Classic & Notorious Wyoming Range
In Original Denver Waste Sheets
127. MERCER, A[sa] S[hinn]. The Banditti of the Plains; or, The Cattleman’s Invasion of Wyoming in 1892—[“The Crowning Infamy of the Ages”]. N.p. [Cheyenne or Denver: Privately published, 1894]. [14 blank], [2 (ad, verso blank)], 139 [1 blank] pp., text illustrations (map, portraits, etc.). 8vo, bound in white clay-coated printed waste sheets from The Book of the Campaign of Education... (Denver Times-Sun, 1894), clay-coated plain white endsheets (probably intended as pastedowns). Uniform light age-toning, last few leaves and lower wrapper lightly waterstained at top in upper blank margins, otherwise fine, mostly unopened. Preserved in brown morocco and cloth clamshell box.
First edition. Adams, Guns 1478. Adams, Herd 1474. Adams, One-Fifty 103: “Exceedingly rare.... One of the rarities of Western Americana. It had a temptuous [sic] history. Immediately after its printing, the Wyoming cattlemen objected to having their activities thus expressed and in the course of a libel suit the entire issue was impounded by a local court and ordered destroyed. The author’s sympathies were not with the rustlers...but he objected to the highhanded manner in which the large owners were importing paid killers to exterminate other citizens of the region. While the books were in the custody of the court, a number of copies were stolen and smuggled to Denver, which lay outside the court’s jurisdiction. It is claimed that the books were unbound when stolen and later bound in Denver. The rarity of them is due...also to the fact that for many years members of the Wyoming Stock Growers’ Association, their sympathizers and their descendents destroyed every copy they came across. Every copy I have seen...had a water stained binding. This was caused when the Denver bindery was burned.”
Campbell, My Favorite 101 Books about the Cattle Industry 65. Dobie, p. 111. Dykes, Collecting Range Life Literature, p. 13; Western High Spots, p. 7 (“Collecting Modern Western Americana”): “The classic of the Johnson County (Wyoming) War”; p. 80 (“A Range Man’s Library”). Graff 2750: “An exposé which nearly the cost the author his life.” Holliday 771. Howes M522. Jones 1673. King, Women on the Cattle Trail and in the Roundup, p. 17: “Includes an account of the hanging of ‘Cattle Kate,’ who was accused of rustling cattle in Wyoming.” Littell 720. McCracken, 101, p. 37. Merrill, Aristocrats of the Cow Country, p. 21. One Hundred Head Cut Out of the Jeff Dykes Herd 63. Reese, Six Score 79: “One of the most famous range books.... Mercer, a promoter and newspaper editor, wrote the Banditti as an attack on the actions of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association during the Johnson County War.” Rosenstock 1319. Smith 6735. Streeter Sale 2385-2386.
Mercer’s book is one of those intriguing Western books with as much legend surrounding its history as its origins. Ramon Adams, Grace Hebard, and others allege that the book was systematically destroyed and purloined by members of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association because of Mercer’s vitriolic denunciation of them. Philip Ashton Rollins claims that when the books were shipped, they were hosed down to destroy them. We place more credence in William Reese’s even-handed view of the matter: “The book is said to have been suppressed, and may have been to a certain extent, but a fair number of copies exist today, although it certainly remains rare. Its importance is great, chronicling one of the last great upheavals of frontier violence in the wars for the open range against fencing” (Catalogue 67:452). Reese, like Fred Rosenstock, believed the book to have been printed in Denver, rather than Wyoming, and the waste-sheet wrappers from a book printed in Denver on this and other copies we have seen would seem to confirm that supposition.
Despite the frequent claim of rarity, the theory that members of the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association systematically destroyed copies, and the old book-burning/hosing chestnut, this important, classic book has appeared with regularity on the market over the past seventy years. Fred Rosenstock had a stack of them, but the stack has now dwindled to one, which we are saving for our Ranching Catalogue.
Journalist Mercer (1839-1917) had an interesting career, including a scheme to supply eligible women to isolated, lonely bachelors in the Northwest, establishment of the University of Washington, deep involvement in the Johnson County War (switching sides midstream from the stock growers to the settlers), and finally settling quietly on a homestead in the Big Horn County. See Thrapp (pp. 974-975): “Accounts of bookburning, injunctions and personal threats against Mercer are unsupported by surviving evidence, but nonetheless the book was suppressed even if details are sparse. Suppression made it rare and with it, famous.... He died ‘not knowing that he would come out the winner.... His book has stood the test of time and the perspective of history remarkably well. Many of his most angrily disputed charges have been justified. The book stands as a strange mixture of diatribe and distortion with solid historical fact. But it stands.’”
For a recent revisionist interpretation, see Daniel Belgrad’s "`Power's Larger Meaning’-The Johnson County War as Political Violence in an Environmental Context” (Western Historical Quarterly 33:2): “The Johnson County War serves to model a post-revisionist approach to western history, one that emphasizes the dynamics of human/nature interactions but does not moralize. The violence that took place in the Powder River Valley of Wyoming is analyzed as symptomatic of a crisis in the ecological mode.” ($2,500-4,500)
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