10 Top Non-Fiction Old West Books

Here is a list of 10 of the best non-fiction Old West books of all time, in no particular order. It is simply a collection of books about what the Old West was really like from the eyes of gun fighters, Mountain Men, Indians and Cowboys. These books are all ones that I loved and recommend to those that are fascinated by this amazing time in our history.

Son of the Morning Star

Son of the Morning Star is one outstandingly good book. The amount of information in this book is amazing and how it is presented by Mr. Connell brings you back to the interesting times of the Old West. It is a very easy read and a fascinating account of the Indian Wars and of General Custer’s last stand at Little Big Horn. This is the best book on this subject that I have encountered so far.

Click here to purchase Son of the Morning Star on Amazon.

The Story of the OK Corral Gun Fight

The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral-And How It Changed the American West occurred in Tombstone, Arizona back in 1881 and yet still thrills readers and movie-goers to this day. Doc Holiday and the Earp brothers confrontation with the Clanton and McLaury brothers is thoroughly researched and detailed by Paula Mitchell Marks. This unbiased account analyzes the participant’s character, alliances and dozens of first-hand accounts to try and uncover the truth of this historic gun fight. If you read just one book on the subject, make it this one.

Click here to purchase The Last Gunfight on Amazon.

They Called Him Wild Bill

Wild Bill Hickok is one of the most recognizable characters that came out of the Wild West. In writing this book, Joseph Rosa has tried to separate the man from the legend and has done an amazing job. He does a great job sifting through all of the information on Wild Bill to get to the facts. This is a really good read for those that want to know about the real Mr. Hickok.

Click here to purchase They Called Him Wild Bill on Amazon.

Billy the Kid: A Short and Violent Life

Billy the Kid was only 21 years old when he died, but in those few short years he established himself as one of the biggest outlaws in the Old West. Robert M Utley does a great job exposing the reality of Billy the Kid. How did he become a legend while many others did not? This book is faced paced, full of action and thoroughly researched. I highly recommend it.

Click here to purchase Billy the Kid: A Short and Violent Life on Amazon.

We Pointed Them North

We Pointed Them North is a cowboy memoir by E. C. Abbott who was a cowboy in the great days of the 1870’s and 1880’s and is literally an amazing account about how the West actually was during that period of time. It was a time when the Old West was an open range and free of fences. This book will completely immerse you into the life of a cowboy; the fun times and the trying times. Anyone interested in the cattle drives of the 1800’s will love this book.

Click here to purchase We Pointed Them North on Amazon.

Broken Hand: Life of Thomas Fitzpatrick

Thomas Fitzpatrick was the head of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company who was involved in some of the most important events that occurred in the Old West. He was the first person to discover the South Pass, help immigrants into Oregon, and also negotiated the Fort Laramie treaty of 1851. Thomas led an amazing life that leaves us with an outstanding account of the expansion into the Old West.

Click here to purchase Broken Hand: The Life of Thomas Fitzpatrick on Amazon.

Give Your Heart to the Hawks

Give Your Heart to the Hawks is an account of the lives of The Mountain Men of the 1800’s who were a group of trappers that lived in hostile and unknown land in the Rocky Mountains. These first men of the west had many amazing adventures and this novel presents us with many of them. The Mountain Men were ultimately the ones who opened up the gates for the settlements into the West. Win Belvins is a amazing writer who brings us back into that time and makes you feel like the events are happening right before your eyes. I loved this book.

Click here to purchase Give Your Heart to the Hawks on Amazon.

My Life as an Indian

My Life as an Indian is the first-hand account of a white man who lived amongst the Piegan Blackfeet in Montana Territory. Accounts of daily Indian life is described detail and includes child-rearing, religious ceremonies, food preparation, war parties, raids and more. If you are at all interested in what life was like for the Indians in the Old West, read this book.

Click here to purchase My Life as an Indian on Amazon.

Plenty-coups: Chief of the Crows

Plenty-coups: Chief of the Crows is the story of Plenty-coups (1848–1932). He was the last hereditary chief of the Crow Indians who tells his moving story of what Indian life was like before reservations. This is an exciting story told by one of the last great Indian chiefs and will be one of the best memoirs you will ever read.

Click here to purchase Plenty-coups: Chief of the Crows on Amazon.

Blood and Thunder

Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West is the engaging story of Kit Carson and the final expansion into the West. Hampton Sides brings this time to life and engages you in the story of America’s expansion from the 1820’s to the 1860’s. This book is full of heroes and villians, and is a fair account of all the characters involved. The story centers around Kit Carson who is one of the most interesting people in American history. Anybody who has an interest in the history of the West will love this book.

Click here to purchase Blood and Thunder on Amazon.

4 thoughts on “10 Top Non-Fiction Old West Books

  1. Was the second listing on this page actually supposed to be for Paula Mitchell Marks’ “And Die in the West”? The title and image indicate Jeff Guin’s “The Last Gunfight”.

  2. TOP 10 NONFICTION WESTERNS

    1. Collins, Michael L. Texas Devils: Rangers and Regulars on the Lower Rio Grande, 1846-1861. University of Oklahoma Press; Reprint edition (January 29, 2010).
    2. Cox, Mike. The Texas Rangers. Vol. 1. Wearing the Cinco Peso 1821–1900. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2008.
    3. Fehrenbach, T. R. Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans, From Prehistory to the Present. Da Capo Press; Subsequent edition. 2000.
    4. Gwynne, S.C. Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History. New York: Scribner, 2010.
    5. Luther, Joseph. Camp Verde: Texas Frontier Defense. The History Press, 2012.
    6. Minor, Nancy McGown. Turning Adversity to Advantage: A History of the Lipan Apaches of Texas and Northern Mexico, 1700-1900. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2009.
    7. Olmsted, Frederick Law. A Journey through Texas: Or a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier. Bison Books, 2004.
    8. Smith, F. Todd. From Dominance to Disappearance: The Indians of Texas and the Near Southwest, 1786-1859. University of Nebraska Press, 2005.
    9. Webb, Walter Prescott, The Texas Rangers, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1935; rpt., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982.
    10. Williams, R.H. With the Border Ruffians: Memories of the Far West, 1852-1868. Lincoln: Bison Press, 1982.

  3. Add to your list:
    Mari Sandoz’s Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas and Cheyenne Autumn; T.R. Fehrenbach’s The Comanches: History of a People; Robert M. Utley, The Lance and the Shield; George B. Grinnell’s The Fighting Cheyennes; W.S. Nye’s Carbine and Lance; Mildred P. Mayall’s The Kiowas;
    W.A. Graham, Custer Myth; Fred Dustin’s The Custer Tragedy, and last but not least Frederick Jackson Turner’s The Frontier in the American History.

  4. Hi Guys

    After putting a long comment on the “Top 10 Classic Western Novels of All Time” page of this site, I’ll keep this one short.

    Like you, I’ve collected a small library of Frontier history books over the years. On old fave is Foster-Harris’ THE LOOK OF THE OLD WEST. Just love taking it out now and then…

    A new fave is THE WILD WEST OF LOUIS L’AMOUR by Tim Champlin, a Christmas gift from my daughter.

    The single non-fiction Old West book that affected me more than any other is Joseph Kinsey Howard’s STRANGE EMPIRE: A Narrative of the Northwest.

    I’m in good company. Bernard DeVoto wrote, “In regard to the Plains tribes…there is nothing comparable: STRANGE EMPIRE is unique, the best that anyone has written.” When Howard died at only 45, A B Guthrie, Jr said, “We have lost our conscience.”

    Joseph Kinsey Howard was a Montana-born writer and journalist. He published in Harper’s and Esquire. His first book was MONTANA: High, Wide & Handsome.

    STRANGE EMPIRE tells the story of Louis Riel, the Metis and the First Nations of the West, especially of what is now Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota and the Canadian prairie provinces.

    It also tells the rousing stories of the other men, women and societies who clashed during that legendary age. The explorers, priests, buffalo hunters, whiskey traders, outlaws, politicians, cavalrymen and lawmen. Even has a well-researched segment on the formation and arrival of the North-West Mounted Police.

    To me, Howard’s STRANGE EMPIRE matches Pierre Berton’s KLONDIKE as a story written with passion, love, knowledge and understanding for the subjects.

    – Brian Alan Burhoe

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