Hobnail and Other Frontier Stories

Written by Loren D. Estleman
Review by Thomas j. Howley

Subtitled “A Century of the American Frontier,” this anthology is a collection of seventeen new short stories by well-known, award-winning authors. For readers who just might think it’s all “shootouts at high noon,” this splendid book will disabuse them of that stereotype. Wildly diverse themes and plots abound: an account of the battle at the Alamo according to its resident rats; primitive dentistry; unlikely boxcar hobos; mysteries and forensics; cryptozoology; an aging prostitute meets Geronimo; a bizarre assassin, and revenge against a crooked justice system among other stories.

Flashes of humor appear throughout, and one chapter on the age-old subject of “hazing the new guy” is especially hilarious. One learns that 1890 marks the end of the American frontier period and the reason why. The book also gives insights into elements of frontier technology.

The anthology claims to capture the spirit of freedom and individualism in the evolving 19th century. In my opinion, it succeeds in that to near perfection. Refreshingly, there is no attempt to defer to modern notions of delicate sensibilities, so the history rings genuine in each chapter. Even though the stories are not voluminous, the many characters—Indians, whites, former slaves, and Mexicans—are memorable and often likeable. Editor Hazel Rumney has excelled in assembling these small distinct gems into a single tome that is presented over the timeframe of the 19th century. I suspect readers will want to read these stories again and again.