The best books about ranches

2 authors have picked their favorite books about ranches and why they recommend each book.

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Texas Women on the Cattle Trails

By Sara R. Massey,

Book cover of Texas Women on the Cattle Trails

Cattle drives although a relatively brief episode in history largely contribute to tales of the cowboy that helped writers and Hollywood to later make him an American icon. Texas Women on the Cattle Trails provides a history of sixteen of the women who contributed to and participated in cattle drives originating from Texas. This edited collection offers individual stories of these women and based on their own accounts which give us an inside glimpse into how this era shaped their lives. Meet real cattlewomen who built ranching empires, who showed courage and spunk, and enjoyed a closeness with nature while viewing buffalo and gazing at the stars along their journeys.


Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

Oklahoma Rodeo Women

By Tracey Hanshew,

Book cover of Oklahoma Rodeo Women

What is my book about?

Oklahoma’s central location and ranching tradition gave it a unique connection to the rodeo industry as it grew from a local pastime to an internationally popular sport. From the very beginning, Oklahoma cowgirls played a significant role in developing the institution and the businesses that grew up in its shadow.

Lucille Mulhall’s pioneering roping carved out a place for women in the actual competition, while Mildred Chrisman’s promotional efforts kept rodeo chutes open during the Great Depression. Modern ranchers like Terry Stuart produced the Quarter Horses sought by professional rodeo athletes around the world. From Guymon to Pawhuska and from stock contractors to rodeo clowns, Oklahoma Rodeo Women follows the trail these women blazed across this rough-and-tumble sport.

Cryin' for Daylight

By Louise S. O'Connor,

Book cover of Cryin' for Daylight: A Ranching Culture in the Texas Coastal Bend (Texas Coastal Bend Series, No. 1)

Louise S. O'Connor, a fifth-generation descendant of an early settler of Texas has always loved the stories of the "old timers,” the cowboys and hands who worked the ranch where she grew up. O’Connor spent seventeen years collecting oral histories about ranch life on the Coastal Bend and compiled those stories into Cryin' for Daylight. Though published in 1989, the language of O’Connor’s isolated, rural, mostly elderly subjects rings with 19th Century authenticity.

I treasure O’Connor’s labor of love for its emphasis on the tragically neglected black cowboys. One such cowboy supplied the title by swearing, “We loved to work cattle so much, we’d just be sittin’ around cryin’ for daylight to come.”


Who am I?

Growing up, I dreamed of being Margaret Mead. When I realized that Margaret already had that job, I turned my anthropologist’s eye for the defining details of language, dress, and customs to fiction. I love to tell the untold tales--especially about women--who are thrust into difficult, sometimes impossible, circumstances and triumph with the help of humor, friends, perseverance, and their own inspiring ingenuity. I have been able to do this well enough that, in 2021, was honored with the Paul Re Peace Award for Cultural Advocacy for promoting empathy through my work. I’m a bestselling novelist and essayist living in Austin, Texas with my husband, son, and terminally cute Corgi.


I wrote...

Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen

By Sarah Bird,

Book cover of Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen

What is my book about?

Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen is an epic page-turner inspired by Cathay/Cathy Williams, the only woman known to have served with the legendary Buffalo Soldiers and the first to enlist in the peacetime U.S. military. Born into slavery, freed by the Civil War, Cathy refused the cruel future that awaited all women-- especially an unmarried, uneducated, black woman like herself--in the defeated South. Instead, she made the majestic decision to disguise herself as a man and ride west toward grand adventure and true freedom with the Buffalo Soldiers.

Fancy Pants

By Cathy Marie Hake,

Book cover of Fancy Pants

Remember that song from Disney's Mulan – "I'll Make a Man Out of You"? Move that to the wild west with an English lady named Sydney disguised as a boy and a ranch owner determined to turn his partner's British fop of a "nephew" into a cowhand worth his salt, and you've got a good idea of the crazy antics awaiting you in Fancy Pants. With a strong supporting cast of characters and a giggle-inducing plot, this book is sure to leave you grinning.


Who am I?

I love to laugh. Whether my oldest son and I are trading bad puns, my husband is teasing, my daughter and I are chuckling over a rom-com, or my youngest son is rolling his eyes and groaning at all of us, my family loves to laugh. Humor creates joy, relieves stress, and is just plain fun. That's what I look for in a good read. The world offers plenty of negativity and hardship. When I escape into a novel, I want fast-paced adventure and swoony romance, but I also want a reason to smile. That's the experience I love, and the one I endeavor to give my readers.


I wrote...

Head in the Clouds

By Karen Witemeyer,

Book cover of Head in the Clouds

What is my book about?

Adelaide Proctor is a young woman with her head in the clouds, longing for a real-life storybook hero to claim as her own. But when a husband-hunting debacle leaves her humiliated, she hides away as a governess on a Texas sheep ranch, vowing to leave her romantic yearnings behind. This vow proves difficult to keep when her new employer turns out to be a British nobleman with the work ethic of a seasoned ranch hand. Not to mention Gideon's tenderness toward the mute little girl left in his care. When her young charge is threatened by a greedy uncle seeking her inheritance, Adelaide works with Gideon to protect Isabella from the man's evil schemes. Adelaide realizes it's time to get her head out of the clouds and put her heart on the line.

I Dreamed of Africa

By Kuki Gallmann,

Book cover of I Dreamed of Africa

Kuki Gallman, an Italian socialite, is another wealthy woman who sought adventure in Kenya. And another woman, with her husband, who set out to start a ranch in an inhospitable land. When her husband and son are killed in separate accidents, Gallman turns the ranch into a conservation park, using her money to bring attention to the plight of the local wildlife. And, as is true in Namibia, she enlisted the help of local tribal leaders to save both the endangered wildlife and native culture. In 2010, she founded Prayers for the Earth and in 2011, she and her daughter donated 300 acres for a project called “Land of Hope.” Gallman could so easily have returned to an easy life in Italy but instead challenged herself and those around her.


Who am I?

I grew up in the high plains mining towns of Montana and Wyoming but I couldn’t wait to get out and see the world. Peace Corps was my ticket. A teaching post in Chad, Africa, was open, but civil war and famine loomed, so I chose Afghanistan. After my two-year contract in Kabul, I continued traveling but my fascination with Africa never waned. A job teaching college English allowed me summers to continue traveling. However, I never did get to Africa, so when Carolyn suggested we write about Namibia, I agreed. Someday, I hope to visit before the magnificent black rhino has been wiped off the face of the planet.


I wrote...

Rhino Dreams

By Carolyn Waggoner, Kathryn Williams,

Book cover of Rhino Dreams

What is my book about?

Clare Rainbow-Dashell has taken a hiatus from her career as an acclaimed wildlife photographer and returned to pursue her academic dreams when a disastrous affair with a professor catapults her to another continent: Africa.

Set against the formidable backdrop of the Namib Desert, Rhino Dreams dramatizes the crisis of endangered species preservation and the horrors of poaching, interweaving this very real ecological darkness with the internal and external battles of three characters driven by fierce passions and divided notions of duty and desire. It is a sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant ride—and, in the end, a testimony to how tenuous and precious both life and love can be.

Letters of a Woman Homesteader

By Elinore Pruitt Stewart, N. C. Wyeth (illustrator),

Book cover of Letters of a Woman Homesteader

This book delights me. It makes me laugh, it inspires me, and it makes me wish I could have met Elinore Pruitt Stewart. Even though her life certainly wasn't easy, she never lost her hope, her joy, her faith, or her sense of humor.

Stewart wrote these letters to a friend, detailing her successes and failures as a woman homesteader, and hoping to encourage other women to try forging their own lives on the frontier. Wanting to build a better life for herself and her daughter, this widow headed off into the plains of Wyoming, where she took a job keeping house for a rancher while also claiming her own homestead. Her accounts of her new life are funny, moving, and encouraging by turn.


Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

One Bad Apple

By Rachel Kovaciny,

Book cover of One Bad Apple

What is my book about?

When a wagon train of Black pioneers rescues the seven orphaned Dalton cousins from the side of the trail to Kansas, fourteen-year-old Levi Dalton is dazzled by the beautiful Mrs. Mallone. Her knowledge of medicines and herbs inspires Levi to want to become a doctor. Maybe then he can stop people from dying of fevers like his folks did.

Mrs. Mallone's stepdaughter, Hopeful, warns Levi not to become too attached to the healer. Levi dismisses her warnings and his own misgivings until the day he sees something dreadful. Levi knows he needs to tell someone what he’s seen before it’s too late. But will anyone believe the story of a fourteen-year-old orphan? Will anyone stand up to evil, no matter how beautifully it’s packaged?

Appaloosa

By Robert B. Parker,

Book cover of Appaloosa

This book is the perfect example of a great Western. A stern, courageous lawman, tougher than forged steel. A young sidekick by his side. A beautiful woman in town that everyone wants.

Put those elements onto the page and then throw into it a cruel, evil rancher, who’s already killed the city marshal and one of his deputies. What do you end up with? A kick-ass Western.


Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by the Wild West since I was a little boy, playing Cowboy vs Indian with a plastic six-shooter and bow-and-arrow set. I grew up watching movies and reading books about the Wild West, and probably that sense of adventure and necessary courage required in such settings helped build the foundation that led me to join the Marines. It took guts to move out West. (Or desperation.) But either way, the settling of the Wild West is one of our core American stories. To me, the stories of the West are even more enthralling today than they were even fifty years ago.


I wrote...

Little Man, and the Dixon County War

By Stan R. Mitchell, Danah Mitchell (illustrator),

Book cover of Little Man, and the Dixon County War

What is my book about?

Good vs evil. Right vs wrong. Sometimes, it’s as simple as that. And when a young lawman pins on a badge in the West, he’ll find out why most (honest) lawmen end up dead.

(But if you're still not convinced, there's also loads of action, gunplay, and an abducted woman, who even the U.S. Marshal won't go save.)

Close Range

By Annie Proulx,

Book cover of Close Range: Wyoming Stories

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Shipping News, Annie Proulx is an engine of literary power with whom we engage in a breakneck ride to hell and back. In Close Range she follows traditional norms of Western masculinity and then deconstructs them and in fact explodes them so we can never see the American West in quite the same way again. Her stories set fire to a lone house on the plain. At night we watch the house burn with singular intensity until it burns down to nothing. Symbolic of how we must face and overcome our own individual and collective losses, after reading Close Range we are never the same again. 


Who am I?

Alongside writing poems and short stories, I am a clinical psychologist focusing on the psychology of men. People echo the vastness of the stellar expanse in which only 1% is matter like the planets and stars, our bodies, days in which we love and hate, moments we embody healthy intimacy or enact violence, the light that gives the face radiance. 19% of the universe is dark energy, and 80% dark matter-- less than 1% is light, and yet light is the foundation of life. "God is light," the ancient text intones, and though the words resound, what that light means in the despair of this world is a beloved mystery.


I wrote...

American Masculine: Stories

By Shann Ray,

Book cover of American Masculine: Stories

What is my book about?

American Masculine envisions women and men in a new country of grace. Winner of the American Book Award, named by Esquire as a “Three Books Every Man Should Read” selection, and chosen by Kirkus Reviews as a Best Book, Best Short Story Collection, and Editor’s Choice selection, the book also won the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Bakeless Prize and two High Plains Book Awards, for Best Short Story Collection and Best First Book. With starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, the American Library Association, Kirkus,  and Shelf-Awareness, American Masculine was called a book of “elegance,” “muscularity,” and “astonishing power,” “prophetic,” “lyrical,” and “fiercely written,” forming a “true and pure depiction of sorrow and a primer for forgiveness.” “These stories are powerful literary stunners,” said Booklist.

Nobody's Angel

By Thomas McGuane,

Book cover of Nobody's Angel

McGuane sure kicked it off for me in terms of seeing a way to write new fiction. Story is not a priority in his world rather observation of characters battling the odds of surviving each day. The reader wants to be like some of the characters and run to the hills from others but the sense of humor, dirt under the fingernails of these singular people we’ll never meet, relationships we’ll never be in, and locations such as Livingston, Montana or Key West, Florida we won’t spend much time in, draws me to McGuane’s page. McGuane, who wrote scripts for Missouri Breaks and Rancho Deluxe, writes like a filmmaker – the smells, the weather, the alcohol, the drugs – the reader is in the scene, the sun on your neck, the dust in the air, the sound of the ice-cold creek. McGuane is a travel agent.


Who am I?

I have always followed writer Christopher Isherwood’s words: “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.” I am most comfortable as an observer, a documentarian, someone who gathers details, tries to make sense of them, lays them down in a presentable order, noticing colors, light, sounds, people’s behavior. Trying to make sense of life. I come from a divorced family, my father was murdered, and my first wife died of breast cancer. Still, there was plenty of laughter. I’m interested in and trying to figure out why we’re here.


I wrote...

Beyond Where the Buses Run: Stories

By Robert David Crane,

Book cover of Beyond Where the Buses Run: Stories

What is my book about?

“The people we meet in Beyond Where the Buses Run: Stories are mostly working-class, battling betrayals, the sudden violence so often at the edge of American life, rising to the occasional triumphs. Here is a hunt for love, companionship, maybe just meaning. In other words, real lives being lived.” – Joseph B. Atkins 

Little Britches

By Ralph Moody,

Book cover of Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers

I highly recommend this book to every parent. It is filled with gentle, practical wisdom in the setting of a frontier family. The father takes the time to teach through everyday experience and vivid analogies. We use his analogy of the “character house” all the time in our family. The mother has her own quiet strength, which the author shows more in the following books of the series. The book is also filled with the high energy and pranks of children, and the adventures of growing up on a ranch. A lovely true story, though be warned, you will cry at the end.


Who am I?

I am the mother of six and a voracious journaler. I am also a novelist. Though I’ve found that the facts of family adventures are often more fascinating than fiction. I bring in-the-moment observations as well as decade-seasoned insights to the world of family life. I also love reading about other families with all their quirks and joys. 


I wrote...

When I Was a Pie: And Other Slices of Family Life

By M.L. Farb,

Book cover of When I Was a Pie: And Other Slices of Family Life

What is my book about?

Most stories end with Happily Ever After. This one starts with it.

These are slices of life in the form of short stories, musings, comics, and poetry—showing bright moments, soul pondering, frustrations, and side-aching laughter. Join our family as we play compliment tag, create piano calls, and cut a crawl hole in the bathroom door to rescue a toddler. It is life, lived in the moment and observed. Welcome to the eclectic joy we call our family.

The Cowgirls

By Joyce Gibson Roach,

Book cover of The Cowgirls

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.


Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

Oklahoma Rodeo Women

By Tracey Hanshew,

Book cover of Oklahoma Rodeo Women

What is my book about?

Oklahoma’s central location and ranching tradition gave it a unique connection to the rodeo industry as it grew from a local pastime to an internationally popular sport. From the very beginning, Oklahoma cowgirls played a significant role in developing the institution and the businesses that grew up in its shadow.

Lucille Mulhall’s pioneering roping carved out a place for women in the actual competition, while Mildred Chrisman’s promotional efforts kept rodeo chutes open during the Great Depression. Modern ranchers like Terry Stuart produced the Quarter Horses sought by professional rodeo athletes around the world. From Guymon to Pawhuska and from stock contractors to rodeo clowns, Oklahoma Rodeo Women follows the trail these women blazed across this rough-and-tumble sport.

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