Old Books from Old West Books

- by Michael Stillman


Old Books from Old West Books

Old West Books recently released their Catalog 55 July 2021. These books, naturally are about the old American West. They have had many new acquisitions of late so you will find items you have not seen in their catalogues before. Western collectors won't want to miss it. These are a few of the selections you will find.


Judge Isaac Parker is probably the most famous judge of the Old West, primarily because of his reputation as the “Hanging Judge.” Here is an account of his career, Hell on the Border. He Hanged Eighty Eight Men. A History of the Great United States Criminal Court at Fort Smith, Arkansas, and of Crime and Criminals in the Indian Territory, and the Trial and Punishment Thereof Before His Honor Judge Isaac C. Parker the Terror of Law Breakers... There was a lot of exaggeration about Judge Parker and author S. W. Harmon has engaged in some hyperbole here. He only hanged 79. The others were sentenced by another judge. Parker did sentence 160 to death, but the others had their sentences overturned, commuted, were pardoned, granted new trials, died in prison, and one was killed attempting to escape. It should be noted that they all were convicted of murder or rape, crimes for which there were mandatory death sentences under federal law. In fairness to the Judge, it should also be pointed out that he served for 23 years, making it only about three per year. Some people today might consider him lenient. Among his first executions was that of Smoker Mankiller, who certainly sounds like he deserved it. This book was published in 1898, the year Parker died. Perhaps the author waited for Parker to die before writing about him, just to be safe. Item 8. Priced at $1,750.


Here is the story of another judge, though one far less colorful and controversial. He wasn't even a judge for very long. You probably haven't heard of Judge John Alexander Matthews anyway. There's no reason you should have. Item 1 is a Pictorial Supplement to Interwoven. Centennial Memorial Commemorating the One-Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of Judge John Alexander Matthews March 2, 1853. Not surprisingly, Judge Matthews was not there for the celebration. He had been residing at the Albany, Texas, cemetery since 1941. He served a brief tenure as a county judge in Shackelford County, Texas, in the 1890s. As such, he was more involved as a county commissioner than in hanging people. Still, this short period of his life resulted in his being called “Judge” for the remainder of his time of Earth. What he was the rest of his adult life was a cattleman, He at one time owned a ranch of 45,000 acres. By the way, “Interwoven” was a book about the history of the Matthews and Reynolds families, written by Mrs. Matthews. It was privately printed for family, so there aren't very many copies around. $850.


This is a legendary story from West Texas, the Big Bend region that isn't much more populated today than it was in olden days – The Steer Branded Murder. The True and Authentic Account of a Frontier Tragedy Documented by Eye Witnesses. It Presents the Story of Cattlemen, Cowboys, and the Cattle Country of far Western Texas. The author of this tale was Barry Scobee, a Texas journalist and writer of stories about the Big Bend. This story is true, though the legends it generated... probably not so much. In the days when cattle roamed free, there were roundups when ranchers would gather their cattle, separating them from free-roaming cattle belonging to others. That was mostly easy because cattle were branded. Of course, those that were born since the last branding were unidentified, but they mostly followed their branded mothers around. The young steer in this story was not with a mother. Other small ranchers in the area recalled seeing him following a cow branded HHP for Henry Harrison Powe, better known as “H. H.” However, the biggest outfit in the area, Wentworth and DuBois, distrusted the small ranchers and presumed they were just stealing their cattle. They sent a gunslinger by the name of Fine Gilliland to enforce their claim. Gilliland and Powe got in an argument over the yearling which ended in a gunfight. The professional gunslinger got the best of the one-armed H.H., killing him. Gilliland quickly realized that hanging around the locals after killing one their own was not worth a cow. He took off. Meanwhile, Powe's son Robert headed off to Alpine to tell the Texas Rangers. They tracked Gilliland to an unnamed canyon. There, another gunfight broke out. Ranger Jim Putnam shot out Gilliland's horse. Gilliland hid behind the fallen horse while Putnam waited him out. After awhile, Gilliand raised his head to see what was going on and Putnam put a bullet between his eyes.


All of this is factual but the rest of the legend is dubious. Supposedly, the other locals branded the steer with the word “murder” on one side and the date, January 28 1891, on the other, and set it free. For years thereafter, there were supposed sightings of the steer, and he appeared in various colors – black, white, even red – and it was said that when the murder steer was spotted, it meant someone was going to die. However, we should also note that Robert Powe said he sold the steer a few years later to a cattle drive heading for Montana because it reminded him of his father's killing. He said nothing about it having the word “murder” branded on its side. As an aside, Gilliland Canyon is west Texas is named for Fine Gilliland. That is the canyon where he was killed. This copy comes with a typed note attached to the title page saying this is copy 4 of an edition of 50 copies signed by the printer. Item 68. $375.


This is one of those cringe-worthy titles common a century ago: Transition of the West: Portrayal of the Indian Problem in the West and the Trials of the Pioneers Who Reclaimed This Country from Savagery to Civilization. The author was Wyoming historian Alfred James Mokler, the book published in 1927. He covers various events and massacres, such as the Fetterman massacre, the Whitman massacre, and the Custer massacre. The “Indian Problem” was this is where they had lived for thousands of years. They were Mokler's “savages.” Of course, the number of Indians killed by the settlers and the army in the process of stealing their land was far greater than their own, but I guess that's how civilized people “reclaim” someone else's land from savages. Item 26. $175.


Speaking of General Custer, item 91 is a salesman's copy of A Complete Life of Gen. George A. Custer, a man known more for his death than his life. It was published in 1876, the year Custer transitioned from this world to the next. This copy has samples of black leather and green cloth spines, and pages in the rear for taking orders. Six names are written there, all from Camp Supply, Indian Territory. Old West has tracked down information about those six people and has provided it in this catalogue. $1,250.


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