Winner of the 2009 Will Rogers Medallion Award
Gripping—I couldn’t put it down…. A remarkably complete story about growing up in Texas.
Unbridled Cowboy is a riveting firsthand account of a defiant hell-raiser in the wild and tumultuous American Southwest in the late 1800s. At the age of fourteen, Joe Fussell hopped trains to escape from school and the authority he scorned. Joe became a roving cowpuncher across the Texas territory, tilling the land, wrangling cattle, and working in livery stables, moving on whenever his feet began to itch. In a time and place with no law, the young cowboy exacted revenge on those who trespassed him or those who abused authority. Joe recounts tales of cowboy adventures, narrow escapes, and undercover work as a Texas Ranger and life on the railroads. A spark of his wild cowboy spirit remained even after he went to work on the railroads and rose to the position of yardmaster.
Joe’s unadorned prose is as exposed and simple as the wide open Texas plains. His unpretentious, unique voice embodies the spirit of the old West.
This book has charm and vitality due to the integrity and honesty of the voice. Future generations of readers will greatly benefit.
—Ron Hansen, author of
The Assassination of Jesse James
I have been regularly reviewing Texas and Southwestern nonfiction for some 25 years and even longer on an occasional basis. This is one of the most compelling memoirs I have ever read. For a self-educated man, Fussell was a heck of a writer-storyteller. Portions of the book, particularly his sanguinary trip to Old Mexico, read like something from a Larry McMurtry novel. Unbridled Cowboy definitely constitutes a significant contribution to Texas letters. I particularly learned a lot about railroading, and in a broader sense, something of the mindset of a rural Texas kid in the late nineteenth century. His insight into turn-of-the-century cattle ranching and rustling also was incisive. Frankly, I had come to like the old rascal by the end of the book. A novel couldn’t have had a much more powerful ending.
—Mike Cox, author of The Texas Rangers: Wearing the Cinco Peso, 1821–1900
Arguably, this is one of the finest personal reminiscences of life in the American West. Few memoirs exhibit such breadth—legitimate breadth, that is to say. The writer was a ranch hand, a railroader, a Texas Ranger, an adventurer, and a hobo. He lived through one of the most fascinating periods of American history, including the close of the frontier, the rise of the labor movement, the development of America’s transcontinental railroads, and the depths of the Great Depression. He saw the Mexican Revolution from within. The credibility of his observations lie in the wealth of details he provides. His observations on Mexican “exchange rates” during the Revolution are priceless. The point is that these memoirs read with conviction; the writer does not apologize for the truth. He apologizes for some of his actions, and regrets many of them, especially his vendetta against the Mexican cowboys. Simply, the primary contribution of this manuscript is to remind us of the Real West—of human nature in a raw and often dangerous land. The fictional writer that comes to mind is Larry McMurtry. The style is wonderful for someone who claims never to have made it past fifth grade. The word choice is excellent, the descriptions riveting, and written with nouns and verbs. It is as if the author read Strunk and White.
—Alfred Runte, author of Allies of the Earth: Railroads and the Soul of Preservation