Hunker down with any of these classic books, and revel in Western stories and poetry that will always be timeless to cowboys.
Last month I presented 10 books I considered essential reads about the American West that were published prior to 1975. This month I’d like the share 10 more books published after 1975. And like the first set, these volumes are substantive, classic reads that can enrich, educate and entertain new readers to the Western culture as they have for so many who have come before. The ways of the West, while hearty, are carefully held close by those that cherish them with only the gossamer of passion and a desire to hand them along to the next generation. And those traditions can only continue when we invite new faces into the game.
Like the 10 books presented last month; the next 10 can help support and underscore the West’s values and traditions for generations to come. All are still in print and readily available, possibly in revised editions.
Riding the White Horse Home
The daughter and granddaughter of Wyoming ranchers, Teresa Jordan gives us a lyrical and superbly evocative book that is at once a family chronicle and a eulogy for the land her people helped shape and in time were forced to leave. Ms. Jordan has written a number of books, many illustrated with her wonderful paintings—this is one of her best.
The Lyons Press, 1999
McGuane brings to life the horses he has known in this book of stories, celebrating the unique glories that make each of them memorable. His writing is infused with a love of the cowboy life and the animals and people who inhabit that world where the intimate dance between horse and rider is magical. The current edition features cover art by the talented artist, Teal Blake.
In These Hills
Bison Books, 2003
After a lifetime spent writing and working on his family’s cattle ranch outside of Helena, Montana, Beer provided a moving and elegiac tribute to lives now passed, an often-humorous homage to the provincial, and an attempt “to fathom the place where we live, to decipher who we are, ” as he writes in his introduction. From his first experience with a wheat harvest, to the winter rebuilding of a 1947 Dodge Power Wagon, to his moving exploration of an old family mystery, his 33 essays slice sharp under the sod of our embedded romanticism, exploring not only the brute hardships of a living made from cattle ranching, but the inextricable satisfaction of it as well. As Beer himself says in the final pages of this collection, “Stories outshine instruments of gold. Stories outlast stone.”
The Solace of Open Spaces
Living in Wyoming, Ehrlich fell in love with the wilderness of the state, its primitiveness, and wide-open spaces. As a result of this transformation and her introduction to the world of ranch life, Ehrlich began to write about it in 1979. Over the next five years, she would record her experiences as a ranch hand and herder as well as a friend to others in the same occupation. Gretel is a western treasure, and this is one of her best works.
Where Rivers Change Direction
University of Utah Press, 1999
In the tradition of Ivan Doig’s This House of Sky, mentioned earlier, Spragg’s work renders an unforgettable story of an adolescence spent on the oldest dude ranch in Wyoming. It is a remote spread on the Shoshone National Forest, the largest block of unfenced wilderness in the lower 48 states. In this sublime and unforgiving landscape, Spragg’s distant and mercurial father, his emotionally isolated but resilient mother, his fierce and devoted younger brother, Rick, and his mentor, a wry and wise cowboy named John, hold onto one another and to the harsh life they have chosen.
Gibbs Smith, 1995
Mackey Hedges has written the buckaroo’s own version of what goes on in cow camps, ranches, pack stations, feedlots and trails of the west. Through the persona of Tap McCoy, the larger-than-life narrator, tales of buckin’ horses, a horse falling into and hanging upside down from the branches of a pine tree, eccentric cowboys, spontaneous rodeos, and horse wrecks are spun. This is one written by a sure-enough, “real deal.” As Hedges noted, “I wrote Last Buckaroo in 1995 while healing up from a broken back. I hope I do not get the opportunity to write too many more books. I’m not sure I can stand all the prosperity.”
The Ranch Papers
Jane Hollister Wheelwright
The Lapis Press, 1988
Another California ranch book, The Ranch Papers is a collection of the late Ms. Wheelwright’s writings from her journal as she re-explored by horseback, the “land that raised me,” noting every sound, every sagebrush and sycamore, every quail and coyote on her family’s treasured Hollister Ranch near Pt. Conception. All 39,000 Hollister family-owned acres were sold after her father’s death, and the book is a glorious ride into the ranch’s past. It is a mystical read about connecting to a beloved place.
The Last Best Place: A Montana Anthology
William Kittredge and Annick Smith, Editors
Montana Historical Society, 1988
This book is an anthology of some of the greatest stories and storytellers of the American West. Through eight chapters and over 800 pages, 150 writers present scores of myths, stories, poems, essays and journals that document Montana’s significant literary tradition. The selections range from pre-white Indian days to the present, and, taken as a whole, they offer a powerful microcosm of the entire Western experience. The special touch of Kittredge and Smith can be seen throughout as one moves from the past to the contemporary West through the writings of the region’s best.
And finally, two books of poetry.
Graining the Mare: Poetry of Ranch Women
Teresa Jordan, editor and photographer
Gibbs Smith, 1994
Teresa Jordan, author of Riding the White Horse Home listed earlier, has assembled an anthology that includes a blending of nationally known authors such as Gretel Ehrlich, Linda Hasselstrom, Linda Hogan, and Luci Topahanso; performers at the annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada; Linda Hussa, Thelma Poirier, Gwen Petersen, Marie Smith, Myrt Wallis, Sue Wallis and others; and some relative newcomers. Subjects of the poems are wide-ranging, and even though these women tell about events on the ranch, they are talking of experiences that are common to us all. They tell of loneliness and challenges, of sweet births and gut-wrenching deaths, of horses they have loved and livestock they have nurtured.
Open Range: Collected Poems
Bruce Kiskaddon, edited by William Siems
Old Night Hawk Press, 2006
The cowboy poetry movement of the early 1980s would not be what it is without the work of poet Bruce Kiskaddon (1878 – 1950). Bill Siems’ monumental, 600-page celebration of the collected poems (all 481 of them) of Bruce Kiskaddon (including 323 line drawings by Katherine Field, Amber Dunkerley, and others). The book was published in 2007, in a numbered, limited edition of 300 copies and a limited edition of 26 leather bound books and is now out of print. Copies can be found, if one looks with care. Kiskaddon’s poems are the benchmark of the genre.
Book cover images courtesy the author’s bookshelf.