Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - December - 2007 Issue

Tales of the Old West from Old West Books

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If Jesse James served as an example to people in 1882 of how not to get rich, James Brisbin offered an alternative means that year in his The Beef Bonanza; or, How to Get Rich on the Plains Being a Description of Cattle Growing, Horse-Raising and Dairying in the West. Brisbin may have been an unrealistically enthusiastic supporter of the opportunities for wealth in the West, but he came about those views honestly. Brisbin was an abolitionist who joined the Union cause in the Civil War, taking command of one of the Black regiments formed of former slaves and freedmen. After the War, he moved west, and would be one of those operating in the area when Custer went off to conduct his final battle. Brisbin was one of those most critical of Custer's actions, concluding his defeat resulted from his disobeying orders, his disobedience motivated by a desire to gain all of the credit for himself. Brisbin did not mince words, whether enthusing about the West, or criticizing Custer (actually, Brisbin was already less than enamored by Custer's behavior well before his annihilation at Little Big Horn). By 1882, Brisbin had risen to the rank of General when he encouraged easterners, in words similar to those of Horace Greeley, to "Go West." Item 44. $650.

Of course, not everyone felt so negatively about General Custer. He had one undying and totally devoted fan (or at least undying for over half a century after Custer's demise). That would be his wife, Elizabeth Custer, who spent the many remaining years in her life attempting to resuscitate her husband's reputation. It was a difficult job, but she did it well. She wrote three books defending Custer's career. Item 16 is one of them: Boots and Saddles, or Life in Dakota with General Custer. This is an 1885 second issue of the first edition. It contains an interesting inscription from someone who knew the Custers and evidently met them regularly from 1870-1873. The inscriber recalls sitting on Custer's knee. $275.

Item 224 is M.I. McCreight's description of one of the uglier, and now forgotten businesses of the Old West -- Buffalo Bone Days. A Short History of the Buffalo Bone Trade...The Story of a Forty Million Dollar Business from Two Million Tons of Bones... Major Israel McCreight was involved in the business of salvaging and shipping the bones of millions of dead buffalo from the mass extermination, when those seeking hides or just sport virtually wiped out America's bison population. Along with the end of the buffalo's way of life, it signaled the end of the way of life of the Indians who depended upon them. The bones were primarily shipped by rail car to fertilizer factories, the phosphorous in the bones making them a useful ingredient. McCreight moved on as the bone business ran its course in the 1880s, publishing his recollections many years later in 1939. $1,250.

Old West Books may be visited online at www.oldwestbooks.com or reached by phone at 817-557-4830.

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