Thursday, September 20, 2018

Tomahawk


“’Can’t’ is not a Ranger word, Kaintuck! What’s impossible for ordinary men to do just takes Rangers a mite more time!”



Another delving into the comic book world of the genre. I spent an enjoyable 20 minutes with two issues of Tomahawk from 1970. Each issue featured two Ranger stories with a crew of Revolutionary War Rangers under the command of Tom Hawk, a Ranger receiving orders from General Washington himself.

We are clearly seeing a kiddie idealized version of Rogers Rangers and there is nothing wrong with that being a big fan of both the real Rangers and Kenneth Roberts’ magisterial novel The Northwest Passage.

Not essential for the Western comic genre but the Eastern woodlands settings and the Revolutionary War period mark it as unique.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Western High Spots


The subtitle of this volume pretty much tells the tale of what is between the covers:

A preeminent book collector and historian presents bibliographic profiles of published Western Americana.”

Author Jeff C. Dykes penned this useful volume of 15 essays on published facets of the real West and its fictional representation. The high spots for this reader were the essays “My Ten Outstanding Books on the West” which includes way more than ten non-fiction picks, “High Spots of Western Fiction: 1902-1952”, which again exceeds the ten by far with many titles that were new to me, and a fascinating essay titled “Ranger Reading” which is a terrific source guide to all forms of rangering, from Texas Rangers to Rogers Rangers, to Bushrangers in Australia’s Outback.

This eclectic tome will appeal to readers who mix their fiction evenly with non-fiction on the topic. It is written with love and the sure hand of a well-versed authority.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Top Picks from a Modern Master


Ed Gorman reveals these preferences in his excellent essay “Writing the Modern Western.”

·         Lonesome Dove-Larry McMurtry

·         Shane-Jack Schaefer

·         The Searchers-Alan LeMay

The works of…

·         Brian Garfield

·         Elmore Leonard

·         Loren D. Estleman

·         Bill Pronzini

·         Joe Lansdale

His favorite Western film: Ride the High Country and he exults in his fondness for Roy Rogers in his essay “On Roy Rogers.”

Fine tastes from a fine writer.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Gunslinger


This tidy anthology of Western works by Ed Gorman is a delicious treat. We are offered ten thoughtful stories.

The stories reveal Gorman as a laconic and evocative craftsman. Each story represents what attracts me to the genre- beyond horses I have no idea where these tales are going. Is it a shoot ‘em up? A murder mystery? A tale of lost love? Mother-Son antagonism? Survival? All are brief, spiced with lovely detail and have a melancholy timbre.

The stories are:

·         The Face

·         Gunslinger

·         Guild and the Indian Woman

·         Mainwaring’s Gift

·         Blood Truth

·         Dance Girl

·         Deathman

·         Love and Trooper Monroe

·         Pards

We are also gifted two brief essays by Gorman on the genre:

·         On Roy Rogers

·         Writing the Modern Western

A very impressive sojourn into the skill of a mighty fine author.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Profile in Situational Awareness: Jim Bridger by Mark Hatmaker


The following is an account regarding the observational prowess and situational awareness of the legendary frontiersman, Jim Bridger. Keep in mind, this is not legend, this account comes to us from a military man, Captain H. E. Palmer, of the Eleventh Kansas Calvary. This account is found in another work by a military man, Biographical Sketch of James Bridger: Mountaineer, Trapper, and Guide (1905) by General Grenville M. Dodge.

After you have a read I’ll ask a few self-assessment questions. Again, ponder long and hard, these are pragmatic military men relating what they saw as observable fact and not some campfire tale or jejune super-hero story.

Captain H. E. Palmer, Eleventh Kansas Cavalry, Acting Asst. Adjt. Genl. to General P. E. Conner, gives this description of the Indian Camp on Tongue River, August 26, 1865. "Left Piney Fork at 6.45 a. m. Traveled north over a beautiful country until about 8 a.m., when our advance reached the top of the ridge dividing the waters of the Powder from that of the Tongue River. I was riding in the extreme advance in company with Major Bridger. We were 2,000 yards at least ahead of the General and his staff; our Pawnee scouts were on each flank and a little in advance; at that time there was no advance guard immediately in front. As the Major and myself reached the top of the hill we voluntarily halted our steeds. I raised my field glass to my eyes and took in the grandest view that I had ever seen. I could see the north end of the Big Horn range, and away beyond the faint outline of the mountains beyond the Yellowstone. Away to the northeast the Wolf Mountain range was distinctly visible. Immediately before us lay the valley of Peneau creek, now called Prairie Dog creek, and beyond the Little Goose, Big Goose and Tongue River valleys, and many other tributary streams. The morning was clear and bright, with not a breath of air stirring. The old Major, sitting upon his horse with his eyes shaded with his hands, had been telling me for an hour or more about his Indian life—his forty years experience on the plains, telling me how to trail Indians and distinguish the tracks of different tribes; how every spear of grass, every tree and shrub and stone was a compass to the experienced trapper and hunter—a subject that I had discussed with him nearly every day. During the winter of 1863 I had contributed to help Mrs. Bridger and the rest of the family, all of which fact's the Major had been acquainted with, which induced him to treat me as an old-time friend.

As I lowered my glass the Major said: 'Do you see those ere columns of smoke over yonder?' I replied: 'Where, Major?' to which he answered: 'Over there by that ere saddle,' meaning a depression in the hills not unlike the shape of a saddle, pointing at the same time to a point nearly fifty miles away. I again raised my glasses to my eyes and took a long, earnest look, and for the life of me could not see any column of smoke, even with a strong field glass. The Major was looking without any artificial help. The atmosphere seemed to be slightly hazy in the long distance like smoke, but there was no distinct columns of smoke in sight. As soon as the General and his staff arrived I called his attention to Major Bridger's discovery. The General raised his field glass and scanned the horizon closely. After a long look, he remarked that there were no columns of smoke to be seen. The Major quietly mounted his horse and rode on. I asked the General to look again as the Major was very confident that he could see columns of smoke, which of course indicated an Indian village. The General made another examination and again asserted that there was no column of smoke. However, to satisfy curiosity and to give our guides no chance to claim that they had shown us an Indian village and we would not attack it, he suggested to Captain Frank North, who was riding with his staff, that he go with seven of his Indians in the direction indicated to reconnoitre and report to us at Peneau Creek or Tongue River, down which we were to march. I galloped on and overtook the Major, and as I came up to him overheard him remark about 'these damn paper collar soldiers telling him there was no columns of smoke. The old man was very indignant at our doubting his ability to outsee us, with the aid of field glasses even. Just after sunset on August 27 two of the Pawnees who went out with Captain North towards Bridger's column of smoke two days previous came into camp with the information that confirmed the observation.”

This is General Dodge himself on other aspects of Mr. Bridger.

While engaged in this thorough system of trapping, no object of interest escaped his scrutiny, and when once known it was ever after remembered. He could describe with the minutest accuracy places that perhaps he had visited but once, and that many years before, and he could travel in almost a direct line from one point to another in the greatest distances, with certainty of always making his goal. He pursued his trapping expeditions north to the British possessions, south far into New Mexico and west to the Pacific Ocean, and in this way became acquainted with all the Indian tribes in the country, and by long intercourse with them learned their languages, and became familiar with all their signs. He adopted their habits, conformed to their customs, became imbued with all their superstitions, and at length excelled them in strategy.

Bridger was also a great Indian fighter, and I have heard two things said of him by the best plainsmen of this time; that he did not know what fear was, and that he never once lost his bearings, either on the plains or in the mountains.

As a guide he was without an equal, and this is the testimony of everyone who ever employed him. He was a born topographer, the whole West was mapped out in his mind, and such was his instinctive sense of locality and direction that it used to be said of him that he could smell his way where he could not see it. He was a complete master of plains and woodcraft, equal to any emergency, full of resources to overcome any obstacle, and I came to learn gradually how it was that for months such men could live without food except what the country afforded in that wild region. In a few hours they would put together a bullboat and put us across any stream. Nothing escaped their vision, the dropping of a stick or breaking of a twig, the turning of the growing grass, all brought knowledge to them, and they could tell who or what had done it. A single horse or Indian could not cross the trail but that they discovered it, and could tell how long since they passed. Their methods of hunting game were perfect, and we were never out of meat. Herbs, roots, berries, bark of trees and everything that was edible they knew. They could minister to the sick, dress wounds—in fact in all my experience I never saw Bridger or the other voyagers of the plains and mountains meet any obstacle they could not overcome.”

Now, I ask the following…how well does your own observational prowess, your own situational awareness, your own “in the world” cunning stack against Mr. Bridger?

Do you require GPS for your own journeys?

Are your own eyes lifted from the phone to see 50 yards in front of you let alone smoke two days ride away?

Are our ears stuffed with earbuds or saturated with an endless soundtrack of music and podcasts that prohibit us from hearing every little here and now, whether that be wind soughing in the trees, the scrape of a shoe behind you, or the distinct laugh of your child?

Are we truly rough and ready keen-eyed sharp-witted men and women or do we merely sport the apparel and use Facebook icons to falsely signal our prowess as “paper collar soldiers”?

May we all be educated to at least 1/5th of Mr. Bridger’s prowess and never need it for bad aim.

If our awareness steers us out of trouble-- Hurrah!

If it makes us alive to what is around us and enjoy it all the more—well, that is also a win, perhaps an even better win at that.


[For more information, drills, skills, on rough and ready preparedness, and rough & tumble fighting see our RAW Crew Subscription Service.]

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Rawhide Kid #1


“Always remember, Tommy--a gun is neither good nor bad! It depends on who is wearing it! In the hands of the Rawhide Kid, it is something wonderful!”

That echoing of a classic line in both the book and film version of Shane gives you the measure of this comic-book character. It’s akin to your 1950s TV Westerns for kids, or B-Western programmers aimed at the younger set.

With that said, there is still something charming about its “squareness.”

Issue #1 gives us two stories featuring the Kid, including his origin story—Rawhide refers to the town he’s from and not his apparel. There is also one stand-alone Western story, and to my surprise a short prose piece.

Again, the target was youths of a different time, but I still enjoyed this toe in the water to get a flavor for this character.

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Crossings


“While Hart was thinking it over Donaldson rolled himself a cigarette and drew the sack shut with the string held between his teeth and when he raised the match there it was, a jack of diamonds staring out at us between his ratty shirt and wool jacket. I saw it and Hart saw it and probably so did Heilberger. I guess that like me Hart simply couldn't believe what he was seeing.

 "Jesus and Mary on a broomstick," he said. "You could at least be a little careful, couldn't you?"

He didn't seem angry, only more or less annoyed with Donaldson, but he drew his gun out nevertheless — some huge grey antique of god knows what vintage — and set it on the table and when Donaldson saw this monstrosity pointed in his direction he began fumbling for his own gun and Hart said don't do that which stopped him for a moment but then he went back to fumbling again, just some fool in a panic and Hart said dammit, George, don't do that now but by then Donaldson had his own gun out so Hart had no choice but to pull the trigger.

Visceral horror author [and sweetheart of a human being], Jack Ketchum penned this brief western novel—his one and only. This is a fine novel, but it suffers having been read back-to-back with S. Craig Zahler’s similarly themed Wraiths of the Broken Land [also reviewed here.]

Ketchum’s laconic characters and their “small doings” are beautifully done and I’ll be honest I yearned a bit for more of this familiar but well-executed tack.

At some point it seems the author felt it was a duty to hew to his reputation or what his usual readers wanted and lay on the violence thick and heavy. Readers of this blog know that I have no problem with violence portrayed upon the page, but I must admit, read in tandem with Zahler, this seemed to pale a bit.

The violence, as over the top as it is, is still no match for Zahler’s brand of mayhem, but that is not the beef here. This violence seems to lack the emotional resonance and character gut-punch of Zahler’s work. This is odd in that Ketchum handles character affinities so well in the milder moments.

With all this said, this is a brief novel, I enjoyed reading it, and perhaps these nit-picks are merely unfair comparison with what was recently consumed.

Mr. Ketchum passed away recently and it is a shame that he did not return to the genre as there is much here that shows a good grasp of Western humanity.

Tomahawk

“’Can’t’ is not a Ranger word, Kaintuck! What’s impossible for ordinary men to do just takes Rangers a mite more time!” Another de...