Life in the Old West

True stories, tall tales, memorabilia of the American West

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Old West series from Time-Life proves to be invaluable resource


The “Old West” series of books from Time-Life Books proves to be an invaluable reference resource that I enjoy almost daily, yet have never thought to recommend. I’m recommending them now!

As I discovered with a bit of searching around the Internet, there are 26 volumes of content in the series, plus a “Master Index” volume that ties them all together. Unfortunately, I only own 12 of the 26 content volumes and I don’t have the Master Index volume. I guess that’s sort of good news/bad news, really, because the good news is — I have the pleasure of trying to spot copies and buy them off of eBay (see below) and Amazon.com.

I suggest buying them via eBay and Amazon because, as far as I can tell, Time-Life Books has long ago quit publishing them and quit selling them. My research indicates the volumes were published a few at a time during the early 1990s One excellent website I found summarizes information about “The Old West Series” as well as other series from Time-Life and is well worth a look if you’re searching for the books. Many of the volumes have been printed more than once, making it difficult if you are a bibliophile to collect exactly the same edition of each volume. (Does that make sense?)

But regardless of whether you’re a collector, I strongly urge you to get as many of these books as you can lay your hands on if you are simply a lover of the Old West! They are uniformly fascinating, contain highly relevant and, as far as I can tell, very accurate information about thousands of people, places and events that took place in the Old West. Page after page of each volume is loaded with historical photographs and/or artwork and/or maps. You will find these books extremely fun just to browse around in, or to read from cover to cover.

As an example, I’ve been browsing/reading through the volume titled “The Great Chiefs,” which is loaded with information about the many tribal heroes and great warriors of just about every Native American tribe that existed during and before the period we call “the Old West.” There are sections on the Apaches, the Comanches, the Nez Perces, and many others in addition
to the most well-known Plains tribes such as the Lakotah and Cheyenne. In the last two days, I’ve been seeking as much information as I can in my meager library about the Lakotah warrior/leader Crazy Horse. In this volume alone, I found seven passing references to Crazy Horse, two of which gave me information I had not found elsewhere or confirmed, in one case, information about his vision quest that I had not read elsewhere.

These are not “scholarly” books; they were written and edited to appeal to Old West history buffs and fans everywhere, not as a reference source to do historical research. As a result, they are not carefully documented or “foot noted,” although they do have pages with brief “Text Credits,” “Picture Credits,” and a short index at the very back of each volume. Also, if you’re seriously researching a particular event or person of the Old West, the material has become somewhat dated and you will want to check newer sources for digging out some details or to use in resolving disputed events.

Given all that, you cannot beat the sense of the past coming to life you’ll find on the pages of any one of these volumes. I highly recommend this set to those of you who don’t yet have it. Many of you may already have all or several of these volumes. If so, you already know what I mean when I say I absolutely love this series and hope to eventually own the entire set!

Happy reading!