The best western historical fiction (and no, I don’t mean the hotel)

Michelle Rene Author Of Hour Glass
By Michelle Rene

Who am I?

Growing up in West Texas, westerns were just as good as bedtime stories to me. I grew up with all the greats… and the not as greats. The quality didn’t always matter because the spirit was the same. Freedom, opportunity, and possible lawlessness. Survival of the quickest draw. An untamed place where anything could happen. Someone once said that the western genre was America’s genre. It was invented here and our frontier spirit inspired the world. When I decided to write Hour Glass, I channeled the independent spirit of those westerns I grew up with. I wrote the first draft in sixteen days out of pure passion for the subject matter. 


I wrote...

Hour Glass

By Michelle Rene,

Book cover of Hour Glass

What is my book about?

Set in the lawless town of Deadwood, South Dakota, Hour Glass shares an intimate look at the woman behind the legend of Calamity Jane told through the eyes of 12-year-old Jimmy Glass.   

After their pa falls deathly ill with smallpox, Jimmy and his sister, Hour, travel into Deadwood to seek help. While their pa is in quarantine, the two form unbreakable bonds with the surrogate family that emerges from the tragedy of loss. In a place where life is fragile and families are ripped apart by disease, death, and desperation, a surprising collection of Deadwood’s inhabitants surround Jimmy, Hour, and Jane. There, in the most unexpected of places, they find a family protecting them from the uncertainty and chaos that surrounds them all.

The books I picked & why

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Doc

By Mary Doria Russell,

Book cover of Doc

Why this book?

This book is probably the closest title to my own. Doc is centered around everyone’s favorite dandy gunslinger, Doc Holliday. It is a truly entertaining and informative tale of the real Doc’s life before his legendary stand at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone. While Wyatt and Morgan Earp play important roles in the story, Doc Holliday is definitely your Huckleberry. 

If you love it like I do, the author wrote a continuation called Epitaph: An O.K. Corral Story. You won’t be sorry.


True Grit

By Charles Portis,

Book cover of True Grit

Why this book?

For all of those lovers of old Westerns, I recommend True Grit. Mattie Ross, a fourteen-year-old girl from Dardanelle, Arkansas, sets out to avenge her Daddy who was shot to death. Mattie convinces one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, the meanest U.S. marshal in the land, to ride along with her. 

If this sounds familiar, there have been two movies based on this book. My grandfather and I always debate which version is better. Rooster Cogburn is played by John Wayne in the original and Jeff Bridges in the remake. Nothing against the Duke, but Jeff Bridges is my favorite. Either way, True Grit is an important work that holds up in modern times.


Tinsmith 1865

By Sara Dahmen,

Book cover of Tinsmith 1865

Why this book?

I should preface this with some bit of transparency. One reason I love Tinsmith is because I personally know the author. Not only is she a great writer, but she’s one of the only female tinsmiths working in the United States. She makes her own cookware, and it is amazing.

The main character, Marie Kotlarczyk, moves to the Dakota territories with her tinsmith family. When the family encounters disaster, Marie has to learn the family trade in order to survive. It’s not an easy task when women were not meant to do such things. 

Sarah puts so much of herself in this book, it’s enchanting. Since she’s a professional tinsmith, every scene is tangible. I can’t recommend it enough.


One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd

By Jim Fergus,

Book cover of One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd

Why this book?

One Thousand White Women is the story of May Dodd and a colorful assembly of pioneer women who, under the auspices of the U.S. government, travel to the Western prairies in 1875 to intermarry among the Cheyenne Indians.

I will warn you that this is a rough one to read. There are a lot of scenes involving abuse, so if that is a trigger for you, perhaps skip this novel. That being said, Fergus paints an amazing picture of the American West. The story is phenomenal and the characters are so real, you feel like you know them personally. I read the novel years ago, and I still think about it from time to time.


An Easy Death

By Charlaine Harris,

Book cover of An Easy Death

Why this book?

Here’s a really tricky one. If you’ve ever heard of the True Blood series, you know this author. An Easy Death begins an unusual series for her. This is an alternate history western with a fantasy twist. Some people don’t see alternate history as historical fiction, but I do. This novel follows a similar vein to The Man in the High Castle, where one major shift in history changes everything.

After the assassination of FDR in the 1930s, the US collapses and is picked off by the UK, Canada, Mexico, and Russia. We find ourselves in the Southwestern states, now known as Texoma. It is here that the gunnie Lizbeth Rose tries to piece out a life, running security on runs from Texoma across the border to Mexico.

It’s an amazingly rich story woven into an alternate western setting. If you love to bend the rules of history, you will love this one.


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