Animals and wagon trains

A newly released nonfiction book from the University of Nevada Press gives its full attention to the animals used by the people in wagon trains.

Well, the news release for Success Depends on the Animals: Emigrants, Livestock, and Wild Animals on the Overland Trails, 1840-1869 doesn’t actually use the term “wagon trains,” but I’m using it as shorthand.

The book, written by Diana L. Ahmad, “explores the relationships and encounters that these emigrants had with animals, both wild and domestic, as they traveled the Overland Trail.” They “were accompanied by thousands of work animals such as horses, oxen, mules, and cattle. These travelers also brought dogs and other companion animals, and along the way confronted unknown wild animals.”

The news release says Ahmad’s study is “the first to explore how these emigrants became dependent upon the animals that traveled with them, and how, for some, this dependence influenced a new way of thinking about the human-animal bond.”

I’ve always been interested in wagon trains for some reason, and I’ve always felt sorry for the oxen. In the books I’ve read, they didn’t always make it to Oregon or California. And, of course, the emigrants ate many of the wild animals they encountered along the trail. I guess that would be a kind of bond.

The author used primary sources such as journals, diaries and newspaper accounts to explore the topic, which is of value whether her intended readers are academics or amateur historians like me.

Ahmad received her PhD at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She is a University of Missouri Curators’ Teaching Professor of History at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, where she specializes in the history of the American West, the Pacific and Modern East Asia. She also is the author of The Opium Debate and Chinese Exclusion Laws in the Nineteenth-Century American West.


$31.95 / cloth / 144 pages / print ISBN: 978-0-87417-997-2/ ebook ISBN: 978-1-943859-10-8

Old West story from a College of Southern Nevada prof

From a University of Nevada Press news release

GamblersApprentcvrThe Gambler’s Apprentice by H. Lee Barnes (University of Nevada Press, 2016) tells the story of a teenage boy growing up in Texas during desperate times. Willy, wise and capable beyond his years, learns the gambler’s trade and experiences adventures that demand quick wits—and sometimes violent actions.

Barnes crafts a multi-layered story, full of Old West motifs such as cattle-rustling and gunfights along with more modern twists. Starting with a cattle-rustling scheme involving his father, Willy embarks on a life of crime early, eventually landing in a Laredo jail for shooting a man. During his incarceration he meets Sonny Archer, an itinerant gambler, who teaches Willy how to be a cardsharp. Upon his release, Willy roams the country, honing his new talent and getting into more trouble. During his time in New Orleans, Willy even winds up in a confrontation with an Italian crime ring.

While all these adventures mold Willy into a clever card player and a masterful fortune hunter, his grand ambition to be a professional gambler is thwarted when the influenza epidemic strikes. Willy is forced to return home to his family’s Texas ranch, where he faces the most challenging test of his young life and begins to prove that he is far more than simply an apprentice.

Barnes is an award-winning short-story writer and author of three previous novels, three short-story collections and two nonfiction books. He was inducted into the Nevada Writer’s Hall of Fame in 2009, and in 2013 he received an award for excellence in the arts from the Vietnam Veterans of America for his writings on Vietnam. Barnes teaches English and creative writing at the College of Southern Nevada.


$27.95 / cloth / 304 pages