Book Review: Old Guns and Whispering Ghosts by Jesse L. "Wolf" Hardin


by Boge Quinn

photography by Boge Quinn

March 25th, 2007




Jess Hardin is a man after my own heart.

A fine writer, a wonderful illustrator, photographer, poet, musician, historian, hunter, outdoorsman...Jess is a man who wears many hats, and wears each with aplomb. A Renaissance man in the truest sense of the word, Jess is nevertheless a plain-spoken and down-to-Earth guy. He has written four published books, along with hundreds of articles in publications as diverse as Shoot! Magazine, Guns, Gun Digest, International Militaria Collector, Gray's Journal, Wilderness Way, and Mother Earth News. He lives in a remote area of the mountainous Southwest, where he can live the life of a true Mountain Man. He looks the part; he walks the walk; and he has the ability as a writer, storyteller and illustrator to take us on his adventures with him, and to truly make history "come alive".

Some months ago, Jess sent me a copy of his latest book, Old Guns and Whispering Ghosts: Tales and Twists of the Old West, and he has since been waiting, with varying degrees of patience, for me to complete my review of it. He probably figured that I was a procrastinator (and he would be correct in that assumption), or that I was just plain lazy (Jeff would probably concur here), but while the preceding may be true to some degree or another, the fact is that I just can't stop reading this book. I have read it cover-to-cover twice, and have referred to it many more times. 

As wonderfully vast and diverse this book is as a treasure trove of information, this is no sterile and stodgy treatise; Jess Hardin's writing ability elevates the work to a gripping read, one that is difficult to put down, and one that transports the reader to another time.

To give you an idea of the wide-ranging subject matter covered in this book, I will list the chapters:

I. .22 Dreams: The Blessings and Imaginings of Childhood

II. Inconsolable: John Wesley Hardin and the Shootist Archetype

III. The Story of Ol' '81: Army Ordnance, Lever-Guns and the Apache Wars

IV. Indian Arms: Homelands, Lances & Trains

V. Buffalo Guns: Ritual, Waste & Return

VI. Scatterguns: Smoothbores & Highwaymen

VII. Fallen Angels: Amorous & Armed

VIII. Hidden Thunder: Pocket Guns & Hideaways

IX. The Feel: design, Balance, History & Appearance

X. Straight Shots & Trick Shooters: Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill & Those Wild West Shows

XI. Ben Lilly: Bears, Blades & Bullets

XII: Teddy Roosevelt: Conservation, Guns & Gumption

XIII: Pancho Villa: End of an Era

XIV: The Vintage Hunt: Ritual & History

XV: Scars: Nicks, Scratches & Restorations

XVI: The Frisco War: The Grit & Guns of One Elfego Baca

XVII: Vaya Con Dios: The Wild West Lives On

As you can see, there is something in this book's pages that will appeal to every history buff, outdoorsman and aficionado of fine guns. This is truly an extraordinarily well-written book, and it imparts an understanding not only of the firearms, the history and the personalities covered, but it personalizes the stories and gives us a glimpse into the heart of the writer, and by extension into the hearts of us all.

The illustrations in this book are superb. As a lifelong artist myself, and as one who used to ply the trade professionally, I especially appreciate Jess Hardin's talent as an illustrator. Jess not only has the ability to illustrate his subjects with great technical skill, but he has the talent and insight to use his illustrations to help tell the stories. This is not as easy as it might seem to the uninitiated, but Jess pulls it off beautifully. The book is lavishly illustrated not only with Jess' illustrations, but also with a great many beautiful photographs of guns, artifacts and people, most taken by Jess himself. There are also many photographs of historical figures taken from various archives; there is a full-page photo of a young Teddy Roosevelt with a custom Winchester 1876 rifle, fancy Bowie knife and buckskin clothing, courtesy of the Harvard College Library, that alone is worth the price of the book.

The whole presentation is beautifully packaged by Shoot! Publications, and their efforts are also a great reason why this book is so enjoyable. Rendered in "coffee-table" quality, the pages are slick and reproduced at a high resolution so that the beauty of the paintings, drawings and photographs are not lost. Bound in hardcover and beautifully typeset, the package is completed by a nicely-rendered, slick dust jacket. As an avid reader and as one who appreciates fine books, I applaud the folks at Shoot! Publications for giving Jess Hardin's work the treatment it deserves.

As you may have guessed by now, I give this book my highest recommendation as essential reading to anyone who appreciates history, guns or just likes a fine book. Beyond that, however, this book could prove to be an invaluable way of introducing young adults into an appreciation of guns and the history of the Old West. The style of writing, the beautiful illustrations, and the compelling nature of the stories told would serve very well to hold the attention of a young adult where other, less entertaining, works may not - and this could serve to increase the ranks of those of us who appreciate the finer things in life.

If you are the kind of person who appreciates who we are and from whence we came, or are interested in the history of the American West, or are just "into" old guns, then you owe it to yourself to buy this book. If you are not, buy it anyway - you just might become "one of us"!

The book is available directly from the author at

Old Guns & Whispering Ghosts
Shoot! Publishing, 2006
11X14 Hardcover    246 pages   300+ color illustrations
ISBN# 0-9726383-2-6
Wholesale Orders:  or call  (208) 368-9920

Boge Quinn

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"Old Guns and Whispering Ghosts: Tales and Twists of the Old West" by Jesse L. "Wolf" Hardin.







Author Jesse L. "Wolf" Hardin - a true Renaissance man.