5 Excellent Books About History of the Old West

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Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters

by Bill O’Neal

I’m listing O’Neal’s Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters first on this list because it is my favorite of the books here. Calling this book an encyclopedia is quite appropriate. The author has created a detailed compilation of every gunfight known and/or recorded in the Old West. Many of the listings are short, as there wasn’t a lot of information available. But other listings are quite intense, almost reading like something out of a novel. This is a great, fun read, but probably only for those wishing to seriously study the Old West and/or gunfights.

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Age of the Gunfighter

by Joseph G. Rosa

This book makes a great coffee-table book, or a good book when you’re interested in a quick read but not so interested in serious study. Age of the Gunfighter covers the basics quite thoroughly, and has plenty of images and maps to keep your interest strong throughout. There are even several photographs of actual firearms used by outlaws and lawmen of the Old West.

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Saloons of the Old West

by Richard Erdoes

You’ve probably seen hundreds of Western saloons portrayed in the movies, but what were these places really like? This book will tell you. It also goes into how the bartenders set themselves up and how they got their drink to sell. Sometimes the bartenders made the beer and liquor themselves, but as trains crept further and further west, it became easier to ship in the goods. Also, this book has an interesting chapter on the ladies of the night, if you know what I mean.

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Newspapering in the Old West

by Robert F. Karolwitz

I’ve always liked this book, especially since I worked in the newspaper industry for years. The man focus is on newspapers in the Old West, but this is naturally related to other subject matter of the times. How did newspapers get started? How did newspapermen make money? Believe it or not, sometimes they were paid in barter! A subscription might gain the editor a bag of potatoes or a new hog. Also, with the West not being the most tame of regions at the time, folks working in newspapers weren’t always safe from physical harm to themselves or their equipment. Quite interesting stuff.

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Rebel Private: Front and Rear: Memoirs of a Confederate Soldier

by William A. Fletcher

Okay, I admit I’m cheating a little on this one. This particular book is an autobiography of one Confederate private’s memories of the Civil War, which some historians might not classify as the same as the Old West. Still, the time periods are not that far apart and the Civil War had a huge impact on the Old West, so I felt it still appropriate to include this book here. This book is excellent at giving the perspective of a soldier on the front lines of the war. Fletcher was at Gettysburg, Second Manassas and many other battles. This book is also revealing in the mindset and the thoughts of the average Confederate troops during the war.

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