for legitimate business but also for gamblers, land speculators, prostitutes, and thugs. Kreck tells their stories along with the heroic individuals who finally managed to create permanent towns in the interior West.
9. Nothing Like It In the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869
Stephen E. Ambrose
The Transcontinental Railroad was an unprecedented feat of engineering, vision, and courage. This book tells the story of the men who built the transcontinental railroad — the investors who risked their businesses and money; the enlightened politicians who understood its importance; the engineers and surveyors who risked, and lost, their lives; and the Irish and Chinese immigrants, the defeated Confederate soldiers, and the other laborers who did the backbreaking and dangerous work on the tracks.
The U.S. government pitted two companies — the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads — against each other. At its peak, the workforce totaled about 30,000 workers. Nothing like this huge had been seen in the world when the last spike was driven in at Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869, joining the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific tracks. This is a powerful account about the famous and ordinary men who accomplished the spectacular feat that made the continent into a nation.
10. The Great Railroad Revolution: The History of Trains in America
America was shaped by the railroads. The Baltimore & Ohio line opened in the 1830s and sparked a national revolution in the way that people lived. The American railroad network was bigger than Europe’s, and facilitated everything from long-distance travel to commuting and transporting goods to waging war. It united distant parts of the country, boosted economic development, and was the catalyst for America’s rise to world-power status.
By the early 1900s, the U.S. was covered by more than 200,000 miles of tracks and a series of termini, all built and controlled by the country’s biggest corporations. The railroads dominated the American landscape for more than 100 years before succumbing to the car, truck and airplane. In The Great Railroad Revolution, renowned railroad expert Christian Wolmar tells the extraordinary story of the rise and the fall of the greatest of all American endeavors, and argues that the time has come for America to reclaim and celebrate its often-overlooked rail heritage.
11. Pioneer and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians
T. D. Bonner
James Pierson Beckwourth was an American mountain man, fur trader, and explorer. An African American born into slavery in Virginia, he was freed by his father (and master) and apprenticed to a blacksmith before heading West. As a fur trapper, he lived with the Crow for years. He is credited with the discovery of Beckwourth Pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountains between present-day Reno, Nevada and Portola, California during the California Gold Rush years, and improved the Beckwourth Trail, which thousands of settlers followed to central California. Beckworth narrated his life story to Thomas D. Bonner, an itinerant justice of the peace.
12. The Captured: A True Story of Abduction by Indians on the Texas Frontier
On New Year’s Day, 1870, 10-year-old Adolph Korn was kidnapped by an Apache raiding party. Traded to Comaches, he thrived in the rough, nomadic existence, becoming one of the tribe’s fiercest warriors. Forcibly returned to his parents after three years, Korn never adjusted to life in white society. He spent his last years in a cave, all but forgotten by his family.
That is, until Scott Zesch stumbled over his own great-great-great uncle’s grave. Determined to understand how such a “good boy” could have become Indianized so completely, Zesch traveled across the west, digging through archives, speaking with Comanche elders, and tracking eight other child captives from the region with hauntingly similar experiences. Zesch paints a vivid portrait of life on the Texas frontier, offering a rare account of captivity.
13. Captured by the Indians: 15 Firsthand Accounts, 1750-1870
Astounding eyewitness accounts of Indian captivity by people who lived to tell the tale. Included are 15 true adventures recounting suffering and torture, bloody massacres, relentless pursuits, miraculous escapes, and adoption into Indian tribes. This is a fascinating historical record that gives us a picture of Indian culture and frontier life.
14. Four Years in the Rockies — the Adventures of Isaac P. Rose–Hunter and Trapper in that Remote Region
James B. Marsh
Isaac P. Rose was a Rocky Mountain trapper and mountain man.
His life was full of thrilling encounters with Indians and hair-breadth escapes. These are fully recounted in a volume entitled, “Four Years in the Rockies,” the authorship of which is accredited to James B. Marsh. It is a work full of interest for all readers.
He was 19 when he left home with companion. Joe Lewis and made their way to Pittsburg. They met several “Rocky Mountain Boys,” and listened to stories of mountain life, fights with bear and adventures in buffalo, elk and deer hunting, together with skirmishes with the Indians. Rose writes: “The hunters and trappers of the far west.. . . were a brave, hardy and adventurous set of men, and they had peculiarities in their characters that cannot be found in any other people. From the time they leave civilization they—metaphorically speaking—carry their lives in their hands. . . . Their character is a compound of two extremes— recklessness and caution—and isolation from the world makes them at all times self-reliant.”
15. Some True Adventures in the Life of Hugh Glass, a Hunter and Trapper on the Missouri River
Philip St. George Cooke
Hugh Glass was an American fur trapper and frontiersman noted for his exploits in the West during the early 19th century. He was an explorer of the watershed of the Upper Missouri River in present day North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. He was a frontier folk hero for his legendary cross-country trek after being mauled by a grizzly bear. The story was made into the movie “The Revenant.” Glass’ most famous adventure began in 1822, when he responded to an advertisement in the Missouri Gazette and Public Adviser, placed by General William Ashley, which called for a corps of 100 men to “ascend the river Missouri” as part of a fur trading venture. These men would later be known as Ashley’s Hundred.
16. Jim Bridger “The Grand Old Man of the Rockies”
E.A. Brininstool , Grace Raymond Hebard
Jim Bridger is famous for being one of the two mountain men who abandoned famed trapper Hugh Glass after he had been mauled by a grizzly bear. It was Glass’ thoughts of revenge for this abandonment that fueled his recovery and eventual tracking down of the young Bridger. Bridger was among the foremost mountain men, trappers, scouts and guides who explored and trapped the West from 1820-1850, as well as mediating between native tribes and encroaching whites.
His story also gives, for the first time, an account of three years of the life of the great scout and mountaineer, Bill Williams, one of the prominent figures in the early history of the plains.
17. Roughing It
This enduring classic is a semi-autobiographical account of Twain’s observations of the opening of the West. It follows his travels through the Wild West during the years 1861–1867. After a brief stint as a Confederate cavalry militiaman (not included in the account), he joined his brother Orion Clemens, who had been appointed Secretary of the Nevada Territory, on a stagecoach journey west. Twain consulted his brother’s diary to refresh his memory and borrowed heavily from his active imagination for many stories in the book.
Roughing It illustrates many of Twain’s early adventures, including a visit to Salt Lake City, gold and silver prospecting, real-estate speculation, a journey to the Kingdom of Hawaii, and his beginnings as a writer.
18. My Sixty Years on the Plains: Trapping, Trading, and Indian Fighting
William Thomas Hamilton
The author writes: “The mountaineers were unique. Life itself had little value in their estimation. They were pushing, adventurous, and fearless men, who thought nothing of laying down their lives in the service of a friend, or often, it might be, only as a matter of humanity. Theirs was a brotherhood in which one man’s life was entirely at the service of any of its members, regardless of friendship or even of acquaintanceship.
Equipped with nothing but their skill and endurance, a few ponies, a gun or two, and provisions enough to last them for the day, they set out to make their way through a vast wilderness that held all the terrors of the unknown. They became self-reliant, and encountered obstacles only to overcome them with a dash and courage which amaze and delight us.”
Hamilton spent his whole life on the plains, and was an authority on Indian life and customs.
19. The River of the West Life & Adventure in the Rocky Mountains and Oregon: embracing events in the life-time of a Mountain-Man & Pioneer with Early History of North-Western Slope …
Frances Fuller Victor
This book tells the story of mountain man Joe Meek, a trapper, law enforcement official, and politician in the Oregon Country and later Oregon Territory. A pioneer in the fur trade before settling in the Tualatin Valley, Meek played a prominent role at the Champoeg Meetings of 1843 where he was elected as a sheriff. Later he served in the Provisional Legislature of Oregon before being selected as the United States Marshal for the Oregon Territory. Joe Meek was one of the West’s colorful characters–dashing, devil-may-care, cheeky, irreverent, and playful.
20. Colt: An American Legend
No inventor in the history of American industry has captured the imagination the way Samuel Colt did. His revolving pistol became synonymous with American genius and invention. It gave birth to a great manufacturing empire and was legendary in the history of the Civil War, the taming of the West, and in campaigns and adventures all over the world–wherever Colonel Colt’s invention “made men equal.”
With more than 3300 color and 115 black-and-white photos Colt: An American Legend illustrates and describes every model Colt produced between 1836 and 1986. The large format of the book allows many of the firearms to be shown full size, and the history, development, and importance of each model and variation are presented and described in authoritative detail.
21. Guns of the American West
Adler, award-winning author and photographer, and contributing editor to Guns of the Old West magazine, has woven together enthralling tales of the West’s guns and gunmen. Beginning with the early western expansion and the California Gold Rush, the book takes you through the development of America’s legendary handguns, rifles, and shotguns and the roles they played .As the Civil War erupts, the author shows how North and South chose to arm their soldiers. Following the war, Adler traces the evolution of loose powder cap-and-ball revolvers, rifles, and shotguns to self-contained metallic cartridges and the sweeping changes that resulted in firearms design. Adler then follows legendary lawmen, soldiers, and outlaws as America moves west in the 1870s and 1880s.
22. Shooting Sixguns of the Old West
Until recently if someone judged the Old West by television and movie portrayals, there was only one sort of handgun in use. That was the Colt Single Action Army (SAA), commonly called the Peacemaker. It actually was the premier revolver produced during the heyday of the Frontier Era. However, it was not the only handgun, nor was it the first revolver to take the then new metallic cartridges. From 1870, when the era of metallic cartridge firing sixguns began until 1900, Colt, Remington, Smith and Wesson, Merwin & Hulbert, and a few other lesser known companies collectively produced hundreds of thousands of metallic cartridge firing sixguns. These handguns were at least the same quality to the Colt SAA, and some exceeded it by a wide margin. The target market for all of those revolvers was the American West.
23. Shooting Lever Guns of the Old West
This 300 page book details all pre-1900 models of Winchester and Marlin lever action rifles and carbines, plus contains reloading data on cartridges from the .25-20 to the .50-110.
24. Nine Years among the Indians
Herman Lehmann was captured as a boy in 1870 and lived for nine years among the Apaches and Comanches. Long considered one of the best captivity stories from the period, Lehmann came to love the people and the life. Only through the gentle persuasion of famed Comanche chief, Quanah Parker, was Lehmann convinced to remain with his white family once he was returned to them.
Lehmann saw some of the most dramatic changes in the western U.S. from a perspective few whites had. He didn’t just play the part…he was living as an Indian. The book shows his struggle to readjust to white culture. At the time of this writing, he was married with five children, although he maintained the ties to his Indian friends and family for the rest of his life.
25. The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman
In 1851 Olive Oatman was a 13-year old pioneer traveling west with her Mormon family. Within a decade, she was a white Indian with a chin tattoo, caught between cultures. Her family was brutally killed by Yavapai Indians and Oatman lived as a slave for a year before being traded to the Mohave, who tattooed her face and raised her as their own. She was fully assimilated and perfectly happy when, at 19, she was ransomed back to white society. She became an instant celebrity, but the price of fame was high and the pain of her adventures lasted a lifetime.
Based on historical records and letters and diaries of Oatman’s friends and relatives, the book examines her life from her childhood in Illinois—including the massacre, her captivity, and her return to white society—to her later years as a wealthy banker’s wife in Texas. Oatman’s story has become legend, inspiring artworks, fiction, film, and even an episode of Death Valley Days starring Ronald Reagan.
26. Blood and Thunder
In the summer of 1846, the Army of the West marched through Santa Fe, en route to invade and occupy the Western territories claimed by Mexico. This land grab led to a decades-long battle between the U.S. and the Navajos, the fiercely resistant rulers of a huge swath of mountainous desert wilderness. At the center of this sweeping tale is Kit Carson, the trapper, scout, and soldier whose adventures made him a legend. Sides shows us how this illiterate mountain man understood and respected the Western tribes better than any other American, yet willingly followed orders that devastated the Navajo nation. Spanning more than three decades, this is an essential addition to our understanding of how the West was really won.
27. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West
First published in 1970, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee generated shockwaves with its frank and heartbreaking depiction of the systematic annihilation of American Indian tribes across the western frontier. In this nonfiction account, Dee Brown focuses on the betrayals, battles, and massacres suffered by American Indians between 1860 and 1890. He tells of the many tribes and their renowned chiefs—from Geronimo to Red Cloud, Sitting Bull to Crazy Horse—who struggled to combat the destruction of their people and culture.
Forcefully written and meticulously researched, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee inspired a generation to take a second look at how the West was won.
28. True Tales and Amazing Legends of the Old West: From True West Magazine
Editors of True West
Much that has been written about the west has been distorted by exaggeration and fabrication. Since 1953, True West magazine has been giving the men and women who settled there accurate voices, exploring every triumph and tragedy of their time—and exposing every vice and virtue.
This book commemorates the cowboys, Indians, and city slickers through a mix of classic histories and new narratives, all illustrated with photographs of the people and places that gave rise to America’s Western mythology. With 26 stories that blend fact with folklore, this collection includes accounts of such figures as Sacagawea, Wild Bill Hickok, Pancho Villa, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Davy Crockett, and Wyatt Earp. There are lesser-known figures whose stories were pivotal to shaping the culture of the era, such as European conquistador Francisco Coronado, rancher “Black Billy” Hill, and fearless lawman Orlando “Rube” Robbins. Other tales recount the wide open plains, lawlessness, drama, mayhem, and promise embodied in the Old West.
29. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness
This is one of Edward Abbey’s most critically acclaimed works and marks his first foray into the world of nonfiction. Written while Abbey was working as a ranger at Arches National Park outside of Moab, Utah, Desert Solitaire records one man’s quest to experience nature in its purest form. Through prose that is by turns passionate and poetic, Abbey reflects on the condition of our remaining wilderness and the future of a civilization that does not cherish and protect it.
30. Grizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness
For nearly 20 years, alone and unarmed, Peacock traversed the rugged mountains of Montana and Wyoming tracking the magnificent grizzly. His thrilling narrative takes us into the bear’s habitat, where we observe directly this majestic animal’s behavior, from hunting strategies, mating patterns, and den habits to social hierarchy and methods of communication. As Peacock tracks the bears, his story turns into a thrilling narrative about the breaking down of suspicion between man and beast in the wild.
31. In Search of the Old Ones
The Anasazi, ancestors of the Pueblo people, inhabited the Southwest for at least 5,000 years. David Roberts’ extensive interviews and back country travels create a richly detailed portrait of an enigmatic people
Roberts describes the culture of the Anasazi, whose the name means “enemy ancestors” in Navajo. They inhabited the Colorado Plateau. Their modern descendants are the Hopi Indians of Arizona. Archaeologists have been puzzling over the Anasazi for more than a century, trying to determine what caused their society to collapse 700 years ago. Roberts guides us through controversies in the historical record, among them the question of whether the Anasazi committed acts of cannibalism. This is a fresh look at culture of the ancient people who lived in the harsh desert country of the Southwest.
32. The Lost World of the Old Ones: Discoveries in the Ancient Southwest
For more than 5,000 years the Ancestral Puebloans occupied the Four Corners region of the southwestern U.S. Around AD 1300, they abandoned their homeland in a migration that remains one of prehistory’s greatest puzzles. Fortunately, the Old Ones, as some of their descendants call them, left behind awe-inspiring ruins, dazzling rock art, and artifacts ranging from painted pots to woven baskets. Some of their sites and relics had been seen by no one during the 700 years before Roberts and his companions rediscovered them.
Here, Roberts continues the hunt for answers begun in his classic, In Search of the Old Ones. His new findings paint a different, fuller portrait of these enigmatic ancients.
Roberts calls on his climbing and exploratory expertise to reach sanctuaries of the ancients hidden within nearly vertical cliffs, many of which are unknown to archaeologists and park rangers. His adventures range across Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and southwestern Colorado.
33. Slave Of the Sioux: The Fanny Kelly Captivity Narrative
The most vivid and horrifying account of a woman held captive by Indians is that of Fanny Kelly. As part of a band of emigrants on their way to Idaho in 1864 with her husband and young daughter, Kelly was captured by the Sioux in a brutal massacre. She spent the next six months enslaved by various factions of the Oglala & Brule tribes. This is her own story in her own words, as she witnesses various acts of savagery, hoping only to stay alive to reunite with her child and husband. A real-life abduction story that to modern ears sounds almost manufactured, this edition contains illustrations & photographs plus new chapters on other Sioux depravities of that time, like the macabre “Scalp Dance”.
34. Kidnapped and Sold By Indians — True Story of a 7-Year-Old Settler Child
This first-hand narrative of Matthew Brayton, a seven-year-old white child who was kidnapped and sold many times by Native Americans in the beginning of the 19th century. His first-hand account sheds much light on what it was really like to come under the charge of many different Indian tribes.
Brayton’s frank recounting does much to dispel the romantic stories about settlers’ children who became Indian prisoners. In many cases the Indians treated Brayton well, but he did wind up confused and stuck between two worlds. Brayton did finally unite with many of his natural family, but he never stopped identifying with Native Americans, and he was forced to leave an Indian wife and child behind. When the Civil War broke out, Brayton served in an American Indian brigade.
35. A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jamison
James E. Seaver
Mary Jemison was one of the most famous white captives who chose to stay and live among her captors. In the midst of the Seven Years War (1758), at about age 15, Jemison was taken from her western Pennsylvania home by a Shawnee and French raiding party. Her family was killed, but Mary was traded to two Seneca sisters who adopted her to replace a slain brother. She lived to survive two Indian husbands, the births of eight children, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the canal era in upstate New York. In 1833 she died at about age ninety.
36. Across the Plains In 1844
Sager’s story is a gripping firsthand account of life in the American. This enhanced version of her original manuscript adds explanatory notes, photos, maps, drawings, and 3d visualizations. The bonus material adds a layer of context to make Sager’s fascinating account even more vivid.
Sager faced almost unimaginable hardship. Both her parents died on the journey west on the Oregon Trail. A few years later her adoptive parents were brutally murdered in front of her. She was even kidnapped and held for ransom. Yet Catherine was a survivor, and she lived a long life in Oregon. Her accounts of life on the Oregon Trail and the Whitman Massacre remain important historical documents. She is also an excellent writer who knows how to engage the reader.
37. Ox-Team Days on the Oregon Trail
Ezra Meeker’s quest for new frontiers began in his boyhood. As soon as he was old enough, he ventured west on the Oregon Trail. After settling in what is now the state of Washington, he was destitute and hungry. But he gradually built himself up to the point where he became the richest man in the state. Then, he lost it all. Penniless, he built another fortune, and then lost that too.
Later in life, he dedicated himself to preserving the memory of the Oregon Trail, retracing his original journey. With two oxen and a covered wagon, he traveled from Washington state to Washington D.C., a two-year odyssey that attracted great fanfare along the way.
Ezra Meeker traveled the Oregon Trail in its heyday, experienced the Klondike gold rush, made enormous fortunes in the wild west, became nationally famous, and met three U.S. presidents.
38. First Girl in the West
Eliza Spalding Warren
Eliza Spalding Warren was the first pioneer girl to grow up in the mountain west. Her story is unparalleled and offers fascinating insights into the earliest days of the emigrants. Eliza’s parents launched the Oregon Trail era with the original covered wagon trek in 1836. Settling in the region that is now the junction of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, Eliza grew up among native peoples. She learned their language and understood their culture better than any pioneer girl of the era. Eliza was at the Whitman Mission on the day of the fateful attacks that so profoundly changed the course of western history. Her telling of that story is uniquely valuable—even though she was just 10 years old—because she was the only survivor who spoke the language of the attackers. This first-person account is an eye-opening look at life in the early West.
Eliza’s story is as fresh and readable today as when it was written.
39. Narcissa Whitman – Diaries and Letters 1836
Narcissa Whitman was the first woman to cross the American west in a covered wagon. Her writings provide surprising details about the 2000-mile journey on the Oregon Trail. And these letters rank among the most important of the early 1800s because they were republished in hundreds of newspapers, influencing many to consider the trip west. Before Narcissa (and her companion Eliza Spaulding), most experts thought women were too fragile to make the journey west. Narcissa Whitman proved them wrong.
40. Fantastic Facts about the Oregon Trail
Did you know that most pioneers on the Oregon Trail went six months without bathing? Or that ferryboat operators on the Oregon Trail could earn nearly $2,000 per day? Or that some many pioneers found ice in the middle of the blazing hot desert? These are just some of the dozens of facts in the fascinating and harsh world of the Oregon Trail.
41. Early Days in the Black Hills with Some Account of Capt. Jack Crawford, the Poet
James E. Smith
John Wallace Crawford, known as “The Poet Scout,” was an American adventurer, educator, and author. “Captain Jack” was a master storyteller about the Wild West and was one of the most popular performers in the late 19th century. He became a national celebrity after his daring ride of 350 miles in six days. He carried dispatches to tell the news of Gen. George Crook’s victory against the village of Chief American Horse at the Battle of Slim Buttes during the Great Sioux War of 1876-1877. The author, James E. Smith served during the Civil War as Captain and commander of the 4th New York Independent Volunteer Light Artillery battery.
42. Seth Bullock: Black Hills Lawman
Much of Seth Bullock’s fame comes from television, movies, and his friendship with President Theodore Roosevelt. But Bullock was much more than a frontier lawman. Wolff examines the life work of Bullock as he helped build Deadwood, founded the town of Belle Fourche, and promoted the Black Hills.
Wolff explores the many Bullock’s many ventures once he moved from Montana to the Black Hills at the start of the gold rush in 1876. He points out that Bullock quickly became an integral part of the growing community. He created a lasting legacy for himself by working within local and regional politics, through his various businesses, and in his many positions at the forefront of Black Hills law enforcement and forest management. Wolff describes the struggles and successes that this thinker and dreamer experienced in his 43 years in the Black Hills.
43. Legends of the West: Deadwood, South Dakota
Charles River Editors
Deadwood, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is one of the most famous Wild West’s wild towns. The mining town on the outskirts of civilization brought together miners, cowboys, lawmen, saloons, gambling, brothels, and everything in between. Some of the West’s most famous legends lived in Deadwood home: Al Swearengen, Charlie Utter, and Calamity Jane. Wild Bill Hickok was killed in a Deadwood saloon while holding the “Dead Man’s Hand.”
Wild Bill’s death helped ensure Deadwood would be remembered as an important part of Western lore, but in many ways the Deadwood craze was over almost before it began. Deadwood peaked in the 1880s with a population of just less than 4,000. Today, it has 1,000 residents. Its popularity as a tourist attraction was helped by the critically acclaimed TV series, “Deadwood.”
44. Old West Saloon Girls, Madams & Bodegas
The book recounts the lives of Sadie Orchard, Dell Burke and Belle LaMarr and their contributions to the history of their areas. Belle LaMarr is better known as Madam Varnish, main madam in White Oaks, New Mexico. Dell Burke was worth over a million dollars upon her death after she ran a successful brothel business in Lusk, Wyoming for 60 years. Sadie Orchard was New Mexico Territory’s first woman stagecoach driver.
Deadwood, South Dakota had one of the last brothel districts in the U.S. as did a little cow town in Texas called La Grange where the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas resided for decades. It’s a lively history of the oldest profession played out in the Wild West.
45. Wicked Women: Notorious, Mischievous, and Wayward Ladies from the Old West
This collection of short, action-filled stories of the Old West’s most egregiously badly behaved female outlaws, gamblers, soiled-doves, and other wicked women by offers a glimpse into Western Women’s experience that’s less sunbonnets and more six-shooters. Pulling together stories of ladies caught in the acts of mayhem, distraction, murder, and highway robbery, it will include famous names like Belle Starr and Big Nose Kate, as well as lesser known characters.
46. Black Cowboys of the Old West: True, Sensational, and Little-Known Stories from History
Tricia Martineau Wagner
Black cowboys made up one-fourth of the wranglers and rodeo riders. When the Civil War ended, black men left the South in large numbers to seek a living in the Old West―industrious men resolved to carve out a life for themselves on the wild, roaming plains. Some had experience working cattle from their time as slaves; others simply sought a freedom they had never known before. The lucky travelled on horseback; the rest, by foot. They traveled over dirt roads from Alabama and South Carolina to present-day Texas and California up north through Kansas to Montana. The West was a land of opportunity for these adventurous cowboys and future rodeo champions.
This is a long overdue testament to the courage and skill of black cowboys, giving these courageous men their rightful place in history.
47. The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo–and the Sacrifice That Forged a Nation
On February 23, 1836, a large Mexican army led by dictator Santa Anna reached San Antonio and laid siege to about 175 Texas rebels holed up in the Alamo. The Texans refused to surrender for nearly two weeks until almost 2,000 Mexican troops unleashed a final assault. The defenders fought valiantly-for their lives and for a free and independent Texas, but in the end, they were all slaughtered. Their ultimate sacrifice inspired the rallying cry “Remember the Alamo!” and eventual triumph.
With meticulous research and fresh primary sources in U.S. and Mexican archives, this is the definitive account of the epic battle. Populated by larger-than-life characters, including Davy Crockett, James Bowie, William Barret Travis, this is a story of audacity, valor, and redemption.
48. Fights on the Little Horn: Unveiling the Myths of Custer’s Last Stand
This book synthesizes a lifetime of research into one of America’s most storied disasters, the annihilation of Custer’s 7th Cavalry by the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians. Harper spent countless hours on the battlefield as well as researching evidence of the fight from both the white and Indian sides. He then recreated every step of the battle, dispelling myths and falsehoods. He precisely traces the mysterious activities of Benteen’s battalion that day, and why it couldn’t come to Custer’s aid. He describes Reno’s desperate fight in unprecedented depth. Indian accounts are important here, especially during Custer’s part of the fight, because no white soldier survived it. Analysis of the forensic evidence—tracking cartridges, bullets, etc., discovered on the battlefield—plus the locations of bodies assist in drawing an accurate analysis of how the final scene unfolded.
Harper passed away in 2009. In this book his work has been condensed for the general public to observe his key findings and the crux of his narrative on the exact course of the battle.
49. Cavalry Life in Tent and Field
Frances Anne “Fannie” Boyd
Having lived all of her 19 years in New York City, Fannie Mullen could hardly have known what life lay ahead of her when she married Civil War veteran Lieutenant Orsemus B. Boyd. They spent the next 20 years moving from post to post on the American frontier, raising three children, making lifelong friendships, and seeing some of the wildest and most beautiful country on earth.
She adapted remarkably well and came to love the West and her home in the wilds of the territories. When her husband died suddenly in 1885, Fannie returned to the east and wrote this lovely account of her time with the United States Cavalry on the border.
She was made of tough stuff and survived scorpions, snakes, Indians, and army politics. This classic memoir is fascinating and charming.
50. The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral-And How It Changed the American West
This is the definitive, myth-busting account of the most famous gunfight in American history. On the afternoon of October 26, 1881, in a vacant lot in Tombstone, Arizona, a confrontation between eight armed men erupted in a deadly shootout. The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral shaped how future generations came to view the Old West. Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, the Clantons and McLaurys became the stuff of legends, symbolic of a frontier populated by good guys in white hats and villains in black ones. It’s a colorful story,but the truth is even better.
Guinn draws on new material from private collections—including diaries, letters, and Wyatt Earp’s own hand-drawn sketch of the shootout’s conclusion—as well as archival research to describe a fascinating picture of what actually happened that day in Tombstone and why.
Other Books of Interest
Son of the Morning Star: Custer and The Little Bighorn
Evan S. Connell
African American Women of the Old West
Tricia Martineau Wagner
Black Frontiers: A History of African American Heroes in the Old West
Outlaws and Legends of the Wild West: 5 True Tales of Gunslingers, Desperados and Lawmen
Tales Behind the Tombstones: The Deaths and Burials of the Old West’s Most Nefarious Outlaws, Notorious Women, and Celebrated Lawmen
Empire of the Summer Moon
Does the Frontier Experience Make America Exceptional?
Richard W. Etulain