First Herd to Abilene: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Review & Giveaway

FIRST HERD TO ABILENE

An H. H. Lomax Western, #5
by
PRESTON LEWIS
Genre: Historical Fiction / Western / Humor
Publisher: Wolfpack Publishing
Date of Publication: February 5, 2020
Number of Pages: 449

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HISTORICALLY SOUND AND HILARIOUSLY FUNNY! H.H. Lomax meets Wild Bill Hickok in Springfield, Missouri, and is responsible for Hickok’s legendary gunfight with Davis Tutt. Fearing Hickok will hold a grudge, Lomax escapes Springfield and agrees to promote Joseph G. McCoy’s dream of building Abilene, Kansas, into a cattle town, ultimately leading the first herd to Abilene from Texas.

Along the way, he encounters Indians, rabid skunks, flash floods, a stampede, and the animosities of some fellow cowboys trying to steal profits from the drive. Lomax is saved by the timely arrival of now U.S. Marshal Hickok, but Lomax uses counterfeit wanted posters to convince Hickok his assailants are wanted felons with rewards on their heads.

Lomax and Wild Bill go their separate ways until they run into each other a decade later in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, where Hickok vows to kill Lomax for getting him fired.

First Herd to Abilene is an entertaining mix of historical and hysterical fiction.

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Review

Four Stars

First Herd to Abilene is the fifth book in this series featuring the hilarious exploits of H.H. (Henry Harrison) Lomax, one of the most colorful characters to ever grace the pages of a western novel. If you’ve never read any of the previous entries into the outrageous circumstances and succession of adventures that puts H.H. at the confluence of every major event to ever be recorded about the Old West, don’t worry. Author Preston Lewis revisits those earlier escapades in Chapter One, while at the same time laying the groundwork for what is yet to come.

Lewis contends that he came across Lomax’s memoirs while conducting research at Texas Tech University, and though he “can’t vouch for their veracity,” these tales of encounters with the likes of Billy the Kid, Jessie James, Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill Cody, and George Armstrong Custer (to name just a few) are told with such insightful historical detail as well as wit and humor that readers will find themselves totally engaged. “While some may question his credentials as a credible chronicler of the occurrences Lomax claims to have witnessed, no one can doubt his abilities as a humorous story-teller of the first rank.”

First Herd to Abilene takes Henry Harrison Lomax from the end of the Civil War to three years past the turn of the century and, as in the earlier volumes, allows Lomax to weave another yarn about his encounters with some of the most memorable characters in the history of the Old West, folks such as James Butler ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok, Calamity Jane, Jessie Chisolm and Joseph G. McCoy.”

It begins with Lomax grousing about his disdain for all Texans, “a breed whose stupidity, greed, and depravity was exceeded only by that of politicians and lawyers.” His bitterness is really the result of a later tragedy, but at the outset of the book he begrudges Texans for making a fortune in the cattle industry while he “received nary a cent for all the hard work I put in and all risks I took to chart the course to Kansas.” Additionally,  Lomax feels slighted by Joseph G. McCoy, the entrepreneur who had the vision of transporting cattle by rail to Easterners starving for beef, but fails to give Lomax recognition and historical credit for being the first to blaze a trail from Texas to the stockyards and railheads in Abilene. That credit went to Jessie Chisolm, “an old coot who never traversed the route from Kansas to South Texas and back.”

It’s this bitterness that sets the tone for probably the most serious storyline of all the books in the series, with much of its 449 pages describing what it was like to be a part of the great cattle drives that defined this era in history. The arduous challenge of herding longhorn cattle over 700 miles from Texas to Kansas required months of backbreaking monotonous work that pitted cattlemen against the elements, disease, wild animals, hostile terrain, Indian attacks, and rustlers. It meant months of breathing in trail dust as well as the foul odors of the livestock, going without much sleep, eating the same food day-in day-out, no gambling or drinking, and very little human contact except between fellow trail riders… all of which grated on nerves and frequently resulted in the deaths of both man and beast. Preston Lewis certainly intersperses Lomax’s typical humor into this portrayal of a cowhand’s life, but he does so in a manner that doesn’t negate or gloss over the difficulties faced along the way.

Besides Lomax and the iconic historical figures mentioned above, Lewis creates a cast of characters that brings these hardships to life. Madlyn Dillon, an artist who has been spoiled and pampered her entire life, but the first Texan, male or female, to take an interest in Lomax and Joseph G. McCoy’s vision. Colonel Saul Dillon, her father. The Texas cattleman puts his trust in Lomax to get his cattle to Kansas and save his ranch. Ruth, orphaned by the Comanche but taken in and employed by Colonel Dillon. She falls in love with Lomax in an ill-fated relationship. Sainty Spencer, the ranch foreman who is sweet on Madlyn, and as trail boss is trusted to bring back the cash from the sale of the cattle in Abilene. Charlie Bitters, the cook, second in importance only to the trail boss, but whose cooking for the Army of Tennessee during the Civil War is said to have led to its defeat. Jose Munoz and Pedro Ramirez, Mexican hands that will tend to the remuda during the trail drive. Martin Michaels, a sketch artist on the side and the first cowhand hired, and Tom Errun, an Englishman with no experience pared up with Michaels to lead the herd. Silas Banty, a former slave, who looks to the future with optimism and learns to read from Lomax. Toad Beeline, little understood by his fellow trailhands because he tends to mumble when he speaks. He and Silas are assigned to ride flank. Trent Parsons, a former Confederate soldier wounded at Shiloh who spends his spare time with the Good Book, and Jurdon Mark, an affable sort who excels at the game of marbles, will ride swing. Lastly, Harry Dire, a skilled roper but a malcontent, Chuck Muscher, a Yankee troublemaker, and Bartholomew Henry O’Henry, another former slave angry about his past with a mean streak in him, will all be assigned to ride drag which only adds to their alienation and seditious attitudes. Their actions bode ill for the success of the cattle drive.

Bookending this description of the cattle drive and the fate of these characters is the story of Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane told as only H.H. Lomax can, again putting himself right smack dab in the middle of the action over a span of years that begins in Springfield, Missouri and ends on that fateful day in Deadwood, Dakota Territory. But what does a “Rattle Jar,” head lice, an illicit game of poker at the library,  a stolen gold Waltham watch, cherry pie, an impromptu lynching, counterfeit wanted posters, and the “romance” between Wild Bill and Miss Martha Jane Canary and their final resting place  have to do with that narrative? For those insights, you really do need to read the book. In fact, once you do, I highly recommend that you go back and read the entire series. You won’t be disappointed!

Finally, to give a complete review of First Herd to Abilene, I need to mention errors in editing that I had not encountered in Lewis’ previous books. I seldom comment on SPAGs, but readers will undoubtedly come across them in the course of reading the novel. Preston Lewis is a great storyteller and a deserving winner of the Spur Award for western literature, but this book would have benefitted from a final edit before publication.

That said, as someone who once wrote that the “western genre no longer holds the public’s attention as it once did in cinema and published media,” I can definitely say that Preston Lewis’ books are the exception, helping keep western literature alive, vibrant, relevant and entertaining.

I received a free copy of First Herd to Abilene in exchange for my honest review.

Preston Lewis is the Spur Award-winning author of thirty novels. In addition to his two Western Writers of America Spurs, he received the 2018 Will Rogers Gold Medallion for Western Humor for Bluster’s Last Stand, the fourth volume in his comic western series, The Memoirs of H. H. Lomax. Two other books in that series were Spur finalists. His comic western The Fleecing of Fort Griffin received the Elmer Kelton Award from the West Texas Historical Association for best creative work on the region.

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4/28/20
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5/3/20
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Rio Ruidoso: Lone Star Book Blog Tour – Excerpt

RIO RUIDOSO
Three Rivers Trilogy, 1
by
PRESTON LEWIS
Genre: Historical Western
Publisher: Five Star Publishing
Date of Publication: February 19, 2020
Number of Pages: 299

2017 Elmer Kelton Award from the West Texas Historical Association:
Best Creative Work on West Texas

 

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Rio Ruidoso offers a gripping blend of history and story as two-time Spur Award-winner Preston Lewis explores the violent years before the famed Lincoln County War in New Mexico Territory. Seamlessly weaving fact with fiction, the author details the county’s corruption, racism, and violence through the eyes of protagonist Wes Bracken, newly arrived in the region to start a horse ranch with his alcoholic brother.

 

Bracken’s dreams for the Mirror B Ranch are threatened by his brother’s drunkenness, the corruption of economic kingpin Lawrence G. Murphy, and the murderous rampages of the racist Horrell Brothers. To bring tranquility to Lincoln County, Bracken must defeat those threats and stand his ground against the ever-changing alliances that complicate life and prosperity in multi-racial Lincoln County.

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Excerpt

EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER ONE OF

RIO RUIDOSO

BY PRESTON LEWIS

As he neared the bend in the stream, a woman’s screams and sobs grew discernible and louder. Then Wes heard the mocking laugh of amused men. Rounding the bend, Wes saw a small adobe dwelling with a small cultivated field between it and the Ruidoso. And in front of the house, he spied a circle of four men around a Hispanic woman. A fifth man sat horseback, holding the others’ mounts. All five were hurrahing the woman and someone else within their circle.

Wes held the stallion back while he studied the five men, all so intent on their mischief that not one had noticed their visitor less than a hundred yards away. Wes knew neither the dispute nor its cause, but he could see the odds were less than fair. He levered a cartridge into the Winchester, then shook the reins. The sorrel stepped forward, the gap between Wes and the men narrowing to eighty yards, sixty yards, then forty yards. Still the men remained oblivious to all but the prey within their small circle.

Wes watched a frail man stand up among them, only to be shoved back to the ground by a bigger assailant. The woman screamed and tried to help the victim, but another attacker grabbed her arm and jerked her away. She fell to the ground, then clambered toward the frail man. Everyone laughed, except Wes! He had seen enough.

“Get up, greaser, so I can plant you in the ground again,” taunted one attacker.

At twenty yards, Wes eased back on the sorrel’s reins. Swinging the barrel of his carbine toward the assailants, he shouted, “Afternoon.”

Five men flinched at the greeting, then stiffened. They slowly turned around, facing Wes, their hands frozen near the revolvers at their sides.

“What seems to be the trouble?” Wes called out.

The woman burst through the circle of men and rushed toward Wes. “Gracias, señor, muy gracias!

Her cry and the flash of her skirt spooked Charlie. The sorrel nervously backtracked a half-dozen steps. One man reached toward his pistol, his hand wrapping around the gun butt.

The Hispanic woman stopped dead still.

Wes jerked the carbine to his shoulder and fired over the foolhardy man. The fellow’s fingers widened and his arm went limp, releasing the pistol that slid back into its holster. His companions raised their hands away from their own sidearms.

The young woman’s hand flew to her throat. “Please, señor, stop them from hurting us.”

Wes nodded. “What’s the trouble?”

One troublemaker stepped ahead of the others. He had a stiff neck, his whole body turning with his head. “No trouble. Until you showed up, fellow!”

“The young lady wouldn’t agree, now would she?”

“She’s Mexican. What’s she know?”

“Enough to expect decent treatment from folks.”

Stiff neck turned his whole body toward the others. “He damn sure ain’t from Texas, now is he?” As they laughed, stiff neck twisted back to face Wes. “Hell, fellow, you remember the Alamo? This greaser’s kin likely killed good white folks there. We’re just paying them back.”

Wes shrugged. “That was near forty years ago, and this isn’t Texas. You best forget the Alamo, ride on and leave these folks alone.”

Raising his fist, stiff neck advanced a step. “Fellow, I don’t know who you are, but you got no business interfering in what my bunch does. The name’s Horrell, I’m Mart, and these are my brothers Tom, Merritt, Ben, and Sam. We’ll ride out, but you remember the Horrell name if you’re planning on staying in Lincoln County because we’ll meet again when we ain’t in such a good mood.” 

Preston Lewis is the Spur Award-winning author of thirty novels. In addition to his two Western Writers of America Spurs, he received the 2018 Will Rogers Gold Medallion for Western Humor for Bluster’s Last Stand, the fourth volume in his comic western series The Memoirs of H. H. Lomax. Two other books in that series were Spur finalists. His comic western The Fleecing of Fort Griffin received the Elmer Kelton Award from the West Texas Historical Association for best creative work on the region.

 


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FEBRUARY 18-28, 2020
(US ONLY)
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2/18/20
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2/21/20
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2/20/20
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2/21/20
Review
2/22/20
Author Interview
2/23/20
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2/24/20
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2/25/20
Author Interview
2/26/20
Review
2/27/20
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Riders of the Purple Sage: My Review

Every so often I like to pick up a book that I read as a young boy growing up. In this instance it was Zane Grey’s classic western Riders of the Purple Sage.Riders of the Purple Sage Book Cover

I remembered very little about the story other than the character known as Lassiter. His iconic image, a dreaded gunman dressed completely in black with two guns holstered at his side, is what stuck in my memory.

I’d totally forgotten that this was a western romance novel set in Utah telling the story of Jane Withersteen, a Mormon landowner who refuses to shun gentiles (non-Mormons) or enter into a loveless marriage with Elder Tull.

Written in 1912, the romantic characterizations and dialogue appear awkward and dated by today’s standards. But there is no denying that Grey’s descriptions of the landscape are stunning. He also captures the majesty, beauty, and might of horses. Some of his more enthralling passages describe them galloping the open range and the horsemanship of their riders.

Lassiter has come to Cottonwoods, Utah in search of his beloved sister’s grave when he happens upon a vigilante gathering of Mormons about to whip Bern Venters, the foreman at Withersteen ranch. Lassiter’s reputation as a deadly gunslinger drives them away, but sets in motion a series of events intended to ruin Jane Withersteen or force her into obeying the Mormon elders and bishop.

When Jane’s cattle herds are rustled, Bern Venters sets out to track down Rustler Oldring and the infamous “masked rider.” The pursuit results in the discovery of a hidden valley and a shootout with some of the rustlers. Bern wounds the masked rider only to discover that she’s only a teenage girl with a mysterious past. While nursing her back to health, the two fall in love.

Over time Lassiter also falls in love with Jane Withersteen, becoming her protector. He almost forswears the vengeance that brought him to Cottonwood, but the kidnapping of a young orphan girl whom both he and Jane have come to love reignites his hatred.

There are unforeseen plot twists before a final resolution of these two story lines, and the climatic ending is the reason why Riders of the Purple Sage remains one of the early westerns that excited a young boy’s imagination.

Does it hold up today? I admit skipping over passages that now seem quaint, but the book is over one hundred years old. My tastes in literature have changed as have those of most readers. Nonetheless, Riders of the Purple Sage is a timeless ode to the western  and to an author that brought the Old West to life.