The perfect literary companion for your Old West vacations.
- Written by TW Editors
- Published March 01, 2008
Granville Stuart was a lot of things—merchant, miner, rancher, diplomat, vigilante—and an avid reader.
His Montana cabin was filled with books covering just about any topic you can think of, and he would travel far and wide to get them, as shown in his journal excerpt of a journey he undertook in 1860 with his brother James. The man was known to share his books with anybody who came along—a habit that would lead him to become the chief librarian in Butte, Montana in his later years. It’s said that when he died in 1918, Stuart had one of the largest private libraries in the Rocky Mountain region.
Books are intrinsically tied to the West, telling the stories (and myths) of the people and events that shaped the area. They tell us a great deal about the cities and towns of the West, some of which are no longer around. But in the pages of the classics, they live and thrive again.
So let’s go on a tour of the West—not by car or train or boat, but via the printed word. Enjoy these Great Destinations and Great Reads! But first, some words from the avid reader himself.
James and I were both great readers and we had been all winter  without so much as an almanac to look at. We were famished for something to read when some Indians coming from the Bitter Root told us that a white man had come up from below, with a trunk full of books, and was camped with all that wealth, in Bitter Root valley.
On receipt of these glad tidings, we saddled our horses and putting our blankets, and some dried meat for food, on a pack horse, we started for those books, a hundred and fifty miles away, without a house, or anybody on the route, and with three big dangerous rivers to cross, the Big Blackfoot, the Hell Gate, and the Bitter Root. As the spring rise had not yet begun, by careful searching we found fords on these rivers, but they were dangerous, and at times we were almost swept away.
Arriving in the Bitter Root valley we learned that the man who brought the books had gone back to the lower country, but he had left the precious trunk in charge of a man named Henry Brooks, whom we finally found living in a teepee, at a point on Sweathouse Creek, near where the town of Victor now stands. We gradually and diplomatically approached the subject of books, and “our hearts were on the ground” when Brooks told us that Neil McArthur, a Hudson’s Bay Company trader, who left the books in his care, told him to keep them until he returned. He gave him no authority to sell any of them.
We told him how long we had been without anything to read, and how we had ridden for days, seeking that trunk, and that we would take all the blame and would make good with McArthur when he returned. At last we won him over, and he agreed to let us have five books, for five dollars each, and if McArthur was not satisfied we were to pay him more.
“How we feasted our eyes on those books. We could hardly make up our minds which ones to choose, but we finally settled upon Shakespeare and Byron, both fine illustrated editions, Headley’s Napoleon and His Marshals, a Bible in French, and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. After paying for them we had just twenty-five dollars left, but then we had the blessed books, which we packed carefully in our blankets, and joyfully started on our return of a hundred and fifty miles.
Many were the happy hours we spent reading those books, and I have them yet, all except the Wealth of Nations, which being loose in the binding, has gradually disappeared, until only a few fragments remain. McArthur never returned to the Bitter Root valley, and I do not know what became of the rest of the books, but I hope they gave as much pleasure to some others, as did the five to Brother James and myself.
—Forty Years on the Frontier as seen in the Journals and Reminiscences of Granville Stuart, edited by Paul C. Phillips, Arthur H. Clark Company
FORT SMITH, AR
“Fort Smith, Arkansas, was smaller than Saint Joseph, Missouri, but in many respects the towns were similar,” wrote Michael J. Brodhead in Isaac C. Parker: Federal Justice on the Frontier. “Like Saint Joseph at the time of Parker’s 1859 settling there, Fort Smith was a busy river town and was becoming a railroad and manufacturing center…. Fort Smith was also a border town with its share of disreputable inhabitants and shady businesses. Still, like Saint Joseph, it became a stable community of some importance within the state.”
Let’s face it—Fort Smith’s place in history has little to do with railroading, manufacturing or river transportation. Folks know of Fort Smith because of the work of Isaac C. Parker, the “Hanging Judge” who oversaw the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas from 1875 to 1896. It included some of the roughest areas and toughest characters in the Old West. Some of the top lawmen of the period reported to Fort Smith.
Much of that trial history is preserved at the Fort Smith National Historic Site, as well as Judge Parker’s courtroom and the jail that held so many doomed men over the years. Within a few years, the U.S. Marshals Museum will open there. It’s enough to make visitors hang around, so to speak.
Trip Lit: Isaac C. Parker: Federal Justice on the Frontier by Michael J. Brodhead
“On the last night of the second week they topped White Pass and dropped down the sea slope with the lights of Skaguay and the shipping boats at their feet. It was a record run. Each day for fourteen days they had averaged forty miles,” wrote Jack London in The Call of the Wild. “For three days Perrault and Francois swaggered up and down the main street of Skaguay and were deluged with invitations to drink, while the team was the constant center of a worshipful crowd of dogbusters and mushers. Then three or four western bad men tried to rob the town, were shot up like pepperboxes for their efforts, and people became interested in other things.”
Skagway was a gateway to the Klondike riches for many fortune seekers in the late 1890s. Author Jack London was one of them. For most, Skagway was a starting point, since they had another 500 miles or so to get to the goldfields. For others, Skagway offered its own opportunities—bars, bawdy houses, games of chance. Not coincidentally, one of the town’s “leading citizens” was conman Soapy Smith, who controlled the gaming, the telegraph office, the newspaper and a private militia
Today, cruise ships make regular stops at Skagway. You can hike the golden stairs of the trade route Chilkoot Trail, visit historic structures in downtown and take ranger-led tours of the Klondike Gold Rush park, where you can visit the homestead of steamboat captain William Moore who founded Skagway.
Trip Lit: The Call of the Wild by Jack London
“In the galaxy of frontier enclaves sparked into creation by colonialism, New Archangel was a map dot unlike any other,” wrote Ivan Doig in The Sea Runners. “Simultaneously a far-north backwater port and capital of a territory greater than France and Spain and England and Ireland taken together, the settlement ran on Russian capacities for hard labor and doggedness, and was kept from running any better than it did by Russian penchants for muddle and infighting.”
In 1852, according to Doig’s novel, New Archangel was populated by Russians and natives. For the latter, it was their home. For the former, it was something akin to a working gulag. In The Sea Runners, four of those indentured servants take a large canoe and try to escape to Astoria, Oregon, a distance of 1,200 miles.
In real life, New Archangel is the site where Russia handed Alaska to the U.S. in 1867. Its name became Sitka, a Tlingit word.
Getting in and out of Sitka is tough, isolated as it is on the coast of the Alaskan panhandle; your choices are: minimal plane service or a ferry. Maybe because of that, much of the town’s history is well preserved. Some 22 buildings are on the National Register. Several date back to the 1840s, including St. Michael’s Cathedral and the Russian Bishop’s House.
Trip Lit: The Sea Runners by Ivan Doig
GRAND CANYON, AZ
“We are three quarters of a mile in the depths of the earth, and the great river shrinks into insignificance, as it dashes its angry waves against the walls and cliffs, that rise to the world above: they are but puny ripples, and we but pygmies, running up and down the sands, or lost among the boulders,” wrote explorer John Wesley Powell as his team floated down the Colorado and into the Grand Canyon.
A remarkable man, Wallace Stegner was a prolific writer who won a Pulitzer for his novel Angle of Repose in 1972. His 1954 biography of Powell is a classic—not only in its portrayal of Powell, but also in its examination of the politics of land development. The West, he said, remains “the New World’s last chance to be something better, the only American society still malleable enough to be formed.”
The Canyon’s South Rim is accessible for most of the year; the North Rim is open from June through September. The Inner Canyon is a hotbed of activity:?you can ride a mule to Phantom Ranch, go backpacking or take a few days to enjoy a river trip on the Colorado.
Best of all, the long-awaited glass Skywalk is finally open, operated by the Hualapai tribe and accessible from Grand Canyon West. Its 4,000-feet height above the floor of the canyon is twice that of the world’s tallest skyscraper. (The height will even beat Dubai’s skyscraper when it’s finally completed.)
Trip Lit: Beyond the Hundredth Meridian by Wallace Stegner
“Fort Whipple was a very gay and hospitable post, near the town of Prescott, which was the capital city of Arizona,” wrote Army wife Martha Summerhayes in the 1870s. “The country being mountainous and fertile, the place was very attractive, and I felt sorry that we were not to remain there. But I soon learned that in the army, regrets were vain. I soon ceased to ask myself whether I was sorry or glad at any change in our station.”
Make no mistake about it—Summerhayes was generally sorry to be involved in the Army life, especially out West. The Massachusetts native wasn’t too thrilled by Indian attacks, snakes, polygamy and the heat. But she put up with all of it from 1873 until her husband retired in 1900 (they moved back East). In 1908, she wrote her memoirs, Vanished Arizona, and became a national celebrity.
Martha might enjoy Prescott a bit more today. It may no longer be the capital, but it features great museums (including one at Fort Whipple), lots of outdoor recreation and more than 600 buildings on the National Register, many dating back to the 1800s.
Some details that bugged her so much have vanished: no more Indian attacks or polygamy, the snakes are under control and air conditioning helps with the heat. What hasn’t changed is the beautiful terrain; it is still “mountainous and fertile.”
Trip Lit: Vanished Arizona by Martha Summerhayes
“A mining town in the heart of cattle country, it had the picturesqueness of a boom silver camp and the colour of a trail-end, cowboy capital. It was a town of lawlessness and law, saloons and schools, gambling halls and churches, lurid melodrama and business routine, red lights and altar candles,” wrote Walter Noble Burns in Tombstone, adding “It was all the hectic, mad romance of the old Western border, but in a stage setting of modern comforts and conveniences.”
If you’re looking for the book that started the Wyatt Earp legend, chances are you’ll start with Stuart Lake’s 1931 effort Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal. Four years before that came out, Walter Noble Burns did his best to put Wyatt on a pedestal in his book Tombstone: An Iliad of the Southwest. It is not a nuanced look at the events in southeast Arizona.
The good guys (Doc Holliday and the Earps—especially Wyatt) are absolutely good; the bad guys (the Cowboys) are totally bad. Burns had gotten some of his material from Wyatt, but not much, so Iliad is more fiction than fact.
Along with Wyatt, the city of Tombstone became a legend, too tough to die. Buildings that survived the 1882 fire include Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, Bird Cage Theatre, Crystal Palace Saloon and the largest adobe building in the Southwest, Schieffelin Hall.
The Tombstone Epitaph is still in business (started in 1880), and the O.K. Corral still hosts gunfights—though the Earp Gang and Cowboy shoot-out is staged for your entertainment.
Trip Lit: Tombstone: An Iliad of the Southwest by Walter Noble Burns
LONE PINE, CA
“There are still some places in the west where the quails cry ‘cuidado’; where all the speech is soft, all the manners gentle; where all the dishes have chile in them, and they make more of the Sixteenth of September than they do the Fourth of July. I mean in particular El Pueblo de Las Uvas. Where it lies, how to come at it, you will not get from me; rather would I show you the heron’s nest in the tulares. It has a peak behind it, glinting above the tamarack pines, above a breaker of ruddy hills that have a long slope valley-wards and the shoreward steep of waves toward the Sierras.”
Mary Austin didn’t reveal where this place was in her 1903 book The Land of Little Rain. We will: Las Uvas, or the Town of the Grape Vines, is Lone Pine, California.
Beautiful, remarkable Lone Pine is just a few miles from both Death Valley and Sequoia National Park. Originally, the town was closely tied to the mining industry. That changed in 1920, when the silent Western The Roundup was shot nearby. Since then, more than 250 films/TV episodes/commercials have been shot in the area. The Lone Pine Film Festival—held each October—attracts thousands of enthusiasts to see classic movies (mostly Westerns) and meet stars of the present and past. You can get the history of the movies filmed here at the free-admission Lone Pine Film History Museum.
As far as the restaurant fare goes, we can’t guarantee that all the dishes will have chile in them.
Trip Lit: The Land of Little Rain by Mary Austin
LOS ANGELES, CA
“When Cap. Alexander Bell married a belle from Spain in 1844 he spent seventy thousand dollars in building and furnishing an adobe palace in Los Angeles. The building became the first capitol of California under American rule,” wrote Maj. Horace Bell in On the Old West Coast. “Commodore Stockton occupied it for a time in 1846 as military governor, [as did] General Fremont in 1847. The old building extended from Aliso to Commercial Street, on the east side of Los Angeles Street, and was quite an imposing structure.”
Horace Bell’s books are fascinating looks at Southern California throughout the 19th century. He participated in some of the greatest events on the West coast: as a Ranger, he chased after Joaquin Murrieta; as a soldier of fortune, he served in the army of Benito Juarez in Mexico and accompanied William Walker on the filibuster to Nicaragua; as a Union officer, he fought in the Civil War; and in Los Angeles, he understood the heart of the city and its people as a newspaper editor and lawyer.
On the Old West Coast, published in 1930, was his second memoir—Reminiscences of a Ranger came out in 1881. Taken together they’re an important chronicle of life in the West.
Your best bet for the “historic” LA?tour is to get in touch with the folks at the Los Angeles Conservancy. They offer group tours, podcast tours and self-guided tours of historic architectural gems in the city. The podcast tour is our favorite. It’s free to download at laconservancy.org, and it also includes a printable map!
Trip Lit: On the Old West Coast by Maj. Horace Bell
“The house was adobe, low, with a wide veranda on the three sides of the inner court, and a still broader one across the entire front, which looked to the south. These verandas, especially those on the inner court, were supplementary rooms to the house. The greater part of the family life went on in them. Nobody stayed inside the walls, except when it was necessary. All the kitchen work, except the actual cooking, was done here, in front of the kitchen doors and windows. Babies slept, were washed, sat in the dirt, and played, on the veranda,” wrote Helen Hunt Jackson in Ramona.
A typical southern California home back in the late 19th century, in a place and time when Mexicans still held sway is the setting of Ramona, one of the most popular novels of the 1800s, telling a story of love, racial discrimination and hardship. The book’s influence stretched so far that a community, not far from San Diego, was named after it in 1886. That same year, the first home was built in Ramona; it is still around, housing the historical society and a museum. You can visit the original town hall, as well.
The annual Ramona Festival has run for 85 years, and it’s presented on the weekends in late April and May each year. Be warned—it is not held in the town of Ramona, but instead at a natural amphitheater about 75 miles northeast near Hemet. The pageant shown here, based on the novel, is also the official play of the state of California.
Trip Lit: Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
“They spent the rest of the evening listening to the captain’s wondrous stories about California, even though he hadn’t been there since the discovery of gold and the only thing he could say about San Francisco was that it wasn’t much of a town but that it did sit on the most beautiful bay in the world…. There was no comfortable or quick way to get to San Francisco; a sailing ship took months, under the most precarious conditions, the captain explained, but traveling across the American continent, defying the immensity of the land and the Indian raids, took longer, and there was even less chance of getting there alive,” wrote Isabel Allende in Daughter of Fortune.
Eliza Sommers is half Chilean, half English, and living in South America in the 1840s when she’s drawn to San Francisco, a booming Gold Rush town. Her trials and travails (and her connection to bandit Joaquin Murrieta) move the plot of Isabel Allende’s novel Daughter of Fortune.
Allende made a similar move in 1988, moving from her native Chile to San Francisco (she became a U.S. citizen in 2003). Of course, unlike Eliza, she was already an adult, a successful writer and had been to the U.S. prior to that move. Still, it’s likely that there’s more than a little of the author in the heroine.
You can still see many historic Gold Rush sites that Eliza would have seen. And you luck out this year because it’s the tenth anniversary of the Barbary Coast Trail, a walking tour of the city’s historic sites, which include the western terminus of the Pony Express and the birthplace of the Gold Rush.
Museums found along the way offer stagecoach history (Wells Fargo History Museum), the largest collection of historic ships in the nation (Maritime Museum) and exhibits on the 1906 fire and earthquake (City of San Francisco Museum) and the history of Asians on the frontier (Chinese Historical Society Museum of America).
Podcasts of the tour are available on barbarycoasttrail.org for free download, along with other tour options for walking the history.
Trip Lit: Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
“Now I had never heretofore been a great admirer of civilization, but I figured that was because I had no hand in building such of it as I had come in contact with. It was different with Denver, which growed before your very eyes. There was a real town there by the following summer, for people kept arriving from across the plains and while not many of them struck significant gold, and others got busted, by God, and went on home, there was a good deal who stayed, too, and permanent buildings replaced canvas,” wrote Thomas Berger in Little Big Man.
Thomas Berger really hit a home run when he came up with the story of Jack Crabb, the kid from Evansville, Indiana, who made the trek West with his family and experienced adventures like no other (that’s why it’s a novel). He keeps switching between life as an adopted Cheyenne named Little Big Man and various attempts to fit into the white world. Somehow, he runs into practically every big name in Old West history (Custer and Wild Bill, for example—say, most of these folks ended up dead, didn’t they?).
While Jack liked Denver, the Mile High City wasn’t that good to him—a failed business, a new wife and child who are lost in an Indian attack. But that’s Jack for you….
Denver may be good for you, though, especially if you are into ranching, rodeo or horses. The city hosts the premiere National Western Stock Show every January. But even if you miss that show, there’s events scheduled year-round, ranging from Quarter Horse circuits to train expos. Free downtown tours sharing the city’s early history are offered during the summer.
Thanks to the good citizens running Historic Denver, restored architecture can be viewed at LoDo, which features turn-of-the-20th-century commercial buildings, and Ninth Street Historic Park, with its 19th-century homes.
For the full Victorian experience, find out about the teas, luncheons and dinner parties offered at the home of the unsinkable Molly Brown. Denver’s high society may have shunned Molly Brown, but the stewards of her home welcome you with open arms.
Trip Lit: Little Big Man by Thomas Berger
LA JUNTA, CO
“The fort hummed,” wrote David Lavender in Bent’s Fort. “Trade had been prodigious during the winter. Eleven hundred huge bales of buffalo robes, upward of fifty tons total weight, another ton or more of glossy beaver pelts were loaded into the wagons. In the corrals scores of horses and wild and foolish mules were being starved to tractability, many of them from California…. Herded with them outside the walls were two or three hundred coarse-wooled Mexican sheep. There were cattle, also.”
In 1833, William and Charles Bent built an adobe fort in southern Colorado. For most of the next 16 years, it was the only major white settlement on the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and the Mexican settlements in what became New Mexico. It was a place to get supplies, wagon repairs, livestock, food, water and protection—and since it included an impressive billiard room, it was a place for sport. It was a staging area for Col. Stephen Kearny’s troops in 1846 during the Mexican-American War. In short, Bent’s Old Fort was a vital outpost in the pioneer West.
For a variety of reasons—including disease and natural disasters—the fort was abandoned in 1849. Jump ahead to 1960, when the Old Fort was established as a National Historic Site. The re-created adobe structure offers a living history experience for visitors. So it’s still an important place on the Santa Fe Trail, preserving the history of the old Southwest.
Trip Lit: Bent’s Fort by David Lavender
“Lewis’s River [the Snake River]…has two forks which fall into it on the South. The Countrey about the forks is an open Plain on either side. I can observe at a distance on the lower Lard. side a high ridge of Thinly timbered Countrey the water of the South fork is a greenish blue, the north as clear as cristial,” wrote William Clark on October 10, 1805.
The Lewis and Clark expedition remains one of the most extraordinary exploratory projects in history. The mere fact that the Corps of Discovery traveled all the way from Ohio to the Pacific Ocean and lost only one man is astounding—especially considering all the pitfalls they faced—from illness to natural barriers to wild animals to potentially hostile Indians.
By October 1805, the group was close to reaching its objective when it came upon an area that the leaders called “a paradise”—the forks of the Snake River near the present-day city of Lewiston, Idaho (and its sister town, Clarkston, Washington), named after Corps co-leader Meriwether Lewis. Lewiston dates back to the gold rush of 1860, and for a brief time, it was the capital city of the Idaho Territory.
Today, the region is well known for outdoor recreation—hunting and fishing, camping and boating, and whitewater rafting on the river. Much of the city pays homage to the original explorers, with statues and historic markers marking their trail. The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center lies directly across from the campsite where Lewis and Clark stayed that October day, where they feasted on dog flesh purchased from the Nez Perce. All except for Clark, who could never bring himself to “relish the flesh of the dogs.”
Trip Lit: The Journals of Lewis and Clark by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
“‘These first cabins are the Chinatown,’ Jim said, bringing the packstring to a halt. He pointed across the creek to a huddle of irregular, steep-roofed shanties set down in a clearing surrounded by mountain and forest. ‘That’s the white section of Warrens. Hong King’s saloon is the first one on the left-hand side of the road. You can’t miss it.’”
The story of Polly Bemis and thousands of other Chinese who came to this country in the 1800s is not often told. Bandits shipped her to San Francisco in 1872, where she was sold into slavery for $2,500. Her “owner,” Hong King, ran a saloon in Warrens (now Warren), Idaho. Polly worked there for more than a decade before she bought her freedom. She then ran a boarding house; in 1894, she married local resident Charlie Bemis and they moved to a ranch along the River of No Return.
That story is told in the biographical novel Thousand Pieces of Gold by Ruthanne Lum McCunn, published in 2003. It’s a remarkable work.
As for Warren, it’s still around. About 15 people live there full time, and the population jumps to more than 50 in the summer. A few of the buildings date back to the days of Polly Bemis. You can still visit her ranch and grave, about 44 miles east of Riggins. The Historical Museum in nearby Cottonwood houses some of Bemis’ possessions, along with other belongings of early Chinese settlers.
The nearby ghost town Burgdorf offers rustic cabins for lodgings and hot springs. Shipwrecked sailor Frederick Burgdorf read of the goldfields in Warren, but when he arrived, his dreams of gold did not pan out. One door closed but another opened when he discovered this nearby hot springs. He built a pool, hotels, cabins and barns, and made a nice living selling milk and meat to the miners in Warren who did strike it rich.
Trip Lit: Thousand Pieces of Gold by Ruthanne Lum McCunn
“Abilene in 1867 was a very small, dead place, consisting of about one dozen log huts, low, small, rude affairs, four-fifths of which were covered with dirt for roofing; indeed, but one shingle roof could be seen in the whole city,” wrote Joseph G. McCoy in 1874. “The business of the burg was conducted in two small rooms, mere log huts, and of course the inevitable saloon also in a log hut, was to be found.”
In spite of that—or maybe because of it—McCoy set up stockyards in Abilene, convinced the railroad to come to town and encouraged Texas cattlemen to drive their herds to Kansas via the Chisholm Trail. Almost overnight, Abilene’s population zoomed to more than 3,000 and featured several hotels, gambling houses, saloons and mercantile businesses.
Abilene has more than doubled in size since the cowtown days, but it can’t shake off its history (not that it wants to). Old Abilene Town is a reminder of the town’s early residents like marshals Wild Bill Hickok and Bear River Tom Smith, Ben Thompson and—no surprise, the real McCoy, old Joseph G. himself. The town features about 20 historic buildings—log cabins, churches, commercial buildings and barns.
The Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad, based out of the 1887 Rock Island Depot, takes riders on a 10-mile roundtrip to Enterprise. Also check out the Heritage Center of Dickinson County, a collection of museums with their own set of historical buildings dating back to the 1850s.
Trip Lit: Historic Sketches of the Cattle Trade of the West and Southwest by Joseph G. McCoy
DODGE CITY, KS
“In Dodge in ‘82 it took money to see the elephant. There were several variety theatres, a number of dance halls, and other resorts which, like the wicked, flourish best under darkness,” wrote Andy Adams in The Log of a Cowboy.
Andy knew of what he wrote. In his 20s, he worked as a wrangler with several outfits that drove herds from Texas up to Dodge City. He saw the elephant and rode it for all it was worth—and then wrote about it, in fictionalized form, in 1903.
Dodge City was the Queen of the Cowtowns for a reason. Unfortunately, a lot of its history went under the wrecking ball in the 1970s in the name of urban renewal. But in recent years, townsfolk have changed their thinking and begun preserving the past. The Old Dodge City Historic District features Boot Hill, the 1897 Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Depot, the 1881 Mueller-Schmidt House Museum and the St. Cornelius Episcopal Church, built in 1898. Other projects are underway. Just like seeing the elephant, that costs money, and all the historic and tourism institutions in Texas combined had only a $4 million budget to work with in 2007.
Texans (and others) are still welcome; leave the cattle at home.
Trip Lit: The Log of a Cowboy by Andy Adams
“When we first sighted Osborne, about noon, it looked like a little bunch of houses along both sides of a single short street, with the prairie running right up to the houses, and the main street angling off in our direction,” wrote Howard Ruede in March of 1877.
His account wouldn’t be published for another 60 years—as Sod-House Days: Letters from a Kansas Homesteader, 1877-1878. In the 130 years since Ruede came to town, there’s been little change. Osborne is still an agricultural community. The population is still around 1,600. And a number of old buildings still stand, including a depot and a one-room schoolhouse, the Osborn County Historical Museum resides in both. The ornate county courthouse and the Carnegie Library both date back to the early 1800s.
When you visit, you can check out the sights in modern convenience. Last year, the “Rediscovering Sod-House Days” self-guided tour was established in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the publication of Ruede’s letters. This 15-mile, 20-stop tour features many of the sites and people mentioned in Sod-House Days. Interpretive markers offer additional information on the grit and sheer determination that it took to survive as a prairie settler.
Okay, so Ruede didn’t ride to these places in a car. But at least the roads still maintain their early-day charm—they’re all unpaved, so you’ll need to inquire locally as to their conditions.
Trip Lit: Sod-House Days: Letters from a Kansas Homesteader, 1877-1878 by Howard Ruede
“1865: Wild Bill remained in Springfield when the war ended,” wrote Joseph Rosa in Wild Bill Hickok, Gunfighter. “There he and his friend Davis K. Tutt, a former Confederate soldier, fell out over a card game leading to a gunfight on July 21 that neither man wanted. Hickok was put on trial ... he was acquitted. Later in September following an unsuccessful attempt to become city marshal of Springfield, Hickok met and was interviewed by Colonel George Ward Nichols, who was a writer for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.”
No doubt, Springfield played a huge role in Hickok’s career. His vis-a-vis shoot-out with Dave Tutt—each standing 100 yards away from the other—cemented his reputation as a pistoleer. Nichols’ 1867 article made Hickok internationally famous. Today, markers show where Tutt and Hickok stood on that fateful day. The site is a big draw.
That’s not all that draws tourists here. The infamous Trail of Tears went through Springfield, and visitors can drive their cars along the route. Two Civil War battle sites—Springfield and Wilson’s Creek—are in or near town. Many of the casualties from those fights are buried in the Springfield National Cemetery. The city is also the birthplace of Route 66 and President Harry S. Truman, and both are celebrated and commemorated.
Springfield also works hard to preserve its past, with six historic districts and dozens of buildings listed on the National Register.
Sure, things have changed a bunch over the past 140-some years, but Wild Bill would probably say Springfield is right on target in mixing its heritage with its future.
Trip Lit: Wild Bill Hickok, Gunfighter by Joseph Rosa
MILES CITY, MT
“Miles City was the cow town then for the north end of the range,” wrote E.C. “Teddy Blue” Abbott in We Pointed Them North. “The first Texas herds go up there in ‘80, and the Northern Pacific reached it in the fall of ‘81. There were plenty of places along the line where Montana and Wyoming cattle could have been shipped, but Miles City had the best stockyards and, besides that, it appealed to Wyoming cowmen because they could follow Tongue River in and have good grass and water all the way.”
Teddy Blue—he got the nickname during one of his more boisterous visits to Miles City—was an Englishman by birth, a Nebraskan as a youth, a Montanan by choice but a self-described Texas cowboy. He knew Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. He married a daughter of pioneer Granville Stuart (see p. 44). And he certainly knew the trail from the Lone Star State to the north. Toward the end of his life, in 1937-38, he worked with author Helena Huntington Smith on his memoirs—We Pointed Them North. It’s still a classic in the Old West field.
Miles City is also an Old West classic. This commercial hub of southeast Montana still deals in cattle and agriculture. It also boasts three historic districts and the Range Riders Museum. Fort Keogh is located on the western edge of town; it was built less than two months after Custer and his men died at the nearby Little Bighorn.
When you get the chance, point yourself north (well, a few of you may have to point east, west or south). Whatever way your compass points, check out this place.
Trip Lit: We Pointed Them North by E.C. “Teddy Blue” Abbott
VIRGINIA CITY, MT
“Early in June, 1863, Alder Gulch was discovered…. It was by sheer accident. After a long and unsuccessful tour they came thither on their way to Bannack, and one of them took a notion to try a pan of dirt. A good prospect was obtained, and the lucky ‘panner’ gave his name to the far famed ‘Fairweather District.’ A wild stampede was the consequence. Almost immediately after the first great rush from Bannack—in addition to the tents, brush wakiups and extempore fixings for shelter—small log cabins were erected. The first of these was the Mechanical Bakery, now standing near the lower end of Wallace Street. Morier’s saloon went up at about the same time, and the first dwelling house was built by John Lyons,” wrote Thomas Dimsdale in The Vigilantes of Montana.
The boomtown was soon renamed Virginia City—to honor the Commonwealth of Virginia (this was 1863, and most of the pioneers were Southern supporters). Within a year, 10,000 people (mostly men) lived in the town; by 1865, it became Montana’s territorial capital.
How things have changed.
Virginia City’s population is now around 130. Most of the town is owned by the state of Montana and is designated as a National Historic Landmark. In fact, it’s something of an open-air museum, celebrating the area’s heritage—including the vigilante group that strung up 22 men in the first two months of 1864. Supposedly, their ghosts still haunt the town. In fact, the ghosts may outnumber the living residents.
Trip Lit: The Vigilantes of Montana by Thomas J. Dimsdale
“To his surprise, he didn’t enjoy the visit to Ogallala very much. He hit the dry goods store just as the owner was closing and persuaded him to reopen long enough for him to buy Lorie a mass of clothes…. The one hotel was easy to find, but the restaurant in it was a smoky little room with no charm and only one diner. Augustus decided he would prefer a cheerful bar, but that proved not easy to find,” wrote Larry McMurtry in Lonesome Dove.
So Texan Gus McRae wasn’t thrilled with the Nebraska town; neither was his partner, Woodrow Call, who didn’t even make the trip into the burg.
Well, at least there is (and was) a real Ogallala; Lonesome Dove is just a Baptist Church in North Texas, not a town along the Rio Grande. The Mormon Trail came through here in the 1840s, and the Pony Express sped through in 1860. The town dates back to 1867, when the Union Pacific came through the area and settlers began moving in.
Within 13 years, it was a cowtown, getting 10 to 12 herds per year—most of these coming from Texas. An epidemic of Texas fever ended that in 1884; ranchers suffered heavy losses and demanded an end to the drives. At that point, Ogallala became more of an agricultural center.
Today, historical markers tell the story of the people and events that shaped Ogallala. Some buildings remain from the old days. The town even has a Boot Hill. Not surprisingly, more than a few businesses are named Lonesome Dove.
Old Gus would find the town a might more charming nowadays.
Trip Lit: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
RED CLOUD, NE
“One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away…. The main street was a deeply rutted road, now frozen hard, which ran from the squat red railway station and the grain ‘elevator’ at the north end of the town to the lumber yard and the horse pond at the south end. On either side of this road straggled two uneven rows of wooden buildings; the general merchandise stores, the two banks, the drug store, the feed store, the saloon, the post office. The board sidewalks were gray with trampled snow, but at two o’clock in the afternoon the shopkeepers, having come back from dinner, were keeping well behind their frosty windows,” wrote Willa Cather in her 1913 book O, Pioneers!
The town she described was actually Red Cloud, Nebraska, where she spent her formative years. Red Cloud, usually under other names, was a setting in several of her stories. Cather’s portrayals upset a fair number of locals during her lifetime—but that didn’t stop the town fathers from honoring her.
When you visit, you’ll probably be in some section of the Willa Cather Thematic Group, which includes four historic districts and 26 individual sites—including the author’s childhood home, the 1897 railroad depot frequently mentioned in her novels and the Methodist Church that has a prime role in My Antonia (see p. 40). A bank built in 1889 is home to the Willa Cather Historical Center, which contains archived materials related to the author and her works. All in all, Red Cloud has done right by the lady—and vice versa.
Trip Lit: O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
CARSON CITY, NV
“By and by Carson City was pointed out to us. It nestled in the edge of a great plain and was a sufficient number of miles away to look like an assemblage of mere white spots in the shadow of a grim range of mountains overlooking it,” recalls Mark Twain in Roughing It. “It was a ‘wooden’ town; its population two thousand souls. The main street consisted of four or five blocks of little white frame stores which were too high to sit down on, but not too high for various other purposes; in fact, hardly high enough.”
Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, went to Nevada and other points west in 1861, looking for his fortune—and instead found a wealth of stories. Today, Nevada’s state capital has a treasured past that it keeps well preserved. Kit Carson came through the area in the 1840s, and his contributions are remembered on the trail that bears his name, which winds through neighborhoods in the city that also bears his name. Orion Clemens—the author’s brother—built a huge home in 1863, and it still stands. The J.D. Roberts House, built in Washoe City in 1859, was later transferred by train to Carson City. These are just a few of the buildings in the city’s historic downtown district. The town also boasts plenty of museums honoring the railroads, mines and the rich history of Nevada.
Okay, Mark Twain wasn’t overly impressed by Carson City in 1861. Chances are he’d change his tune if he visited now.
Trip Lit: Roughing It by Mark Twain
VIRGINIA CITY, NV
“Virginia had grown to be the ‘livest’ town, for its age and population, that America had ever produced. The sidewalks swarmed with people—to such an extent, indeed, that it was generally no easy matter to stem the human tide. The streets themselves were just as crowded with quartz wagons, freight teams and other vehicles,” wrote Mark Twain, a newspaper editor in Virginia City in 1863. He added, “There were military companies, fire companies, brass bands, banks, hotels, theatres, ‘hurdy-gurdy houses,’ wide-open gambling palaces, political pow-wows, civic processions, street fights, murders, inquests, riots, a whiskey mill every fifteen steps, a Board of Aldermen, a Mayor, a City Surveyor, a City Engineer, a Chief of the Fire Department, with First, Second and Third Assistants, a Chief of Police, City Marshal and a large police force, two Boards of Mining Brokers, a dozen breweries and half a dozen jails and station-houses in full operation, and some talk of building a church.”
Twain was overstating—a bit. How times have changed; Virginia City is now a tourist town of 1,500, with nary a street fight or riot to be found. A number of buildings date back to the 1870s, including the recently restored Piper’s Opera House. And yes, there is a church, Mr. Clemens—St. Mary’s in the Mountains Catholic Church was built in 1875 and has also undergone extensive repairs in recent years. But the best is yet to come—the ongoing restoration of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad between Carson City and Virginia City, a route Twain himself rode on many occasions.
Trip Lit: Roughing It by Mark Twain
BANDELIER NATIONAL MONUMENT, NM
“The northern sides of these secluded gorges are perforated in many places by openings similar in appearance to pigeon-holes. These openings are the points of exit and entrance of artificial caves, dug out by sedentary aborigines in times long past.... From the objects scattered about and in the cells, and from the size and disposition of the latter, it becomes evident that the people who excavated and inhabited them were on the same level of culture as the so-called Pueblo Indians of New Mexico,” wrote Adolph Bandelier in his 1899 book The Delight Makers.
Bandelier first took in those ancient sights in 1880, when a Pueblo guided him on a tour of the ancestral lodgings, which date back 600 years, although humans were there thousands of years before that. Thanks to Bandelier’s fictionalized account of life in the canyons, the region was named a national monument in 1916. Since then, additions to the monument include a visitors center and lodge built in the 1930s -40s.
For the most part, this place still looks the same as it did in the 1400s, before the Spanish arrived and many of the natives were driven out. Spectacular rock formations and vistas are dotted with these remarkable, ancient homes. Bandelier is still here too—and not just in spirit; his ashes were spread in the canyon in 1980.
Trip Lit: The Delight Makers by Adolph Bandelier
LAS VEGAS, NM
“East Las Vegas, which was located on the flats east of town where the tracks ran, was taking shape as a true end-of-track-town in contrast to the ancient pueblo of West Las Vegas. The end-of-track settlement had the usual supply of entrepreneurs and frontier vagabonds…. Doc [Holliday] saw opportunity in New Town, as did others … gamblers, con men, whores, thugs, and vagrants.”
That’s how Gary L. Roberts described the “other Las Vegas” in his book Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend. Notice that he doesn’t get into buildings or streets or monuments—most portrayals of this rough burg deal with the nature of the people who lived and visited there in the 19th century (Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid and Jesse James, among others).
Things have changed—now people talk about the physical structures, not the hardcase outlaws. The National Register lists more than 900 Las Vegas buildings, made of Spanish adobe or from the Victorian era. Many date back to the 1880s, including the Plaza Hotel, Old City Hall and the Dr. H.J. Mueller House. Private owners have also stepped up to the plate and renovated their historic homes.
Las Vegas is experiencing a boom—tourism this time, not precious metals—and the locals have done a great job of preserving the past to ensure the future. It’s enough to make Doc Holliday put down the cards and pick up the dental tools.
Trip Lit: Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend by Gary L. Roberts
“[Lincoln] consists of a small collection of adobe houses scattered by a pretty creek called the Rio Bonita (which means Pretty River) & is in miner’s parlance about the ‘toughest’ little spot in America, which means the most lawless,” wrote John Henry Tunstall in late 1876.
Tunstall would find himself up-close-and-personal with lawlessness in the area—a posse gunned him down 15 months later, kicking off the violence known as the Lincoln County War.
If Tunstall came to town today, he’d feel right at home. “Lincoln is a village forgotten by time. Its only street is lined with adobe homes and buildings dating from its colorful and often violent past,” according to the New Mexico Tourism Department’s description.
The Lincoln County Courthouse is most prominent; it’s where Billy the Kid killed two deputies during his 1881 escape. Bob Olinger, one of those lawmen, ate his last meal across the street from the courthouse at the Wortley Hotel. Modern visitors can eat (and stay) there. John Tunstall’s store is still on the main street, displaying original items from 1878.
Want to see the Old West as it was? Lincoln is your place. Oh, and the violence is pretty much a thing of the past.
Trip Lit: The Life & Death of John Henry Tunstall by Frederick W. Nolan
“The sun was low and shining already below the branches of the cottonwood trees and turning the mountain into a big, crumpled rose. It is a lovely hour to walk about in the snowy lanes, hastening a little, for the bitterness of the night comes down fast. The air grows quiet. If there has been any wind, it ceases; and the snow squeaks under one’s feet and the telegraph wires sing a low song. It is sweet, but it is bitter, too,” wrote Mabel Dodge Luhan in 1935’s Winter in Taos.
Luhan arrived in Taos in 1919 to start a literary colony. She’d been a wealthy patron of the arts in the East and had cultivated friendships with the likes of D.H. Lawrence, Willa Cather, Georgia O’Keeffe and labor leader Big Bill Haywood—all of whom visited her in Taos. If one person was responsible for developing the town’s reputation as a center for the arts, Luhan was that person.
For the next 43 years, until her death in 1962, Luhan wrote about northern New Mexico. One of the most interesting books was Winter in Taos, a sort of stream-of-consciousness narrative, unbroken by chapters. Unlike some of her other writings—in which she dropped names of famous friends—this book focused solely on her life in Taos.
Today, her home is on the National Register (as are so many other structures in town). And she’s buried in the Kit Carson Cemetery, which also holds Carson himself. You can tour these and other sites—such as the 900-year-old Taos Pueblo, the home of first territorial governor Charles Bent and history museums—via fully narrated history trolley tours, if you prefer a guide.
Trip Lit: Winter in Taos by Mabel Dodge Luhan
FORT YATES, ND
“On December 15, 1890, on Grand River … he [Sitting Bull] met his death at the hands of the Indian police acting under the pay and direction of the military. His body was hauled to Fort Yates, placed in a rough pine box and covered with quick lime, as a mark of contempt, and lowered into six feet of earth in one corner of the post cemetery among his bitterest enemies, the soldiers,” wrote Lewis F. Crawford in Rekindling Campfires: The Exploits of Ben Arnold Connor.
But is the Sioux leader still at Fort Yates? If he is, the spot supposedly is at the end of a dirt parking lot, with directions provided by a flimsy wooden sign. A slab of concrete and a large stone are over the grave. Not terribly impressive.
Or is Sitting Bull lying 58 miles south, on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River, beneath a granite pillar with a seven-ton bust of the man himself?
It seems that back in 1953, some citizens of Mobridge, South Dakota, took a backhoe to Fort Yates and—allegedly—dug up the remains in the early hours, then took them across the state border.
The folks at Fort Yates say the bones that were moved to the south were those of a horse, or maybe of a white guy. The debate continues—all over a man who 19th-century whites did everything in their power to make disappear.
Trip Lit: Rekindling Campfires: The Exploits of Ben Arnold Connor by Lewis F. Crawford
“Every day when Chief Quanah Parker was home at his ranch near the Wichita Mountains, ‘Dummy,’ his deaf and dumb Comanche driver, drove the chief in his stagecoach or buggy the four miles into the little hamlet of Cache and stopped at the post office for Quanah to get his mail. Communications of all kinds were unusually good at Quanah’s rural home in comparison with those of his neighbors, many of whom lived in dugouts, log cabins, or clapboard shacks. Burk Burnett had provided Quanah with an imposing twelve-room house, and as early as 1908 it had a telephone,” wrote Bill Neeley in The Last Comanche Chief.
Mestizo Quanah’s white mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, was captured by Comanches in 1836. His father was the Comanche warrior Peta Nocona. From his youth, Quanah followed in his father’s footsteps, fighting white incursions at every step. That ended when his band surrendered in 1875 and moved to the reservation in Oklahoma. Quanah became tribal chief and an important statesman for all Indians, working with U.S. authorities to advance his people wherever possible.
When Quanah died in 1911, his body was buried in the Cache cemetery next to his mother; the remains were moved to Fort Sill in 1957. Quanah’s magnificent two-story frame home—called Star House because of the huge stars painted on the roof—was moved to a park in Cache. There it stands, basically unused, with some of Quanah’s belongings still in it (including the bed he died in). The Star House could use a bit of love and care, but the presence of the “last Comanche chief” is still strongly felt.
Trip Lit: The Last Comanche Chief: The Life and Times of Quanah Parker by Bill Neeley
“Lifting onto his knees, he peered through the branches. To his surprise, he could see the depot across the creek, marshals gathering under its porch, leaning against its wall like blackbirds on a fence. From behind the depot, a hill rose into Guthrie station. To the south soldiers’ tents cropped in perfect rows up the hill, an American flag fluttering from a pole in the center of the encampment, steam boiling from pots suspended on a crossbar over a central fire. Aside from the two soldiers who tended the pots, the camp was deserted, the aroma of pintos and fatback wafting into the trees, smelling of home in a foreign land,” wrote Sheldon Russell in Dreams to Dust: A Tale of the Oklahoma Land Rush.
Around noon on April 22, 1889, the land was empty. Within six hours, about 10,000 people made up the new settlement of Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory. They were among the tens of thousands of folks who came to the site to start the run for land—but this group decided not to budge.
Guthrie wasn’t much to look at—some tents, wagons, people camping around fires and a few flimsy buildings going up. Within days, it became the territorial capital. But when Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Oklahoma City successfully fought to become the new capital.
An upside to losing its capital city status is that Guthrie stayed a “perfectly preserved Victorian City.” It’s the largest historic district in the country, with nearly 2,200 buildings and 400 city blocks included. If you’re looking to roam around a city that looks and feels just like it did more than 100 years ago, Guthrie is your place.
Trip Lit: From Dreams to Dust: A Tale of the Oklahoma Land Rush by Sheldon Russell
“The city was permanent headquarters of the Dawes Commission and its several hundred employees; the United States clerk’s office was a busy place with a large staff; the recording officers of the territory, the main office of the Five Tribes added many more employees to the government payroll; more government-franked mail left the post office than from any other in the United States except Washington; and Gen. Pleasant Porter had his executive offices and home there. The streets and hotels were jammed daily with Indians, lawyers, real estate speculators, adventurers, confidence men and grafters…. Muskogee was, indeed, the most important commercial, financial and industrial center in the Territory,” wrote Glenn Shirley in The Fourth Guardsman.
Okay, so most people know of the town only through Merle Haggard’s hit “Okie From Muskogee,” which is not exactly a balanced look at the city.
President Thomas Jefferson—based on Meriwether Lewis’ recommendation—supported setting up a trading post at the site in 1805. Permanent settlers arrived just 12 years later. In the 1830s, the government relocated Cherokee and Creek tribes from the south to areas just outside Muskogee. The town continued to grow through the years, becoming the commercial and political center noted by author Shirley.
It continues in that role today, having preserved much of its history, with two National Historic Districts and dozens of buildings on the National Register. With its cultural programs and history exhibits, the Five Civilized Tribes Museum celebrates the mixture of cultures that made Muskogee so interesting in its heyday.
Trip Lit: The Fourth Guardsman by Glenn Shirley
THE DALLES, OR
“Times were livening up in the Columbia River towns that fall, because the upper country was getting not one railroad, but two, and old E.H. Harriman and James J. Hill were out letting contracts, buying rights of way, and banging out court injunctions back and forth…. There was a carnival on all over the streets, and deckhands and cowboys and shovel-stiffs and real-estate promoters elbowed their way around under the arc-lights with mobs of street-show pitchmen and girls on the prowl picking at their flanks,” wrote H.L. Davis in The Honey in the Horn.
Back in the early 1930s, H.L. Davis took the money from a Guggenheim Fellowship and headed for Mexico, with the aim of writing a book. The work that resulted was this novel about pioneer life in eastern Oregon; it won the 1936 Pulitzer Prize.
Davis had lived in The Dalles for about 20 years, so he knew the people and places that helped inform The Honey in the Horn. After 1928, he lived in various other areas, including Seattle, Napa and San Antonio, but he continued writing about eastern Oregon. Some of his sketches of later pioneers didn’t exactly please people in the region.
As for The Dalles, the town retains much of its Old West feel. The Surgeon’s Quarters of the 1850 Fort Dalles now
houses a museum. The walking tour of Old Town includes a stop at Klindt’s, the oldest bookstore in Oregon (established 1870), which still has the original wood floors and oak and plate glass display cases.
Trip Lit: Honey in the Horn by H.L. Davis
“From Toledo [Washington] I shipped by river steamer the whole outfit, and took passage with my assistants to Portland, thus reversing the order of travel in 1853, accepting the use of steam instead of the brawn of the arm of stalwart men and Indians to propel the canoe, and arrived on the evening of March 1, and on the morning of March 2 pitched our camp in the heart of the city on a beautiful block, the property of Jacob Kamm. I remained in camp here until the morning of March 9, to test the question of securing aid for the expedition,” wrote Ezra Meeker in The Ox Team, or the Old Oregon Trail 1852 to 1906.
In 1852, Meeker, his wife and young child rode in a covered wagon, pulled by oxen, and made the long and dangerous trek from Indiana to the West coast along the Oregon Trail. He never forgot the trip—it had some strange attraction for him.
In 1906, the 76 year old followed that path back east in an effort to promote the Oregon Trail, a trip that gained international publicity (and encouraged citizens and government officials to set up markers along the route). His best-selling 1908 book The Ox Team recounted both trips.
He wasn’t done. Meeker traveled the trail (with oxen) again in 1910, and then in a car in 1916. And in 1924—at the age of 94—he flew along the Oregon from Vancouver, Washington, to Washington D.C.
Ultimately, Meeker got his wish; the Oregon Trail is remembered and celebrated. Portland is a champion of preserving its history; it’s home to the Oregon Historical Society, founded here in 1898. Its museum collection houses more than 85,000 artifacts, many of which illustrate the journey undertaken on the Oregon Trail by early settlers.
Portland is also home to the world’s largest bookstore, Powell’s City of Books. The folks there know where to find a copy of Meeker’s book and can probably help you locate any other of our trip lits missing from your bookshelves.
Trip Lit: The Ox Team, or the Old Oregon Trail 1852-1906 by Ezra Meeker
“Buoyant, wistful, little trail beaten hard by the booted feet of placer miners ran its crooked way to the first rich diggings in Deadwood Gulch,” wrote Estelline Bennett in Old Deadwood Days. “Close-built log cabins faced each other from behind pathetically important square false fronts across a rough road in the building of a Main street never intended for permanence. Ten thousand venturesome, excited gold seekers panned gold in the streams and crowded into the cabins in spite of orders from the United States Government to stay out of the Sioux reservation, and thus the outlaw camp of Deadwood was born.”
Estelline Bennett was a little girl when her family moved to Deadwood in 1877. Her father, Federal Judge Granville Bennett, helped bring law ‘n’ order to the outlaw town. She grew up with the place, watching it transform from the rowdy mining camp to a more civilized burg. She recalled those times in her 1928 book.
The modern Deadwood is a fascinating place. Gambling was brought back several years ago, and it attracts a lot of visitors to this out-of-the-way town. But so does the history, with all the stories about Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Seth Bullock and Al Swearengen. Gambling tax revenues help fund preservation projects for buildings, streets, even cemeteries that Ms. Bennett knew well. “Buoyant” and “wistful” are apt descriptions of Deadwood, even today.
Trip Lit: Old Deadwood Days by Estelline Bennett
PINE RIDGE RESERVATION, SD
“Red Cloud’s Oglalas were settled in the southwest corner of the reservation at Wazi Ahanhan, Pine Ridge. Here the various bands of Oglalas made permanent camps along creeks flowing north to White River—the Yellow Medicine, Porcupine Trail, and Wounded Knee…. The agencies would remain there for almost a century, but most of the 35,000 square miles of the Great Sioux Reservation would gradually be taken from the Indians,” wrote Dee Brown in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.
The year was 1877, and a number of Indian tribes felt the downside of their victory over Custer at Little Bighorn—an angry United States, bent on subjugating the natives and penning them in on small tracts of land.
Author Dee Brown—he would have been 100 this year—produced a landmark study of the Indian Wars when he wrote Bury My Heart in 1970. It presented the viewpoints of the Indians as they headed toward an inevitable fate, which culminated in the Wounded Knee battle/massacre in 1890. (By the way, the book is much more comprehensive and gripping than the TV miniseries that aired in 2007.)
If you were to visit Pine Ridge today, well, it’s not a pretty sight. Un-employment affects 35 percent of its citizens. About 61 percent of the Indians live below the federal poverty line. The average male life expectancy: 47 years old. Last year, the Oglala Sioux opened a $20-million casino, attempting to cash in on gambling the way other tribes have done. The verdict is still out.
Show your support for the tribe by participating in the Oglala’s guided hunts or by donating to “Backpacks for Pine Ridge,” a project that provides Oglala children backpacks and school supplies for the year. You can donate to Winton Rd. First Church of God, 6200 Winton Rd. Fairfield, OH 45014 or at BackpacksForPineRidge.blogspot.com via paypal. One hundred percent of the money raised will go to Pine Ridge.
Trip Lit: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
“The outfit reached Brownsville on March 25th, where we picked up Flood and Lovell, and dropping down the river about six miles below Fort Brown, went into camp at a cattle ford known as the Paso Ganado. The Rio Grande was two hundred yards wide at this point, and at its then stage was almost swimming from bank to bank. It had very little current, and when winds were favorable the tide from the Gulf ran in above the ford. Flood had spent the past two weeks across the river, receiving and road-branding the herd,” wrote Andy Adams in The Log of a Cowboy.
The great cattle drives had to start somewhere, and you couldn’t get much farther south than Brownsville, nestled in the far southeast corner of Texas. Note that Adams doesn’t say much
about the city proper, as there wasn’t much to speak of back then (he obviously was much more impressed by the party town of Dodge City).
Today, Brownsville is pretty impressive, as the city is an important connection to Mexico and a tourist town, with a growing manufacturing base to boot. One top attraction is the Brownsville Heritage Complex, with area museums. The heart of it is the Stillman House, built by the town’s founder in 1850. The Brownsville Historical Association, which oversees the complex, has long-term plans to expand into the city’s old Market Square.
If Andy Adams visited today, he’d probably spend more time in town and less with the cows.
Trip Lit: The Log of a Cowboy by Andy Adams
“About a mile from the river we entered Seguin. It is the prettiest town in Texas; at least of those we saw,” wrote journalist Frederick Law Olmsted on February 17, 1854, during his horseback journey through Texas.
Eventually Olmsted would become the leading landscape architect of the post-Civil War generation, so his remarks on city beautification, even back then, are worth noting.
Seguin is still a pretty Texas town. Olmsted would be happy to see the restored 1842 Magnolia Hotel and 1850s Sebastopol building, two of the best surviving examples of early concrete buildings in the Southwest. He noted the new building technology during his visit (the use of concrete in construction was about 20 years old at the time). The hotel still takes in guests, while Sebastopol displays exhibits on the history of the home, which likely derived its name from a battle that took place at that Russian naval base during the Crimean War in 1854.
Courthouse Square features buildings dating to the 1890s and a frontier justice whipping tree (find the steel ring imbedded in the trunk, near the courthouse fountain). To learn about the town’s namesake, Juan Seguin, stop by his gravesite and read about his battle exploits at the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto.
Trip Lit: A Journey through Texas, Or, a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier by Frederick L. Olmsted
NEW BRAUNFELS, TX
When Olmsted continued on his journey through Texas and reached New Braunfels, he was introduced to some local men by Mr. Schmitz, the owner of the Guadalupe Hotel. He wrote, “It was so very agreeable to meet such men again, and the account they gave of the Germans in Texas was so interesting and gratifying, that we were unwilling to immediately continue our journey.”
You’ll still be greeted with “Willkommen” in the Texas Hill Country’s bit of old Germany. Besides the bier gartens and oompah bands, you can dance the two step in Texas’ oldest continually running dance hall, the 1878 Gruene Hall, nestled in the town’s historic district. Being on the banks of the Guadalupe River, New Braunfels also offers nearly 25 river adventure outfitters, so you can tube, sail, kayak, whitewater raft and canoe to your heart’s content.
Trip Lit: A Journey through Texas, Or, a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier by Frederick L. Olmsted
SAN ANTONIO, TX
“We have no city, except, perhaps, New Orleans, that can vie, in point of the picturesque interest that attaches to odd and antiquated foreignness, with San Antonio. Its jumble of races, costumes, languages and buildings; its religious ruins, holding to an antiquity, for us, indistinct enough to breed an unaccustomed solemnity,” wrote Frederick L. Olmsted during his 1854 horseback trek.
The sites he lauded back then are still the heart of this city. He visited the Alamo, although he saw it decaying away in 1854 before its restoration but after the U.S. Army had added the arched parapet. (This year is also the 250th birthday of the Alamo.)
Olmsted didn’t show much enthusiasm for the other four missions, calling them “weird remains out of the silent past.” You won’t think that today, when you tour all five missions on the city’s Mission Trail. Those four “silent” missions are still active Catholic parishes.
Given Olmsted’s love of agriculture, it’s not surprising to read his praise for the San Antonio River: “The whole river gushes up in one sparkling burst from the earth.... The effect is overpowering. It is beyond your possible conceptions of a spring. You cannot believe your eyes, and almost shrink from sudden metamorphosis by invaded nymphdom.” Today, the San Antonio River Walk is the state’s number one tourist attraction. You can dine on the river, take narrated cruises and enjoy holiday festivals along its banks.
Trip Lit: A Journey through Texas, Or, a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier by Frederick L. Olmsted
“This is the most beautiful place on earth. There are many such places…. For myself, I’ll take Moab, Utah. I don’t mean the town itself, of course, but the country which surrounds it—the canyonlands. The slickrock desert. The red dust and the burnt cliffs and the lonely sky—all that which lies beyond the end of the roads,” wrote Edward Abbey in Desert Solitaire.
That’s pretty tame stuff for Abbey. The man was a piece of work, to say the least. A confirmed ecologist and environmentalist, his strong opinions (and stronger language) managed to tick off just about everyone—including his “green” friends.
Actually, Ed and his wife did live in the town of Moab for awhile. His account of a season as a park ranger at Arches National Park is the theme of 1968’s Desert Solitaire, and it’s considered his most important nonfiction work. The descriptions of the amazing rock formations, the variety of colors and the sweeping expanse of southeast Utah are lean, poetic and spot on. Locals acknowledge that Desert Solitaire did much to promote tourism in the region. Truth be told, Moab is an incredibly beautiful place.
As for Ed, he died of complications from throat surgery in 1989 at the age of 62. Per his instructions, some of his pals put his body in a sleeping bag and hauled it out into Arizona’s Cabeza Prieta desert and buried it at a secret location. Supposedly, a rock at the site lists his name, dates of birth and death and the inscription: NO COMMENT.
A place this beautiful is ripe for biking, canoeing, river rafting, hiking, horseback riding. Hollywood also found it quite scenic. Since 1949, movies filmed here include Cheyenne Autumn and City Slickers II. (Even Thelma and Louise took their final leap into the Colorado ?River under Dead Horse Point.) The Moab Information Center offers a guide of these movie sites.
Trip Lit: Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
SALT LAKE CITY, UT
“At a little distance the aspect was somewhat Oriental, and in some points it reminded me of modern Athens without the Acropolis. None of the buildings, except the Prophet’s house, were whitewashed. The material—the thick, sun-dried adobe, common to all parts of the Eastern world—was of a dull leaden blue, deepened by the atmosphere to a gray, like the shingles of the roofs. The number of gardens and compounds—each tenement within the walls originally received 1.50 square acre, and those outside from five to ten acres, according to their distance—the dark clumps and lines of bitter cottonwood, locus, or acacia, poplars and fruit-trees, apples, peaches, and vines—how lovely they appeared after the baldness of the prairies!” wrote Sir Richard F. Burton in The City of the Saints.
By the time Sir Richard Burton (no, not the actor) wrote this description of Salt Lake City in 1860, he was already an international star. He had fought in the Crimean War and in India, explored Africa and found the principal source of the Nile, and snuck into the closed Muslim city of Mecca. (He wrote about all those experiences.) At the age of 39, he turned his attention to the American West, riding in a stagecoach from St. Joseph, Missouri, to California. He spent three weeks in Salt Lake City and met Brigham Young; the Englishman was impressed by both.
Today’s City of the Saints is a booming, modern place mixed with a remarkable 160-year history. You’ll find eight national historic districts and six local ones, and numerous historic landmarks and buildings. They tell the story of one of the most important Westward expansions in U.S. history—one that Richard Burton was able to chronicle.
Trip Lit: The City of the Saints by Sir Richard F. Burton
“Pearl’s was the first white family to settle on Bellingham Bay, and the first in prominence among the few who stayed. Her father was Felix Rush, who owned the sawmill on which the settlement depended, and her mother, Lura Rush, fed every immigrant man that wandered into the region, embraced with tears Ada Fishburn and every white woman who came in new after her, enumerated to them Bellingham Bay’s advantages and prospects, loaned them furniture, and gave them seeds,” wrote Annie Dillard in The Living.
Annie Dillard’s first novel came out in 1992, about 110 years after the period in which The Living was set. The author had some idea of the time and place; she lived in Washington State for about five years, and spent time in an 1890s house that had no electricity, no running water, no telephone and no paved roads. Then she spent 16 months researching the history of the area so that she could accurately portray the lives of the pioneers.
As for the real Bellingham, it recently has enjoyed a growth unmatched since the gold rush of 1858—the population is now around 74,000. The town boasts three historic districts and more than two-dozen historic properties. One major renovation project is underway—local folks are looking for funds to restore the Richards Building/Territorial Courthouse, a stone structure built in 1858.
The local economy is still based on mills and lumber, fishing and agriculture, but the closure of some manufacturing facilities has placed a greater emphasis on tourism. Citizens are hoping to redevelop the waterfront of Bellingham Bay.
For Bellingham, the living—or The Living—is good.
Trip Lit: The Living by Annie Dillard
“Our ascent was steady along the gorge of the S’Kamish, ever in the same dense forest.... The magnificent pyramids of arbor-vitae filled the wood with sheen from their bright, varnished leafage. It was an untenanted, silent forest, but silence here in this sunshiny morning I found not awful, hardly even solemn. Solitude became to me personal, and pregnant with possible emanations,” wrote Theodore Winthrop in The Canoe and the Saddle.
A highborn easterner and descendant of Puritan colonists, Theodore Winthrop graduated from Yale and began his great adventures, traveling in Europe as well as the states. At 25, he left his home and journeyed to the shores of the Pacific, ultimately ending up in Seattle. He was a writer, and he wrote the story of that trip (and others) in the florid style that was common for the day. In The Canoe and the Saddle, he spoke of the many Indians he befriended, of their lifestyles and beliefs, and of the “Bostons” (white Easterners) who were on similar grand adventures. His trip ended in 1853. In 1861, he became one of the first Union officers to die in Civil War battle. Not long after, his manuscripts were finally published—with The Canoe and the Saddle coming out in 1863; it is one of the great travel tomes in American history.
Seattle pays homage to its role in the Klondike Gold Rush at Seattle’s oldest neighborhood, Pioneer Square Historic District; the visitor center is housed in the restored 1889 Cadillac Hotel. The Pike Place Market, started in 1907, is the oldest continually operating farmers’ market in the nation. Tillicum Indian Village’s cultural center offers a cruise across Puget Sound as you dine on a salmon bake before you reach the beaches of Blake Island, where legend has it that Chief Seattle was born.
Trip Lit: The Canoe and the Saddle by Theodore Winthrop
“During the 1880s Buffalo grew into a lively frontier community which offered numerous services and amenities to residents and visitors. ‘The town is full of life,’ proclaimed The Big Horn Sentinel in 1886, ‘plenty of gambling and considerable of those who are inclined to ample fire-water quite frequently, and with all this there is very seldom an occasion for arrest.’ By 1890 there were twenty-three saloons (along with forty-two other businesses) and a red light district just west of Main Street. But a city ordinance against carrying firearms helped keep rowdyism under control,” wrote Bill O’Neal in The Johnson County War.
This “lively community,” as Bill O’Neal called it, was about to become ground zero in the battle between large cattle ranchers and the group variously described as rustlers, nesters and small ranchers. In fact, the large operators and their mercenaries intended to capture Buffalo during the “invasion” of 1892. The locals headed them off at the pass, though, cornering them at the nearby KC Ranch.
Some hard feelings still exist in Johnson County, even a century after the fact. But for the most part, things have settled down—and Buffalo is a great Old West town to visit. The Occidental Hotel is a high spot; Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane all stayed there—and so can you. Then there’s the cemetery on the edge of town. A number of the participants in and victims of the Johnson County War are buried there, as is famed lawman Joe LeFors. You won’t find rowdyism there today.
Trip Lit: The Johnson County War by Bill O’Neal
“Brawls’ [law] practice was busy and select. The best-known of his clients was William F. Cody—Buffalo Bill. Lawyer Brawls, in concert with other legal beagles, helped the showman teeter along the edges of his various bankruptcies occasion by business dealings with the infamous Denver newspaper and circus entrepreneurs, Bonfils and Tammen,” wrote Annie Proulx in her short story, “The Indian Wars Refought.”
This fictional tale covers three generations of the Brawls family, the discovery of a 1913 Buffalo Bill film and the Casper, Wyoming, building that links them. The story is a bit “meandering,” but it certainly fits with most of her recent writings, which focus on the West.
The best known of those works is probably Brokeback Mountain, the 1997 short story that was later adapted by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana into the Oscar-winning film of the same name.
Accounts by pioneers who traveled the Oregon, California, Mormon, Pony Express, Bridger and Bozeman Trails can be relived at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center. You can explore the 1862 Fort Caspar, named for Lt. Caspar Collins who died during the Battle of Platte Bridge. The city’s name commemorates him, but somehow, it got misspelled. (For more on Casper, see p. 114).
Trip Lit: Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2 by Annie Proulx
“Still unsuccessful in gaining control of the rich valleys of the north, a large number of prominent stockmen met in Cheyenne in the early winter of 1891-92—and presumably agreed upon the invasion as later planned in detail. Money was a prime necessity and a subscription paper was circulated among all the stockmen of the state, who were believed to be in sympathy with the movement, and it is said by some who saw the list that nearly a hundred thousand dollars was subscribed to this ‘Extermination Fund,’ if we may coin an expression to fit,” wrote A.S. Mercer in The Banditti of the Plains.
Mercer’s greatest fame (or infamy) probably came from this account of the Johnson County War, in which he bit the hands that fed the newspaper where he worked as a reporter—the large ranch owners of Wyoming. They tried to destroy all copies of the book, but a few remained—and they’re now worth thousands of dollars each. Mercer, ever the promoter and entrepreneur, would appreciate that.
Wyoming’s state capital boasts the world’s largest outdoor rodeo—the 1897 Cheyenne Frontier Days, held every fourth of July—and is home to the world’s largest steam engine, Big Boy. Other top attractions include the Terry Bison Ranch and area museums Frontier Days Old West (for rodeo exhibits and horse-drawn carriages) and the Nelson Museum of the West (for Plains Indian art, military displays and rodeo artifacts).
Trip Lit: The Banditti of the Plains by A.S. Mercer
“I was the first man to receive a concession of two hundred thousand acres from the Wyoming State Land Board. I could not get away to the Basin till late in the autumn of 1894, so I formed a partnership with George T. Beck, who proceeded to Wyoming, where he was found by Professor Elwood Mead, then in the service of the State. There a site was located and the line of an irrigation canal was surveyed. A town was laid out along the canal, and my friends insisted upon naming it Cody,” wrote William F. Cody in An Autobiography of Buffalo Bill.
So Bill Cody got his own town (more or less). He had already captured the imagination of the world with his Wild West show. He had made fortunes and spent them on bad business deals, booze, women, gambling and various other vices. But now he had something of permanence, and he did a lot to see that it had a future.
He started the Cody Enterprise newspaper in 1899, and 109 years later, it’s still publishing. His luxury hotel The Irma opened in 1902; it’s still operating today. That same year, Bill got the Burlington Railroad to build a spur into town. Then he convinced his friend President Theodore Roosevelt to build a dam and reservoir near Cody to help with irrigation and power; of course, the dam was later named after the man himself (and yes, it’s still there).
Ironically, he wasn’t buried in his town when he died in early 1917. Supposedly, Cody wanted to spend eternity in Cody—but his will left the decision up to his somewhat estranged wife Louisa. Denver promoters browbeat her to inter his remains on Lookout Mountain. It is a popular tourist site—but Cody is still the town of Buffalo Bill.
If you don’t believe us, just look at one of the West’s best museums, located in Cody, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. Not only is the showman the namesake of the five-museum complex, but one of the most popular museums exhibits artifacts and photos that share his life story.
Trip Lit: An Autobiography of Buffalo Bill by William F. Cody