A friend and I have a pact: whichever of us gets some sort of e-reader first can also expect a full set of hardcover, bound encyclopedias from the other. Or maybe we owe the other the encyclopedias? I forget.

The point is that neither of us ever expects the other to make that transition away from the printed page. It’s not that I haven’t heard all the arguments for them and think they are wonderful inventions — I have and I do. I’m all for anything that gets people engaged in the written word, and I know electronic readers and books are extremely handy when traveling, being able to access millions of titles electronically versus trying to lug them all around in a suitcase; having immediate access to an online dictionary and reference pages to learn more about the words and topics within the books; the ability to track how your reading speed and graph all kinds of other statistics about your reading; the option of making the print larger or smaller as needed — and so on. I get it. Many people prefer that option for many very good reasons.

For me, though, I still prefer books made with paper pages that are bound together. There’s something about the tangible nature of the book itself that plays into my reading experience. The type, width, color, and feel of the paper, the typeface, the cover design, the sound the pages make as they turn, the smell of the pages — these all play into that overall reading experience. Honestly, the same exact story, printed in two entirely different versions by separate publishers, changes my reaction to what I read. There were a couple of years that I was horrified that I had lost a taste for one of my favorite authors, only to discover upon receiving a different edition of one of her books that no, I simply had a distaste for the layout and added modern illustrations in the previous edition I had read. It seems quite silly (and rather arrogant) to notice these evaluations I make as I read, but reflecting on the habit has helped me to be aware of it and not get carried away with dismissing or embracing the content simply because of its packaging. But, I do think I will always prefer the printed copy of books, so of course, libraries and bookstores have always been some of my favorite places to peruse.

On a recent visit to the library, I discovered “The Black Hills Trails,” published in 1924 by Jesse Brown and A.M. Willard. As I scanned the table of contents, I noticed Chapter V was titled, “Highwaymen and Robbers,” and I knew I was in for some exciting tales. Sure enough, the book did not disappoint.

You’ve probably seen or heard about stagecoaches in the area; they were a large part of Black Hills history, and so of course there is a lot of history about them and their dealings. Because they were one of the limited forms of transportation for a time, people depended on the coaches to carry mail, passengers — and often very valuable loads of gold, currency, merchandise, and more that would be quite tempting to the local (or not so local) highwaymen and robbers. Stagecoaches were held up and robbed so often that the companies recruited help to protect their assets and ensure the coaches would make their destinations with everyone — and everything — intact. This goal wasn’t always accomplished, and there are many names of people who lost their lives during these exchanges, whichever side they represented.

One of the sections within Chapter V describes “The killing of ‘Stuttering Brown.’” One of the stagecoach companies, Gilmer and Saulsbury, started a stage line into the Black Hills in 1876. Though they invested in teams of horses and Concord coaches, horse thieves continued to mar their attempts at keeping the line running, killing drivers and making off with the horses and whatever else of value they could find in the coaches. But the company was undeterred. They dispatched a message to Salt Lake City for “Stuttering Brown,” a man who had experience with stage lines in the West. He is described in the book as “a well known character to whom fear was unknown.”

Did you get goose bumps there? I did. But it may have to do with the look, feel, and smell of the book in front of me. Its historic pages make me feel closer to the story I’m reading, like Stuttering Brown might come walking around the corner of the library and make me swoon. A man who doesn’t know fear? Yes, we will resume the rest of his story next week, though I’m afraid the title of the chapter section has given away the ending. Stay tuned!


(1) comment


I have a complete set of encyclopedias. free. with year books that followed that year.

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