100 books like Black Cowboys in the American West

By Bruce A. Glasrud (editor), Michael N. Searles (editor),

Here are 100 books that Black Cowboys in the American West fans have personally recommended if you like Black Cowboys in the American West. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Life of John Wesley Hardin: As Written By Himself

Jim Motavalli Author Of The Real Dirt on America's Frontier Outlaws

From my list on Wild West Desperados.

Why am I passionate about this?

I wrote my first cover story on climate change circa 1996, when the computer modeling made clear what would happen. Then I began to see clear physical evidence that the planet was warming, and not much was being written about it outside academic circles. That led to the book Feeling the Heat. I recruited a bunch of experienced environmental journalists, sent them around the world, and they came back with very detailed and important reporting based on what they’d seen—melting glaciers, rising seas, changing ecosystems.

Jim's book list on Wild West Desperados

Jim Motavalli Why did Jim love this book?

This is one of many Wild West autobiographies posted in various formats at the invaluable and for the most part free to use Archive.org. The book is remarkable because it’s one long excuse for the author’s many murders. Hardin—far from the sympathetic figure portrayed in Bob Dylan’s “John Wesley Harding” (with an extra “g”)—comes across as a vicious racist and dissembler. He maintains that the people he shot all but begged him to finish them off. Remarkably, he became a lawyer before being plugged himself. 

By John Wesley Hardin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Life of John Wesley Hardin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In an era and an area notable for badmen and gunslingers, John Wesley Hardin was perhaps the most notorious. Considered by many of his contemporaries to be almost illiterate, he nevertheless left for publication after his death in 1895 this autobiography, which, though biased, is remarkably accurate and readable.

Hardin was born in 1853 in Bonham, Texas, the son of a Methodist preacher. His first brush with the law came at the age of fifteen when he killed a Negro during an altercation typical of the strife-torn Reconstruction era. In the ten years between his first killing in 1868 and…


Book cover of Old Deadwood Days

Jim Motavalli Author Of The Real Dirt on America's Frontier Outlaws

From my list on Wild West Desperados.

Why am I passionate about this?

I wrote my first cover story on climate change circa 1996, when the computer modeling made clear what would happen. Then I began to see clear physical evidence that the planet was warming, and not much was being written about it outside academic circles. That led to the book Feeling the Heat. I recruited a bunch of experienced environmental journalists, sent them around the world, and they came back with very detailed and important reporting based on what they’d seen—melting glaciers, rising seas, changing ecosystems.

Jim's book list on Wild West Desperados

Jim Motavalli Why did Jim love this book?

There are many media depictions of Deadwood, including in a popular HBO series with a lot of swearing in it. This book is fascinating because it’s a report by an eyewitness. Want to know what an evening was like at Al Swearengen’s Gem Theater, portrayed in the show? The Gem was “a clangorous, tangling, insidious part of Deadwood’s nightly life,” Bennett tells us. 

By Estelline Bennett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Old Deadwood Days as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Deadwood in the late 1800's was a rowdy mining town where fortunes were made overnight (and guarded with a Winchester). Local characters like Cold Deck Johnny, Slippery Sam, and Swill Barrel Jimmy rubbed elbows with the infamous Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickock. Preacher Smith, a "sky pilot without a compass" tried to keep everyone's souls in order while the author's father, Judge Bennett, upheld the law. The author grew up along with the town, and saw it change from a semi-permanent miner's camp to a real town when the railroad came. Full of real wild west exploits and notorious…


Book cover of The Authentic Life of Billy, The Kid

Jim Motavalli Author Of The Real Dirt on America's Frontier Outlaws

From my list on Wild West Desperados.

Why am I passionate about this?

I wrote my first cover story on climate change circa 1996, when the computer modeling made clear what would happen. Then I began to see clear physical evidence that the planet was warming, and not much was being written about it outside academic circles. That led to the book Feeling the Heat. I recruited a bunch of experienced environmental journalists, sent them around the world, and they came back with very detailed and important reporting based on what they’d seen—melting glaciers, rising seas, changing ecosystems.

Jim's book list on Wild West Desperados

Jim Motavalli Why did Jim love this book?

Like many of the period books, this one has to be seen in context. It was written just eight months after Garrett shot William Bonney, so the story is at least fresh. But subsequent scholars have found the story to be full of holes and self-serving versions of history. But it makes fascinating reading, because shooter and victim had a history. According to Garrett, the Kid’s last words were in Spanish, “Quien es?” (“Who is it?”)

By Pat Garrett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Authentic Life of Billy, The Kid as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Billy, The Kid, The Noted Desperado of the Southwest, Whose Deeds of Daring and Blood made His Name A Terror in New Mexico, Arizona and Northern Mexico Few names evoke images of the lawless Old West as much as Billy the KId. He has been the subject of countless films, documentaries, TV show and books. Written by Sheriff Pat Garrett, the man who shot and killed William H. Bonney, the outlaw known as Billy the Kid, for many years this book was considered the definitive work on the life and death of Billy the Kid.


Book cover of Soapy Smith: The Life and Legacy of the Wild West's Most Infamous Con Artist

Jim Motavalli Author Of The Real Dirt on America's Frontier Outlaws

From my list on Wild West Desperados.

Why am I passionate about this?

I wrote my first cover story on climate change circa 1996, when the computer modeling made clear what would happen. Then I began to see clear physical evidence that the planet was warming, and not much was being written about it outside academic circles. That led to the book Feeling the Heat. I recruited a bunch of experienced environmental journalists, sent them around the world, and they came back with very detailed and important reporting based on what they’d seen—melting glaciers, rising seas, changing ecosystems.

Jim's book list on Wild West Desperados

Jim Motavalli Why did Jim love this book?

Why isn’t Soapy Smith better known? He was one of the most outrageous con men who ever lived, and would make a fine subject for a film. After a colorful life of fleecing people with three-card monte and bunco of every description (and getting run out of Denver), he turned up in Skagway, Alaska during the Gold Rush of 1896, and his gambling parlor took the miners for every penny. He was finally gunned down in 1898. 

By Charles River Editors,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Soapy Smith as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*Includes pictures
*Includes a bibliography for further reading
Before there was Charles Ponzi, there was Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith II. The famed Old West con artist and gangster's criminal career ranged from Texas to Alaska, from Denver to the Klondike. But Smith was not predestined to become a criminal; if genetics and environment typically determine one’s destiny, he could have become a farmer, a lawyer, or a politician. He was born in Coweta County, Georgia, on November 2, 1860, to Jefferson Randolph Smith, Jr., and Emily Dawson Smith, right as the Southern society his family was a part of was…


Book cover of African American Women of the Old West

Rachel Kovaciny Author Of One Bad Apple

From my list on women in the wild west.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve loved learning about the Old West for as long as I can remember. Is this because I was born a few miles from the spot where Jesse James robbed his first train? Or is it because my family watched so many classic western movies and TV shows when I was a kid? Either way, writing books set in the Old West is a natural fit for me. I love researching the real history of that era just as much as I love making up stories set there. In fact, I write a column about the real history of the Wild West for a Colorado-based newspaper, The Prairie Times.

Rachel's book list on women in the wild west

Rachel Kovaciny Why did Rachel love this book?

Thanks to Hollywood, we tend to think of the Old West as being populated primarily by white people and Native Americans. This book helps dispel that mistaken concept by highlighting the role of African-Americans in the American West during the 1800s. Showcasing the true diversity of that era is something I am passionate about learning more about and including in my own books.

This book brings to life the biographies of ten African American women who bravely tackled life on the frontier. Among them are teachers, businesswomen, civil rights crusaders, and a stagecoach driver! Each story is very different, but they all serve to show how important African American women were to the settling of the West.

By Tricia Martineau Wagner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked African American Women of the Old West as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The brave pioneers who made a life on the frontier were not only male-and they were not only white. The story of African-American women in the Old West is one that has largely gone untold until now. The stories of ten African-American women are reconstructed from historic documents found in century-old archives. Some of these women slaves, some were free, and some were born into slavery and found freedom in the old west. They were laundresses, freedom advocates, journalists, educators, midwives, business proprietors, religious converts, philanthropists, mail and freight haulers, and civil and social activists. These hidden historical figures include…


Book cover of B Is for Buckaroo: A Cowboy Alphabet

Doris Fisher Author Of Jackson Sundown: Native American Bronco Buster

From my list on cowboys and rodeos.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and have always been fascinated by the Wild West. Native Americans, cowboys, rodeos, settlers, farmers, and the great National Parks of the West. I’ve been fortunate to see Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Glacier National Park, and many western national monuments. My first elementary school was Sequoyah, named for the great Cherokee who created the Cherokee alphabet. While researching early library methods of transportation, I came across books being delivered by stagecoach in the west. That eventually led me to discover the amazing life of Jackson Sundown. I hope these books on cowboys, buckaroos, and rodeos enchant you and your little ones like they have me.

Doris' book list on cowboys and rodeos

Doris Fisher Why did Doris love this book?

What a terrific book to learn about the cowboy’s way of life! All things related to the western lifestyle are described. There is detailed information from A-to-Z, plus a short poem using each letter for younger readers and listeners. Examples are chuck wagon, lariat, and rodeo. I think this book is so informative with its focus on western culture and western history.  

By Louise Doak Whitney, Gleaves Whitney, Susan Guy (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked B Is for Buckaroo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 6, 7, 8, and 9.

What is this book about?

"L is for lariat or lasso, a loop of rope coiled just so. Swing it wide or swing it low. Hook those horns and yell whoa!" Hold on to your hat and strap on your spurs! Cowpokes and buckaroos of all ages will enjoy this A-Z gallop through the facts, feats, and folks of the cowboy way of life. Even greenhorns are invited to ride this fun-filled range!


Book cover of The Cowgirls

Tracey Hanshew Author Of Oklahoma Rodeo Women

From my list on cowgirls and ranching women.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up around ranch and rodeo life, having always been fascinated by it, attended several rodeos each year. Watching Jonnie Jonckowski ride bulls and Martha Josey break records wining barrel races—they were an inspiration. When an opportunity arose for me to build a career around researching and writing about cowgirls, rodeo, and cattlewomen, it was a dream come true.  Hope you enjoy the books about them that I’ve recommended.

Tracey's book list on cowgirls and ranching women

Tracey Hanshew Why did Tracey love this book?

Cowgirls evoke a variety of images: Wild West show shootist, rodeo athletes, working ranch women, and pin-ups. Many stories, dime novels, and a plethora of fiction about the cowgirl confuse her true history and are in many ways responsible for why we have so many interpretations of her. In The Cowgirls, Joyce Gibson Roach unravels the folklore to give us the history of the cowgirl, the good, and the “lady rustlers,” to explain her longevity as heroic cattlewomen who hold our attention and fascination even today. Roach’s narrative is as entertaining as it is informative and is a history any fan of the cowgirl should read.

By Joyce Gibson Roach,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cowgirls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An important chapter in the history and folklore of the West is how women on the cattle frontier took their place as equal partners with men. The cowboy may be our most authentic folk hero, but the cowgirl is right on his heels. This Spur Award winning book fills a void in the history of the cowgirl.

While Susan B. Anthony and her hoop-skirted friends were declaring that females too were created equal, Sally Skull was already riding and roping and marking cattle with her Circle S brand on the frontier of Texas. Wearing rawhide bloomers and riding astride, she…


Book cover of A Bride's Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas

Linda Shenton Matchett Author Of Spies & Sweethearts

From my list on historical female protagonists in unusual jobs.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a former Human Resources executive I’m fascinated by the history of women in the workforce, especially in jobs that have traditionally been held by men. I was first drawn into the topic as a writer of WWII novels. Through memoirs, autobiographies, and oral history interviews I learned firsthand about women who entered the workforce to take the place of men who were serving in combat or the defense industry. In an effort to spotlight the women of this era as well as those who have gone before, many of my protagonists hold unusual jobs such as spy, war correspondent, pilot, doctor, restaurant owner, and gold miner. 

Linda's book list on historical female protagonists in unusual jobs

Linda Shenton Matchett Why did Linda love this book?

I love a book that teaches me something, and A Brides Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas taught me a lot, from photography (complete with technical descriptions that somehow weren’t too dry!) during the late 1800s/early 1900s to laws about women (they differed by territory). I appreciated that although Adeline was a strong protagonist, she wasn’t “modern” or behaved in ways that didn’t fit with her time period. There was an element of mystery to the story when her shop is vandalized, and I enjoyed trying to solve the whodunit. I have read this book multiple times.

By Erica Vetsch,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Bride's Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Quench your craving for good fiction with this wonderfully written Old West adventure. Hoping to leave the shadows of her shady yesteryears behind, Adeline Reid is focusing on her photography career. But when her ex-boyfriend’s compatriot in crime shows up in Dodge City her entire past is threatened by exposure. Can Addie keep her secrets while helping to catch a killer? Deputy Miles Carr’s investigation into a shopkeeper’s murder leads him to Addie’s door. Will his attraction to this female photographer keep him from catching the true culprit? Or will Addie lead him off course in more ways than one?


Book cover of Conagher

Emily Hayse Author Of These War-Torn Hands

From my list on capturing the poignant beauty of the American West.

Why am I passionate about this?

Ever since I can remember, I've been captivated by the American West. Was it that cowboys were brave and if you had integrity it was most certainly put to the test? Was it that everyone rode horses and I was a horse crazy girl? Whatever it was that struck me, it stayed. I have treasured the West ever since, through books, film, art, and most recently, a fantasy western trilogy of my own. 

Emily's book list on capturing the poignant beauty of the American West

Emily Hayse Why did Emily love this book?

Louis L'Amour wrote dozens of novels about the West but this one I loved because of the sweet wistfulness that was contrasted with the harsh reality of frontier living. Evie Teal is a widow whose husband rode out for cattle and never came back, leaving her alone in the wilderness with two children and only guesses as to how he could have died. Conn Conagher is a poetry-loving, quiet cowboy who hasn't much but his integrity and good name. Neither thinks the other could possibly be interested in them, and the quiet, understated love story just draws you in. 

By Louis L'Amour,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Conagher as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As far as the eye can see is a vast, empty horizon. Evie Teale has finally accepted that her husband won’t be coming home. To make ends meet she runs a temporary stage station. But though she is diligent and careful, Evie must prepare for the day when the passengers no longer come and she must protect her children in an untamed country where’s it’s far easier to die than to live.

Miles away, another solitary soul battles for survival. Conagher is a lean, dark-eyed drifter who is not about to let a gang of rustlers push him around. While…


Book cover of The Solace of Open Spaces

Karen Gershowitz Author Of Wanderlust: Extraordinary People, Quirky Places, and Curious Cuisine

From my list on making you want to travel.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been traveling since age seventeen when I boarded a plane and headed to Europe on my own. Over the next three years I lived in London, took weekend jaunts across the continent, and became completely bitten by the travel bug. Since then, I’ve traveled to more than 95 countries. I’ve lost and gained friends and lovers and made a radical career change so that I could afford my travel addiction. Like my readers, I am an ordinary person. Through travel I’ve learned courage and risk-taking and succeeded at things I didn’t know I could do. My goal in writing is to inspire others to take off and explore the world.

Karen's book list on making you want to travel

Karen Gershowitz Why did Karen love this book?

This book of essays are meditations on her life in Wyoming. Part travelogue, part memoir, it drew me in with its gorgeous language, evocative images, and insights into a landscape and lifestyle about which I knew nothing. 

Erlich is a filmmaker, and her descriptions of people and places are as vivid as any I’ve ever seen on film or read in any book. 

By Gretel Ehrlich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Solace of Open Spaces as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A collection of transcendent, lyrical essays on life in the American West, the classic companion to Gretel Ehrlich's new book, Unsolaced

"Wyoming has found its Whitman." -Annie Dillard

Poet and filmmaker Gretel Ehrlich went to Wyoming in 1975 to make the first in a series of documentaries when her partner died. Ehrlich stayed on and found she couldn't leave. The Solace of Open Spaces is a chronicle of her first years on "the planet of Wyoming," a personal journey into a place, a feeling, and a way of life.

Ehrlich captures both the otherworldly beauty and cruelty of the natural…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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