The Greatest: True Accounts of the Old West
For insight into authentic cowboy culture, these five reads offer true accounts of the Old West. They're musts for the cowboy library.
by Mark Bedor
1. My Life on the Plains or, Personal Experiences with Indians by Gen. George Armstrong Custer
You know about his military career, but Custer was also a prolific writer. This collection of magazine articles written by Custer chronicles the 7th Cavalry’s campaign against Indian tribes in the late 1860s, including the infamous Battle of the Washita. There’s also rich detail on daily life in the U.S. Cavalry, plus Custer’s take on the politics of his day, which bear a striking resemblance to the partisan kerfuffles of today.
2.Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey by Lillian Schlissel
This collection of prose from women who crossed the Great Plains in the mid 1800s—when death was a matter of course, children were orphaned, and proper burials a luxury denied—underscore that the early West was populated by ordinary people with extraordinary courage and grit.
3. Pony Tracks by Frederic Remington
Before he became a well-known painter and sculptor, Remington was a magazine correspondent. Published in 1895 and heavily illustrated with his drawings, Pony Tracks is a collection of articles that he filed from the waning Western frontier. Included are accounts of the Battle of Wounded Knee from South Dakota’s Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation two days after the massacre, and riding with vaqueros in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico.
4. The Log of a Cowboy by Andy Adams
Teddy Blue Abbott’s We Pointed Them North may be better known, but the Log of a Cowboy is the better read. Adams lived the life he wrote about: the great cattle drives from Texas to Montana. These firsthand accounts of perilous river crossings, gunfights, frontier saloons, and toil ring with the authenticity of a man who was there.
5. Apauk: Caller of Buffalo by James Willard Schultz
Stampeding buffalo off a cliff is a dangerous way to make a living, especially when you’re the one wearing the buffalo robe. In the early 1800s, the Blackfeet Indian, Apauk, was a young warrior and lured curious animals into position this way. His riveting accounts were recorded by James Willard Schultz 70 years later.