by Linda Henderson, Adult Service Librarian
The West. Wide-open spaces, pioneer spirit, hardships, and opportunity — the frontier era continues to inspire the American imagination. So long as we can see these spaces and recall our history, authors will keep telling stories about them.
My love of westerns began in childhood, with the tales of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. I still have two hard-bound copies of Snowden Miller’s work: Gene Autry and the Badmen of Broken Bow, and Roy Rogers and the Outlaws of Sundown Valley, published in 1950.
As an adult, I discovered westerns with The Light of the Western Stars by Zane Grey. Set in 1914, Madeline, a rich, sheltered young woman from the East, arrives at a train station in New Mexico expecting to meet her brother and visit his ranch. After a frightening experience with a local cowboy, she survives to become a rancher herself, enamored of the lifestyle. The language is sometimes crude, but was typical of the times.
I went on to read many more of Zane Grey’s novels, then turned to Louis L’Amour, Don Coldsmith, James Michener’s Centennial, Willa Cather, Owen Wister, and a personal favorite: Bess Streeter Aldrich’s A Lantern in Her Hand, set in pioneer-era Nebraska.
I do enjoy western romance, whether set in modern times or in the Old West. Linda Lael Miller’s 15-volume McKettrick series begins with High Country Bride. Rafe, obliged to take a bride to inherit his father’s ranch, sends for a mail-order bride. Emmeline arrives, with secrets of her own, to marry a man she’s never met. Miller, writing with a sure hand, ably portrays the hardscrabble old-western life, weaving a winding, winsome romance full of appealingly stubborn characters.
Janet Dailey’s ten-book Calder saga really shines in its third book, This Calder Sky. Everyone knew a Calder’s word was law and that one day Chase Calder would carry the name’s prestige forward. Yet, the handsome but arrogant Chase would meet a new challenge in Maggie O’Rourke, whose innocence stirred in him a deep, insistent longing He is stymied by Maggie’s determination to find freedom from the harsh rules of harsher men.
Jodi Thomas’s contemporary Harmony series begins with Welcome to Harmony, in which young Reagan rides into Harmony, Texas, in the bed of a pickup truck, searching for an ever-elusive place to call home. She learned enough of the small town’s history and inhabitants to pass as one of the founding family’s descendants. Reagan settles into a rhythm of school and chores, but remains standoffish despite the attentions of junior rodeo champion, Noah McAllen. The characters grow and intermingle pleasingly through the eight-book series.
Cold Dish, by Craig Johnson, begins the nine-book set that inspired the Longmire television series. After 24 years as sheriff of Absaroka County in Wyoming, Walt Longmire’s hopes for a peaceful end to his tenure collapse with the murder of Cody Pritchard near the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Working with lifelong friend Henry Standing Bear and a cast of characters brimming with both tragedy and humor, Walt Longmire begins to learn that revenge, cold or not, is a dish better not served at all.
C.J. Box’s continuing 17-book Joe Pickett series uniquely blends adventure, danger, and family. Open Season introduces Joe Pickett, soft-spoken game warden of Twelve Sleep County, Wyoming. He is an instantly-relatable everyman hero: a bit plodding, a bit bungling — he even loses a gun to a poacher in the opening scene. Meanwhile, he experiences both trying and humorous aspects of close kinship with his wife, children, and in-laws. Yet, he responds to crisis courageously and decisively — just as we’d hope for ourselves.
Many different genres interest me, including mysteries, science fiction, biographies and more. But for pure enjoyment, I turn to stories about pioneers and western living. Visit Manhattan Public Library and be amazed at our collections featuring many different western authors in historical accounts and fictionalized sagas.