Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - December - 2007 Issue

Tales of the Old West from Old West Books

Oldwest20

The Old West is still alive in Old West Books' Catalog 20.


By Michael Stillman

Old West Books
recently issued their 20th catalogue of Rare, Out of Print Books on the American West. Offered are almost 300 items and probably not a dull one in the lot. This was a land of limitless horizons, with characters as big as the West. You will find books about cowboys and Indians, outlaws and lawmen, generals and soldiers, explorers, captives, showmen, settlers, traders, and just about anyone else who passed through this land in the 19th and early 20th century. Some of these editions are suited for reading, others for collecting, but with the caveat that you will want to read the collectible books too. The Old West was not an easy place to survive, but it surely was an exciting one. Here are some of the books now available.

Item 109 recalls one of the most brutal nonmilitary raids of the Civil War. William Quantrill was a young man from Ohio who moved west and joined the army as a teamster in 1858. Apparently, the discipline of army life did not agree with him, so he left to become a gambler and, of all things, a schoolteacher in Lawrence, Kansas. He was not much of an example for the young ones, as by 1860, he was wanted for horse theft and murder. At this point he formed his group, "Quantrill's Raiders" they were called, and his sympathies turned dramatically anti-Union and pro-slavery. He and his band would operate independent from, but in conjunction with, Confederate forces. The Confederates must have appreciated the help, even while being appalled by his extreme brutality. On August 21, 1863, Quantrill and some 450 of his raiders crossed from Missouri to Kansas and attacked Lawrence, his strongly pro-Union previous residence (he must have harbored some serious resentments). They proceeded to engage in wanton murder, theft, burning and looting. By the time the raid was over, somewhere between 150 and 200 men and boys were dead (women were spared). One of those men who survived was Henry S. Clarke. Clarke was familiar with Quantrill from his earlier days, and was lucky to survive the infamous raid. His story is revealed in his book (with S.W. Brewster) Incidents of Quantrell's [Quantrill] Raid on Lawrence August 21, 1863. The Remarkable and Heretofore Unpublished Personal Experiences of Hon. Henry S. Clarke (first edition, published in Lawrence in 1898). Quantrill would only survive two more years, dying in prison from wounds received during a raid in 1865 in Kentucky. However, his band retained something of hero status among unreconstructed Confederates after the war, and several who rode with him would become celebrities in their own right, though as just plain outlaws. Among those who received their training with Quantrill (it is unclear whether they were involved in Lawrence) were Jesse and Frank James and the Younger Brothers. Priced at $1,750.

Speaking of Jesse James, item 127 is The Life and Daring Adventures of This Bold Highwayman and Bank Robber...Written by XXX (One Who Dare Not Now Disclose His Identity)... We aren't sure why XXX would not dare disclose his identity as the book was published in 1882, the year James died. Maybe he was afraid of the critics. $500.

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