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Reviews 181 Bartlett Richards, Nebraska Sandhills Cattleman. By Bartlett Richards, Jr. with Ruth Van Ackeren. (Lincoln: The Nebraska State Historical Society 1980. 289 pages, $12.00.) Find upon opening this book a refreshing breath of clean air, a view of land and people from one hundred years ago! A definitive addition to western history, this picture of life in the cattle country of Nebraska and Wyoming must appeal to anyone who wants to learn. This volume reads like fiction, but also presents a compendium of hard, sometimes ruthless facts. The story impresses one as modern: the Press still distorts; the human “chickens” still pick to destroy a maimed member; the Federal Government still mismanages; a few true friends stand loyal. Bartlett Richards, a native of Vermont, came west at seventeen, eager to learn, willing to work, and eventually wise enough to take calculated chances. He did not intend staying in the West, planned a return to college in Massachusetts. But the West captured him, and within twenty-two years he had grown to be the most influential cattleman in Nebraska. The felicitous discovery and use of personal letters makes available a rare veracity. Imagine a more telling image than the cowboy’s description of the new Richards home — “dipping vat with every bedroom.” Modern-day readers may find comfort in the fact that in 1873 cattlemen paid 24%-36% interest on their loans. Yet, those with courage, imagination, and a keen sense of timing made fortunes. Included in this prosperity came hard, monotonous work and long absences from home. Bartlett Richards did not shrink from any price in self-sacrifice. Federal land laws then had been formulated by bureaucrats who knew nothing of real conditions in the Sandhills (and did not want to learn.) These lands laws had been circumvented with impunity for years until legalism and jealousy plotted to bring down the Cattle King, Bartlett Richards, of the Spade Ranch. Although Richards had helped many homesteaders try to build a life on the scanty soil of the Sandhills, he bore accusations of gross injustices and cruelties. In legalistic terms he had broken a senseless law, but so had hundreds of others, left unpunished. He admitted to fencing public land, but this practice had enriched and preserved the soil. In Richards’s trial, Ignorance and Injustice prevailed. A conscientious, faithful husband and a loyal partner, he should not have needed vindication, much less vilification. However, this well-documented account sets the twisted, half-told record straight. A wiser presentday look at land usage confirms that the cattlemen correctly judged the Sandhills. MILDRED R. BENNETT, Red Cloud, Nebraska ...


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