Old West Books has issued their Catalog 57. February 2022. They feature “rare, out of print books on the American West.” There are many items on the Old West and its characters you know – Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill, Gen. Custer, and more. Other names may not be as well known but lived comparably exciting lives. Some lived to old age, but others had their lives cut short by unhappy circumstances. Live fast, die young. Here are a few books from this latest collection.
First up we have a guide if you would like to take a trip to California. You may have trouble following this route today and will probably get arrested for trespassing along the way, but in 1852, there was no better route to follow. Item 37 is Horn's Overland Guide from the U.S. Indian Subagency Council Bluffs, on the Missouri River, to the City of Sacramento, in California... Hosea Horn had travelled the route, including all the cut-offs, and did something else other guide writers did not – provide mileage. He measured it all which enabled him to provide better landmarks. For example, he says of Black Mud Creek, “the water in this creek is not fit for use in summer,” of Spring Creek “20 feet wide. After this you will find no more water for 25 miles,” of Steep Descent “it is best to use ropes in making this descent, as it is dangerous to wagons.” He has provided all of the notable landmarks and distances between them. It is similar to those auto travel guides which show mileage between stops and the landmarks, motels, and restaurants along the way. In 1852, the Gold Rush had receded, but many of the miners, successful and not, liked California so much they went back home and brought their families out to settle. This copy is from the first edition, second issue. Priced at $6,000.
Stories can tell you about the Old West, but pictures add another dimension. Here is a book full of them, Black Hills Views from Peterson & Carwile of Deadwood, Dakota, published in 1903. It consists of two pages of text and 61 photographic plates. Pictures include Deadwood, Calamity Jane, Indian camp at Crow Agency, Custer monument, Wild Bill's monument and grave, Custer battlefield, and “Custer's Last Charge.” I imagine the last of those was a picture of a painting since Custer did not bring along a staff photographer to Little Big Horn. Item 6. $250.
Speaking of the unfortunate General, his widow outlived him by over 50 years and wrote several books about his exploits. She remained devoted to him to the end. Item 21 is Elizabeth Custer's Boots and Saddles, or Life in Dakota with General Custer, published in 1904. This is a special copy, inscribed by Mrs. Custer with the comment, “Motto on General Custer's Spanish Sword Do not draw me without cause Do not shield [sheathe] me without honor.” This copy is also signed by her good friend Annie Gibson Yates, whose husband, Lieutenant Gates, was with Custer on that fateful day. The owner of the book writes that he spent the evening with these two ladies and others. The book also contains some newspaper clippings, including the announcement that Elizabeth Custer had died. Like their two husbands, Annie Yates died a tragic death though of a very different sort. She fell off a subway platform in New York and was crushed by a train. $4,000.
Billy the Kid is a mythical western character and something of a mystery. Was he a brutal murderer who killed at the drop of a dime if it suited him, or a defender of the poor and downtrodden against the wealthy powers that ran society? Perhaps he was both. This book provides some insight from someone who was a good friend, which may distort his opinions, Frontier Fighter. The Autobiography of George W. Coe Who Fought and Rode with Billy the Kid, published in 1934. Coe was part of the Regulators faction along with Billy. He was eventually arrested for murder during the Lincoln County War but was pardoned by the governor. He went on to live a life as a respectful citizen of the community. Item 14. $350.
Here is another biography of a western character, a man who knew how to exploit his reputation as the personification of the Old West. The title is The Last of the Great Scouts. Life Story of Col. W. F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) as told by his Sister Helen Cody Wetmore, published in 1899. This is evidently a sisterly biography rather than a tell-all as Mr. Cody has inscribed this copy. The recipient was “Dr. B.H. Haslam, Pony Bob of Pony Express fame April 11th 1901 New York.” Pony Bob had his own legendary status, though not nearly as well known as that of the self-promoting Buffalo Bill. Haslam was a Pony Express rider and one of his rides is perhaps the most notable one of all in the short history of that famed mail service. He set out from the California border heading east on his leg of the route one day in 1860. At his first stop, he found the relief horses had been seized by settlers because they were fighting the Paiute Indians. He continued on with the same horse. When he got to the next station, his relief rider refused to proceed. With the Indian troubles he was afraid to ride his route. Bob continued the route himself without rest. He rode on through a few more stops before reaching a destination 190 miles from the start. After nine hours rest, he retraced the route, finding at one station the stationmaster had been killed. At 380 miles it was the longest and fastest journey in the Pony Express history. Haslam later accompanied Buffalo Bill on a diplomatic mission to arrange the surrender of Sitting Bull. Despite Cody's addressing Pony Bob as “Dr. R.H. Haslam,” there is nothing in the record that indicates Haslam was ever a doctor. Item 68. $4,500.