The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West, by Candy Moulton, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1999, $18.99.
This guide is a treasure-trove for people who write fiction or nonfiction about the West and who strive for accuracy and telling details. But even those Old West lovers who don’t have the itch to write about that wonderful place and time can still turn to most any of these 326 pages and find something of interest. There are facts aplenty here from the years 1840 to 1900, and they cover everything from land ownership to language, from marriage and family to crime and punishment, from U.S.-Indian treaties to furnishing a home.
Author Candy Moulton, who doubles as editor of the Western Writers of America’s Roundup magazine, provides a concise overview of an era best known for its Indian wars, gunfights and cattle drives but actually full of people more concerned about family, home, health, making a living and enjoying a little entertainment–just like Westerners today. “Everyday Life” is what Moulton calls Part 2 of her book. The third part deals with “Wild West Society,” while Part 1 covers “The Land, Government and War.” At the end of each topic is a list of additional reading, and at the end of the book are a writer’s resource guide and a Western chronology.
Perhaps the best reading pleasure here comes from the excerpts Moulton uses from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. Under the heading “Marriage,” for instance, Moulton quotes from the July 23, 1870, issue of Leslie’s: “A Texas couple eloped on horseback, accompanied by a clergyman. They were pursued by the bride’s father, and the minister performed the marriage ceremony at full gallop.” And then under “Divorce,” Moulton offers the following from the October 31, 1865, issue of that illustrated newspaper: “In Sacramento recently a woman procured the release of her husband from jail, and that night ran off with another fellow. Her object in procuring her husband’s release was to leave somebody with the children.” Of course, if crime and punishment is your thing, try this March 1, 1856, excerpt from Leslie’s: “There were forty-eight lynch-law executions in California during last year, and only nineteen legal ones.” The beautiful, wide-open spaces of the West are grand, but it’s the little human details that make the place grander.