H.W. Brand’s major new dual biography of Geronimo and Sherman, plus a new history of Western prostitution, a pair of classic Westerns and a new volume of Old West short stories.
If you are a dedicated follower of historian H.W. Brands’ work, The Last Campaign: Sherman, Geronimo and the War for America (Doubleday, $32.50) is a much welcomed volume. Since 2018, the Dickson Allen Anderson Centennial Professor of History at the University of Texas has refocused his scholarship on American history from its beginnings as a revolutionary republic to its emergence as an industrial world power. Over his 35-year career of publishing, Brands’ research focus has swung back and forth between early U.S. and modern history, but during the past six years, his scholarship has been squarely on the growth of America—and the leaders who fought and struggled to build it—from the Revolution to the Pro-gressive Era.
While on the surface, based on the cover and the title of The Last Campaign, readers might view Brands’ latest book as simply a dual biography of Geronimo and Sherman. But, as they say, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” In fact, scholars, students and researchers should consider The Last Campaign as one of the finest syntheses of the Age of Jackson to the Progressive Era that has been published in the past decade.
The Texas historian—as he has in past multi-subject biographies—brilliantly uses the lives of two seemingly disparate men—Geronimo and William Tecumseh Sherman—to tell the history of the United States during what might be considered its most tumultuous and violent era. He brilliantly weaves the life stories of two boys—born and raised in different cultures on opposite sides of the continent—from childhood to manhood. Through the interweaving of their two life stories—from birth to death—the reader gains an insightful perspective on the uncontrollable forces of American continental expansion that brought these two men and their respective nations into conflict.
Quietly and without fanfare, Brands has become one of America’s most important historians. Since he first published Cold Warriors: Eisenhower’s Generation and American Foreign Policy (Columbia University Press, 1988), he has written 30 books and coauthored or edited five more. His body of work demonstrates a deep understanding of America’s transformation from a nascent 18th-century frontier republic to a 21st-century global superpower. The Last Campaign reflects the professor’s academic mastery of United States history in the 19th and early 20th centuries. He knows how to tell a good story and does so with a literary style that I would compare to William Manchester’s, David McCullough’s and Stephen Ambrose’s.
What will Brands’ next big book be? Those who have followed his career and read his published works since the late 1980s know that he is just as comfortable writing 20th-century history as he is with 19th-century history. So, as we await Brands’ next book, savor The Last Campaign while you add some new shelves to your library to make room for more of his outstanding scholarship.
Old West prostitution was big business, and one of the most important factors in development of the West. Brothel owners, madams and “fallen angels,” all paid fines for their profession. Without their money, towns would have been hard-pressed to survive. And hypocrisy knew no bounds. Often, the lawmen and town officials who chastised the industry most and imposed large fines, were the brothels’ best customers. In most cow towns, prostitution was seasonal—women came to town when the trail hands did—then moved on. And, if a madam was run out of town, she’d simply locate to the next town and set up shop, often taking her girls with her. Jan MacKell Collins’ fascinating book, Behind Brothel Doors: The Business of Prostitution in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma. (1860-1940) (TwoDot, $22.95), gives depth to a business often overlooked as invaluable in shaping the West.
—Melody Groves, author of
Before Billy the Kid: The Boy Behind the Legendary Outlaw
Kathleen Morris has struck gold. With her gift of storytelling, meticulous attention to historical details and well-developed characters, she brings to life the legendary, and indomitable, spirited Nellie Cashman in Golddigger: The Legendary Nellie Cashman (Dunraven Press, $25.95). Morris’s newest book shines. The story is narrated in the first person as Nellie sweeps the reader into an era of the Old West. It’s here on the Western frontier living on her own terms that Nellie finds the freedom she always yearned for plus opportunities to explore new places. Her obsession with gold and silver mining moves her adventures from the Southwest to California into Yukon and Alaska. Nellie is a forward-thinking woman with a business model that ultimately leads to successful enterprises operating restaurants, boardinghouses and mining operations. Nellie’s faith, church and her family were her anchors. Through her dedicated fundraising efforts, donations built churches and hospitals.
—Sue Ready, EverReady Book Reviews
Old West Saga
Andrew McBride’s Cimarrón (Five Star, $25.95) is gripping Western action of the best kind from beginning to end. It will be surprising if this isn’t the beginning of a saga in which the protagonist descends by steps to the very depths of hell and somehow against all odds works his way back. Choctaw, a highly skilled Army scout trained among the Chiricahua Apaches, is a man of integrity and moral standards who finds his values are in a conflict that takes him down the road to becoming a cold-blooded killer. His love for an Apache maid makes him an outsider. His skill makes him dangerous. McBride does not disappoint.
—Doug Hocking, author of Tom Jeffords: Friend of Cochise
Lathering on the Suspense
With three Spur Awards and a Western Heritage Wrangler Award, Matthew P. Mayo can’t be considered a rising star in Western fiction anymore. The question is just how high can that star rise. If you’re unfamiliar with Mayo, Half a Pig and Other Frontier Stories (Five Star Publishing, $25.95) is an excellent introduction. If you know his work, this collection is well worth a read, even if all but one of the 18 stories are reprints of pieces published between 2007 and 2021. “Trouble at Tall Pine,” the one new story, is a solid traditional tale, but the collection’s centerpiece is “Bloodline,” a tense, often terrifying story of a half-American Indian trying to escape his brutal grandfather.
—Johnny D. Boggs, author of Killstraight Returns
Texas Author Shares Five Favorites
Chris Mullen, the author of the award-winning young adult series, Rowdy, is an award-winning teacher and a native Texan. When not saddled behind his computer writing for Wise Wolf Books, he piles the miles on the road to promote his books. He recommends these five Western novels:
Down the Long Hills by Louis L’Amour (Bantam): My first L’Amour book fascinated me as I discovered the dangers and beauty of the Old West through the eyes of children fighting to survive the savage wilderness.
All Things Left Wild by James Wade (Blackstone Publishing): This Spur Award-winner tells of an epic pursuit by a murdered boy’s father and the twisting paths of two killers. It paints a vivid perspective on how transformative life can be when pitted against a setting void of civilized society.
The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson (Penguin Books): This contemporary Western captures the rugged life and ongoing inner turmoil of Sheriff Walt Longmire while a local murder seeks to disrupt the landscape of Absaroka County.
Dissolution by W. Michael Gear (Wolfpack Publishing): The United States experiences the worst of itself when foreign governments cripple its infrastructure. Elaborate plots and memorable characters lead the charge as citizens seek to endure in a country that has become anything but united.
The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King (Donald M. Grant Publisher, Inc.): Its Western grit and crossover themes paint vivid pictures, immersing readers in scenes that seem incomprehensible but are so captivating that suspension of disbelief becomes second nature.
Candy Moulton – True Westerner of the Year 2023
On Friday night, March 3, 2023, True West magazine hosted the 2023 True Westerner Award reception at the White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, Arizona. Executive Editor Bob Boze Bell led the evening’s festivities in honor of this year’s award-winner, Candy Moulton, noting that she was now in the great company of prior recipients of the honor, including Larry McMurtry, Paul Andrew Hutton and fellow True West columnists Marshall Trimble and Phil Spangenberger.
I was asked to speak about Moulton’s dedication to her craft, her community and her family. Noting that we had first met in Tucson at the annual Book Festival in 2014, I reminded the audience of the Wyoming author’s work ethic. “She learned from an early age the veracity of work and a job well done and it is reflected in her writing, filmmaking and leadership, which included 11 years as the executive director of Western Writers of America.”
In accepting the award, Moulton reiterated where she earned her work ethic, “I have worked as long as I can remember, beginning at the age of five or six. The ranch gave me my values: work hard and don’t quit until the job is done.” Moulton also thanked her husband Steve, a retired cattle rancher, who she said, “has never questioned her work, writing, travel or projects.”