In the March, 2017 issue of True West magazine, I offered readers my five favorite Nebraska history titles in the “Building Your Western Library” column. From a teetering stack of dozens of paperback and hardcover entries (some no more than pamphlets, some the size of cement blocks) I pulled out my Top-20, then divided that in half. It took a while and a couple re-reads to whittle the stack down to five. Even then it was almost a coin toss as to which five made the final cut.
The runners-up follow here.
Some are harder to track down than others, but all are worth your time and perusal.
Oak View Park – Pinnacle of a Czech Legacy by Linda F. Wostrel
Born in 1859 to Czech immigrants in Iowa, had John Pospeshil not relocated to my hometown of Bloomfield, Nebraska in 1904, his name might well be forgotten. Inspired by the 1898 Trans Mississippi and International Exposition in Omaha, Pospeshil landed in Bloomfield in 1904, and one of his first endeavors was not just to build a new Opera House for the young community, but to fabricate its bricks with a machine of his own invention. The success of Pospeshil’s brick machine and the Opera House with its legendary shows and entertainments led the entrepreneur to found Oak View Ranch in 1908, a working cattle concern that eventually hosted Oak View Park in Venus, Nebraska. It was a modern amusement park with electric lights, baseball diamond, dance hall, Olympic-sized swimming pool, gas station and airstrip. Through the ‘20s, the Park hosted a variety events including the Mason Brothers’ Wild West Rodeo. Family member Linda Wostrel fills a historical void with a thorough, well-researched book that’s packed with vivid photos and other period visual treats. Information on getting a copy of the book can be obtained from the author at: Linda Wostrel, 7405 South 168th Avenue, Omah, Nebraska 68136.
Western Story – The Recollections of Charley O’Kieffe, 1884 – 1898 by Charley O’Kieffe, with an introduction by A.B. Guthrie, Jr., Bison Books, University of Nebraska Press, 1960
On the northern edge of Nebraska’s sandhills, Charley O’Kieffe saw the last days of the vast frontier and the taming of a wild west his settler parents were part of. Good natured recollections and humorous stories are punctuated with a poignant sense of nostalgia and loss for a time and place that O’Kieffe brings to life in splendid fashion.
The Luckiest Outlaw –The Life and Legends of Doc Middleton by Harold Hutton, Bison Books, University of Nebraska Press, 1992.
Hutton partially explored the horse-thieving days of Nebraska’s legendary James Riley, aka Doc Middleton (1851 – 1913) in his book Vigilante Days. A few years later the author produced this more in-depth exploration of the notorious character’s life and loves, motivations and ultimate legacy. To say Middleton was a complex man is an understatement, and Hutton’s profile manages to be both objective and warmly empathic. A fair look at a controversial figure.
Whit’s Town – A Pioneer Editor, His Newspaper & His Community by Ramon D. Hansen
A true labor of love and years in the making, Hansen packs the first half-century of Bloomfield, Nebraska’s history into one 700+ page hardcover tome. One of the first students at the nascent University of Nebraska in 1870, Whit Needham founded the Bloomfield Monitor twenty years later. The Monitor was the rural community’s first newspaper, and remains a weekly standard in Bloomfield. Hansen uses Monitor archives to immerse readers in another time, but with deft insight and precision manages to offer readers a clear sense of historical place and progress. From early “wild west” shootings and railroad concerns to World War One and the Flu Epidemic, through the dustbowl and America’s entry into World War Two, Hansen exposes the human side of history like nobody else. Write for information on getting a copy to: Ramon D. Hansen, 109 Thorpe St., Carthage, NY 13619
An Unspeakable Sadness – The Dispossession of the Nebraska Indians by David J. Wishart, University of Nebraska Press, 1994
Breathtaking in scope, with stunning attention to detail, Wishart’s 1994 work about the Indians of Nebraska and the loss of their lives, cultures, and tribal lands is important for the scholar and layman alike. Chronological narratives, maps, graphs and first-hand accounts make the Ponca, Omaha, Pawnee, Otoe, and Missouria come alive. A revelation not to be missed.