18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2007
In his Introduction, western historian Frederick Nolan says, "Tascosa is gone, dissolved, and blown away by the rains and winds of history. It is not even a ghost town." Although that may be physically true, Nolan has successfully resurrected the town with this definitive history.
It is all here in "Tascosa, Its Life and Gaudy Times," the legends, the real stories, often told from three or four differing points-of-view: The Beef Bonanza, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, John Selman's "Regulators," Charles Goodnight, the XIT, the Rocking Chair, the Frying Pan, and other Panhandle ranches, as well as the the Cowboy Strike of 1883 immortalized in Elmer Kelton's "The Day The Cowboys Quit." Nolan offers up all of it, and the stories practically tell themselves.
The town started out as a gathering place for buffalo hunters. Situated on the Canadian River and a hundred miles from Fort Elliott, the collected adobe buildings went by the name of Hidetown for a while, then became Atascosa. However, in 1878, when the town fathers applied for a post office, they were turned down because a town by that name already existed in South Texas. So the first "A" was amputated and the town of Tascosa was officially born.
The new town was wild and woolly, loaded with hotheads, scarlet women, drunken cowboys, and gamblers. Cattle rustling seems to have been a weekend pastime. After barbed wire appeared, fences began to go up without benefit of surveys or clear title. What law existed was ineffective, and almost immediately, Boot Hill began filling with graves.
Several chapters of the book are devoted to the Cowboy Strike, the feud and infamous shoot-out that happened as a result. Nolan does a good job of sorting out the various "sides" to the story, not an easy task as almost everybody who lived in Tascosa was involved. He uses many colorful quotes from grand jury testimonies and from contemporary newspaper interviews that help to give a clear picture of the rough, post-Civil War era in Texas.
It was a time of transition and Tascosa was a transitional town. In it's heyday it boasted a newspaper, a blacksmith, a hotel, livery stables, numerous saloons, a public school, a drugstore, several general mercantile stores, and a barber shop. But it didn't last long.
In 1887, came the big die-up, when blizzards raged across the plains states, dropping temperatures to below zero for several days straight. It was estimated that 80 percent of the cattle on the range perished. Even some of the largest cattle ranches went under. Smaller ones were decimated. Then in 1888, the Fort Worth and Denver, Colorado railway came through the Panhandle, bypassing Tascosa and dealt the town the coup de grace. In a little over a decade, Tascosa had gone from boomtown to a dusty spot in the road between Amarillo and Dalhart.
I cannot imagine that there is anything of the history of Tascosa that Frederick Nolan has missed. The amount of research this work contains is almost staggering. I found myself wondering time and again how he ever unearthed the often obscure bits and pieces he uses to reconstruct the history. His writing is even and fluid, and moves the reader along at a quick pace. The only addition I would have personally liked would have been a map of the Panhandle, in order to place old Tascosa in its proper surrounding.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This book is more than a book about Tascosa, the cowboy town of the late 19th century. It is a book that contains the tales of the major characters who lived there at one time in their lives and the surrounding area - in fact, most of the Panhandle is covered.
Yes, there are tales of gunfights. Tascosa had a rowdy start and history for its first 25 years. 27 people are buried in its "boot hill". The most famous gunfight occurred in the middle of town on March 21, 1885 between the "rustlers" and cowboys of the large outfit. When the gunsmoke settled, four men were dead. This gunfight is detailed from a number of perspectives with the most likely one provided. Other gunfights occurred in town as this was a center point for rustling.
Then, there are the characters. Billy the Kid spent time in Tascosa in 1878 to lay low after the Lincoln County War was hot. Bill Gatlin was a killer "who would kill a man to check if his gun was loaded." Tom Harris was the leader of the failed "cowboy strike". Jesse Jenkins became a rich man (but was probably initially a rustler). All of their stories and others are included providing an interesting perspective of the lives and times of the cowboy in the old west.
In fact, of all the histories of the old west, this is the best book that I've read providing a historical perspective of the cowboy and the big cow outfits. One of the things that I learned from this that was a surprise was that most of the big outfits were owned by English and Scottish investors who never handled a cow and seldom, if ever, came to see their investments. The book also includes numerous pictures of the cowboys and the town as it grew over time.
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the old west and the cowboy.
4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2008
"Tascosa" is worth reading as a follow up to earlier books about this little gunslinger town in the Texas Panhandle, Maverick Town, The Story of Old Tascosa by McCarty and The LS Brand, by Dulcie Sullivan.
My interest in the subject is related to a character in the book and possibly his photo on the front cover, lower lefthand side. Another photo inside the book caught my interest because of a glaring inaccuracy. I know it is inaccurate because my great grandfather is J.E. McAllister.
The family photo misidentifies the child sitting on his lap as his son, when the child is my grandmother. Her older brother is the other child.
I don't know about other "facts" in the book, whether our family history has coverups or whether the author's research reflects opinions of less than honest characters with their own agendas. I do appreciate the lengthy references in the back of the book because it is a subject that always interests me.