Book Review: Cowboys on the Western Trail

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

Other Books in This Series

• On the Eve of Revolution
• Servant to Abigail Adams
• Our Journey West
• Yankee Blue Or Rebel Gray?
• Escape to Freedom

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Yet another book in the fantastic National Geographic I Am American series, this book, by Eric Oatman, chronicles a cattle drive as seen through the eyes of teen Josh McNabb and Davy Bartlett. In this installment, Cowboys on the Western Trail, the young boys take part in an adventure from Texas to Nebraska, driving cattle through all the perils that await them, including bad weather, stampeding cattle, unfriendly Native Americans, and "dangerous" towns like Dodge City, Kansas. The various Trails are mentioned as well. The cattle drive in this story takes the Western Trail, which is not always mentioned in general discussions of the subject.

Like other books in this series, this one uses journal entries and letters home to advance the storyline. These devices do such a good job that the actual factual text is minimal.

The artwork is excellent as well, mixing period photographs with original artwork. The result is a work that feels of the period while also appealing to readers of the present day.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this book is that one of the main characters, Joshua McNabb, is African-American. The story is set in the late 1870s, not long after the Civil War. Young Josh is treated the same as young Davy, both by the other characters in the story and by the author (and, by extension, by the reader). His ethnicity is never an issue, which is refreshing; in fact, it is never mentioned; the only way you as the reader would know is to look at his picture in the beginning of the book.

This is a great little book. It can serve as educational entertainment or as part of a unit on the American West. Highlighting as it does the basic tenets of the cattle drive while also adding in interesting tidbits, the book makes a great introduction into the period.

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Social Studies for Kids
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David White