Meet 3 BLACK HEROES OF THE WILD WEST! Graphic novel by James Otis Smith

book cover of Black Heroes of the Wild West, by James Otis Smith. Published by Toon Books |

Wild mustangs accepted Bob as a herd member.
Mary’s stagecoach always got through, always.
Bass outsmarted and arrested many outlaws.

Perhaps you’ve heard of lawman Bass Reeves, the first Black Deputy U.S. Marshall west of the Mississippi River, but did you know that his dedication to justice inspired the adventures of the fictional Lone Ranger?

Like Reeves, Mary Fields was born into slavery and found freedom in the West working at a mission school, opening her own business, and becoming “Stagecoach Mary,” the most successful stagecoach driver in Montana – a cigar-chomping, punch-throwing, gambling real-life legend.

Bob Lemmons’ patience and tracking skills allowed him to gradually be accepted into a herd of wild Texas mustangs where he challenged the stallion for leadership, then led the mares and colts into his corral. This formerly enslaved man died a respected rancher at age 99 in 1947!

Illustrator Kadir Nelson‘s introduction sets the tone for this new look at American history of the West.

Smith’s art and words bring us along on these heroes’ adventures, with interesting back matter about African Americans on the frontier, how Black and Native Americans interacted, cowboys, railroads, and homesteading.

Which of these heroes would you want on your side on the frontier?

Book Info: Black Heroes of the Wild West / written & illustrated by James Otis Smith. Toon Books, 2020. (author video interview) (publisher site)

V is Vengeance Road, by Erin Bowman (book review) – revenge is a dangerous path

book cover of Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers | recommended on BooksYALove.comJust her and Pa on the homestead,
till the Rose Gang came a-killin’ –
now it’s time for revenge…

Kate will track down the killers in the unforgiving Arizona deserts and mountains to avenge her father’s death, but when the 18 year old discovers that the gang is after the gold that her father hid, look out!

Read chapter one here (courtesy of the publisher), then hunt down this wild Western tale at your local library or independent bookstore!

We need girls with grit in westerns and all kinds of books – Kate is as gritty and tenacious as they come.

Family secrets… shared any lately?

Book info: Vengeance Road / Erin Bowman. [author site]  [publisher site]  [book trailer] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: Kate’s riding hell-bent for leather on the Arizona frontier to avenge her father’s murder, as she follows the treasure map that he hid for her, ready to kill every member of the Rose Gang… as long as they don’t get her first!

Apaches and dust storms, the Superstition Mountains and a secretive old miner, Pa’s mysterious and cryptic map… Kate’s trail is perilous and bloody.

If Kate’s heart is consumed by vengeance, will there ever be room for anything else?

Devil’s Paintbox, by Victoria McKernan (fiction) – teens struggle on Western frontier

book cover of Devil's Paintbox by Victoria McKernan Life on the western frontier was far more difficult than the Little House on the Prairie books showed us.

Aiden and Maddy are the last surviving members of their family whose homesteading dreams turned into a row of graves on the bleak Kansas prairie.

Their unlikely savior is gruff Jackson, recruiting for the even-tougher demands of the Pacific Northwest’s logging camps, who only agrees to take along Maddy if Aiden signs on for an extra year of logging work to pay their way West.

Friendly Nez Perce, not-always-friendly U.S. Army soldiers, and the dreaded smallpox shadow the wagon train, as they traverse open range, strain up mountain grades, and struggle across rivers.

Aiden toughens up as they travel, but will he be able to hold his own against the roughs and rowdies of the lumber camps? Adventure, peril, and possibilities fill this gripping tale of the West.

Book info: The Devil’s Paintbox / Victoria McKernan. Random House, 2009. [author bio] [publisher site] [book trailer] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My Book Talk: The shoe leather soup is gone, so Maddie and Aiden will starve to death soon, just as their family did on the Kansas prairie in 1865. But over the hill rides Jefferson J. Jackson, recruiting workers for the lumber camps in Washington.

He allows the teens to join the wagon train going west, warning them that “any way you can think up to die is out there waiting” on the trail. Aiden agrees that his first two years’ wages will go to Jackson in payment for their travel, and they head west, away from the graves on the hillside, away from the dried-up homestead.

Jackson is all too correct, and dangers face the travelers day and night – rampaging rivers to cross, wolves stalking them, Indians who might attack, and diseases with no cures.

Aiden works with his bow and arrow, bringing in deer and rabbits for his sister Maddie to cook. He meets friendly Indians who cross their trail from time to time, teaching him bareback horse riding and improving his hunting skills.

But soon smallpox, “the Devil’s Paint”, appears at a nearby fort, and the deadly disease threatens them all. The wagon train’s doctor soon runs out of medicines, the Indians blame government-issued blankets for the epidemic, and survival is now a gamble for everyone.

Will Aiden make it to the lumber camp? How will a scrawny, malnourished 15-year-old keep up with strong men and dangerous work? Smallpox is just the first challenge that he must face as he tries to live long enough to grow up. (One of 5,000 books recommended on

Crosswire, by Dotti Enderle (book review) – Texas drought & water wars in 1880s

It’s seriously hot and dry in Texas right now, but not quite as bad as the drought that Jesse and his family are suffering through in 1880s West Texas.

It’s a tough time for all cattlemen, but worse for those without access to windmills pumping well water into storage tanks, as the creeks and ponds dry up. So dishonest cattle drovers are cutting barbed wire fences to get at the stored water, leaving little for their family’s cattle.

Mysterious strangers, mutterings at the saloon, his brother’s sudden love of gambling, and having to repair the fences every single blistering-hot day – how can Jesse keep doing all this when he just can’t bring himself to even carry a gun any more? Jesse’s not enjoying how life is treating him in this quick read with a surprise ending.

For a longer story about the too-similar 1950s drought in West Texas, try Elmer Kelton’s well-crafted The Time It Never Rained.

Book info: Crosswire / Dotti Enderle. Calkins Creek Books, 2010. [author’s website] [publisher site] Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

My Book Talk: Drought is the cattleman’s enemy, so renegade drovers are cutting the fences to get to ranchers’ ponds and watering holes. Jesse works with his pa and older brother to repair the barbed-wire fences day after day in the scorching heat, worrying that his family’s food crops will dry up, too.

Big brother Ethan is another worry, spending his nights gambling at the saloon in town – where did the 16-year-old get money to gamble with, anyway? Their stern pa won’t put up with such nonsense, throwing Ethan out of the house and breaking Ma’s heart.

And 13-year-old Jesse just can’t fire a gun any more – not after his accident, not at an attacking rattlesnake, not for anything. What good is a kid who won’t shoot, out on the 1880s Texas frontier? The fence-cutters are getting bolder, making terrible threats against Jesse’s family and dog and their cattle.

Who’s this Jackson guy that Pa hires to help out?
Where is he headed every night after dark?
What does Jackson know about the fence-cutters?

Barbed-wire sharp and prairie wind fast, Crosswire is an exciting western tale based on true events of Texas history.(One of 5,000 books recommended on

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