Books that showcase the Old West

REVIEW: Ridge Writers on Books


We have learned about the Old West over years, some of it from school and authentic historical studies, possibly more from TV, movies and popular fiction, and perhaps a little from visiting actual sites. As it turns out, much has happened between a century ago and now to flesh out the picture, as these three University of Oklahoma Press books reveal.

Just out last month, “Art and Advertising in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” (Michelle Delaney, 13 b&w and 119 color illus., hardcover coffee table format, 248 pgs., 2019, $45.00) traces Bill Cody’s rise from an early meeting with Ned Buntline. Cody went on to be featured in a series of pulp novels first by Buntline, then by others.

Next, Cody starred in a theatrical show. Shortly after followed Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, the ultimate live extravaganza that defined the world’s image of the American Frontier.

To establish it firmly in hearts and minds, posters popped up on buildings and walls across the country, part and parcel of an extremely sophisticated publicity model. Delaney spins a visually and factually compelling chronicle by drawing on promotional art along with previously unavailable research and Cody’s correspondence with his staff.

In “Tombstone, Deadwood, and Dodge City: Re-creating the Frontier West” (Kevin Britz and Roger L. Nichols, 25 b&w illus, map, hardcover, 280 pgs., 2018, $32.95), the authors consider marketing from another angle.

These cities assumed mythic status, owing to real events but arguably equally to tourism potential and the success of annual festivals.

Britz and Nichols demonstrate how literature, newspapers, magazines, municipal reports, politics and Hollywood, together with the Great Depression and the world wars, shaped the modern perception of these legendary locations.

An October release, “A Matter of Time: Route 66 Through the Lens of Change” (Ellen Kinkel and Nick Gerlich, 174 b&w illus., hardcover, 272 pgs., 2019, $34.95) portrays the “Mother Road” in a way not often covered unless you explore it yourself.

Gerlich’s narration informs and fascinates, while Kinkel’s photographs capture the dramatic as well as the desolate, from Santa Monica Pier at early morning to a Mojave Desert nightscape.

Holiday shoppers might bear this trio in mind for fans of Western lore – but will find themselves sneaking in plenty of rewarding reading before wrapping the gifts.

This monthly column is written by members of Ridge Writers, the East Sierra Branch of the California Writers Club. Meetings are held the first Thursday evening of each month at Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church, and free programs are offered throughout the year.

Ridge Writers’ new book “Scenes From Lives of Service: High Desert Veterans WWI Through Desert Storm” is available at the Historic USO Building, the Maturango Museum and Red Rock Books.

Story First Published: 2019-11-22