The best books about the Old West from people who actually lived in the Old West

The Books I Picked & Why

Bob Fudge: Texas Trail Driver

By Jim Russell

Book cover of Bob Fudge: Texas Trail Driver

Why this book?

Bob Fudge worked for the famous XIT, a large cattle outfit based in the Texas Panhandle, during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Bob Fudge lived an iconic cowboy life, driving cattle from Texas to Montana. He told his life story in 1932, a year before his death. I first heard about this rare book during a song intro, by western singer Ian Tyson on his Live At Longview album. Before he plays the song “Bob Fudge,” Tyson tells a story of how someone left this book on his guitar case during an earlier performance—and it captivated him. The book captivated me, too, and served as inspiration for my own western novels. Another Canadian western singer, Colter Wall, recorded a live cover version (watch it on YouTube) that is quite cool.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

6000 Miles of Fence

By Cordia Sloan Duke, Joe B. Frantz

Book cover of 6000 Miles of Fence

Why this book?

In 1886, the XIT became the largest cattle brand in Texas. They ran 150,000 head of cattle on three million acres—that’s most of the Texas Panhandle. The author, Cordia Duke, was married to one of the division managers. Over the years, she asked the cowboys to write down their memories and experiences, which she eventually published. For me, as a western author, these stories were (and still are) vital for authenticity, and I keep going back for inspiration. The cowboys’ voices are crystal clear, and we get to read firsthand descriptions of cattle roundups, branding, prairie fires, rustlers, fine cowhorses (good horses), spoilt gotch-eared outlaws (bad horses), and even a recipe for “son-of-a-gun stew,” straight from the mouth of a chuckwagon cook.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian

By Don C. Talayesva

Book cover of Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian

Why this book?

A Hopi Indian named Don Talayesva was born in 1890 in the northeastern desert of Arizona. This is his personal life journey on the Sun Trail. I’ve never read anything quite like this. Every sentence immerses you into his mind’s eye, and you’ll see life through the lens of the Hopi worldview. Legends and myths run through every experience–yet everything feels real. The Spider Woman, Guardian Spirit, Katcina dancers, Six-Point-Cloud-People, Masau’u the bloody-headed Fire Spirit who wanders the mesa at night, and the secret society of Two-Hearts, who cast spells to take lives, to prolong their own. Don’s personal joys, opinions, and flaws are all part of the mix. In my own novel, I created a Hopi character with a vivid inner dialogue, thanks to Sun Chief.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Tomboy Bride: One Woman's Personal Account of Life in Mining Camps of the West

By Harriet Fish Backus

Book cover of Tomboy Bride: One Woman's Personal Account of Life in Mining Camps of the West

Why this book?

I’ve been to the Tomboy Mine. All that’s left of the camp are old foundations in a rocky basin above timberline, surrounded by high peaks, 3,000 feet above Telluride. The only gold left behind is in the rich hues of a Colorado sunset. While the Tomboy may be gone, it’s the same view Harriet Fish Backus saw every day. Life at a remote mountain mine was full of “mishaps and makeshifts,” and she kept a diary of daily events. Nothing she writes is a dull description, nor is it the soaring purple prose of Victorian-era romanticism. Her account of mining life in 1906, from a woman’s perspective, detailing daily routines, friendships, and fears, is invaluable as a western author, to create believable female characters in the Old West.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Klondike Stampede

By Tappan Adney

Book cover of The Klondike Stampede

Why this book?

This is the go-to book to learn about the Klondike Gold Rush. Tappan Adney was a journalist sent by a magazine to chronicle what was going on, and he did a good job. In 1897, he took a steamship to Skagway, then made the long trek into Canada over Chilkoot Pass, to Dawson, and on to the Klondike River. Because Adney was a trained newswriter, it doesn’t have quite the warmth of a personal diary, but there’s all kinds of good stuff. Especially, detailed descriptions of the hard journey on foot, daily disillusionment of the average stampeder, descriptions of gold mining techniques, Yukon era saloons, claim jump squabbles, and the common struggle for a decent meal, when supplies have run low.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Closely Related Book Lists