Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - December - 2011 Issue

Western Books from Old West Books


Doc Carver's autobiography.

Item 44 is a biography of a character of the closing days of the Old West, The Rousing Life of Elfego Baca. Baca spent much of his life around Socorro, New Mexico, then (even now) a rather remote ranching area. He apparently proclaimed himself a lawman, bought a mail order badge, and probably dedicated himself to his profession more than most official officers. Baca was a skilled gunman, with a propensity to use his skill. It enabled him to be the one at the firing end of the bullet, not the receiving end. In the cases of 3 of the 9 people he shot, Baca was tried for murder. Each time he was acquitted. As the century turned, and the west became less wild and more civilized, Baca became a lawyer, politician, and representative of the Mexican government. Kyle Crichton's biography was published in 1928, and while it covers the most exciting parts of Baca's life, Baca did live until 1945. $450.

Here is one more wild west showman, a contemporary, partner, and later competitor of Buffalo Bill. His autobiography, written fairly early in his life, is the Life of Dr. Wm F. Carver of California, Champion Rifle Shot of the World. That “champion rifle shot of the world” was no exaggeration, though lots of what else Carver claimed about himself was. Doc Carver headed out west as, of all things, a dentist. It's where the “Doc” in his name originated, though by the mid 1870s, he had abandoned the profession. Carver was an amazing rifle shot. He quickly learned that making money impressing audiences was easier than pulling teeth. This autobiography was undoubtedly intended to generate greater interest in his appearances. Carver became a skilled self-promoter, like Buffalo Bill. Indeed, the two came together to develop a traveling “Wild West” show in 1883. The audiences loved it, but the two men did not get along. After a year they broke up, each going his own way, with only lawsuits and antagonism left to hold them together. Bill, of course, became one of the greatest of American showmen, while Carver generally did all right. His first show featured his sharpshooting, but after the recession of the 1890s, he retired. However, he soon reorganized his show to feature diving horses along with his shooting. Carver's horse show lasted for the rest of his life (1927), long after Buffalo Bill and his show departed this earth. This autobiography is limited to his early sharpshooting, pre-diving horses, pre-Buffalo Bill career, as it was published in 1878. Item 31. $6,500.

Old West Books may be reached at 719-260-6030 or oldwestbooks@earthlink.net. Their website is www.oldwestbooks.com.

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