But then I remember how women of the west in the 19th century had dirt floors and did their business outdoors with the bugs and the snakes and didn’t have IPADs or smart phones and couldn’t watch Masterpiece Mysteries on PBS.
Reality check. I’m in the right century after all.
Nevertheless, I enjoy immensely reading about the days when the Great Plains and the western states were being settled. Give me a good cowboy and Indian book and I will settle down with a cup of coffee and be very happy.
Here are five books that take place in the 1800s and involve cowboys or western settlers that I think are worth reading, in no particular order:
True Grit by Charles Portis was published first in 1968, but was really made famous by the movie of the same name starring John Wayne. I had never read the book, but got interested in it when the second movie, starring Jeff Bridges, was released. Portis’ writing is nothing short of amazing. Simple and poetic. A quick read that I couldn’t put down even though I knew everything that was going to happen next, having already seen both movies. Fourteen-year-old Mattie’s father is killed, and Mattie is out to avenge his death and recover the money the murderer stole. She hires has-been and usually drunk U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn to help her find the villain. Seriously worth reading.
One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus is a novel based on historical fact. During the Ulysses S Grant administration, the powers-that-be initiated the Brides for Indians program, whereby a number of women who were incarcerated or in insane asylums were sent to the western states to marry Cheyenne Indians. The idea was that as they procreated, Indians would then be assimilated into White society. Hmm. I can’t figure out why the Indians were mad at the White people. Anyway, May Dodd was among those who were sent. She had been unjustly placed in an insane asylum by her father and was eager to be released under any circumstances. The book is her journal and our snapshot into some not-so-glorious history.
I stumbled upon These is My Words by Nancy E. Turner at a used book store in Phoenix. Though fiction, the book is based on the true story of the author’s ancestors. Also written as a journal, it tells the tale of a family who settles near Tucson in the 1800s, and the trials and tribulations they faced. It is a story of resolve and commitment wrapped around a sweet love story. It’s the first book in a trilogy.
Sandra Dallas has written many novels that take place during the days of pioneers, but True Sisters is one of her best in my opinion. The novel tells the story of the journey that the Mormons made at the behest of Brigham Young from Iowa City to Salt Lake City to settle. Based on true events, these brave souls made the journey literally carrying everything they owned on handcarts that they pushed across the plains and over the mountains. Some came from as far away as England. It’s not a story of the Mormon faith; it’s a story of friendship and strength.
And of course my list could not be complete without including Lonesome Dove, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Larry McMurtry. The book is actually the third in a trilogy, and you will love the main characters – two Texas rangers who are moving a herd of cattle from Texas to Montana. While it’s a terrific story, you should read it just to become friends with Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call and all of their cohorts. It’s lengthy, but you don’t really want it to end.
All of the above books happen to take place in the Old West, but they all should be read not for where they take place but because they are such good reading.
Do you have any books you would add to this list?