Relive the American Frontier Life with These Books

Hunting the American West: The Pursuit of Big Game for Life, Profit, and Sport, 1800-1900
By Richard C. Rattenbury

Of the many aspects of Western life in the 19th century, hunting is one that we rarely address in Guns of the Old West other than in passing as part of some famous individual’s life, like Buffalo Bill. Author and Western historian Richard C. Rattenbury has approached this subject in an entirely different way with this lavishly illustrated book, giving readers an understanding of the animals that were hunted, why they were hunted and, in the case of the American buffalo, why they were almost driven to extinction. Rattenbury, as so aptly addressed in the book’s foreword written by the late arms historian E. Norman Flayderman, takes an “evenhanded approach to an often controversial, yet vastly absorbing subject.” Hunting the American West combines historical photography, art, beautifully hand-illustrated imagery of animals, such as American buffalo, American antelope, a variety of deer, elk, moose, mountain sheep, goats and, of course, bears and mountain lions, all depicted in such a way as to set the tone for the hunting of each, and the individuals these animals attracted in their pursuit.

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Rattenbury begins with the quintessential American hunter, the Native Americans who were here first. “They had subsisted handsomely on it for untold generations, and, by the 1850s, the big-game animals had become a veritable magnate to the region for Euro-American sport and market hunters as well.” It is this turn that makes Rattenbury’s book essential reading, as it delves into the mid-19th century and the hunting for sport and commercialism that drove the American buffalo to the brink of extinction by 1900. The stories of famous hunters and sportsmen are interwoven throughout the book, and in the telling also comes a great deal of American history as it relates to hunting during times of peace, war and Western Expansion. The book also devotes an entire chapter to the legendary weapons used for hunting by Native Americans, pioneers, adventurers, sportsmen and the military. It is a remarkable compilation of hand weapons, knives, pistols, rifles, shotguns and the men who used them to great success.

Published by the Boone and Crockett Club, Hunting the American West is 396 pages of insightful prose on hunters and their role in building the American West, as examined though vintage photography, line drawings, pencil and watercolor illustrations and artwork, that, alone, would make this book worth the $49.95 price. (boone-crockett.org)

American Engravers III: Masterpieces in Metal by America’s Engraving Artisans
By C. Roger Bleile

There is rarely an issue of this magazine that does not have an engraved gun on the cover or featured in an article. Engraving was the great art form of the 19th century for American firearms. Recreating these timeless works of art, or, as in the case of some modern artisans like Leonard Fracolini and Mike Duber (whose work on a Colt Model 1911 graces the book’s cover), taking engraving to an entirely new level, makes this third volume of American Engravers another treasure trove of stunning portraits in steel. The vast majority of work in the book is from members of the Firearms Engravers Guild of America (FEGA), founded in 1981 following the publication of the first American Engravers book by C. Roger Bleile. The engravers in each of the books are (as of their respective publication) still living and gainfully practicing their art, so not only is this a feast for the eyes, but perhaps one of the greatest portfolios of work one can purchase when deciding upon an engraver for a custom firearm!

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Including a double gatefold of Fracolini’s most incredible Colt SAA ever, Bleile’s latest 222-page compilation of master engravers totals 68 men and women who have created works of art on handguns, knives, rifles and shotguns that stir the spirit and incite the desire to own something unique. A hand-engraved gun is that great chalice, each one of a kind, as is this latest book by Bleile and Blue Book Publications. At $75, it is as close to interviewing an engraver as one can get without attending the annual FEGA convention. (bluebookofgunvalues.com)

This article originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of GUNS OF THE OLD WEST®, print and digital subscriptions to GUNS OF THE OLD WEST are available here.

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