Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Mountain Men and History Lessons

Watching a football game on television Saturday, Wyoming V. Utah State, as part of the promo they mentioned Jim Bridger and the fact that he was the first white man to visit the Great Salt Lake and the first into Yellowstone. Bridger may very well have been the first non-Indian into the Great Salt Lake Valley, at least I and many other western historians believe that. But the first into Yellowstone, I don’t think so.

John Colter, like Bridger, a Virginian was much more likely to have been the first into Yellowstone. It is most unlikely the two ever met and very possible that Colter was in Yellowstone while Bridger was but a toddler with a birth date in 1804.

Bridger became a legend in the west and Colter seems to have just slipped away into history. Colter left the west by 1810 and never returned, leaving a legend in the making, unmade.

Colter never lived long enough for people to believe any of his tales of Yellowstone. He died of Jaundice in 1813 leaving behind $124 and change. But then the story of the almost a legend in the west turns bizarre. He was buried on Tunnel Hill near present day Dundee Missouri. In 1926 his remains, along with the remains of five or six others, were dug up during a railroad excavation of the site. All were dumped somewhere nearby, buried in an unmarked embankment.

Not a very fitting finish to the first white man in to Yellowstone.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Reading a One Hundred Year Old Text

Sometimes history can be entertaining. I spent years trying to make history come alive and be relevant to today’s kids. Maybe I missed the point, I should have just made it up, or most of it anyway.

I am researching/reading a Wyoming History book published in 1918. Historians have widely panned the work, as too much fiction and not enough fact. I don’t find that true for much of the text, but some of it does read more like the society page of a hundred year old weekly than it does true history.

When the author described one member of the legislature, as one who didn’t like to speak in public, not sure we have any politicians like that anymore. It made me want to read on. Not many history books have punch lines, this one does. He goes on to say that this particular law maker was more concerned with the, after the secession was over day, than he was the law making process of the work day. The punch line – “the longest speech he ever made in his years in the state legislature, was, ‘I make a motion we adjourn.’ Now that is some pretty good history.

I.S. Bartlett    History of Wyoming, published 1918

Monday, November 11, 2013

Head Scratching Research

Have you ever started to research and got more, way more than you wanted? I taught Wyoming history for many years and always found the following to be head scratching, but fun.

Remember one of the first puzzles you put together as a kid, sure we all do? It was the wooden map of the United States. Just find the shape of the state and put it in the correct place, which was properly embossed into the cardboard or wood backing for young learners. Every state had a unique shape and this made learning where each state was located fast and easy. But wait a minute, hold on here, what about Colorado and Wyoming, they are square, or almost so, properly rectangles. How did they get their rather non-unique shape? Not sure about Colorado as I am a Wyoming guy, but as for Wyoming.

Wyoming is the only state whose territory was taken from all four of the major land accusations of the United States. Parts of Wyoming have been claimed by five different countries and parts of Wyoming came under the rule of a dozen Spanish kings between 1479 and 1821. Not that it’s important but there were four kings named, Charles, four Phillips and four named Ferdinand.  

France also ruled parts of Wyoming under kings, Francis One and two, three Henry’s, Charles IX and four guys named Louis. At long last the little Emperor himself, Napoleon, gave up the French claim to Wyoming when Jefferson made the greatest land purchase in history, the Louisiana Purchase, in 1803.

Wyoming was also part of:  Utah Territory, Washington Territory, Nebraska Territory, Colorado Territory, Dakota Territory, and Idaho Territory.

It took thirty boundary changes to come up with the present day shape of Wyoming, an almost square rectangle- ahh, the government at work.

Oh- then we named it after a valley in Delaware.

Wyoming where mule deer sleep in your front yard, bear’s wander through local parks, elk, moose and pronghorn outnumber the people, mountain views are everywhere and people ski in the morning and play golf in the afternoon. It really is like no other place on earth.

It’s good to be back.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Now That Was a Bad Week

Started off the week with a sprained ankle, guess maybe guys my age should quit playing basketball, even if I do still have considerable game. OK, actually I did it stepping off a two inch step in Jackson Hole last weekend. By Tuesday I added a nose running, sneezing, itching eyes, cold. Thursday the flu set in. Today I am about as miserable as anyone can be.

I will attempt to remedy my maladies by watching dozens of football games in the next 48 hours, I believe it will work. And I have all the channels to give it a tremendous effort.

Wish me luck, I know it will be tough, but I have pillows properly arranged on the couch, assorted drinks, heating pads, throws, lap top, kindle reader and other goodies to get me through my time of need. And, of course, my wife is tending to me quite well. She went down to one of the local stop and rob’s and picked up a 7UP for me. When I finish it, I believe that will make, exactly one 7UP in the past several decades. Hey, tastes pretty good.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Just For Fun Research

Research can turn up some funny stuff at times. How, when and why things were named can present a real problem for historical researchers. 

Seventy, or so, years ago, The Wyoming Game and Fish Department did a study, trying to identify all bodies of water in the state. They found 38 Spring Creeks, 30 Cottonwood Creeks, 29 Beaver Creeks, 25 Bear Creeks, 23 Dry Creeks, 21 Horse Creeks, 18 Sand Creeks, 17 Sheep Creeks and 17 Lost Creeks. Makes me wonder if they didn’t have much imagination or if they only had a short book entitled, Best Names for Rivers and Streams, I would have named one after myself, Old Guy River, now that has a ring to it!

 How anyone found their way through the state, or all of the American West, before roads and railroads might be one of the great mysteries of American history. Hope they didn’t tell people to hurry along Spring Creek, turn left when they reached Sand Creek and follow it to Lost Creek, seems they could have ended up about anywhere in the state with directions like that. But the state did have some names for streams that were unusual enough to remember. Dry Donkey, Robbers Gulch, and Nameit are my favorites.

But then again we name towns mostly after people, or maybe people named towns after themselves. Guess that’s why we have towns like Bill, Aladdin, Patrick, Elwood, Merna, and Rosie’s Ridge in Wyoming.

Oh, we also have Jackass Pass up in Fremont and Sublette County, (yep, named after explorer John C. Fremont and trapper William Sublette) but that is another story for another time. Early trappers said the ancient Indian trail was so steep that only a Jackass could make its way on it.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Standing Bear – A Western Superhero

Before Spiderman and Superman, America had Frank Grouard, a superhero before his time.

Frank Grouard was General Crooks most well known scout. Crook held him in such high regard he told his superiors he would not lead men into Indian Territory without Grouard as his scout. And latter said he would rather lose a third of his men before he lost Grouard. This didn’t set well with the rest of the scouts and might be why he is  somewhat misunderstood in history.

But this is not the entire story of one of the west’s most famous scouts. His life story reads more like mountain man fiction than the truth. Grouard’s father was a missionary from California who married a native islander while working in the Society Islands of French Polynesia. When Grouard’s father moved the family to Utah his mother became homesick and returned to the islands. Frank was left in charge of the family as his father was either off on a mission or trying to find his wife in the South Pacific.

This didn’t set well with Frank and he left for as the old-timers used to say, “For parts unknown.” He spent time as a bull-whacker and later worked for the Pony Express. History doesn’t say much about his time with the Pony Express but he likely worked for more than rode for them. Grouard, just in his late teens, was described as over six feet tall and around two-hundred pounds. He probably seemed a giant to most of the riders who weighed in closer to 100-120 lbs. But he did ride at least a few trips because on his fourth trip he was captured by the Crow. (Some sources report the tribe as Blackfeet)

He was tortured by the tribe who let him run for his life, naked and being beaten by any tribal member that could pick up a stick, as he ran.  But he outdistanced his captors and escaped, ending up at Fort Hall, nearly 70 miles away.

A year later he was captured by a band of Sioux as he rode along at a snail’s pace in a blinding Wyoming snowstorm. As his captors argued over who would get what of his possessions another man rode up. This person seemed to be most powerful and he took Grouard as his captive. Grouard learned during the three day ride to camp he was riding with, Hunkpapa Sioux holy man Sitting Bull. When Sitting Bull rode into camp hauling Grouard, Gall and No Neck, chiefs with as much power, in the tribe, as Sitting Bull insisted he be put to death, the sooner the better. Grouard with his long black hair and skin of a pacific islander looked to them like an Indian from another tribe, therefore an enemy.

Sitting Bull didn’t often, if ever, lose what he wanted in the tribe. He announced that he had made Grouard, his brother, renaming him Standing Bear. Because it was the dead of winter Grouard was wearing a full length bear-skin coat, towering over his captors by three quarters of a foot and looked, very much, the part of a bear.

Grouard stayed with Sitting Bull and the Hunkpapa for more than six years, reaching near legendary status in the tribe for his strength, speed, size and look. All warriors within the tribe, who had ambition to lead, had to undergo the torture test and Grouard withstood the cutting of 400 pieces of flesh from his arms and allowed flaming sticks held against his body until they burned out and cooled. He endured the punishing torture for more than four hours.  Never crying out or flinching and was pronounced, “brave.”   

Depending on which western history authority is researched, Grouard either escaped or was left with blessings from the tribe after six or seven years with Sitting Bull. All of this and he had, by then, reached the grand old age of 25 or 26. He went on to become one of the most famous scouts in the west working for the U.S. Army and General Crook.

Grouard reached Little Big Horn shortly after Custer and the seventh were annihilated and was the first to report the news to Crook. He was present at Fort Robinson, Nebraska when Crazy Horse was murdered. He was also on the Yellowstone Expeditions and at the battle of Slim Buttes. He was assigned to the Pine Ridge Reservation during the Ghost Dance Uprising and was present at the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. Grouard later served as a U. S Marshal in Fort McKinney near Buffalo, Worming and was somehow connected to Wyoming’s Johnson County War of 1892.

Here was a man that made history and lived history.

You can get the full text of the, Life and Times of Frank Grouard, here-

Friday, August 9, 2013

Sumer, R&R or Just Plain Lazy

Sure seems like it’s hard to get any writing done in the summer. Why, because too many other things are going on, fun things like trips, golf, gardening, grandkids. When winter rolls around, and it’s not that far off now, time seems to slow down and researching and writing seem to move back to the front burner.
I just can’t seem to stay in the house long enough to get busy on the computer when it is so very nice outside. In the meantime I will continue posting here every two weeks or so and then hit a posting barrage when the snow flies
Oh and fishing with the grandkids-now that’s fun.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Research, Tom O'Day and Me

Historical research can be both fun and exasperating.  Sometimes a single tale or a single person has multiple stories, none the same and it gets difficult trying to separate truth from fiction. Working on a story dealing with lesser know members of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch led me to Tom O’Day and the most convoluted last 30 years, or so, of his life.
There are many, many, head scratchers like this in history, that’s what makes research worthwhile and fun.
Outlaw Tom O’Day rode with the Wild Bunch, or at least they put up with him, according to some Butch Cassidy experts. He is sometimes referred to as a forward scout, you know the guy who goes in and cases the joint, before the robbery. Others say he may have been kept around for comedic relief, like the time he got too drunk to even watch the horses properly.

Regardless of which Tom O’Day the real guy was, he is interesting and certainly much more than just a footnote in Wyoming and Wild West history. Almost any mention of the Wild Bunch and you will find Tom O’Day’s name.

In November of 1903 O’Day was tired of working for wages for area ranchers and decided to run off a few horses to sell for himself, something he had done in the past and was quite good at. He rustled fifteen head of fine horses and took off for the rugged lands of the Owl Creek Mountains of central Wyoming.

The penalty for horse stealing in 1903 Wyoming was five years a horse, so O’Day was looking at 75 years worth of horses. It was a good business if you got away with it. Each prime horse could be worth two or three months wages. O’Day liked his chances, a little bit of work; hide the horses for a few weeks in a mountain pass, then run them into Montana to sell. Easy street, for the next few years, was just around the corner.

But, things didn’t work out so well for Tom O’Day, he got caught, likely because he stole the horse flesh from Bryant B. Brooks, an important Wyoming politician of the day. The judge was soft hearted toward the amicable O’Day and sentenced him to six year in the Wyoming state penitentiary in Rawlins.

Well of all the crazy stuff! Bryant Brooks was elected as Wyoming’s seventh governor two years later and two years after that re-elected to a second term. And then he pardoned O’Day with a year and a half left on his sentence.

Who says politicians can’t be understanding fellows at time?  

O’Day went straight after leaving prison, moving to a Nebraska farm where he lived and worked happily ever after until his death in 1936. Or maybe he moved to Deadwood where he worked as a greater in a gambling and other entertainment business up to his death in 1930. Some Wild West historian’s note O’Day left prison, never to be heard from again until his death in Iowa in the 30s.

OK, so no one knows what become of the horse thief after leaving prison. Well at least we know he left other peoples horse flesh alone for the rest of his life----maybe.
Now get out there and research--and scratch your head too.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fiction or Nonfiction

Sometimes writers tend to forget the line between fiction and nonfiction is not a fine line, but a broad stroke. I like reading both, but there is a difference and it should be known. In our modern society people are often confused as to what is real, what is true and what is not. The following story is a good example of fiction and speculation becoming fact, why, because it was written in a text book, and for generations, students believed a story that at best was a terrific stretch and at worst it was a fable written as a joke that too many took as the truth.
Not sure if every state has a tail of discovery, but Wyoming does. I would rather call it, the, who was here first story. The answer is, of course, Indians, several tribes. But much like Columbus discovering America, when there were already a million, or so people here, Wyoming, for years taught about who the first, non Indian to enter Wyoming was and like Columbus often said they were the discoveries of Wyoming.

Many texts tell us that a brother duo, the Verendrye’s were likely the first non-natives to visit the cowboy state. Nice, but this is based on the fact that that school children in South Dakota found a lead plate in 1913 that was buried by Chevalier de la Verendrye dated March 30, 1743. This is a fine tail, and likely true, with a few details filed in, but it was a long way to Wyoming from Fort Pierre, South Dakota.

Historical speculation seemed to get carried away. Some would be historians assumed the Verendrye’s must have journeyed on to the Black Hills from Fort Pierre and then might just have went on to Wyoming. Maybe just to say they had been there, just kidding.

Fort Pierre is some 200 miles from the Wyoming boarder; believe I will stick with my belief. John Colter, who traveled west with Lewis and Clark, left the ‘Corpse of Discovery’ on the west coast and made his way back east, stopping in what is today Yellowstone. No one believed him when he told tales of Yellowstone wonders, but later they were proved true, and I have been there to see them.

Historical facts are just that, they can be proven; historical speculation belongs in fiction, not text books.


Monday, July 15, 2013

What To Do With All My Money

Now that I am retired thought I might look for a part time job, you know, a bit of extra cash. Looks like I am too late to go with Lewis and Clark and the Corpse of Discovery. Darn, the job paid $5.00 a month too, could have used the money.


Research may be the toughest part of writing; at least it is for me. The reason, it’s too easy to get off track, as evidenced by the above post. Oh, I was looking for stuff on John Colter and his famous run when I got off track dreaming of that once-a-month, five buck payday.


What would this ol’ boy do with the cash, puts me in a day-dreaming mood. But I am thinkin’ Ice Cream.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Come Back

I am starting to feel better, finally, after a month of the worst sinus problems in all my 65 years. Couldn’t breathe, couldn’t hear (my wife says it was even worse than my normal selective hearing), tough time sleeping and got little or no work done. Hope to be back blogging in a few days, the nice weather here in eastern Wyoming is helping. See you in a week or so.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Bad Writing and Some Fun Too

Snow and cold outside today – good day to clean out the file cabinet, found this list, thought it was funny. Not sure where it came from, there are quite a few of these around.
Hints to be a more betterer righter
1. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
2. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
3.  Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
4.  Don't be redundant; don't use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
5.  Be more or less specific.
6.  One-word sentences? Eliminate.
7.  Who needs rhetorical questions?
8.  Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
9.  Don't never use a double negation.
10.  Proofread carefully to see if you words out.
11.  If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
12. A writer must not shift your point of view.
13.  And don't start a sentence with a conjunction. (Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.)
14.  Don't overuse exclamation marks!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Read Any BadBooks Lately?

I have noticed recently that every book I read has a bad ending. Bad because I was not ready for it to end, bad because I didn’t like what happened on the last page, or bad because, well it was bad.

I love books that leave me wanting more, not sure if I will ever read one that is so satisfying when I finish I will say, “perfect.” This would be a book that ended when it should, and everything that should happen did – bad guys meet bad endings and good people have good endings. And a book that does not leave me, the reader, with false hopes for a sequel.

The books that really drive me crazy – books that just end. You turn the page and it is the last page, you read it and say something like HUA.  You’re wondering, what happened to those other guys, or where was that place, or other questions leaving the reader in the dark. This may be what happens when as my wife says, “the writer ran out of words.”

Happing Reading

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Western First Lines

Today we will look at the second of two parts on famous, western novel, first lines. Some opening lines are great, some are all right and some are downright dreadful. See if you can guess who penned these first lines. Answers on the bottom of the page—no peaking.

“When the earth was already ancient, of an age incomprehensible to man, an event of basic importance occurred in the area which would later be known as Colorado.” 

“In later years people often asked Hugh Hitchcock about the Canadian River cowboy strike of 1883.”

“He was on the east side of the Absaraka Range, in the timber, heading down toward the Popo Agie. He was in no hurry, and there was no reason for him to go there.

“A boy and a horse. A thin knobby boy, coming sixteen, all long bone and stringy muscle, not yet grown up to knuckly hands and seeming oversized feet.”

“He rolled the cigarette in his lips, liking the taste of the tobacco, squinting his eyes against the sun glare.”

 -See answers below-

Centennial – James Michner

The Day the Cowboys Quit – Elmer Kelton

The First Mountain Man – William W. Johnstone

Monte Walsh – Jack Schaefer

Hondo – Louis L’Amour

 Not really much of a western but you still cannot beat – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”  Charles Dickens


Friday, February 8, 2013

Great Western Novel Opening Lines

Today we will look at the first of two parts on famous, western novel, first lines. Some opening lines are great, some are all right and some are downright dreadful. See if you can guess who penned these first lines. Answers on the bottom of the page—no peaking.

1.     “It was my privilege to know the late Jack Crabb – frontiersman, Indian scout, gunfighter, buffalo hunter, adopted Cheyenne – In the final days upon this earth.

2.     “Some notable sight was drawing the passengers, both men and women, to the window; and therefore I rose and crossed the car to see what it was.”

3.     “A sharp clip-crop of Iron-shod hoofs deadened and died away, and clouds of yellow dust drifted from under the cottonwoods out over the sage.”

4.     “He rode into the valley in the summer of 89. I was a kid then, barley topping the backboard of father’s old chuckwagon.”

5.     “Lil ol’ town, you don’t amount to much,” said Harry Destry. “You never done nothing an’ you ain’t gonna come to no good.”

-See Answers Below-




1.       Thomas Burger, Little Big Man

2.       Owen Wister, The Virginian

3.       Zane Grey, Riders of the Purple Sage

4.       Jack Schaefer, Shane

5.       Max Brand, Destry Rides Again


-Another five opening lines coming up in 48 hours-

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Today - A Little Levity

After years of scribbling on yellow legal pads, years of typing on a Royal typewriter and the last few years writing on his cheap computer the old western story teller wrote his last words, “he reached for his tied down Colt,” but he died before he finished the sentence.

He had been a good person and a hard working, but seldom published writer, but when the archangel visited he was not sure if he would rather go to Heaven or Hell.

He asked to take a look at each place first. In Hell, he sees rows and rows of writers chained to their desks churning out manuscript after manuscript while being prodded by demonic agents with pitchforks.

"Wow, this is terrible," he says. "Let me see Heaven now."

In Heaven, he sees rows and rows of writers chained to their desks churning out manuscript after manuscript while being prodded by angel agents with pitchforks.

"Holy crap," says the writer. "Heaven is just as bad as Hell!"

"No way, cowboy," replies an unseen voice. "Here, your work gets published

Sorry for that astonishingly bad and very old joke, but is does beat the last one I shared – You know the one about the cowboy who walked into the bar dressed in paper sacks and was arrested for rustling.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Greatest English Language Novel

In a quest to find the greatest works of English language novelists, Random House, in 1998, used its editorial board to come up with the 100 best novels of the 20th century. And the winner was – Irish writer James Joyce for his novel Ulysses, interestingly he also came in third for, A Portrait of the Artist.

So what was Ulysses? A wandering story of more than a quarter of a million words that takes place in a single day, June - sixteenth - 1904. The novel establishes parallel lives between Homers, Odyssey and Ulysses of Joyce’s work.

It is tough reading in places as Joyce, a stream of consciousness writer, uses a large number of puns, twists and turns to tell his story. The novel was attached for obscenity and criticized by some scholars for too many mistakes, but it continues to show up at the top of nearly all lists of great novels.

The book was originally serialized into eighteen parts, of which as a college student I was forced or honored to read two of them, we could have read another for extra credit, but I passed.

Think I will kick back and relax with a good western.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

When History Becomes Important

How many times do we hear someone say, “I wish I would have listened more and learned more in history class when I was in high school,” or something similar?

Seems like what happened long ago is more important as we get along in years. I look back now wondering, as a career history teacher, why I did not ask my dad more about his World War 2 time in the South Pacific.

This gets to today’s point. Know your subject before putting pen to paper, or in today’s world, fingers to keyboard.

My list of what a western writer needs to write a good western story.

This list can also be used by readers, do the stories you read follow my list? Can you add more?

1.   Knowledge of basic American history and deeper knowledge of the region of America where your story will take place.

2.  Know your weapons – if you haven’t already, go out and shoot. Understand how a gun feels, what recoil (kick) feels like, smell the powder, reload the weapon.

3.  Know the lay of the land (hills, mountains, rivers, streams, roads, and trails, anything that is there or was there). I know Wyoming and the states around, I will not try to write about places I do not know. I have traveled to Australia and would love to have a character do that someday.

4. Google Maps – If you write in the present use Google maps, you can go up and down streets in the city of your choice, visit places you have never been. It really is pretty amazing

5. Most westerns are simple adventure or mystery tails and a good adventure/mystery is much better in a great setting.

6. Characters need to be real breathing people not cardboard cutouts to the reader.

7.  Tell a great story – write it as good as you can

8. Edit – Edit - Edit

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Left Handed Poems-Billy The Kid

Philip Michael Ondaatje is a Canadian novelist and poet born in Sri Lanka, whose novel, “The English Patient,” was made into an Academy Award winning movie, may not be well known to readers of westerns. May not be known at all to most of us who spend our time in the old west, but he does have one fun and readable and very different western work.

In 1970 he published his collection of prose and poetry,”The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left-handed Poems.” After reading a study diet of westerns and modern mysteries this is a refreshing read.

Short enough, at just over 100 pages, to be read in a few short hours, this book is well worth it. At first look it might seem a bit disjointed, and it does jump around some, from poetry, to prose then photos, but what fun. Ondaatje has a wonderful command of the language, and for this ol’ western boy, it is downright pretty.

The book follows the adventures or misadventures of Billy the Kid and the rather shady characters he hangs out with, friends, lawmen, women, cohorts in crime and others. His has the ability to paint some unbelievable pictures with his words, making me reread several pages.

This one is fun-the guy can really write.  



Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Is Little Big Man the greatest western novel/story ever?

Written by Thomas Berger,”Little Big Man,” is believed by many critics to be the greatest of all western novels. The protagonist and also the narrator, the 111-year old Jack Crabb, tells his life story to Ralph Fielding Snell, who decides that Crabb “was either the most neglected hero in the history of this country or a liar of insane proportions.”

Having been kidnapped by Indians as a boy and spending his entire life moving back and forth between the two cultures, Jack meets nearly every famous character of the Old West, from Wyatt Earp to Wild Bill Hickok (whose murder in Deadwood Jack witnesses) to Sitting Bull and Custer. In the end, Jack becomes the only survivor of the battle of the “Little Big Horn.”

True or not, this is a wonderful western story – a must read.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Westerner, The Virginian and Good vs. Evil

In Robert Warshow famous essay, “The Westerner,” he talks about the classic genre western. Warshow says it is, “always around 1870 and the hero is the last gentleman.” That was so true of the old style one dimensional western, and I liked and read a lot of them. They are still popular enough to remain in print today and provide a living or part of a living for many western writers.

Warshow goes on to say that, “The Westerner comes into the field of serious art only when his moral code, without ceasing to be compelling, is seen also to be imperfect.” This really brings to mind the first of the great moral dilemma westerns, one that in fact came out before the rubber stamped Hollywood versions of the old west. The book and movie was the, “Virginian,” a story where the protagonist must decide what to do when it is all about bringing the bad guy to justice and the bad guy is an old friend.

Take a look at what you are reading—is it an old time good vs. evil, Hollywood story, or is it more compelling, with the hero chasing not only bad guys but maybe a few inner demons as well?

 Warshow also compared the western to the gangster movies of his generation (the 40s and 50s) and one could do that today comparing recent western movies to new gangster genre movies and Television series.

“The gangster's world is less open, and his arts not so easily identifiable as the Westerner's. Perhaps he too can keep his counten...ance, but the mask he wears is really no mask: its purpose is precisely to make evident the fact that he desperately wants to "get ahead" and will stop at nothing. Where the Westerner imposes himself by the appearance of unshakable control, the gangster's pre-eminence lies in the suggestion that he may at any moment lose control; his strength is not in being able to shoot faster or straighter than others, but in being more willing to shoot. "Do it first," say Scarface expounding his mode of operation, "and keep on doing it!" With the Westerner, it is a crucial point of honor not to "do it first"; his gun remains in his holster until the moment of combat.”*

Friday, January 25, 2013

To Write or Not to Write – Is that Today’s Question

With profound apologies to the Bard for the above abuse of his prose, some days it is really difficult to write. I consider myself to one of modest output.  Over the past 12 years I have written about 2,000 pages of finished material.

To a non-writer that may seem to be prolific, but to those of us who try to write every day it is not much.

 Setting here pounding away on my laptop I thought it might be fun to see what I have accomplished –so, let’s see.

·       2 Novels complete - I will continue editing for ever

·       2 Novels incomplete - each in the 20 to 30 thousand range, one a mystery I can’t figure out who did it, so can’t go on

·       Short Stories - Ah, better here-five collections with four to 10 stories in each

·       Nonfiction History - One incomplete manuscript of around 60,000 words (The stuff in one of my other blogs, Wyoming Fact and Fiction, is all taken from this work)

·       Nonfiction Humor - One nearly complete manuscript, working title, “How to Lose It All In Your Very Own Small Business – Lessons from someone who knows”

·       Trash Can – Thousands of pieces of crap I could not stand
And in the end—it’s all worth it.

I write because I enjoy it, and every once in a while I write something I think is good enough to publish, that part I do not care for.

I have published both traditionally (newspapers, travel journals and guides) and online and still find writing enjoyable and attempts to publish deplorable.

Think I will set down and try to write something.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Has the Western Novel Been Gut Shot ?

I read a lot of western fiction and also write a fair amount. (See the post from my new novel-my last post). Western fiction, like all fiction has several reoccurring themes that define most stories. Below is my short list of themes that make good westerns

·        Surviving on an unsettled frontier - man vs. the environment, nature and other settlers

·        Gold, silver and/or the mysterious lost mine – or who owns it, claim jumpers

·        Gunfighter comes to town – who is he after?

·        Settlers trying to create law in a new and lawless area

·        Conflict between native Indians with - settlers, the Calvary, outlaws, gunrunners

·        The chase - catching the bad guys

·        Land grabbers and squatters.

·        Eastern dude swindling the poor townsfolk

·        Bad guys vs. the lawmen - bank, train and stagecoach robbers and  stock rustlers

·        Many western novels focused on regular people being forced to rise up and fight the treacherous outlaws

·        Internal conflict - man vs. himself, concurring real or imagined problems (my favorite)

Book sales tell us that western fiction has been in gradual decline since the early 1980s, after being popular for more than a century. For many years it was one of the most popular genres, but that is no longer the case. Seems to me that a few more good western novels are coming out again and some fine western movies are still making it at the box office.

Not sure the Western Novel will ever die but do believe it was gut shot there for a while. Thanks to the healing work of the old country doctor and the beautiful but naiveté homestead girl (just thought of another theme there-sorry) looks like it will make it.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

How To Write a Western Novel

So how did I do it, how did I write a book? I have now done it, twice, glad you asked.

-My version of how to write a book-

1.      After you get the idea – start writing (a lot of people say they want to write a book, ask them what page they are on and the usual answer is, “I haven’t started yet.”)

2.      Write the first page (see number one above)

3.      Write the last page

4.      Fill in the blanks between numbers 2 and 3

Old joke but it still applies, something else that applies – write for yourself, don’t believe you will make a bunch of money as a writer. Think back to when you were a little kid, most of us wanted to be baseball or football players, ballerinas or movie stars, probably did not happen. Write if it makes you happy not because you hope to get rich.

If you happen to turn into the next Steven King or J.K. Rowling—GREAT—but don’t count on it.


Page 1 of my Novel follows.  I have yet to do anything with it, other than to use a hard copy to pat myself on the back for finishing.

  Enjoy! This will be your only peak.


A Blade Holmes Novel

"Trust instinct to the end, even though you can give no reason." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Chapter One

The young cowboy had but one wish, he wanted to live, he could think of nothing else.  And then he did. He thought forcing Deputy Sherriff Blade Holmes to draw was likely the worst decision he’d ever made. The cowpoke felt the cold from the barrel of the Colt pressed under his chin by Deputy Holmes, he shivered, but not from the cold.

The young cowboy, blood starting to seep through his shirt at the shoulder, seemed to tilt slightly backward. Afraid to take a much needed big breath, his eyes bulged, his face becoming an artist’s pallet of changing colors, from bright red to a hopeless blue-grey. Still conscious, he slumped against the bar fighting to stay upright. With the help of the bar he was motionless except for the, ever so slight, in and out of his chest. His feeble breaths moved him so little that to the untrained eye he appeared more a poorly constructed cowboy manikin than a man under arrest. Didn’t have many years on him, but enough to know it was best not to move, not even to fall to the floor.