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Reader's Choice offers recommendations from BAR-D poets and visitors, short descriptions of readers' favorite Western books. 

Poets and others often recommend "must read" books to friends: story collections, novels, poetry, histories, biographies, and other fiction and  non-fiction of Western interest. Often the books are regional gems, little known to most, and hard to find.  Reader's Choice  collects information about such books.

Below:

Index

Non-fiction

Fiction

 

If you have a book you'd like to recommend, email us

Please include the title, author, publisher, and publication date, along with a short description of the book. If you know a source for purchasing the book, please send those details as well (price plus postage, and order address). 

We'll post information about selected books.

 

Elsewhere at the BAR-D for readers:

A list of top books about cowboy poetry and Western music

Top reading and listening selections in our Cowboy Poetry Week feature

Expanded features about selected books

New books and previous years' books 


Below:

 

Non-fiction

Bud & Me: the true adventures of the Abernathy boys, by Alta Abernathy, as related to her by Temple Abernathy
The West that Was
From Texas to Montana, by John Leakey as told to Nellie Snyder Yost
The Last Cowboy
: Twilight Era of the Horseback Cowhand, 1900-1940, by Jo Rainbolt
Owning it All, by William Kittredge
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan

 

Fiction

Cowboy, by Ross Santee
The Meadow
, by James Galvin
From Poison Creek to Redwater, by Ken Goss
Smith and Other Events, by Paul St. Pierre

 

more to come ...

 

 

Non-Fiction

 

  The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan, 2005 hardcover, Houghton Mifflin, ISBN: 9780618346974; 2006 paperback, Mariner Books, ISBN: 0618773479

Recommended by Jane Morton:

I'd recommend The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, by Timothy Egan (and recent recipient of the 2006 non-fiction National Book Award). It is about the Dust Bowl that was created by an unnatural drouth and plowing the dryland grass in order to raise more cash crops. He talks about the XIT Ranch in Texas and the disaster that followed when grass was plowed. 

I had just read Buck Ramsey's, Grass and it seemed to go hand in hand with this book. Buck Ramsey writes in Grass, "My heart would beat the world a warning," and that prophetic line seems to go hand in hand with this book.

The book also available from Amazon, other booksellers, used book sources, and libraries.

More:

  • At Amazon you can search inside the book.

  • At the hardcover publisher Houghton Mifflin's site, there is more description and a comment from newsman Walter Cronkite, "As one who, as a young reporter, survived and reported on the great Dust Bowl disaster, I recommend this book as a dramatic, exciting, and accurate account of that incredible and deadly phenomenon. This is can't-put-it-down history."

  • In Jane Morton's award-winning book of poetry Turning to Face the Wind, she tells the stories of the generations of her family's Colorado ranch, and includes a chapter of poems and commentary on "The Thirties." Among her poems about the Dust Bowl is the memorable "Summer of '34."  The chapter also includes two striking photos of a 1935 dust storm on the plains of eastern Colorado, loaned by Yvonne Hollenbeck.

 

Read some of Jane Morton's poetry here.


 

  Bud & Me: the true adventures of the Abernathy boys, by Alta Abernathy, as related to her by Temple Abernathy (1992, 1998); Dove Creek Press, Irving, Texas  ISBN: 0966216601

Recommended by Jay Snider:

Bud & Me is one of the greatest little books I have had the pleasure of reading, and I happened on it purely by chance. Even though I was raised in southwest Oklahoma, I knew little of the story of the Abernathy boys. However, I had heard of their Dad, the famous wolf hunter "Catch 'Em Alive" Jack Abernathy. I had read about Jack and President Teddy Roosevelt's wolf hunts near Frederick, Oklahoma.

Bud & Me is the tale of a most adventuresome duo of brothers who set out to explore the vast expanse of countryside between their home in southwest Oklahoma and New York City and they saw it all from the back of a horse. This trip would be quite an accomplishment for a grown man but for two boys, ages five and nine, it almost seems impossible. The icing on the cake is that the story is all true.

Bud & Me is a book that you just can't put down and when you've finished it, you can't put it out of your mind. The book should be in every library, in every school, in every home in America. What a treasure!

This book is available for $22.50 postpaid from the Tillman County Historical and Educational Society, PO Box 833, Frederick, OK, 73542, 580/335-5844

It is also available from Amazon, used book sources, and libraries.

More:

  • A life-size bronze, "The Abernathy Boys," was dedicated on April 22, 2006, in Centennial Park, the Tillman County (Oklahoma) Courthouse Square. 

  • A 2004 book, The Abernathy Boys, by L. J. Hunt (2004) is aimed at young readers. Read more at Amazon.

  • Persimmon Hill, a magazine of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, includes an article, "The Wild Ride of the Abernathy Boys," (V.19, No. 1, Spring 1991, pp. 20-25). The article is referenced in the museum's Overland Westerners project. 

 

Read some of Jay Snider's poetry here.


 

  The West that Was From Texas to Montana, by John Leakey as told to Nellie Snyder Yost
(1958) Southern Methodist University Press; (1965) University of Nebraska Press, 1965, ISBN:0803251173 

Recommended by Linda Kirkpatrick:

This wonderful story was told by the grandson of the founder of Leakey, Texas. Both were named John Leakey. This John Leakey was invited to leave the home of his grandfather, John Leakey, because he entered his grandfather's prize mare in a horse race. That incident resulted in an exciting escapade on trail drives that eventually ended in Montana. John was one of the first men inducted in the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. He was a successful rancher there until a blizzard killed all the cattle. The story takes the reader through the settling of land from the lands of Texas to the lands of Montana.

I first read this book when I was about 8 years old.  I remember seeing John Leakey and was amazed at how tall he was. He had a deep but soft and soothing voice.  It is great resource for history buffs.

This book is out of print. You can contact Linda Kirkpatrick for used copies, and copies are also available through Amazon, other used book sources, and libraries.

More:

  • John Leakey's 1951 book, Granddad and I: A story of a grand old man and other pioneers in Texas and the Dakotas, by John Leakey as told to Florence Fenley is rare; see more at Amazon. (Fenley also wrote Oldtimers: Their Own Stories, with 53 "true pioneer" stories about southwest Texas, first published in 1939 and reprinted in 1991. It, too, is rare. See more at Amazon.)

  • Nellie Snyder Yost, the author of many books, was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1992. Read more about her in a site by her granddaughter here.

 

Read some of Linda Kirkpatrick's poetry here.


 

  The Last Cowboy: Twilight Era of the Horseback Cowhand, 1900-1940, by Jo Rainbolt
(1992) Two Bears Press, ISBN: 1560370122

Recommended by DW Groethe:

If you want to know what real cowboys are truly all about, then read this book. Jo Rainbolt interviewed several old time cowboys back in the eighties then tied their stories neatly together in this little blue book. If you're tired, like I am, of all the wannabees prancin' across the stage spoutin' off about the "Cowboy Code," then do yourself a favor and read this book. That Greek fella who lit a shuck and went huntin' for an honest man woulda stopped lookin' if he'd've met up with these guys. A heck of a read that's well worth the time.

This book is out of print. Used copies are available through Amazon, other used book sources, and libraries.

More:

  • Read a short review of this book from 1995 in Montana Library Focus, which quotes the author, "I usually didn't listen much to cowboys under age eighty."

 

 

Read some of DW Groethe's poetry here.


    Owning it All, by William Kittredge, (1987) Graywolf Press, ISBN: 0915308967 (Also a 1992 edition, ISBN: 1555973663)

Recommended by Ken Cook:

My second-favorite book, second only to Cowboy (see below) is Owning It All," by William Kittredge.

Kittredge grew up on a ranch in Oregon.  With a style of writing I really enjoy, he challenges the myths of our way of life that is family ranching.  He lived it, wrote about how it shaped lives, and pulled no punches while doing so.

I believe when folks who are "born to ranch" read this book, they best take a deep seat and hold on.

This book is available from Amazon, other book sellers, used book sources, and libraries. 

More:

 

Read some of Ken Cook's poetry here.

 


 

Fiction

 

Cowboy, by Ross Santee, illustrated by the author
(1928) Cosmopolitan book corporation; many reprints, including (1950) Pocket; (1964) Ace; (1997) University of Nebraska Press, ISBN: 0803258674

Recommended by Ken Cook:

One of my favorite books. It is the story of a young boy who always wanted to be a cow-puncher, and from beginning to end he tells his journey. The copy I have was given to my Dad on December 25,1938 and passed on to me and my three brothers February,1968. 

This book is out of print. Used copies are available through Amazon, other used book sources, and libraries.

More:

  • Ross Santee, 1889-1965, wrote and illustrated many books.
     

  • J; Frank Dobie, in his Guide to Live and Literature of the Southwest, writes about this book, "The plotless narrative, reading like autobiography, of a kid who ran away from a farm in East Texas to be a cowboy in Arizona. His cowpuncher teachers are the kind 'who know what a cow is thinking of before she knows herself.' Passages in Cowboy combine reality and elemental melody in a way that almost no other range writer excepting Charles M. Russell has achieved. Santee is a pen-and-ink artist also. Among his other books, Men and Horses is about the best."

Read some of Ken Cook's poetry here.


 

  The Meadow, by James Galvin
(1992) Henry Holt & Co, ISBN: 0805016848; paperback (1993) Owl Books, ISBN: 0805027033

Recommended by Rod Miller:

There's a better-than-even chance that James Galvin's The Meadow is the best book about the West I've ever read. It could easily be the best book, period. Only my belief that any attempt to rank remarkable beauty is inherently repulsive, prevents my declaring it so.

I can't tell you how many times I've read the book. But it's been at least once a year every year for more than a decade
and I'm not finished with it yet. Every time I crack it open, there's something new inside, waiting to
reveal itself.

The Meadow is a difficult book to describe. It's a work of fiction, but it's based on a real place and real people. It's part history, part natural history, part biography, part memoir, and altogether unusual. The story covers a hundred years of passing time in and around a high-mountain meadow on the Colorado-Wyoming border. It's written, mostly, as a series of brief, vivid, detailed descriptions of people and places and incidents; each lasting maybe a few sentences or maybe a couple of pages, each as sharply focused as a photograph, each as softly impressionistic as a painting.

But here's what makes The Meadow both memorable and riveting: rather than a chronological account, the book is assembled as if the author took his stack of images, tossed them in the air to flutter down across the newly mown meadow, then gathered and stacked them for random viewing. So, as the stories unfold and intertwine and assemble themselves, the reader comes to know the people, their histories, and their connections through the generations. The meadow, the mountains, and the plains likewise reveal themselves through the narrative.

The narrative is lyrical, rhythmic, magical. Galvin is a poet, and his facility with language is evident. The stopping power of the author's words and phrases often find readers wandering off the page and into their own minds, looking at the pictures painted indelibly there through sheer force of language. It's not a book to hurry through. And even after you've finished the book, the book's not finished with you.

This book is in print, available from Amazon and from other book sources and libraries.

More:

  • James Galvin comments on the writing of The Meadow in a  Reading Guide at the publisher's site. He writes, in part, "The sheer dimension of the Western landscape, the Western sky, the razor of wind, the unpredictable climate, have a humbling effect on the people who live in it. It puts them in their place. City dwellers often come to think of reality as essentially human."

 

Self Portrait by Rod Miller

Read some of Rod Miller's poetry here.


 

  From Poison Creek to Redwater, by Ken Goss (1989)

Recommended by DW Groethe:

My reading habits are fairly eclectic, but my favorite subject is regional history. In some cases it's fiction based on fact, like Ken's book. Ken was a heck of a nice guy and a great storyteller. The tales in this book run from poignant to all-out-bust-a-gut-laughin', but the best part is that Ken could write so well in the vernacular of this region. A lot of folks try, but most come off stilted at best. This is one of those grand little collections that belongs in every Western reader's library.

This book is available for $10.95 postpaid from Ken Goss' son:  Bob Goss, 411 11th Avenue, S. W., Sidney, Montana 59270

Bob told us that proceeds are donated to "local causes that Dad and Mom supported with time and money."

More:

  • From the inside of From Poison Creek to Redwater:

 

  • Bob Goss told us his father "passed away on Dec. 6, 2002 at the age of 91. He is also the author of
    two cowboy poetry books, Say it in Verse and Sometimes Verse and Sometimes Worse. He also wrote another novel titled Aunt Lou and Little Jake. He was working on another novel at the time of his death." The poetry books and novel are each available for $10.95 postpaid from:  Bob Goss, 411 11th Avenue, S. W., Sidney, Montana 59270

 

Read some of DW Groethe's poetry here.


 

  Smith and Other Events, by Paul St. Pierre
(1983) Doubleday Canada, ISBN: 0385159900; (1978) paperback Douglas & McIntyre, ISBN: 0888944578

Recommended by Doris Daley:

This collection of short stories introduces readers to a ragtag, duct-taped, whisky-fueled, creative-cussing collection of ranchers, vagabonds, cowboys, wives, children, horse traders and bushwhackers who eke out a living in British Columbia's remote ranching country in the 1950s. Meet the members of the Namko Range Cattlemen's Association-Larsen, who decides to run for office on the Liberal ticket while changing the oil in his truck; the mysterious and aloof Stettler (on the run from what? Memories of the war? A shady past?) who "has a smile like the ripple on a slop pail"; the irrepressible Frenchie (the Almost Cattle Baron) and his children: Adelard, Hector and Marilyn, the latter who escaped the hardships of ranch life "by marrying a wealthy American hunter and going to live in luxurious debt in Cleveland."  Most of all, meet Smith-irascible philosopher, hunter, cattleman, and family man, who begrudges the price of a new gate at the stampede grounds ($25) but who thinks nothing of spending $2,000 of the Association's money for a wooden overcoat for Ol Antoine -- never mind Ol Antoine is not yet dead.

Shake this book up by your ear and you will hear the distant shouts of cowboys rounding up cows from the high ranges on the long-ago misty mornings of a distant frontier. Sniff its spine, and you will smell the heady perfume of woodsmoke, spilled beer, branding fires and mouldering Eaton's catalogues. Hold its pages up to the light, and you'll see the ghosts of roundups past. The dialogue, like the characters, is simple and direct. Mr.
St. Pierre, an acclaimed Canadian journalist and fiction writer, successfully transformed his love affair for the Chilcotin country not only into a series of first-rate reads (see also Breaking Smith's Quarterhorse, The Boss of the Namko Drive, and Chilcotin Holiday) but also into a beloved CBC television show that featured Chief Dan George: an unassuming, unknown First Nations actor who would later go on to star with Dustin Hoffman and
Faye Dunaway in Little Big Man.

In his introduction to Smith and Other Events, St. Pierre writes: "...wherever I have met him -- in Chilcotin, in the Kamloops country, on the Canadian prairies, the American West, or the highlands of Chihuahua in Mexico -- the rancher is always recognizable for the same attitudes, the same mannerisms, the same virtues and the same damned old foolishness. However one may catalogue their faults, there is one of which they are not guilty. They have never been trendy. Consistently, they have marched to the beat of a different drum. A lot of the time they won't march at all."

 

This book is in print, available from Amazon and from other book sources and libraries. 

More:

  • St. Pierre also won the prestigious Terasen Lifetime Achievement Award for an Outstanding Literary Career in British Columbia.  Read more about him and the award in an article here.

 

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Read some of Doris Daley's poetry here.

 


If you have a book you'd like to recommend, email us

Please include the title, author, publisher, and publication date, along with a short description of the book. If you know a source for purchasing the book, please send those details as well (price plus postage, and order address). 

We'll post information about selected books.


 

 

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