Unbridled Cowboy

Joseph B. Fussell; E. R. Fussell, ed.


Winner of the 2009 Will Rogers Medallion Award

Unbridled Cowboy is a riveting firsthand account of a defiant hell-raiser in the wild and tumultuous American Southwest.

Interview with E. R. Fussell

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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


Editor's Preface

Map of places mentioned



Hell's Half Acre to El Paso
Del Rio
Oklahoma, El Paso, and San Antonio
Home and Dallas
Cathouse Queen
Yoakum to Bakersfield
The Great Depression in Winslow
Leading Democrat in Northern Arizona
World War II and Alhambra



E. R. Fussell was born in Peru to American citizens and moved back to the United States at the age of five. He received his law degree from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and began practicing law in California. Since 1972, he has practiced law in his hometown of LeRoy, New York.

Joseph B. Fussell was born in Tyler, Texas, in 1879, the son of a cowboy and buffalo hunter. He ran away from home and school at age fourteen after nearly killing the school bully with a brick. Fussell trekked most of the Southwest and worked as a cowboy, livery stable operator, and at any other jobs he could find. When he was a ranch hand in northern Mexico, he barely escaped the fate of his American friend who died at the bottom of a well. Fussell worked as an undercover Texas ranger before beginning his railroad career. He married at age 27, and he and his wife, Mary, had two children. In 1916 when Mexico was in the throes of civil war, Fussell took a perilous journey to Vera Cruz to check on the suitability of land for oil drilling. He lived in Arizona working as yardmaster and librarian for the Santa Fe and became politically active with compelling letters to politicians and newspapers. After retiring from the Santa Fe in 1945, Fussell moved to Alhambra, California, to be near his daughter and family. With little formal training, Fussell wrote his riveting memoir about real life in the West at the turn of the century. He died in 1957.



A captivating true-life narrative of the wild west.

Midwest Book Review

This richly detailed, entertaining memoir…is good reading.

Dallas Morning News

[Fussell] invokes the cowboy spirit in his language and attitude, making this story an extraordinary one.

Texas Books in Review

Detailed and entertaining, and with writing that sounds straight from a cowboy’s mouth.

American Cowboy

Unbridled Cowboy is a delightful, rambunctious read, a sort of memoir, but, well, sometimes, life is a kick in the pants. A great story, invitingly written, and genuine as morning served with coffee at a gingham tablecloth. E. R. edited “Gramps” autobiography for us, and that joy should be visited on anybody wishing a touch of warmth and compassion. You can learn much from the narrative, but buy it because it’s a wonderful read.

The Texas Bookshelf

This reviewer found himself riveted to Fussell’s narrative.

True West

Unbridled Cowboy is filled cover to cover with riveting true tales of undercover work as a Texas Ranger, life on the railroads, and rough justice. A captivating true life narrative of the wild west.

 —Wisconsin Bookwatch

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