Friday, November 17, 2017

Biographical Sketch of James Bridger: Mountaineer, Trapper, and Guide

“While Bridger was not an educated man, still any country that he had ever seen he could fully and intelligently describe, and could make a very correct estimate of the country surrounding it. He could make a map of any country he had ever traveled over, mark out its streams and mountains and the obstacles in it correctly, so that there was no trouble in following it and fully understanding it. He never claimed knowledge that he did not have of the country, or its history and surroundings, and was positive in his statements in relation to it. He was a good judge of human nature. His comments upon people that he had met and been with were always intelligent and seldom critical. He always spoke of their good parts, and was universally respected by the mountain men, and looked upon as a leader, also by all the Indians. He was careful to never give his word without fulfilling it. He understood thoroughly the Indian character, their peculiarities and superstitions. He felt very keenly any loss of confidence in him or his judgment, especially when acting as guide, and when he struck a country or trail he was not familiar with he would frankly say so, but would often say he could take our party up to the point we wanted to reach. As a guide I do not think he had his equal upon the plains.”

This brief eulogy written in 1905 by a man who knew Bridger well, General Grenville Dodge, was his attempt to remind a forgetful populace of the debt that was owed to Jim Bridger.

Dodge’s military bearing comes through as he takes a “just the facts” approach to his subject, and the volume may be better for it. We have in Dodge’s own words, as well as that of many other military men just how valuable a scout Bridger was.

This can be read in half-an-hour, but Bridger and Dodge’s estimation of him will linger long after.

Do they even make men like this anymore?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Dakota Boomtown

Brule, Dakota Territory, was a town beginning to boom, he had heard.  Nearest railhead to Deadwood, which was doing some brisk booming of its own. A place where a man might do many things—get himself shot, maybe, or win a fortune.”

This Frank Castle Fawcett Gold Medal offering from 1958 is a sort of two-in-one affair. The 1st half of the novel has a laid back genial vibe very much like James Garner’s “Support Your Local Sherriff” [an excellent flick by the way.) I found this quite enjoyable.

The second half goes for a darker tone and completely loses the affable timbre-I feel it suffers for this. Keep the 1st half and you’ve got an easy B+ read, but the tone-jarring second half takes it to a C for me.

I will say the novel has some of the most intriguing playing poker scenes I’ve come across in print. Thoroughly detailed in a play-by-play manner, but so well-written they never lost me in minutia. The author is able to somehow make the flick of a card vibrant. Quite a card trick, that.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Quote of the Week

“Never borrow trouble, or cross a river before you reach it.”

This bit of wisdom comes from Oliver Loving, the legendary rancher and cattle-driver who, with Charles Goodnight, helped establish the Goodnight-Loving Trail.

You'll find much of the man borrowed for inclusion in McMurtry's classic Lonesome Dove novels.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Main-Travelled Roads

“Council moved about uneasily in his seat and stopped his stammering gratitude by saying: "Hold on, now; don't make such a fuss over a little thing. When I see a man down, an' things all on top of 'm, I jest like t' kick 'em off an' help 'm up. That's the kind of religion I got, an' it's about the only kind."

They rode the rest of the way home in silence. And when the red light of the lamp shone out into the darkness of the cold and windy night, and he thought of this refuge for his children and wife, Haskins could have put his arm around the neck of his burly companion and squeezed him like a lover. But he contented himself with saying, "Steve Council, you'll git y'r pay f'r this some day."

"Don't want any pay. My religion ain't run on such business principles."

Written in 1891 by Hamlin Garland, this cycle of short-stories, some linked by locale some not, all take place in small farming communities. The sense of place is strong, the drawing of humanity is beautiful. It reminds me of Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street but without the narrative tricks to get in the way of the emotion.

Speaking of…the emotions here are deep and…if there is a flaw, it is that they almost always lead to sadness. Deep sadness of unrequited love, lost opportunities, crushing defeat. The writing is strong as I felt much of this to my core and that’s good art. But it is somewhat depressing with there being perhaps two stories total that are upbeat.

Superlative craft, but I always opened the book with a sigh.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Tom Franklin Interview

Tom Franklin, award-winning author of Poachers, Smonk, Hell at the Breech, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, and The Tilted World, co-written with his wife Beth Ann Fennelly was kind enough to submit to a phone interview regarding his work, the creative process, the attraction to the grim side of things, and the western genre in general.

If you are not familiar with his work, Mr. Franklin's "deep dark doin's in the Old South" easily dovetails with Cormac McCarthy and James Carlos Blake territory.

[The audio quality and ad hoc nature of the recording is due to catching Mr. Franklin on his cellphone as he was making the drive to be inducted into the Fellowship of
Southern Writers.]

Tom Franklin Interview

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Cowman & His Code of Ethics

Back in the days when the cowman with his herds made a new frontier, there was no law on the range. Lack of written law made it necessary for him to frame some of his own, thus developing a rule of behavior which became known as the ‘Code of the West.’”

This non-fiction offering from noted Western historian, Ramon F. Adams, seeks to put into written form that which was never formerly circumscribed.

It is a slim volume; my autographed original copy runs to 33 pages. It has a wistful tone, and perhaps a bit of wishful thinking for “how things were.” Who am I to doubt Mr. Adams knowledge of the era?

Wishful thinking or not, it is full of lovely edicts. One could do worse than to absorb and attempt to hew to the advice within.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Sisters Brothers

I was sitting outside the Commodore’s mansion, waiting for my brother Charlie to come out with news of the job. It was threatening to snow and I was cold and for want of something to do I studied Charlie’s new horse, Nimble. My new horse was called Tub. We did not believe in naming horses but they were given to us as partial payment for the last job with the names intact, so that was that. Our unnamed previous horses had been immolated, so it was not as though we did not need these new ones but I felt that we should have been given money to purchase horses of our own choosing, horses without histories and habits and names they expected to be addressed by. I was very fond of my previous horse and lately had been experiencing visions while I slept of his death, his kicking, burning legs, his hot-popping eyeballs. He could cover sixty miles in a day like a gust of wind and I never laid a hand on him except to stroke him or clean him, and I tried not think of him burning up in that barn but if the vision arrived uninvited how was I to guard against it? Tub was a healthy enough animal but would have been better suited to some other less ambitious owner. He was portly and low-backed and could not travel more than fifty miles in a day. I was often forced to whip him, which some men do not mind doing and which in fact some enjoy doing, but which I did not like to do; and afterward he, Tub, believed me cruel and thought to himself, Sad life, sad life.”

If you are a lover of gorgeous language and pages evocative of something a bit grim, then you read that opening paragraph from Patrick Dewitt’s novel and now have no need of my thoughts on the matter. Chances are you went right to the source and skipped me telling you to do just that very thing.

This exceptional novel remains strong in that opening vein throughout. It is full of side-trails, off-trails, back-trails, and odd trails as the hired killers, the Sisters brothers, Charlie and Eli Sisters seek their quarry.

It plays as a True Grit odyssey with a bit wryness thrown into the mix.

Fans of the Western and the sardonic will find glories here.

Biographical Sketch of James Bridger: Mountaineer, Trapper, and Guide

“While Bridger was not an educated man, still any country that he had ever seen he could fully and intelligently describe, and could mak...