Saints, Sinners, and Sovereign Citizens: The Endless War over the West's Public Lands

Listed as one of the Reno News & Review's "New Books from Nevada Authors," December 29, 2021

The grazing rights battle between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal government, resulting in a tense, armed standoff between Bundy’s supporters and federal law enforcement officers, garnered international media attention in 2014. Saints, Sinners, and Sovereign Citizens places the Bundy conflict into the larger context of the Sagebrush Rebellion and the long struggle over the use of federal public lands in the American West.

Author John L. Smith skillfully captures the drama of the Bundy legal tangle amid the current political climate. Although no shots were fired during the standoff itself, just weeks later self-proclaimed Bundy supporters murdered two Las Vegas police officers and a civilian. In Eastern Oregon, other Bundy supporters occupied the federal offices of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and one of them died in a hail of bullets.

While examining the complex history of federal public land policies, Smith exposes both sides of this story. He shows that there are passionate true believers on opposite sides of the insurrection, along with government agents and politicians in Washington complicit in efforts to control public lands for their wealthy allies and campaign contributors. With the promise of billions of dollars in natural resource profits and vast tracts of environmentally sensitive lands hanging in the balance, the West’s latest range war is the most important in the nation’s history. This masterful exposé raises serious questions about the fate of America’s public lands and the vehement arguments that are framing the debate from all sides.

March 10, 2021

"Smith's accounting of the standoffs and the Bundy trials . . . are particularly poignant because Smith witnessed these events, reporting on them as they unfolded. His account contains details and explanations that are largely absent from other works on the subject."
Leisl Carr ChildersNevada Historical Society Quarterly


“Smith opens with a detailed and often breath-taking recounting of that tense confrontation in April 2014 between Bureau of Land Management and other federal agents and heavily armed sympathizers of rancher Cliven Bundy and his sons, analyzing the issues and motivations of the cast of rather colorful and often charismatic characters. . . . This thoroughly researched book provides thoughtful insight into a controversial issue that doubtless will continue for years to come."
Thomas MitchellElko Daily Free Press


"Most of America still finds Cliven Bundy and his “war” against the Fed incoherent, because most of us are clueless about western public land ranching and puzzled by the country’s right-wing militias. In yet another of his first-rate pieces of investigative journalism, veteran Nevada writer John Smith puts you on the inside of both stories."
Dan FloresNew York Times bestselling author


"Sometimes history seems not to make sense but to be a riot of discordant ideas, weird cultural tides, and deluded personalities. As John L. Smith tells the tale, the showdown between law enforcement officers and misnamed “patriots” at Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch in 2014 included all that and more. If you seek to know the birthplace of our “post-factual” world, Smith offers a prime candidate. From rangeland to courtroom, Bundy and his sons have helped to create a dangerous new American West where theater is reality and truth is whatever the loudest shouter claims it to be."
William deBuys, author of A Great Aridness and The Last Unicorn


“This is a thoroughly modern western: a classic cast of cowboys and vigilantes keenly savvy about social media and talk-show soundbites.  As Smith deftly demonstrates, Bundy’s “Range War” provoked on-going internecine battles over public lands that fuel much of the bitter partisanism at the core of contemporary American politics.”
Sara Dant, author of Losing Eden: An Environmental History of the American West


Even a Street Dog: Las Vegas Stories

Beneath the Las Vegas that America sees on the Travel Channel— nightclubs, famous chefs, rambunctious gambling, celebrities at play—there’s an older, stranger, harder city. A place whose citizens often gamble with more than just money, where you’d better be able to see what’s coming before it arrives, where what happens there stays there because it can’t go anywhere else. Jasper Lamar Crabbe is a stubborn, cagey survivor of this Las Vegas. Your guide through this purgatorial city, Jasper has seen it all and he knows everyone worth knowing—The Professor, The Duke, the Marino Brothers, Ginger and the Twins … plus a few people who weren’t so adept at surviving. These are Las Vegas stories told from the street level, by a narrator who could only have been created by a first-rate author who’s left a lot of shoe leather on those streets, who’s actually talked to their denizens. One of the city’s most-beloved newspapermen, John L. Smith has poured a lifetime of hard-won, backroom knowledge, whispered tales and pure Vegas mojo into these short stories—stories that take you deep into a Vegas no one else can show you.

September 9, 2014


No Limit: The Rise and Fall of Bob Stupak and Las Vegas' Stratosphere Tower

Of all the modern Las Vegas casino operators, none had more flair than Bob Stupak. The self-proclaimed “Polish Maverick” rose from humble origins as the son of a Pittsburgh boss gambler to head one of the largest privately owned casinos in Las Vegas, the infamous Vegas World. Stupak parlayed a small slot joint into a $100 million-a-year gambling operation by manipulating the local and national media with outrageous stunts and promotions. His headline-grabbing handiwork is now the stuff of Las Vegas legend.
Remember Vegas World’s VIP Vacations? Stupak’s cleverly worded advertisements flooded millions of mailboxes around the country and appeared in dozens of prominent national periodicals, including Playboy, Parade, and USA Today, attracting hordes of tourists to his out-of-the-way casino. Though the VIP Vacation became the most successful promotional campaign in the history of Las Vegas, it was also the most controversial. It prompted sanctions and fines from casino-industry regulators, but not before generating enough seed money to fund early construction on the $550 million Stratosphere Tower; Hotel and Casino.
Of all of Stupak’s big ideas, the Stratosphere Tower was the biggest. It was to be the tower to end all towers, the greatest mousetrap in a city of great mousetraps. But the tallest observation tower in the country was erected on a wobbly financial foundation of oppressive interest rates and sky-high debt, which ultimately turned the no-lose proposition into one of Las Vegas’ most high-profile flops.

April 15, 2014


Bluegrass Days, Neon Nights: High Rolling With Happy Chandler's Wayward Son, Dan Chandler

Bluegrass Days, Neon Night takes you through the rollicking life and times of legendary Las Vegas casino host and bon vivant, Dan Chandler. The wayward son of former Kentucky Governor and Major League Baseball Commissioner Albert "Happy" Chandler, Dan likes to say he started at the top and has spent his life working his way to the middle.Dan's bluegrass days began as a boy growing up in the Kentucky Governor's Mansion, the youngest son of one of the most popular politicians in America. Dan not only encountered President John F. Kennedy, but also learned a hard lesson in politics and life. Dan arrived in Las Vegas as the gambling capital's mob days were fading, but Caesars Palace had no shortage of characters - and he became intimate friends with super high rollers and stars ranging from Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson to Frank Sinatra. Bluegrass Days, Neon Nights is an unforgettable true tale told in the voice of one of the last of the great Vegas characters.

January 1, 2010


Running Scared: The Life and Treacherous Times of Las Vegas Casino King Steve Wynn

Steve Wynn is the former owner of the Bellagio -- Las Vegas's latest monument to conspicuous consumption whose hotel and casino contain over 300 million in fine art and 1.5 billion in Wall Street money. He's a mogul whose empire at one point included the Mirage, the Golden Nugget, and Treasure Island. But how did he gain and wield his tremendous power in Nevada? And why did a confidential Scotland Yard report prevent him from opening a casino in London? When this biography, written by a local reporter, was first released in 1995, Steve Wynn brought suit against its original publisher and forced him into bankruptcy. Now available in paperback, the inside story of the biggest phenomenon to roil Las Vegas since Hoover Dam gives readers an intimate glimpse at the real business that's conducted beyond the gaming tables.

April 28, 2009


The Westside Slugger: Joe Neal's Lifelong Fight for Social Justice (Volume 1) (Shepperson Series in Nevada History)

The Westside Slugger is the powerful story of civil rights in Las Vegas and Nevada through the eyes and experience of Joe Neal, a history-making state lawmaker in Nevada. Neal rose from humble beginnings in Mound, Louisiana, during the Great Depression to become the first African American to serve in the Nevada State Senate.

Filled with an intense desire for education, he joined the United States Air Force and later graduated from Southern University—studying political science and the law at a time of great upheaval in the racial status quo. As part of a group of courageous men, Neal joined a Department of Justice effort to register the first black voters in Madison Parish.

When Neal moved to southern Nevada in 1963 he found the Silver State to be every bit as discriminatory as his former Louisiana home. As Neal climbed through the political ranks, he used his position in the state senate to speak on behalf of the powerless for more than thirty years. He took on an array of powerful opponents ranging from the Clark County sheriff to the governor of the state, as well as Nevada’s political kingmakers and casino titans. He didn’t always succeed—he lost two runs for governor—but he never stopped fighting. His successes included improved rights for convicted felons and greater services for public education, mental health, and the state’s libraries. He also played an integral role in improving hotel fire safety in the wake of the deadly MGM Grand fire and preserving the pristine waters of Lake Tahoe, which brought him national attention.

Neal lived a life that personified what is right, just, and fair. Pushing through racial and civil rights hurdles and becoming a lifelong advocate for social justice, his dedication and determination are powerful reminders to always fight the good fight and never stop swinging.

January 7, 2019


“John L. Smith has worked assiduously to chronicle the life of a man whose political activism and electoral career left an indelible mark on Nevada history…Rich in detail, The Westside Slugger also tells the larger, but rarely recounted, story of the struggle against racial discrimination in Nevada.”
— James McGrath Morris, author of The New York Times bestseller Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, The First Lady of the Black Press




Sharks in the Desert

The story of the evolution of the gambling racket from mobbed-up vice to corporate success story as told through the biographies of the men who made it happen.

August 5, 2005


The Animal in Hollywood

The Animal in Hollywood recounts in frank and chilling detail mob enforcer Anthony Fiato's explosive career in the mafia on both coasts.

June 10, 2004


Of Rats and Men: Oscar Goodman's Life from Mob Mouthpiece to Mayor of Las Vegas

For more than 35 years, Oscar Goodman was the country's pre-eminent defense attorney for alleged gangsters. His endless client list included Meyer Lansky, Nick Civella, Anthony Spilotro, Frank Rosenthal, Jimmy Chagra, Natale Richichi, Nicky Scarfo, and Vinny Ferrara, along with many others. Though no further connection between Goodman and the Mafia has ever been proved, the famous litigator has often been accused of being more than just a mouthpiece for organized crime. Was Oscar Goodman only what he claims, an attorney who defended his clients based on the simple principle that they, too, have constitutional rights? And if so, how did he manage to mingle with the mob for decades without becoming part of it? After scores of unlikely courtroom victories, Goodman pulled off an even more unlikely career change. Twice elected mayor of Las Vegas, he went from legal spokesman for the most notorious crime figures of our era to political spokesman for the most notorious city in the country.

January 1, 2003


On the Boulevard--The Best of John L. Smith

On the Boulevard brings together the best writing of Las Vegas' most popular columnist, the Las Vegas Review-Journal's John L. Smith. Smith provides singular insights into the fast, fluid, and often funny town he's chronicled for nearly 20 years. Subjects include: Las Vegas mayor and Mob mouthpiece Oscar Goodman, legendary slot cheat Bill Land, and seldom-chronicled gambling icons such as Mel Exber (Las Vegas Club), Si Redd (IGT), and Big Julie Weintraub ('60s junket operator).

December 1, 1998


“John Smith lies when he says this book is about Vegas. This wonderful collection of his columns are essays of the universal populace, a series of glances at the people around us, the ones we see and don’t see, the famous and the unknown, who compose our cities. … You don’t have to be from Vegas to love John Smith’s writing. These are essays for all seasons. I love every one of them.”
— Al Martinez, Los Angeles Times columnist and author
“An old pro fighter by the name of Eddie Simms died in Las Vegas last October. John L. Smith, columnist for the Review-Journal, wrote an obituary … Readers of Smith’s column could see the old man reminiscing of the time he took a punch from Joe Louis. Smith let us smell the smoky arenas of the 1930s. We could hear Simms playing his accordion for old friends. Here was a writer at work.”
— James J. Kilpatrick, “The Writer’s Art”



Pioneering Medicine: From Sage to Surgery (Fields of Silver and Gold)

The Fields of Silver and Gold series brings the past alive. Meet the trailblazers and the pioneers, the first people and the famous explorers, the legends and the everyday heroes that shaped the history, land, and culture of the West. Their powerful stories will fascinate and inspire you.

Healers. Scientists. Innovators.

Life in the early West was dangerous, full of injuries, accidents, and illnesses. Drs. Eliza Cook, W.H.C. Stephenson, and Charles Daggett stand out as firsts in the field of trained medical doctors, yet countless lives were saved by less well known doctors, shamans, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, midwives, and nurses.

June 19, 2022


The Pony Express: True Tales and Frontier Legends (Fields of Silver and Gold) (Fields of Silver and Gold)

The Fields of Silver and Gold series brings the past alive. Meet the trailblazers and the pioneers, the first people and the famous explorers, the legends and the everyday heroes that shaped the history, land, and culture of the West. Their powerful stories will fascinate and inspire you.

Fearless. Young. Patriots.

Wanted - Young, Skinny Wiry Fellows Not Over Eighteen. Must Be Expert Riders, Willing To Risk Death Daily. Orphans Preferred.

Despite lasting only 18 months, the Pony Express is legendary in frontier history. Its fearless riders faced wild animals, hostile attacks, and robberies to deliver mail from coast to coast as the nation faced civil war and the telegraph raced to make it obsolete.

June 15, 2022


Ben Palmer: Black Pioneers on the Frontier (Fields of Silver and Gold Book 4)

The Fields of Silver and Gold series brings the past alive. Meet the trailblazers and the pioneers, the first people and the famous explorers, the legends and the everyday heroes that shaped the history, land, and culture of the West. Their powerful stories will fascinate and inspire you.

Rancher. Statesman. Groundbreaker.

From slavery to respected community leader, Ben Palmer lived the dream of Black pioneers during Reconstruction. As a prosperous rancher known for introducing the Bonner horse to Nevada, Palmer was widely admired for his honesty, intelligence, and generosity. Overcoming racism to serve an active role in politics, Palmer was the first Black person to serve on a US District Court jury in Nevada and to be elected as a state convention delegate.

April 21, 2021


Anne Martin: The March for Suffrage (Fields of Silver and Gold Book 3)

The Fields of Silver and Gold series brings the past alive. Meet the trailblazers and the pioneers, the first people and the famous explorers, the legends and the everyday heroes that shaped the history, land, and culture of the West. Their powerful stories will fascinate and inspire you.

Activist. Scholar. Trailblazer.

Before she was old enough to vote, Anne Martin began fighting for women's rights and equality. Traveling across Nevada to every small town and mining settlement she could reach, she advocated for women's suffrage. She was the first woman to run for the U.S. Senate. As an author, speaker, organizer, and protester she paved the way for a new generation of activists, in Nevada and across the nation.

April 21, 2021


Snowshoe Thompson: Sierra Mailman (Fields of Silver and Gold Book 2)

The Fields of Silver and Gold series brings the past alive. Meet the trailblazers and the pioneers, the first people and the famous explorers, the legends and the everyday heroes that shaped the history, land, and culture of the West. Their powerful stories will fascinate and inspire you.

Pioneer. Adventurer. Hero.

Before the railroad made travel to the isolated communities of the Sierra Nevada accessible, Snowshoe Thompson endured the elements to trek across snowy mountains, facing frostbite, fatigue, and even wolves to deliver the mail. Thompson carried more than letters from home; he carried on his back the future of Nevada, saving lives in the process, on snowshoes of his own design. He is known as the founding father of snow skiing in California and has been honored for his bravery and service.

October 14, 2020


Sarah Winnemucca: A Princess for the People (Fields of Silver and Gold)

The Fields of Silver and Gold series brings the past alive. Meet the trailblazers and the pioneers, the first people and the famous explorers, the legends and the everyday heroes that shaped the history, land, and culture of the West. Their powerful stories will fascinate and inspire you.

Advocate. Leader. Author.

Thocmetony (or as she came to be known, Sarah Winnemucca) broke race, cultural and gender barriers in the late 1800s to become a champion of the Northern Paiute. As a writer and speaker, scout and interpreter, teacher and peacemaker, she fought against injustice towards native people. Her experiences took her from the foothills of the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains to San Francisco, California, from the reservations in Oregon and Washington to Washington, D.C., where she is commemorated today by a statue in the U.S. Capitol Building.

October 14, 2020



Amelia's Long Journey: Stories about a brave girl and her fight against cancer

For John and Tricia Smith, life couldn't get any better. After years of waiting and praying, they were finally parents, gaining permanent custody of their adopted daughter. And then life couldn't get any worse. In Amelia's Long Journey, John chronicles the joys of becoming a parent and raising a beautiful little girl, and the terror of almost losing her. With the skill of a journalist and the heart of father, John lovingly chronicles Amelia's life: her early carefree years, her chronic illnesses, the diagnosis of a cancerous brain tumor, the surgeries, the treatments, the remissions, the relapse, the recovery. In a series of heartwarming and heart-wrenching newspaper columns dedicated to Amelia, John L. Smith shares the nightmare his daughter has lived since she was eight years old, and the courage, the humor, and optimism she has shown throughout. Amelia's Long Journey is not only a story about a brave girl's fight against cancer, but a story about a precious little girl's love for life.

February 28, 2018


Card Trick: Poems

With Card Trick, award-winning Nevada writer John L. Smith explores the terrain of the heart in a memorable assembly of seventeen love poems published for the first time. They are set not only in Tonopah, Mount Charleston, and other roadside oases familiar to readers of his popular Nevada column, but also in an eclectic array of locales that stretch from somewhere outside Washington, D.C., to “Coyote Pass, Elevation 3770” and a place called the “Shanghai Joy Desert Cafe,” where much more than chow mein is served to a spirit-weary traveler. In Smith’s world, magic is found in the sacred desert, the pine-covered mountains, the garden of middle age, the winter birds and coyotes, and even “the great American discount store.” Card Trick marks another addition to his growing body of work that includes biography, journalism, and short fiction.

April 6, 2018