October Cowboy Jam Session: Western Culture News & Reviews
One topic that perks my ear in a crowd is people discussing books about old-time cowboys. I’m not talking novels but memoirs and biographies. Unfortunately, many of the best are hard to find and can command a handsome price. On the upside, your local library may have them or be able to locate them through an interlibrary loan.
Regrettably, few new titles are being released on the subject. That’s why I was so excited to receive Cowboy’s Lament: A Life on the Open Range by Frank Maynard, edited and introduced by Jim Hoy, foreword by David Stanley (Texas Tech University Press, 2010, 248 pages, 6×9″, 12 b/w photos, 2 maps, hardback, ISBN 978-0-89672-705-2). Released in September, it is notable for three reasons.
It’s a first-person narrative penned by Maynard, probably in 1888, while the events were relatively fresh in his mind. Time can alter the retelling of events, especially if the events are put to paper decades after the fact. There’s a book within the book: Rhymes of the Range and Trail, a collection of Maynard’s cowboy poetry published in 1911, accounts for about one-quarter of the pages. Lastly, Maynard is credited with reworking an old Irish ballad, recounting the demise of a gun-shot young cowboy. He entitled the song “The Cowboy’s Lament.” It is also known as “The Streets of Laredo.”
Maynard’s skillful writing gives readers a clear and engaging sense of the hardships encountered on the Plains by homesteaders, cowboys and native Indians. It was a turbulent time with adventure, lawlessness and millions of acres of grass. The majority of the book is set in Kansas, although Maynard traveled into neighboring states and Indian Territory. Of added interest is a 15-page glossary of names.
As a family historian and archivist, I found the tale of how the manuscript came to be published nearly as interesting as the book itself. It gives me hope that other firsthand accounts of early-era cowboys are out there waiting to be discovered.
Cowboy’s Lament retails for $29.95. It is currently sale priced for $20.97 from Texas Tech University Press, Box 41037, Lubbock, TX 79409-1037; 800-832-4042; http://www.ttupress.org.
Look for these other titles about trail drive cowboys at bookstores and in libraries. Most have been reprinted:
The Trail Drivers of Texas, Vols. 1 & 2, compiled and edited by J. Marvin Hunter (Jackson Printing Co./Old Trail Drivers Association, 1920). Elmer Kelton described this biographical collection as “the most monumental single source on the old-time Texas trail drives north to Kansas and beyond.” Reissued by the University of Texas Press in 1985, the 1,000-plus page reprint contains the full text, illustrations, and name index of the original.
We Pointed Them North: Recollections of a Cowpuncher by E. C. “Teddy Blue” Abbott and Helen Huntington Smith (Farrat and Rinehart Inc., New York, 1939). A spirited self-portrait of an English-born cowboy who drove herds from Texas to Montana and married a daughter of Montana pioneer and stockman Granville Stuart.
Bob Fudge, Texas Trail Driver, Montana-Wyoming Cowboy, 1862-1933 by Jim Russell (Denver: Big Mountain Press, 1962). Born in 1862 in Lampasas County, Texas, Fudge trailed cattle to Montana where he worked for the famous XIT and eventually owned a ranch in southeastern Montana. He is buried in Broadus, MT.
Dakota Cowboy: My Life in the Old Days by Ike Blasingame (GP Putnam’s Sons, 1958). Blasingame came to South Dakota from Texas in 1904. He worked for the Matador Land & Cattle Co., which leased three million acres of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.
Memories of Old Montana by Con Price (Highland Press / Trails End Publishing, 1945). An Iowa native, Price was a friend of Charles M. Russell. Curley Fletcher wrote that Price “knew much about horses, cattle, pioneer and Indian, and the lands over which he and they ranged prior to the arrival of the ‘dude,’ the sheepherder, and the sod-busting ‘nester’ who fenced them in.”
Trails Plowed Under: Stories of the Old West by Charles M. Russell (Doubleday Page, 1927). This collection of 43 adventurous short stories is told by Russell’s alter ego, Rawhide Rawlins. The original included illustrations by Russell and an introductory eulogy by Will Rogers. Russell died in October 1926, shortly after he finished the project.
The Log of a Cowboy by Andy Adams (Houghton Mifflin Company/The Riverside Press Cambridge, 1903). Technically fiction, this is considered by some as the best and most accurate account of cowboy life written. It chronicles an 1882 drive from Texas to Montana, delivering 3,000 head of cattle to the Blackfoot Agency.
Hungry for more? There’s no better listing of writings on the U.S. range cattle industry than The Rampaging Herd: A Bibliography of Books and Pamphlets on Men and Events in the Cattle Industry by Ramon F. Adams (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1959). This bibliography contains 2,651 listings.
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