Empire on the Platte, by Richard Crabb
If this post’s title confuses or leads astray, I’m sorry. Nebraskan Burt Sell, a home-grown historian, provided much of author Crabb’s fodder for this book, by the author’s admission information important to the tale. And a great tale it is.
We first follow the lives of the Olive family, beginning with patriarch James Olive. Most of the story, however, is built on the life and times of James and wife Julia’s son, I.P. (Isom Prentice) Olive, known familiarly as Print. The Olive family settles in western Texas in the early 1800s and make their name rounding up wild longhorn cattle – something of a cowboy Garden of Eden. Despite competing cattlemen and rustlers, the Olives make a fortune on the backs of these longhorns. Soon, however, farmers begin coming in droves, and the Olives pick up and move to Nebraska. There they come to loggerheads once more with settlers intent on farming, and we see developing the conflict between cattlemen and sodbusters, which has been made into virtual cliche in early cowboy movies.
The Olive family’s part in this conflict along the Platte River is a central one, and it summons controversy. As Crabb tells the Olive story, Print murders a pair of farmers in gruesome fashion. Some of those involved in the killings turn state’s evidence, and Print is sent to jail.
The rest of the century-long conflict between farmers and ranchers isn’t told here; Crabbs story is built myopically about Print, and with his conviction this chapter of the long-running western conflict ends. Crabb gives us a chronological tour of this story, and he offers a multitude of details without the book becoming cumbersome. For historians wishing to find out more about this chapter of the U.S.’s westward expansion, the book is a must. And it’s eminently readable for the casual nonfiction reader.
My rating: 17 of 20 stars