Cowboys, Gold Diggers and Railroad Builders
Books for Readers in the Middle Grades
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Across America on an Emigrant Train by Jim Murphy.
Robert Louis Stevenson, who would later become a famous writer, kept a journal as he traveled in 1879 from Scotland to the woman he loved in California, first on a crowded boat and then on a series of crammed, woefully uncomfortable trains on the transcontinental railroad. The author weaves together Stevenson's perilous trip with the history of the railroad that forever changed America. For grades 5-8 and older readers.
Alice Rose and Sam by Kathryn Lasky.
1860s, Virginia City, Nevada. Twelve-year-old Alice Rose Tucker, the daughter of the local newspaper editor, hates her ugly mining town with its drunks, dance girls, and hired killers. When reporter Samuel Clemens comes to work for her father, Alice Rose finds a sympathetic ear. After she witnesses a murder, Clemens helps her unveil a Confederate conspiracy. For grades 4-7.
Ballad of Lucy Whipple by Karen Cushman.
Following her dream in 1849, widowed Mrs. Whipple moves her children to a California mining settlement where she opens a boarding house in a tent. Hating California, her oldest daughter, California Morning, changes her name to Lucy and plots to return to Massachusetts. For grades 5-8.
By the Great Horn Spoon ! by Sid Fleischman.
A determined orphan and his aunt's fearless butler, Praiseworthy, stow away on a ship bound for the California gold fields in 1849. An amusing tall tale. For grades 4-7.
Calamity Jane: Her Life and Her Legend by Doris Faber.
Truth and legend appear to blend in accounts of historical figure Calamity Jane, born Martha Jane Cannary in Missouri in 1852. As a teenager she rejected prevailing nineteenth-century roles for women to become a brash, trousers-wearing rowdy who worked at tough jobs like the pony express, and who loved to brag about her real and imagined exploits. For grades 5-8 and older readers.
Children of the Wild West by Russell Freedman.
RC 22740 or LP 50161.
A colorful account describes the experiences of the children of pioneer families as they traveled west in wagon trains and as their families settled the frontier. Also presents a picture of the lives of the Indian children of the day. For grades 4-7 and older lovers of history.
Destination Gold ! by Julie Lawson.
Canada, 1897. 16-year-old Ned Turner leaves his widowed mother and younger sister, Sarah, to seek his fortune in the Klondike gold fields. The next year Sarah undertakes the treacherous journey to find him. Along with Catherine, a runaway, she joins Ned and shares his adventures. For grades 6-9.
Dragon’s Gate by Laurence Yep.
China, 1865. Fourteen-year-old Otter eagerly sails to California to join his father and his legendary uncle, Foxfire, as a laborer on the transcontinental railroad. Joining outcasts headed by Uncle Foxfire, a dreamer battling defeat by American racism and the fears of his Chinese companions, Otter begins a harrowing journey towards self-knowledge. Companion to Mountain Light (RC 26541), and Serpent's Children (RC 26540). For grades 6-9 and older readers.
Fool’s Gold by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.
Fourteen-year-old Rudy Drummond has terrible nightmares about being locked in tight dark spaces and wants no part of Tyler Lewis's plan to explore some nearby abandoned gold mines. However, Rudy's best friend, daredevil Barney, is intrigued. Rudy spends the summer thinking up schemes that will keep the boys above-ground and believes the plan to be unsafe. But Ty and Barney are determined to chance it anyway. For grades 5-8 and older readers.
Full Steam Ahead: The Race to Build a Transcontinental Railroad by Rhoda Blumberg.
Describes the people and events surrounding the 1860s competition between the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroad companies to lay track from opposite sides of the country to complete the first railroad to cross the United States. For grades 5-8.
Gold in the Hills by Laurie Lawlor.
Hattie, ten, and her brother Pheme, twelve, have been left to live with Cousin Tirzah while Pa goes off to hunt for gold. Their mother is dead. Cousin Tirzah doesn't like having two more mouths to feed since she is a widow with children of her own, so she makes Hattie and Pheme work hard all day to help care for her boarders. When things begin to look even bleaker, Hattie and Pheme turn to a reclusive neighbor for help. For grades 4-7.
The Great American Gold Rush by Rhoda Blumberg.
Before 1848, California was a sparsely populated, unimportant Mexican province. But with the discovery of gold, said to be as common as clay, thousands of people from all over the world left their families, shut their shops, deserted their farms, and headed for California. Newspapers called them victims of "gold mania," or "gold fever." Blumberg vividly recreates the history of the Gold Rush. For grades 6-9 and older readers.
Horse Sense: The Story of Will Sasse, His Horse Star, and the Outlaw Jesse James by Jan Neubert Schultz.
Minnesota, 1876. 14-year-old Will Sasse and his father join the posse to find Jesse and Frank James, after they rob the local bank and steal Will's mare, Star. Will's goal is to raise pleasure horses, and so he needs Star back. For grades 5-8.
Hurry Freedom: African Americans in Gold Rush California by Jerry Stanley.
Recounts the history of African Americans in California during the gold rush of the nineteenth century. Focuses on the life and work of Mifflin Gibbs, a prosperous businessman, who lobbied to pass bills that would improve the living standards of black Californians. For grades 5-8 and older readers.
In the Days of the Vaqueros, America’s First True Cowboys by Russell Freedman.
History of cowboys in North America. Discusses the first underpaid Indian cow herders on horseback, the vaqueros who originated in Mexico five hundred years ago. Explains how they created their tools, practiced their skills, and later, taught western settlers their work. For grades 5-8.
Jim Ugly by Sid Fleischman.
1894. Twelve-year-old Jake Bannock assumes that he is an orphan after he sees his actor-father's coffin lowered into the ground at Blowfly, Nevada. If one discounts the rumor that Sam Bannock had concealed a cache of diamonds, Jake's only inheritance is his father's part-wolf mongrel dog. His father called the dog Amigo; Jake calls him Jim Ugly. Together they set out to learn the truth about Sam's supposed demise and the diamonds. For grades 4-7.
Jo and the Bandit by Willo Davis Roberts.
Texas, late 1860s. After their mother's death, twelve-year-old Jo and her younger brother are sent by stagecoach to their bachelor uncle, a storeowner and local Texas judge (who's disappointed to learn that Jo is a girl). When the stagecoach is robbed, Jo watches carefully and is able to draw pictures of the bandits. Later, however, Jo becomes fond of them, and saves the day when her uncle's plan to use her as bandit bait fails. For grades 4-7.
The Journal of Joshua Loper: A Black Cowboy by Walter Dean Myers.
Chisholm Trail, 1871. Sixteen-year-old Joshua Loper goes on his first cattle drive from Texas to Abilene, Kansas. As one of three African Americans on the crew, Joshua contends with prejudice from the white trail boss along with the physical hardships and dangers of being a cowhand. For grades 4-7.
Mystery at Chilkoot Pass by Barbara Steiner.
BR 14504 or RC 55790.
At the start of the Klondike gold rush in 1897, twelve-year-old Hetty travels to the Canadian mines with her family and their friends. But someone along the trail is stealing things from her family, and Hetty becomes determined to find the thief. For grades 4-7.
The Mystery of the Flooded Mine by Willard Manus.
Hearing rumors of a twentieth-century gold rush, a skin diver battles underwater danger and even more dangerous men to find gold in the California mountains. For grades 6-9.
Mustang Flats by G. Clifton Wisler.
When Frank Draper returns to Texas after the Civil War, he unfairly blames the ranch's misfortunes on his fourteen-year-old son, Alby, whom he had left in charge. Alby joins a cattle drive hoping to earn some money for his family and to regain his father's respect. For grades 5-8.
Skitterbrain by Irene Bennett Brown.
A young pioneer and her spunky companion follow a large cattle herd across the empty prairie in search of a runaway cow. For grades 4-7.
Smoky, the Cowhorse by Will James.
The life of a cow pony on the range and in the corral, told in the vernacular of the cowboy. For grades 6-9. Newbery Award.
Tales from Gold Mountain by Paul Yee.
The author fashioned these eight stories from tales he heard as a child growing up in Vancouver's Chinatown and from historical research. They tell of the history of the Chinese in North America, during the gold rush, with the transcontinental railway, and in the canneries, and of the unjust laws and racial discrimination these immigrants encountered. For grades 6-9 and older readers.
Trail Boss in Pigtails by Marjorie Stover.
After her father dies in Texas, Emma Jane Burke drives her family's herd of steers to market in Chicago. Based on the true story of a 19th Century Girl. For grades 4-7.
Trail Fever by D.J. Lightfoot.
George Washington Saunders was born in Texas in 1854, and as far as he could remember, he had always been a cowboy. Saunders could ride a horse before he could walk, and by the age of five he could herd cattle from horseback nearly as well as his three older brothers. For grades 4-7.