The 5 Best Books About Cowboys and Cattle Trails

NOTE: We created this list of books to be featured in True West Magazine, December 2016 issue.

Our passion for years has been to study and share with others the fascinating history of cattle-driving from Texas to all points north.  To us, this short-lived endeavor of cowboy outfits driving herds of longhorns to an outlet, stopping along the way at cattle towns, encompasses the Old West in its purest form.  In this brief fifty-year span, the American cowboy icon was born, which is recognized the world over.  The task of pushing Texas cattle north to a northern destination ended in 1897, but through the years the heritage of that one industry continues to be retold again and again through movies, reenactments, novels and nonfictional accounts such as the True West Magazine.

The most enjoyable reading for us are the cowboy journals.  They do exist, but they are usually buried in library archives or somewhere in a trunk, yet to see the light of day. The following books are some of our favorites.

1. The Trail Drivers of Texas

compiled and edited by J. Marvin Hunter, 1925.

41hcrh0enpl-_sx312_bo1204203200_Current publisher: University of Texas Press, Austin
This volume of over 1,000 pages contains some 300 accounts of trail drivers. In 1917, trail driver and historian George W. Sanders suggested to his fellow drovers at the Old Time Trail Drivers Convention in San Antonio that each one write a sketch of his experiences on the trail. After years of hard work and the enlistment of journalist J. Marvin Hunter, the collection was released in its final form in 1925. These trail drivers reminisce about various aspects on the Shawnee, Chisholm, Arbuckle, and Western trails.

An online copy of this book is available: The Trail Drivers of Texas

2. The Log of A Cowboy

Andy Adams, 1903

51tmkyuoehl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Current publisher: University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln
Even though this book may be in the fictional section of the book store or library, this account by trail driver Andy Adams is one of the best. Andy Adams made many cattle drives from 1882 to 1889. At the age of 43, being disgusted with the unrealistic cowboy fiction of his day, he decided to tell his of own experiences on the trail. Because he chose to use fictional characters and names, academia labeled his work as fiction, but his content is authentic. In this book, Adams describes the trailing of a herd for the Circle Dot Ranch up the Western Trail in 1882 from Brownsville, Texas, to the Blackfoot Indian Agency in Montana.

3. We Pointed Them North

E. C. Abbott (“Teddy Blue’) as told to Helena Huntington Smith, 1939

51zwfgtuml-_sx332_bo1204203200_ Current publisher: University of Oklahoma Press, Norman
Starting at the age of nineteen in 1879,Teddy Blue pushed longhorns up the Western Trail from Texas and helped in various other trail drives of a shorter nature before settling down in Montana in 1883. At the age of seventy-eight, he dictated his story to Helena Huntington Smith, who masterfully described Teddy Blue’s early life and his experiences on three different trail drives. A few days after the book was first published, he died.

4. Bob Fudge, Texas Trail Driver, Montana-Wyoming Cowboy, 1862-1933

Jim Russell, 1981

bobfudge Current publisher: News-Argus Printing, Lewistown, MT
Jim Russell, who knew Bob Fudge personally, realized in 1932 that he was the only one who could coax the old cowboy to tell his story. Published years later, this book is a delightful read about a trail driver who went up the trail several times from 1882 to 1895.
Our favorite part is Fudge’s narrative about how he swam with an XIT herd after losing his horse in the North Platte River in Wyoming and almost drowned.

5. North of 36

Emerson Hough, 1923

41ic6vtygpl-_bo1204203200_ Current publisher: Grosset & Dunlap Publishers, NY
This is the only fictional book on our list. This novel by Emerson Hough tells about a trail drive to Abilene, Kansas, in about 1868. Hough based his story on actual knowledge about the early trail drives after the Civil War. He explained that the cowboy outfit went to Abilene, Kansas, by way of the Arbuckle Mountains in Indian Territory, which is a different route than the recognized Chisholm Trail of today. Using Hough’s novel, in 1924, Paramount Pictures made a silent film by the same name. George W. Saunders was a technical advisor for the film.

Author of The Western: The Greatest Texas Cattle Trail 1874-1886
Member of the Great Western Cattle Assoc. & Fort Dodge/Cimarron Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Assoc.
Owner of The Old Hardware Store in Halstead, KS