Raised in Georgia, Jeffrey Richardson, the Autry National Center’s Gamble curator of Western History, Popular Culture and Firearms, is passionate about the intersection of history and popular culture in the West.

While his earliest heroes were astronauts, football players and police officers, he remembers, after seeing Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, the birth of a new hero, the cowboy. A few years later, as he traveled west along Route 66 to graduate school at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, “he discovered the passion for cultural history, an awakening, a spark in Western history that has informed everything that I have done since I started working at the museum on a fellowship in 2007.” His research on the Autry’s Colt collection led to the publication of his first book, Colt: The Revolver of the American West (Rizzoli Publishers). He shares us with us books he feels are worth adding to your library:

1. Public Cowboy No. 1: The Life and Times of Gene Autry (Holly George-Warren, Oxford University Press): I have the pleasure (and responsibility) of interpreting the life of Gene Autry, a man who continues to inspire devotion among his fans. I am repeatedly amazed by his fabulous success in so many different fields, and Holly George-Warren’s thoroughly researched biography vividly recounts his remarkable career.

2. Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America (Richard Slotkin, Atheneum):  While long and dense, Gunfighter Nation is arguably one of the best books ever written about the American West. The final work in an illustrious trilogy, the book deconstructs the interconnectedness of myth and reality in Western history.

3. The Virginian (Owen Wister, Macmillan):  This quintessential Western story has inspired just about every Western movie or TV series that features a nomadic cowboy. If you read only one work of Western fiction, it should be Owen Wister’s masterpiece. 

4. Saddlemaker to the Stars: The Leather and Silver Art of Edward H. Bohlin (James H. Nottage, University of Washington Press): The history of the American West has been filled with truly colorful characters, many of whom were decked out in the finest Western clothing. In the 20th century, Edward Bohlin’s signature style became internationally known for its excellence in craftsmanship. James H. Nottage’s book beautifully illustrates some of Bohlin’s greatest creations, many of which are part of the Autry’s permanent collection.

4. Colt: The Making of an American Legend (William Hosley, University of Massachusetts Press): A lot of good books have been written about Samuel Colt. Whereas my own book focuses on specific Colt guns, William Hosley’s book examines the personal and professional lives of Samuel and his wife, Elizabeth, sharing an interesting tale of two individuals who helped shape the modern world.

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