Rediscovered: Cowboy America

“Wild cattle that refused to move with the herd and kept returning to the brush the cowboys might make docile by sewing their eyelids shut; after about two weeks, when the thread had decayed enough for the eyes to reopen, the animals were less likely to stray. The trail hands spent stormy nights in their saddles, watching the nervous group they had assembled, or otherwise slept in shifts on bedrolls on the ground. But to Charlie it was the only life worth living.”

Charlie Siringo was an Everyman Cowpoke like many hundreds more, doing a job, riding the vast plains as sprawling cattle drives began to forge north from Texas to the cowtowns and railroad heads, doing his bit to change the face of the Wild West.

Unlike most Cowpokes, it turned out he could write, and captured the era in a series of autobiographies. Primal Western documents.

I’m confident Nathan Ward realized what he had to hand in the Siringo saga as he was writing his biography of Dashiell Hammett, mining a later stage in the life where the cowboy became a range detective working with the Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency. Companion volumes with plenty of adventure. And as it turned out, Siringo and Hammett both ended up in Hollywood, which didn’t hurt their notoriety any.

Trailing after Siringo, Nathan uses the canvas of that life to paint a vivid picture of the Old West growing — growing faster than history could keep up. From rounding up stray mavericks in the brush to endless trainloads of beeves heading to Chicago to make it the meat-packing capital of America. From Billy the Kid to Tom Mix, lives becoming legend.

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