Beyond 'Little House on the Prairie'
August 1, 2008 10:21 AM   Subscribe

My mom really enjoys books about the Old West (nonfiction only). I'd like to get her an addition to her collection for her birthday, but I have no experience in this particular genre. Can anyone out there pass on some suggestions?

For example, in the past I know she's enjoyed the autobiography of Charles Goodnight and biographies of various Texas Rangers. She also really liked the diaries of Lewis and Clark that I gave her a few years ago, so the exploration theme works as well.

Thanks in advance!
posted by orrnyereg to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I'd recommend Evan Connell's Son of the Morning Star about Custer and Little Bighorn.
posted by mattbucher at 10:23 AM on August 1, 2008

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown
Personal Reminiscences of Early Days In California, Stephen Field
Cowboy Detective, Charlie Siringo
posted by coffeefilter at 10:50 AM on August 1, 2008

Pete Dexter's Deadwood is a good read. Of course damn near anything by McMurtry.
posted by ws at 10:56 AM on August 1, 2008

I read Westering Man: the Life of Joseph Walker a few years ago and really enjoyed it.
posted by bricoleur at 11:03 AM on August 1, 2008

Crow Killer: The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson
The book upon which Vardis Fisher's novel, Mountain Man is loosely based . . . upon which Robert Redford's (and Vardis Fisher's and Sydney Pollack's and John Milius's) Jeremiah Johnson is even more loosely based.

Two of the three works listed here are fictional, but it is an interesting triptych to help one see how American culture has idealized the mountain man.
On its own Crow Killer is a great book.
posted by Seamus at 11:05 AM on August 1, 2008

A Dynasty of Western Outlaws
posted by Hugh2d2 at 11:07 AM on August 1, 2008

Pete Dexter's Deadwood is a good read. Of course damn near anything by McMurtry.

I agree, but note that the OP asked for NON-fiction.
posted by grumblebee at 11:12 AM on August 1, 2008

Hard Road West: History and Geology along the Gold Rush Trail

Hands-down one of my favorite books of the last few years. The author is a geologist, and he writes clearly and beautifully about the geologic formations (and the forces that created them) that migrants on the Emigrant Trail would have seen. He also uses a lot of primary source material (diary entries, sketches, letters) from the folks walking and wagon-ing from parts East to Oregon and California, and he incorporates them beautifully so that you can really see and understand what it must have been like to travel that trail at that time.

It comes out in paper in October. Really, I can't say enough good stuff about this book - in fact, this is the fourth time I've said good stuff about this book on!
posted by rtha at 11:38 AM on August 1, 2008

While browsing at a used bookstore I randomly bought a book called "My Life on the Plains" by one George Armstrong Custer. It was compiled from a series of dispatches he wrote about the Indian Wars which were published in newspapers at the time. It was a great read - dramatic - and also illuminating as it allows you to see the west through Custer's eyes.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:44 AM on August 1, 2008

And look, you can read the whole thing online.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:46 AM on August 1, 2008

I liked Women's Voices from the Oregon Trail and Covered Wagon Women. I would also recommend Cadillac Desert - not about the Old West per se but runs from Spanish settlement of California and the exploration of the Grand Canyon/Colorado River by Powell through to todays water rights issues in the West.
posted by rosebengal at 12:01 PM on August 1, 2008

Is there any other explanation besides "old west"?
These kind of fit if you aren't limited to cowboy and mountain man stuff.

Wallace Stegner's Mormon Country is a great book.

I also greatly enjoyed American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, September 1857.
posted by Seamus at 12:09 PM on August 1, 2008

Somewhat off the mark, but A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World covers the Spanish exploration of the Southwest in the 1500s. If your mother doesn't mind slogging through other eras of pre-Mayflower exploration, it's a good read.
posted by metabrilliant at 12:16 PM on August 1, 2008

Not terribly "Old" and not solely "West", but The Worst Hard Time about people who stuck it out in Texas during the Dust Bowl years was absolutely riveting.
posted by Sublimity at 2:00 PM on August 1, 2008

A Bride Goes West is told by a woman who married a rancher and moved to Montana with him in 1882. She was from a wealthy family, and was completely unprepared for a life where she had to cook and live in a one-room cabin and make do with the supplies on hand because the neighbors and stores were days away. It's very matter-of-fact about the things she learned how to do, her fears, and the mistakes she and her husband made.
posted by saffry at 3:27 PM on August 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

One Ranger: A Memoir by former Texas Ranger H. Joaquin Jackson. One excellent read.
posted by bjgeiger at 5:14 PM on August 1, 2008

Pioneer Women is a neat book because it is based on oral histories of 800 Kansas pioneer women collected by the author's great-grandmother in the 1920s. Each chapter takes on a different theme and it gives you real insight into the everyday lives of women that were otherwise unknown. I read this when it first come out in 1982 and was delighted to see that it is still print 25+ years later.
posted by metahawk at 5:52 PM on August 1, 2008

Annie Oakley, a sharp shooter from the West. There are many biographies written about her.
posted by JujuB at 6:41 PM on August 1, 2008

A few that I can recommend from my bookshelf are Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West, Letters of a Woman Homesteader, and Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage. A nice copy of the Mark Twain classic Roughing It might make a really nice gift, and I recently picked up a copy of Black Sand and Gold (A True Story of the Alaska-Klondike Gold Rush) at a thrift store and couldn't put it down once I started reading it.
posted by Balonious Assault at 7:06 PM on August 1, 2008

Pioneer Women is amazing. I will never forget the words of one woman who was sick and tired of the rumors that they plains women didn't wear underwear!

The Lady Rode Bucking Horses: The Story of Fannie Sperry Steele

That All People May Be One People

Dorothy M. Johnson wrote a great deal of historical fiction about the west - The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Buffalo Woman, piles of short stories.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:23 AM on August 2, 2008

These are great, you guys! Thanks so much!
posted by orrnyereg at 7:17 AM on August 2, 2008

This New York Review of Books review of Michael Elliot's Custerology mentions a number of other books, including Son of the Morning Star, which was mentioned above. The reviewer says that book is "one of the few masterpieces to concern itself with the American West".
posted by caek at 8:09 PM on August 3, 2008

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