Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wyoming and the Code of the West

Last March the Wyoming legislature passed senate file 51. This bill, while not a true law as much as it is a suggestion has been both admired and critized. Some say it makes those of us who live in Wyoming look like a bunch of hicks, others say, yes, this is what we are all about.

Here it is - The Code of the West, bill.

Adapted from the book, "Cowboy Ethics," by James P. Owen

-The code includes-

1. Live each day with courage
2. Take pride in your work 3. Always finish what you start
4. Do what has to be done
5. Be tough, but fair
6. When you make a promise, keep it
7. Ride for the brand
8. Talk less, say more
9. Remember that some things are not for sale
10.Know where to draw the line

The Code of the West, alive and Well in Wyoming –click here to watch a great four minutes of Wyoming.

Monday, December 27, 2010

My Yearly 99 Word Western Novel

It was dark, black on black. Then a slight noise but it was as dark for him as it was for me. I waited, not sure why, and then edged off the step into the soft dirt. I crept along keeping one hand on my Colt and the other on the side of the building. The odor stopped me cold. I had smelled death before and this was not it.
Just as my wife called out, “Tom, lookout, a skunk,” he fired.
I dropped to my knees, not dead but wishing I was. The door latched, I heard laughter.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas and Sledding

Christmas is over and I am sitting in my recliner playing with my brand new Kindle. (I have downloaded my first book - a Wm Johnstone Western)
All four kids and all seven grandkids made it. BUT as always there had to be a mishap and this one was a dozy. Our four year old granddaughter broke her leg sledding. It was our second day on the hill (yesterday) she is a tough little kid but when she said she needed to go to the doctor we knew it was hurting. Now it is all cast up (hip to foot) and in about eight weeks she will be as good as new. Thank God for grandkids, good doctors and quick healing for four year olds.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Favorite Western Movies

In just a few days the new version of True Grit opens. Will it be a winner or just another western that today’s audiences don’t like? Fifty years ago nearly everything on Television was some kind of western series and many feature films were westerns. Did too much cowboy time on TV kill the western? Twenty-nine series westerns in 1959 –Over exposure, maybe! And maybe that is what killed the big budget westerns on the silver screen. There have been some exceptions but for the most part westerns, of today, are marginal hits at best.
Maybe westerns don’t lend themselves to enough special effects and big screen tricks to keep today’s young viewers in their seats.
Or likely we oldsters don’t go to the theater enough.
Just for fun here is a list of my favorite westerns (some well know some a little more obscure) – not in order just my top 15.
What are your favorites?
Here is my list.
1. Open Range
2. 3-10 to Yuma
3. The outlaw Josie Wales
4. Winchester 73
5. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
6. The Shadow Riders
7. Last of the Dogmen
8. Jeremiah Johnson
9. Dances With Wolves
10. Stage Coach
11. Unforgiven
12. The Good the Bad and the Ugly
13. Rio Bravo
14. Treasure of the Sierra Madre
15. Ride the High Country

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Lauran Paine

Every few years a new list of greatest of all time for something comes out. Westerns are no different with a little research I was able to find, greatest western novels, greatest western short stories, TV series, mini-series and movies.
Never have I read a list of the most prolific authors. I have one particular author that I really enjoy, William W. Johnstone, who wrote what I felt was a great mountain man series. He wrote in several genres, but mostly westerns. He was published for only about twenty-five years but managed to write and impressive two-hundred books.

But that does not come close to Lauran Paine the author of Open Range Men, a novel later made into the movie “Open Range”. If you have never heard of him, how about these writers all pseudonyms for Lauran Paine: John Armour, Reg Batchelor, Kenneth Bedford, Frank Bosworth, Mark Carrel, Robert Clarke, Richard Dana, J F Drexler, Troy Howard, Jared Ingersol, John Kilgore, Hunter Liggett, J K Lucas, John Morgan.
Lauran Bosworth Paine was born February 25, 1916 in Minnesota and has written more than 900 books.


Have you read anything by him?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pearl Harbor Day - No Old West Today

We should all remember this day in history. December 7, 1941.
My wife and I visited Pearl Harbor three years ago and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Every American should be lucky enough to some day visit.
When I was in college I had a history professor who told us that when he was a kid he thought he would never watch a parade without old men proudly walking by in their Union and Confederate uniforms. When I was a kid I watched so many old solders marching in their World War One and World War Two uniforms waving to us kids. I hope that there’re not all gone before all of us remember to say thanks. And not just to them but to all who served and are serving now.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Expand and Cut

Funny how long rewrites can take. I am on my third trip through my recently completed novel. First draft was a little over 60,000 words now it is up over eighty and I am trying Stephen King’s idea of cutting ten percent. Not sure I am ever going to like it enough to try to publish. Afraid I may be a bit scared of getting the dreaded rejections and a western novel is not the hottest genre out there right now.
I try to write a Christmas story every year so that will be taking my writing time for the next few days. I have an idea so it should be easy to get started. I have also completed my annual, much anticipated Christmas letter (once again fun and very tongue in cheek).
Time to get back to the re-write.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Thief, the Legend and a Pair of Shoes

Big Nose George Parrott was a petty crook, horse thief and stage coach robber in Wyoming during most of the 1870s. He made a few local headlines but longed for more, both money and fame. Gangs he rode with were not famous like Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch or the James Gang, two groups he rode with many years after his death in dime novels and writers dreams. Now the fame he sought while robbing stage coaches and hardware stores has finally become part of his legend. Today he is famous, at least in Wyoming, but maybe not for what he wanted. There are so many versions of his train or attempted train robbery in Wyoming that it is often hard to believe any of them. So like all writers I choose to put together parts of the many stories and come up with my own. (I may have also thrown in a few of my own ideas.)
Big Nose George and his gang of two, Sim Jan and Frank McKinney had started to tear up a small section of railroad track near Medicine Bow Wyoming. The three were so content on working that they did not see an official of the railroad checking track. Once he and the outlaws spotted each other the official high tailed it back to the office and wired for help. While he ran back east to the office the outlaws ran south and west toward the mountain side hamlet of Elk Mountain.
Railroad official Tip Vincent and Carbon county Deputy Sheriff Robert Widdowfield soon caught up with the outlaws. A good old west shot out ensued with Big Nose and the gang killing both Widdowfield and Vincent. Widdowfield reportedly taking a shotgun blast in the face and Vincent shot in the back tiring to get away.
It took three years but the law finally caught up with up with Big Nose George Parrott in Montana and he was taken back to the city of Rawlins in Carbon County Wyoming for trial. Within days he attempted to escape but he was no better at this than train robbing and he never got outside the jail house building. The people of Rawlins, although a good humor bunch did not find this funny. Within hours he was ripped from the jail by a mob of 200 and lynched.
This should have been the end of the line for Big Nose George but in his unusual case we’re just getting warmed up. The body was given to a local doctor and his apprentice who attempted a crude autopsy sawing off the top of Parrots head in search of some type of outlaw lobe in his brain. Not sure if they found much of anything—see bungled robbery and escape above. But the story still does not end. Will it ever?
Big Nose George was skinned and made into a pair of shoes a small bag and according to some a belt and a wallet. The shoes were worn by a local doctor on many special occasions including his own inaugural ball after being elected governor of Wyoming in 1893.
Big Nose George’s body was pickled in salt brine and kept for a year or more in various business places in and around Rawlins Wyoming. Reportedly a favorite game of locals was to take unsuspecting visitors to see the famous Big Nose George—the big game likely went something like this:
“Hey Pard ya ever heard of Big Nose George the outlaw?”
“Sure everyone’s heard of him.”
“Ya wanna see him.”
“Not likely, he’s been dead for years”
The local comic then reaches over opens the wooden whiskey keg reaches in grabs a few parts of ol’ Big Nose and pulls him out of the barrel and starts laughing hysterically. At this point visitor passes out or throws up.
But a year later all the parts of Big Nose George disappeared—until 1950 when a construction project unearthed his bones—Big Nose George was back.

Historical Note—The skull and shoes can still be viewed in a downtown Rawlins Wyoming museum. There was a bag that appeared to be a medical bag but it has not been seen in more than a century. As for the belt and wallet –they may have existed only in legend; if they were real, like the bag they are lost forever.
Personal Note—My wife and I live within an hour’s drive of the train robbery site, my son and his family live on a hill overlooking the train tracks Big Nose tried to tear up just outside of Medicine Bow Wyoming.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

How I spent my Summer

Didn’t get much writing done this summer but did get in Lots of travel and a lot of fun. Now I am back in the classroom, starting my 41st year teaching.
My List of best places I visited this summer---In no particular order of importance.
1. Fort Robinson –Where Crazy Horse was killed. I have visited several times and it is always worth the visit.
2. Murray State Park in Oklahoma—family and fun.
3. Grambling University in Louisiana –neat and interesting place only wish we would have been a few weeks later and been able to watch the football team and band practice.
4. Estes Park Colorado—always fun and only three hours away—took our five year old grandson with us both times. Am just starting to realize that old guys and little guys like a lot of the same stuff.
5. Route 66 through Texas – I still remember the old TV show
6. Mountains of the Snowy Range (only thirty miles away but still great fun) we walked through snow three and four feet deep in late June.
7. The Wyoming Territorial Prison in Laramie (O.K. I know that it is just on the other side of town) but it is still a great place to visit. Butch Cassidy spent some time there and I love visiting the broom factory and watching them work on the old machines.
8. Wyoming Cowboy Football practice—several times
I also read several good books and more than a few average ones and one bad one, but who’s counting.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Summer in Wyoming

Second night in a row I am setting out on the patio enjoying another beautiful Wyoming evening. We pay for it when winter comes but summers are spectacular. Seventy-one degrees, southwest breeze and 27 percent humidity can’t beat it. Last night we sat outside until ten-thirty, put the blankets over us about nine. Temperature went down to 48 last night but back around 80 today.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fort Robinson

Took a day trip to Fort Robinson to do some research yesterday. Always good to go back again. This is my fifth or sixth trip to Fort Rob and I always come away with something new, plus we ate a great lunch at the post cafe. Fort Fobinson and the Red Cloud agency are such a big part of Sioux history that it is a must visit for anyone who loves the old west and it's history. Crazy Horse was killed on a site at the fort and remains to this day a spot of reverance to Native people and history buffs alike. The fort also has some world war one and two history with the United States Army Calvary and Canine Core.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


When the going got tough I went on vacation. Ten states and a great time, lots of fine people and good times. Much history to see in America. I have been reading and researching most of the summer -oh- and working in the garden and playing with my grandson, he's five and we act about the same. (according to grandma)

Hope all of you are having a great summer, I am.

Back to work for this old teacher in a few weeks--my 41st year in the classroom. For those of you who were not with me on the old blogs I teach history of Wyoming and the American West, and AP European history. I teach high school but taught college Western American History for many years also. Other than the west I have interest and have published some works on the WPA and the CCC.

I will try to get back to posting at least once a week -Will be posting one of my short fiction works soon.

Remember -- don't put a cartridge under the hammer, five should do the job.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hey- I'm Back

Okay, Okay I know, I have been AWOL for a few days, all right, weeks. I am working on a revision and it seems to be taking too much time.
But on a lighter note we got two inches of snow here in Wyoming - yesterday. I will be back soon, stay tuned.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mothers Day

Thank God for Mom’s – I had a great one. And my wife, (I might be a little prejudice here, is the greatest mom anywhere) just ask our four great kids. Me I just wander around through life and she keeps me on some sort of a course. To mothers everywhere this old cowboy salutes you—good job.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Week End Powwow

Spent some time at the, Keepers of the Fire Powwow, over the weekend, I have always enjoyed the dancing, drums and costumes from these events. Shoshone, Arapaho and Sioux dancers put it all together but there were representatives from other tribes there also. Several venders selling southwestern jewelry and native trinkets and some tasty fry bread and tacos made the day both fun and filling. Although this powwow was inside and at the university if you try hard enough it’s possible to take yourself back to another time, maybe one where everyone was not in such a hurry and took the time to see life and live life.
My favorite part of the day—I bought a nice bracelet for my classroom, Indian crafts display, and the evening opening ceremonies that featured the bringing in of the flag, the victory chant and eighty or so dancers on the floor at one time. All in all, something everyone should do sometime.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Novel Ready to Go

Sorry I have been away so long.

I have spent most of my free time the last three weeks trying to put the finishing touches on a western novel. It is complete at a little over 70,000 words. The protagonist is a cowboy, sometimes gambler sometime lawman still trying to figure out who he really is. He rides a great horse and is better with knives and guns that just about anyone who ever lived. A dime novel hero in the making, trouble is he can’t make a commitment, not to anything. Not to the love of his life not to a job not to a place to put down roots. A modern day wanderer in the 1880’s who is befriended by a legendary mountain man works with an aging civil war hero and meets a mystical preacher along the way.

I call it a western mystery and I think it is pretty good. I have published some shorter stuff in the past and am pretty confident that I will be able to sell it – but we will see.

I have two other novels ready for review and rewrite, a modern day western mystery and a nonfiction book. I find writing and researching stimulating, rewriting and revising boring and hard work.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Justice in the Old West –or- A Day in Dodge City Court

Ran across this doing some research today--thought it was too good to pass up!

From—Great Gunfighters of the Kansas Cowtowns 1867-1886, page 171,
Nyle H. Miller and Joseph W. Snell

“The Marshal will preserve strict order,” said the Judge. “Any person caught throwing turnips, cigar stumps, beets, or old quids of tobacco at this court, will be immediately arranged before this bar of justice.” The Policeman Joe W. Mason looked savagely at the mob in attendance, hitched his ivory handle a little to the left and adjusted his moustache. “Trot out the wicked and unfortunate, and let the cotillion commence,” said his Honor.

Ah—the good old beet and turnip throwing days. How I miss them.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Old West and Root Beer too

Just for Fun – Spring is Here

The tall stranger bellied up to the counter and watched as the patrons lowered their heads and shuffled away. A wry smile turned the corners of his mouth into his drooping mustache. He dug in his pocket and pulled out a weathered dollar bill, unfolded it and placed it on the counter. He didn’t have to say a word—they all knew and they all watched.

The bar-keep reached slowly, after first making eye contact he couldn’t hold, under the counter and pulled out a clean mug, filled it, and carefully sat the still foaming mug in front of the tall stranger with the big thirst. Then he turned again reaching low, a glint of metal showed in his right hand. His hand came up quickly, but not too fast and placed a large scoop of vanilla ice cream into the glass.

The stranger nodded, pulled the paper end from his straw and shot the barkeep with the paper in the center of his chest. The patrons fell silent and moved farther from the action as the tall stranger took a long cool drink. Man-oh-man how the stranger loved the first Monday of spring—Root Beer floats, only a buck every Monday until June 1st.

Five minutes later it was all over, as fast as it had started. The glass was empty, the stranger smiled and wiped the dripping root beer flavored ice cream from his mustache with the back of his straw paper shooting hand. He stepped back as the other patrons held their breath—what would happen next.

He turned walked three steps, pushed open the glass door and walked once again into the stifling mid-day heat. Inside the patrons let out a collective sigh and ordered floats all around.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Wyoming Bad Guy and a Fun Guy

I have put together about 200 pages of Wyoming stories, working today on this guy.

Wyoming bad guy George W. Pike was once accused by a neighbor of stealing a pot of stew cooking on a stove in the wall tent they were temporarily calling home. When the neighbor went to find the town marshal Pike reportedly watched him go then stole the stove the stew had been cooked on. Reportedly there was not enough evidence to convict Pike on either charge. Pike was better known as a horse and cattle thief but was never the less well liked by people in and around Douglas Wyoming. (At least the ones he did not steal from)

George W. Pike (Born around 1863- died 1906)
Grave Stone, Douglas Park Cemetery - Douglas, Wyoming

Underneath this stone in eternal rest
Sleeps the wildest one of the wayward west
He was a gambler and sport and cowboy too
And he led the pace in an outlaw crew
He was sure on the trigger and staid to the end
But he was never known to quit on a friend
In the relations of death all men are alike
But in life there was only one George W. Pike

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cowboy Ethics

The Wyoming legislative session just ended for another year. They passed the Cowboy Code of Ethics as the official state code. Pretty neat! But it is what they didn’t pass that has me fuming, I had great hope that they would pass an anti-snow in March law. Didn’t happen, states regulate everything else why not the weather? Five inches of snow Friday and Saturday—oh my aching back.
The Cowboy Code—Taken from the Laramie Boomerang 2010
Live courageously
Take pride in their work
Finish what they start
Do what's necessary
Be tough but fair
Keep promises
Ride for the brand
Talk less and say more
Remember that some things aren't for sale
Know where to draw the line

Monday, March 1, 2010

Ranch Research

Working on a short non-fiction magazine story on the Swan Land and Cattle Company in Southeast Wyoming.
-Some facts on the ranch-
Over 3 million acres
100+ brands and nearly 100,000 cattle (actual count not book count).
The ranch was owned by investors in Scotland and managed by Alexander Swan. They paid him $10,000 per year (about that per month in todays money)
It was Wyoming’s largest 1880’s ranch.
Some of the original buildings still stand.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Times of the Old West

What part of the old west do you like most? There are at least four distinct periods of time in the old west. (All overlap and dates are very general.

The first people - anything before 1800
The Mountain Men - to about 1850
Settlers and Cowboys - up to 1900
The recent west - anything after 1900

I am sure that we could break this down into many smaller groups but this is the way I see it. Now which is your favorite? Many people hedge and say, “all of them,” and I guess that's all right. But really do you have a favorite?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Guns of the Old West

The Cowboy’s Gun
Most cowboys’ didn’t carry one but when they did the 1873 Colt Peacemaker, a .45 caliber single action revolver was the gun of choice. And you could buy it mail order for less than twenty bucks including postage. It didn’t look fancy but was quite reliable; enough so that the U.S. Army adopted the gun. From that time on the gun was usually referred to as the Army Colt. The gun the military purchased came with a seven and one half inch barrel and was much preferred to the civilian mail order model with the shorter five and a half inch barrel. This became the gun of the gunfighters—even if most of the famous gunfighters were only in novels and later on television. This is the gun that won the west.
But not all famous gunman of the west carried the .45 Army Colt. Some like Bill Hickok (I really don’t like him) carried a .36 caliber Navy Colt made in 1851. As a matter of fact he carried three, along with an array of other weapons. Dime novelists claimed he often carried several knives and at least one derringer. His Navy Colt’s were a little lighter than the Army version but had the same barrel length. The model came out more than twenty years before the 1873 Peacemaker and fans of the Army Colt liked the larger caliber and claimed it to be more accurate than the Navy. Hickok and many others of the old west did not agree.
Hickok’s guns were chrome plated and engraved with his initials. Looked like TV western guns of the 1950s and 60s.
Oh, by the way—Wild Bill was killed by a .45 caliber Colt.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Carried Away—Again

Research can be tricky. If you get bored doing it – might not make a very good story. On the other hand if you get carried away and can’t write because the research is too good to quit reading—you have the start of a story. And that’s what happened to me the past few days researching Jack Wilson (Wovoka) for a story. Great stuff hope the story works out.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

American Indian Wisdom

"Everything the Great Spirit has given you, you have to walk through,
you have to experience it. You can’t always walk in the grass, sometimes you have to walk in the sagebrush."
Anonymous—American Plains Indian

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Today Non-Fiction

The First Tribal Indian People of Wyoming
Only the rocks and the mountains really know, only the rocks and the mountains have been here long enough to know and they are not saying anything. No one knows when the first tribal type American Indians first settled in Wyoming. We know for sure they were here before John Colter and the trappers came to Wyoming in the early 1800s. It is probable the introduction of the horse was responsible for bringing most of the Indian settlement to Wyoming and populating the state with several language groups of Indians. Most historians would agree only the ancient Sheep Eater tribe lived in Wyoming before the horse became a part of everyday live for the tribes of Wyoming.
Because the horse brought the Indian to Wyoming the Spanish were most responsible for the settlement of Wyoming. The Spanish and their flamboyant leader Francisco Vasquez Coronado, in 1540 explored much of present day Arizona and the American southwest, looking for the famed but mythical Seven Cities of Cibola. They failed to find the magnificent golden riches of the Seven Cites and Coronado turned northeast leading his 300 men to the fabulous area of Quivira in search of riches. After a long and fruitless search they turned back but not until they had reached southeast Nebraska near the present day city of Fairbury. On the way they left behind dozens of horses that would be the beginning of the famous Indian ponies of the plains. Coronado found no riches, instead found poor tribes leading a day to day agriculture existence, often living in crude stick and mud shelters, some tribes, of better hunters seemed a little better off, but no gold, not then and not today.
If all this makes sense then the Indian tribes of Wyoming were not here until much after Coronado introduced horses in the 1540s, best guess, the early 1700s. Indians of early Wyoming had already domesticated the dog and with the horse there were two animals to help with their day to day chores.
For more than a century (early 1700s to early 1800s) these, now indigenous, people roamed free on the plains and in the mountains of Wyoming. They may have experienced the freest existence in the history of the North American continent. Living a nomadic, buffalo hunting life fit these people well and they thrived, until the white men came, forever changing the life of Indians in Wyoming.
More than any group of people since, they respected nature and the powers of nature. Living a simple existence in the world’s first camper, the very mobile teepee, following the vast herds of bison and adding to their diet with antelope, rabbits other game animals and various wild roots, berries and other nourishing plants.
Life among these people could best be described as harsh and often short—but a better life may not exist. Who was first, the Sheep Eaters, as mentioned above, are thought by many historians to have been the first permanent residents of Wyoming and the one group to predate the horse in this area.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My Favorite Western Writers

In the past week I have been asked what western authors I read. We see so many lists, top ten’s, top twenty-fives and things like that, no list for me. I will give you a few of my favorites—my top 7. In order, my favorites
William L. Johnstone—Two of the best western characters you will ever find—Preacher and Smoke Jensen
Tony Hillerman—Modern day mystery westerns set deep in the Navajo country of New Mexico
Elmer Kelton—I live in Wyoming and he wrote Texas westerns but they are terrific
Larry McMurtry—Lonesome Dove
James Michener—Centennial—my favorite western
Don Coldsmith—Not as well know as some of the above but his White Indian series is a great read
Fred Grove—Another not as well know author but I never read one of his books I did not like
Well there you have it—my list of seven. Who do you like?