Douglas H. Strong, Book Review Editor
Tour Guide to the Old West. By Alice Cromie. New York, N.Y.: Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co., 1977. Illustrations. Maps. 464 pages. $12.50.
Reviewed by Troy Jordan, Historian for Old Town State Park in San Diego.
This volume is a true invitation to discover or perhaps rediscover one of the most lively and colorful chapters in the entire span of America’s history, that of the Old West.
For over a decade Alice Cromie conducted a vast amount of research, visited myriad sites, and called upon numerous experts in compiling information for this entertaining and enriching work that is equal to her highly praised A Tour Guide to the Civil War. Writing with a style that reflects her talents as a journalist and free-lance writer, the author claims in her introduction that: “There were days when I was convinced that every son of a sodbuster or daughter of a trailblazer who had managed to lay hands on two tomahawks or an arrowhead and a wagon wheel had opened an End of the Trail Museum.”
There are 19 states which comprise Cromie’s Old West and in spite of the staggering number of entries the book is easy to use. It is arranged alphabetically by state and within each state by place in alphabetical order. Entries run from a sentence to several paragraphs and include the name of the place, site, and county it is in. There are helpful maps and clear highway directions along with historical background information and photographs. Subentries list monuments, museums, and the like.
To really understand the courage and endurance of the pioneers of the Old West is to share a little of the kind of life that they led. This volume enables the reader to do just that, telling where you can witness the process of various crafts, ride to the bottom of a gorge on the steepest incline railway in the world, or ride in a covered wagon or stage coach, walk the old stomping grounds of such characters as Belle Starr and Jim Bridger, and visit a site where 30 feet below the surface of the land a coal vein has been burning since before the first explorers reached the region. Throughout the work the Old West is brought to life by contemporaneous quotations, observations, anecdotes, and songs such as the one which advises: “Catch your partner by the craw and swing around old Arkansas.”
There are a few errors of a typographical nature and some errors of fact as the entry which states that the Battle of San Pasqua] was fought in 1848 instead of 1846. Many historical places have been excluded including Kirkbridge Potts, Arkansas; Shawnee, Kansas; Lodi, California; El Rancho de las Golondrinas in New Mexico; and Coalville, Utah. Regardless of these shortcomings this book is an inspiring and valuable guide containing enough material to keep you exploring for a lifetime.