Choate Cowboy Fiction Collection
The Choate Cowboy Fiction Collection of 197 titles was donated to the Library in 2014 by former University Librarian, Ray Choate. After 25 years of service, Ray retired in June 2015, donating countless books to the Library, including this fascinating collection of cowboy fiction, originally belonging to his father, Alton William “Bill” Choate.
Bill was born on 24 May 1913 in Fairfield, a small city in Clay County, Nebraska. When he was just 2, his family moved to Goshen County, Wyoming, where they lived in a Hawk Springs homestead. Although he finished 10th grade, the highest available at the time in such a small settlement, he did not go on to college. He was much more interested in the outdoors, particularly in horses, and was reported as saying “There was always a horse out there some place that somebody said I couldn’t ride, but I thought I could.” As a young lad Bill was always searching for untamed horses, making five dollars for each one he broke.
In 1934 Bill married Byrel Harden and the couple lived on various ranches before settling at Hawk Springs in 1956. Byrel was not keen for her husband to continue breaking in bucking horses so Bill swapped to roping – calves initially and then team steer roping. Over eight decades he received numerous tokens for his roping skills, including a handful of belt buckles. Roping was not the only interest that kept Bill busy though. His father had put up hay for many of their neighbours and Bill continued this work. He was also handy around the home, constructing built-in furniture, book cases and kitchen cabinets and decorating the ranch’s gate posts with metal cut-outs of a horseman roping.
Though Bill temporarily ceased roping around the age of 50, he returned to swinging a loop, and some 40 years later was still taking his horse and ropes to several brandings a year. His hobby caused broken bones, hospital stays and many aches and pains but Bill enjoyed a happy and simple life and lived to the age of 97.
During his lifetime Bill amassed quite a collection of ‘cowboy’ or Western fiction as it is also known. Typically set in the Old West from the late 18th to early 19th century, novels of the genre tended to have a simple plot but they were filled with action and usually revolved around a strong, central character. Cowboys, cavalrymen, lawmen and outlaws also featured regularly. Although stories often dramatised the tensions between the Wild West and the encroaching civilization, key to all was a captivating sense of freedom and adventure. Characters were regularly plunged into the wilderness, alone, and dependent on their own courage and strength for survival. Readers were inspired by these crusading heroes and the genre became extremely popular in the 1930s and 40s, reaching its peak in the 1960s.
The Cowboy Fiction Collection comprises works by some of the genre’s most renowned authors, such as Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, John Nesbitt, William W. Johnstone and the prolific writer Max Brand. Popular titles include Hondo and How the West was won by Louis L’Amour, The last trail and The border legion by Zane Grey, Black diamond rendezvous by John Nesbitt, The long chase and The blue jay by Max Brand and the outstanding Blood Valley and The last mountain man by William W. Johnstone. Other noteworthy titles include Independence! by Dana Fuller Ross, Llano River by Elmer Kelton and The secret of Apache Canyon by Richard Telfair.
Also received with the novels was Bill Choate’s hat and lariat.
The Choate Cowboy Fiction Collection is housed in the Collections Room of Rare Books & Special Collections.
 Hansen, Sandra, ‘The common life of a tall rider: 88-year-old cowboy still ropin’ and ridin’’, source and date unknown.