Suggestions from the staff at Out West Books for your next great read

As part of The Colorado Sun’s literature section — SunLit — we’re featuring staff picks from book stores across the state. >> Click here for more SunLit

This week’s bookstore: Out West Books, 533 Main St., Grand Junction

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The Dominguez-Escalante Journal

Edited by Ted J. Warner
University of Utah Press
$14.95

Dec 4, 2004

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Publisher: The chronicle of Fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez and Fray Silvestre Vélez de Escalante’s most remarkable 1776 expedition through the Rocky Mountains, the eastern Great Basin, and the Colorado Plateau to inventory new lands for the Spanish crown and to find a route from Santa Fe to Monterey, California.

From Marya at Out West Books: You can’t swing a chunk of frozen rope in western Colorado and Utah without touching something named after, or by, Dominguez and Escalante. So many place names are attributed to this short expedition in 1776 through Colorado to find a route from Santa Fe to the missions of California that one might think they spent more time here. In fact, they covered 1,700 miles in 159 days without actually making it to California. The Grand Canyon proved to be too much of an obstacle.

This translation of Escalante’s journal of the Dominguez expedition is so accurate that you can tell from the description just exactly which hogback, ridge or river they are crossing. Some people believe that the Utes accompanying the expedition steered them into Northwest Colorado and Eastern Utah from the Gunnison River to skirt the Ute territories. Maybe, if you read between the lines, you will come to the same conclusion.

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Blood and Thunder

By Hampton Sides
Anchor Books
$19
Oct 9, 2007

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From the publisher: In the summer of 1846, the Army of the West marched through Santa Fe, en route to invade and occupy the Western territories claimed by Mexico. Fueled by the new ideology of “Manifest Destiny,” this land grab would lead to a decades-long battle between the United States and the Navajos, the fiercely resistant rulers of a huge swath of mountainous desert wilderness.

At the center of this sweeping tale is Kit Carson, the trapper, scout, and soldier whose adventures made him a legend. Sides shows us how this illiterate mountain man understood and respected the Western tribes better than any other American, yet willingly followed orders that would ultimately devastate the Navajo nation. Rich in detail and spanning more than three decades, this is an essential addition to our understanding of how the West was really won.

From Marya at Out West Books: Hampton Sides could write the phone book and I’d read it. This book, initially meant to be an account of the removal of the Navajos from Canyon de Chelly, is also about the life of Christopher “Kit” Carson. As with Dominguez and Escalante, Carson’s name can be found all over Colorado and Northern New Mexico from Army Bases to forests to street names.

He had a most interesting life, and played a substantial part in the “opening” of the west. From the 1820’s, starting with his time as a mountain man, then a scout for the Fremont expeditions, to the 1840’s and 50’s, and his involvement in the removal and resettling of Indigeneous peoples, to the Long Walk of the Navajo people, Sides’ chronicle of Carson’s life does not disappoint. If you live in Colorado, this book should be a part of your library.

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Jim Beckworth

By Elinor Wilson
University of Oklahoma Press
$21.95
Dec 15, 1980

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Publisher: Dismissed as a “gaudy liar” by most historians and often discredited by writers who deprecated his mixed blood, James Pierson Beckwourth was one of the giants of the early West, certainly deserving to rank alongside Kit Carson, Bill Williams, Louis Vasquez, and Jim Bridger. In his old age, he Beckwourth dictated an autobiography to TD Bonner, a man more interested in making money with Jim’s adventures than in accurately recording his life. Beckwourth was later fired because of the inaccuracies that crept into Bonner’s account of him.

From Marya at Out West Books: Jim Beckwourth, (aka Beckwith, Beckworth) was born the natural son of Sir Jennings Beckwourth and a female slave. After he was granted emancipation from his father, the well educated Jim joined William H. Ashley’s 1824 expedition to the Rocky Mountains. Over the course of his life he was a fur trapper, trader, scout, war chief, prospector, and Indian agent. Jim Beckwourth could tell a tale, and as a result, real facts of his life about him are hard to suss out. To this day, parts of his life are an enigma.

For example, he lived with the Crow, married (maybe several at a time) Crow women, yet still was involved in the Sand Creek Massacre. Elinor Wilson treats all aspects of Jim’s life with respect, though some facets are still in dispute. I feel that because of his race of him (even in the 1840s!) He was erroneously blamed for events that were out of his control of him and swindled of monies he had rightly earned. Despite all, Jim made a name for himself as an extraordinary mountain man and that name can be found on mountain passes, streets (5th Ave in Denver used to be Beckwith St.), and again, a residence hall at Western Colorado University.

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