The True Life Wild West Memoir of a Bush-Popping Cow Waddy

The True Life Wild West Memoir of a Bush-Popping Cow Waddy

The True Life Wild West Memoir of a Bush-Popping Cow Waddy

The True Life Wild West Memoir of a Bush-Popping Cow Waddy


A sixteen-year-old runaway from Illinois, Charley Hester (1853–1940) lit out from home in 1869, bound to make a life for himself on the great American frontier. In the winter of his life seven decades later, he dictated an account of his experiences in the Wild West of his youth. Charley Hester's memoir recounts the journeys that took him to Missouri, Texas, Indian Territory, Kansas, and Nebraska and brought him face-to-face with badman John Wesley Hardin as well as Joel Collins before Collins formed his band of stagecoach and train robbers. The young cow waddy also tells of meeting Wild Bill Hickok, observing Doc Holliday's deft card play, and witnessing the waylaying of a drunken buffalo hunter by Wyatt Earp.

In his own colorful language, Hester relates stories ranging from high jinks on the trail to a heart-stopping surprise encounter with Indians, as well as conflicts with nature in the form of blizzards, cyclones, quicksand, swollen rivers, bad water, prairie fires, and electrical storms. So engaging that they figured in Warner Brothers' research for the classic movie Dodge City, Hester's adventures are the stuff of true Americana: history rendered in bolder strokes and brighter colors than the most outlandish fiction, as outrageous and outrageously entertaining as it is true.

After life as a cowpoke on the Chisholm and Western Trails, Hester eventually settled in Phillips County, Kansas, and then in Dundy County, Nebraska, where he helped his brother build a ranching empire.


Growing up in Phillips County, Kansas, I was given to the idea that the family to which I belong had a run-of-the-mill rural history, something along the lines of British forebears migrating to the New World, where they took up a life in agriculture, after which—as my thinking went—these ancestors begat a three-hundred-year line of farmers and did nothing spectacular in the way of leaving a mark on the history of the nation. Despite this, upon occasion I would hear various stories from the old-timers of my childhood, stories that I took as being tall tales since they sometimes concerned this uncle being scalped by Indians, that uncle being killed by Jesse James, and so on.

Around five years ago I began a somewhat casual scholarly search into my roots—a search that soon expanded in scope. Driven by a strong interest in history and aided by an educational and professional background in the art of research, I was quite successful in verifying old family stories and uncovering new ones. These stories concerned patriots who fought for the creation and continued existence of our nation, pioneers who braved the trails to Oregon, 49ers who sought their fortunes in the gold fields of California, and yes, uncles who were launched into eternity by Indians and desperadoes.

One of the stories of my youth concerned “Grandpa Graybeard.” His daughter—my great-grandmother, Eva Marie Hester Peugh (1885–1985)—regaled family members with her experiences as a little girl coming west with him in a covered wagon and settling on a homestead in northeastern Phillips County on the state line just south of Naponee, Nebraska. While her mild-mannered stories about living in a sod house and becoming a teacher at age sixteen were somewhat fresh coming in first-person form, more mysterious and vague were the secondhand stories of her father’s early life—the adventurous life . . .

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