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The Big Bend Review => Big Bend Book Reviews => Topic started by: Raoul Duke on December 06, 2011, 01:27:41 PM

Title: Must-read list for Texas/outdoors/the West?
Post by: Raoul Duke on December 06, 2011, 01:27:41 PM
I know others have started similar threads on suggested reading, so forgive me if this duplicates past posts.  I was hoping others could share their favorite books not so much on Big Bend exclusively, but on Texas, the West, and the outdoors in general.  I'm looking for some fresh ideas for holiday reading.

Here is my list of favorites on these general subjects, in no particular order (at least what I can recall at present):

1. Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey.  Abbey's story about a summer at Arches National Park, before it was a national park.

2. Down the River, Edward Abbey.  Collection of stories about rivers in the West, mainly the Colorado.

3. Beyond the Wall, Edward Abbey.  Another collection of stories/essays about the desert, including a story about his visit to the Guadalupe Mountains.

4. One Life at a Time, by Edward Abbey (okay, you get the point--I dig Ed Abbey).  Another excellent collection of stories/essays on the outdoors, politics, conservation.  Includes the story about his visit to Big Bend Nat'l Park.

5. The Time it Never Rained, by Elmer Kelton.  Excellent story of a rancher in West Texas who endures the multi-year drought of the 50s.  This book provides excellent insight into the lives of ranchers in the West.

6. Contrabando, by Don Henry Ford.  True story of a drug smuggler in the 80s who frequented Big Bend. 

7. Drug Lord, by Terrence Poppa.  The true story of drug lord Pablo Acosta, who grew up in Santa Elena, Mexico and who became the ring leader of the Ojinaga cartel.  The author actually interviewed Acosta as part of his research.

8. The Tecate Journals, by Keith Bowden.  Great story about a guy who travels, by bicycle, canoe and raft, the entire length of the Rio Grande through Texas.

9. Comanches, by T.R. Fehrenbach.  Excellent history of the Comanche Indians.

10. Empire of the Summer Moon, by S.C. Gwynne, another excellent history of the Comanche, but focuses on Quanah Parker and Gen. McKinzie.

11.  Goodbye to a River, by John Graves.  Excellent story about Graves' trip down the Brazos by canoe before the construction of dams in the area near Fort Worth.

12.  Down by the River, by Charles Bowden.  A very well written and researched story about the Juarez Cartel and the extent of corruption in Mexico.  Ties in with the very sad story about the murder of a young american who's uncle was head of the DEA in El Paso.

13.  The Last Stand, by Nathaniel Philbrick.  Very interesting book on Custer's ill-fated campaign against the Lakota in the Black Hills.

14.  Gila Descending, by M.H. Salmon.  I stumbled across this book at a Borders liquidation sale.  It was wrapped in plastic (which makes me usually avoid the book), but I figured at 50% off I would take the gamble and buy it without previewing it.  I was very pleasantly surprised.  It's an excellent story about a guy who hikes and paddles 220 miles of the Gila River solo in the early 80s.  It's a lot like "Goodbye to a River," but still an excellent read.


Title: Re: Must-read list for Texas/outdoors/the West?
Post by: bbbrain on December 06, 2011, 04:48:42 PM
you have some excellent choices on your list already, notably the abbey selections, goodbye to a river, and empire of the summer moon.  i would add god's country or devil's playground (big bend), some j. frank dobie, especially coronado's children and apache gold and yaqui silver, and, if we're not excluding fiction, abbey's the monkey wrench gang and hayduke lives and tony hillerman's a thief of time.  you also might consider walter prescott webb.
Title: Re: Must-read list for Texas/outdoors/the West?
Post by: Juan Cuatro Lados on December 07, 2011, 06:31:03 AM
The author's names escape me, but I'd add:

Three Roads to Chihuahua (early efforts to find a way
from San Antonio to Chihuahua City, very interesting)

No Country for Old Men

Border Trilogy (Cormack McCarthy)

Title: Re: Must-read list for Texas/outdoors/the West?
Post by: billholston on December 07, 2011, 07:25:46 AM
My favorites are:
Roy Bedichek's Adventures of a Texas Naturalist and
William O. Douglas' Farewell to Texas, which has chapters on Capote Falls, Davis Mountains, Big Bend, Guadalupe  Mts.
All of the usual Big Bend Books are excellent, especially Hallie Stillwell's books, like I'll gather my geese. Still kicking myself I never got over to meet her.
Title: Re: Must-read list for Texas/outdoors/the West?
Post by: kevint on December 07, 2011, 07:52:48 AM
OK.  Ditto the Custer Book. 
 
I'm going to recommend "Bat Bomb" by Jack Couffer.  It is about a secret military project to win WWII by attaching small incendiary bombs to mexican freetailed bats captured from caves in West Texas and New Mexico and dropping them over Japan.
 
The general facts of the story are summarized in this 9 minute video:
 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=WDX9rRuHcn8 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=WDX9rRuHcn8)
 
However, the story is so much more colorful than the video protrays thanks to a cast of characters including a dentist, a chemist, a movie star, a former getaway driver for the mob and, ... a tiger.  The motley assortment reminds me of the casts in M*A*S*H and Kelly's Heroes.
 
The true story includes some photographs of the project including one of the accidental burning of a military airfield during testing of the deployment system.
 
Here is the amazon listing:
 
http://www.amazon.com/Bat-Bomb-World-Secret-Weapon/dp/0292707908 (http://www.amazon.com/Bat-Bomb-World-Secret-Weapon/dp/0292707908)
 
This book is not nearly as heady as the Custer book but lot's of fun and a perfect holiday read.
 
 
 
Title: Re: Must-read list for Texas/outdoors/the West?
Post by: chris on December 07, 2011, 08:45:05 AM
Some great selections from everyone.  I must say that Raoul's suggestion of "Down By The River" by Charles Bowden is a really phenomenal book and has some really power stuff in it.

For fiction, I think "The Brave Bulls" and "The Wonderful Country" by Tom Lea (same name as my uncle-no relation!) are worth reading at least once.
Title: Re: Must-read list for Texas/outdoors/the West?
Post by: steelfrog on December 07, 2011, 10:07:04 AM
Thanks for the recommends--I just ordered Farewell to Texas; have read many of the others.
Title: Re: Must-read list for Texas/outdoors/the West?
Post by: Raoul Duke on December 07, 2011, 11:45:01 AM
Great recommendations, all of you.  My "to-read" list just got a lot longer.

After I made my original post, I received the book I ordered, "Rio Grande" (edited by Jan Reid), a compilation of stories, essays, and excerpts about the river.  What I've read so far is excellent.  Each excerpt is relatively short, so it's a great diversion while you're in the middle of another longer book.

I also received "Blood and Thunder," the story of Kit Carson in the West.  Haven't started it yet, but it looks good.
Title: Re: Must-read list for Texas/outdoors/the West?
Post by: guc126 on December 11, 2011, 12:19:14 PM
Blood and Thunder is an excellent read...try and find "Down the Great Unknown: John Wesley Powell's 1869 Journey of Discovery and Tragedy Through the Grand Canyon": compelling reading about Powell's exploration of the Colorado River.
Somebody already recommended all three volumes of Cormac McCarthy. They are all excellent but if time is short then read the middle volume "The Crossing". Also not to be missed is McCarthy's dark masterpiece "Blood Meridian". A novel based on historical fact about Apache scalp hunters in Mexico and the Southwestern U.S., There is a copy of an actual map drawn by a participant that highlights the gang's travels through the Big Bend region in 1849. It's in a book titled "Tales of the Big Bend" (the first volume).
One of my sentimental favorites is "Border Healing Woman", the biography of Jewell Babb, a native of West Tx. This little volume based on the life of a woman that was born and died in the trans-pecos region of Texas. If your drawn to the Trans-Pecos region, this book about its people will pull you in even tighter.  And for pure entertainment try "God's Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre". The title says it all.
Title: Re: Must-read list for Texas/outdoors/the West?
Post by: Raoul Duke on December 12, 2011, 06:52:18 PM
More excellent recommendations.  I really appreciate it.

McCarthy definitely should have been on my list!  I can't believe I forgot the Trilogy and "No Country."

I am almost finished with "Rio Grande," the compilation by Jan Reid.  Not surprisingly, it includes excerpts from 3 of the books on my list ("The Time it Never Rained," "Contrabando," and "Down by the River" ).  I highly recommend this book.  I intend to read a lot of the books that are excerpted in this compilation.  I haven't come across a single story that I didn't absolutely enjoy.

This isn't a book, but I would add the movie "Three Burials of Melquiadas Estrada," which is loosely based/inspired by the shooting of the young goat herder by US Marines in Redford.
Title: Re: Must-read list for Texas/outdoors/the West?
Post by: Raoul Duke on December 27, 2011, 05:40:08 PM
My favorites are:...and William O. Douglas' Farewell to Texas, which has chapters on Capote Falls, Davis Mountains, Big Bend, Guadalupe  Mts.
Thanks for recommending "Farewell to Texas."  It didn't occur to me that the author is the former US Supreme Court justice.  At any rate, I just finished it and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I especially liked the passage on the Guadalupe River below the then recently built Canyon Dam.  He would be rolling in his grave to see how his recommendation for establishing public parks and hiking trails on that section of river was so thoroughly ignored.  There's not an inch of public land on that section of river.
Title: Re: Must-read list for Texas/outdoors/the West?
Post by: steelfrog on December 28, 2011, 09:03:41 AM
I second the Farewell to Texas.  Great book I was unaware of.
Title: Re: Must-read list for Texas/outdoors/the West?
Post by: kevint on January 04, 2012, 07:55:21 PM
Just got back from my inaugural trip to Big Bend and picked up a copy of Beneath the Window by Patricia Wilson Clothier after I heard some long time Benders say they had read it.  It should be on this list.


I am about half way through and am enjoying it.
Title: Re: Must-read list for Texas/outdoors/the West?
Post by: speedbump on August 11, 2014, 01:01:19 PM
How about Hallie Stillwell's How Come It's Called That? or I'll Gather My Geese or My Goose is Cooked?

She was a Big Bend icon.
Title: Re: Must-read list for Texas/outdoors/the West?
Post by: iCe on August 12, 2014, 02:42:15 PM
Three Roads to Chihuahua was mentioned. The authors were Roy L. Swift and Leavitt Corning, Jr.


Early Texas Pioneer; Early Staging and Overland Freighting Days on the Frontiers of Texas and Mexico by August Santleben and Isaac D. Affleck is pretty good
Title: Re: Must-read list for Texas/outdoors/the West?
Post by: Flash on August 16, 2014, 03:38:49 AM
Three Roads to Chihuahua was mentioned. The authors were Roy L. Swift and Leavitt Corning, Jr.


Early Texas Pioneer; Early Staging and Overland Freighting Days on the Frontiers of Texas and Mexico by August Santleben and Isaac D. Affleck is pretty good

Ditto on both these books. Very informative works. Note that Swift quotes Santleben a lot, since his book is the authority on the subject in that one time segment and is quoted by other Texana authors, such as Elton Miles, who comes to mind. Swift speculates that Affleck did all the heavy lifting in writing from Santleben's memories. Just recently drove through Deadman's Pass near the Devil's River and the historic marker quoted Santleben's book.  :icon_lol:
Title: Re: Must-read list for Texas/outdoors/the West?
Post by: iCe on August 16, 2014, 07:34:28 AM
Speaking of Dead Man's Pass


http://vvchc.net/marker/Dead_Mans_Pass_narrative.html
Title: Re: Must-read list for Texas/outdoors/the West?
Post by: Imre on August 17, 2014, 09:37:25 PM
I shall second (third?) the motion for Beneath the Window. I place it at the top of the list of Big Bend books.  Adding to the list, although not specific to the big bend, I can recommend Out West by Dayton Duncan. He follows the original Lewis and Clark trail as closely as possible in a Volkswagen camper van.
-Imre