Life in the Old West

True stories, tall tales, memorabilia of the American West

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Enjoy Denver Public Library’s Western History Collection


One of my favorite research and reference sources is the Western History Collection at the Denver Public Library in — of course! — Denver, Colorado.

The beauty of their collection is that a great deal of material, especially some incredible images, is accessible online now. And their collection doesn’t deal only with Colorado and Colorado Territory, but has material from a huge variety of sources all over the U.S. West.

As a kid, I lived for five years in Denver. And, no, that was NOT during Old West times. Sure, it was the ’50s and ’60s, but it was the 1950s and 1960s. Being just a “young’un” at the time — from the time I was 10 until I was 14 — I never really knew about the library’s wonderful Western History Collection. I only discovered it in the 1990s through college classes and acquaintances who are Western novelists. In 1993, when the collection was only starting to be digitized and the Internet was only a fledgling connection of various BBS’s and not really the Internet, I had the pleasure of spending a week in Denver researching a novel I never finished writing.

I found the collection at the Denver Public Library the sort of place where you can easily spend many, many happy hours reading letters, journals, and out-of-print books about the Old West. And their huge (something over 600,000) collection of old photographs and other images, as well as years of microfilm/microfiche collections of old newspapers are simply unimaginable!

That was in 1993. Today, they have many of their Western History Collection materials digitized and accessible online. Yes indeed, a source you do not want to ignore if you’re looking for online research materials. Admittedly, some of it requires a local connection, i.e., a Denver Public Library library card. And most of the images, though accessible via the Internet, carry specific fees and requirements if you want to use them in a publication or on the Internet.

Part of the fun of this collection is the related blog the library runs. I just spent half an hour browsing through blog entries related to specifics about Colorado and Denver history. (A recent entry, for example, told of Colorado’s Silver King Tabor of the late 1800s early 1900s and his famous mistress, Baby Doe. The blog entry included links to a separate page with more information about Baby Doe.)

So if you’re at all interested in life in the Old West, especially the late 19th century in Colorado, I urge you to run right over and enjoy the Denver Public Library’s Western History Collection online. You’ll be very glad you did.