Bravos of the West
by John Myers Myers (originally published in 1962 as The Deaths of the Bravos)
I saw Bravos mentioned in Fred Lerner’s zine Lofgeornost and tracked down a second-hand copy online. Author of seventeen books, John Myers Myers (yes, that’s two “Myers”) is best known for his fantasy novel Silverlock. Nine of his books, like Bravos, are works of Western non-fiction. Bravos is an informal history of the old West which traces the development of the country after the Lewis and Clark expedition. It’s the history of trappers, traders, prospectors, gunslingers, missionaries, soldiers, mountain men, outlaws and more. They trap beaver, confront bears, have run-ins with the natives, and discover the landscape as they advance farther into the unknown.
The book is full of folksy wit and is a wild, rollicking tale largely gathered from oral tradition. “By and large, what went on in the early days of the American West transpired while historians were looking the other way,” writes Myers. Following a rough chronological order, a substantial portion of the book covers the fur trade, the fight for Texas, the men who blazed the Santa Fe Trail, and those who opened up and settled the Oregon Country. Myers knows his subject well, as he devoted much of his life to researching and writing about the American West. This is not, however, a dry academic study. His writing is playful and full of idiosyncratic turns of phrase. Bravos is a mix of history and legend, and is a fine introduction to the many fascinating people whose stories combined to create an American mythology.
Some of the major players in Bravos: Andrew Jackson, Davy Crockett, Hugh Glass, Jim Bowie, William Ashley, Mike Fink, Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, Thomas Hart Benton, Stephen Austin, Sam Houston, Peg-leg Smith, Mountain Lamb, Jack Coffee Hays, Deaf Smith, John Charles Frémont, Brigham Young, John Sutter, Sitting Bull, Cynthia Ann Parker, Joaquin Murrieta and Wild Bill Hickok.
The descriptions of Tom “Peg-leg” Smith getting shot in the leg and, upon learning that gangrene was going to set in, hacking away at it with his own hunting knife; and of Hugh Glass being left for dead after a bear tears half his face off and then crawling 200 miles to the nearest settlement, are worth the price of admission alone. I also learned the definition of gallimaufry.
It’s a great read. Check it out.