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Monday, November 9, 2020

WESTERN NON-FICTION—BLUECOAT AND PIONEER

WESTERN NON-FICTION
BLUECOAT AND PIONEER
I recently had a conversation with a friend about the difference between a traditional western yarn and historical western fiction. A related topic is nonfiction that reads like fiction. One such tome is Bluecoat and Pioneer, The Recollections of John Benton Hart, 1864—1868. I reviewed the book for True West magazine last year, but when General Sterling Price’s Missouri Expedition of 1864 showed up last week in local news, I took it as a good reason to go back to Hart’s remembrance.

John Benton Hart fought with the Eleventh Kansas Cavalry in 1864 Missouri, joined in Wyoming’s Battle of Platte Bridge a year later, and rode with Wells Fargo on the Bozeman trail. His colorful anecdotes and key observations, set to paper in the early 20th century by his son, Harry, keep the reader spellbound and help fill the gaps in similar narratives by other authors.
 
While I’m familiar with Sterling Price’s raid on Missouri (since one faction of his army bivouacked about 500 yards from my front porch), I’m not an expert, and Hart’s manuscript provides some good clarification.

The tale of a coveted sweet potato, Hart’s last-ditch plan to fight back against Cheyenne captors, and a visit with famed tracker, Jim Bridger, are only a few of the entertaining and sometimes poignant episodes herein.
 
Historian John Hart is John Benton Hart’s great-grandson, and his skilled research, attention to detail, and straight-forward prose come together not only to frame the old man’s vivid memories, but to give us to some new insights into frontier history
 
If you like nonfiction that reads like a pulp novel, Bluecoat and Pioneer might be for you.
 
REVIEW: RICHARD PROSCH

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