Monday, May 21, 2018

The Scouts

“Indians raised from childhood to this heighted awareness of the world around them, were a treasure trove of clues to the wilderness. A white man could learn from the Indian, in a crude example, that lodgepole furrows through the hoofprints of a band of ponies signified Indians on the move with their women and children, rather than a raiding party. But reading sign could be far more subtle. In one instance, an Indian examining a trail that appeared fresh realized that it had been made two days earlier, sometime before 8 a.m. The clue was grains of sand stuck to the grass where horse hoofs had flattened it to the ground. For the sand to have adhered, the grass must have been damp and the most recent dew had occurred two days earlier. The Indian concluded that the horse had passed that day, before the sun had burned off the moisture. In another case, what seemed to be a bear track to a white man was shown by his Indian guide to have been made by blades of grass, bent by the wind to sculpt the loose sand into a shape that resembled a bear-paw print. Such distinctions were critical to a man in the wild. Someone who confused grass marks with bear tracks and vice versa could end up as a meal for a bear—or without a bear for a meal.”

An absurdly entertaining volume in the Time-Life: The Old West series authored by Keith Wheeler. It is a lavishly illustrated survey of some of the iconic frontier scouts from Kit Carson to Al Sieber with side-journeys to spend time with some lesser known but no less accomplished scouts such as Jack Crawford, the Poet-Scout and noted tee-totaler.

Western history aficionados will find much to enjoy and Western fiction fans will no doubt enjoy the glimpse into the lives and minds of some of these legends.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Quote of the Week

“You might as well expect the rivers to run backward as that any man that was born free should be contented to be penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases.”—Chief Joseph, Nez Perce

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Buffalo Wagons

“Several times in my life I’ve been in a tough spot, something I couldn’t get out of by myself. Somebody always came along. Most often it was a stranger, somebody I never saw before or ever saw again. Seems like we go through life owing gratitude to strangers. The only way we can ever repay them is to help some other stranger. It all evens up, in the long pull.”

A fine early novel [1957] from the very reliable Elmer Kelton.

The year is 1873, the time of the buffalo is waning. The scuttlebutt in Dodge City among the forcibly idle buffalo hunters is that there is a large herd remaining south of the Cimarron. The trouble is, that is Comanche territory. Our protagonist, Gage Jameson, dares the journey and we are glad he did.

Along the way we learn the ins and outs of the buffalo hunt from the always historically mindful Kelton and have an adventure or two.

Solid work.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Good Old Boys

 The Lord made every person different. He could not understand why people were determined to make everyone the same.”

Elmer Kelton is on fire with this 1978 novel that introduces us to aging cowboy Hewey Calloway. We follow this amiable charmer as he confronts the changing world of what Texas and range life used to be with what it is becoming in 1906.

This novel is far from a shoot-em-up but is long on charm, amiable companionship, and rife with on-point observations from the gregarious and imminently likable Hewey Calloway.

The world may have left him and his kind behind, the world is worse for that loss.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Way of the Warrior

General George Crook, the U.S. Army commander who finally subdued Geronimo and his warriors in the 1880s, extolled the Apache as ‘tigers of the human species,’ although the Apache themselves attributed their daunting reputation in battle as much to shrewdness as ferocity. As Palmer Valor put it succinctly, a man who hoped to survive on the warpath ‘had to be mean and smart.’”

This volume from the Time-Life Books series “The American Indian” provides a nice overview of warrior cultures from numerous tribes. Western fiction lovers should find much to enjoy here with interesting text and evocative photos to put factual meat on the bones of many the fictional exploits we all love.

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Bravados

“You know that Velarde girl?”


“She trying to impersonate a man?” Douglas said.

“No,” Leandro said. “She is better than many men.”

Another lean novel from the reliable Frank O’Rourke, author of the superlative The Last Chance [reviewed on this blog.]

In this 1957 effort a kidnapping and pursuit make up the bulk of the action and we have sparks here and there of the usual O’Rourke observational prowess but overall it is one of his minor efforts.

We must keep in mind I am comparing the man against himself and that bar is pretty damn high.

An average grade for an O’Rourke novel would probably be a B grade for many others.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Mr. Majestyk

You’re making sounds like a mean little ass-kicker, but I ain’t convinced.”

This lean 1975 novel from Elmore Leonard catches Dutch in his transition from primarily a Western author to a crime author. It is, in essence, a modern day Western, with our melon-farmer hero facing many of the same crises that stood in the way of Leonard’s pure western heroes. [Leave it to Elmore Leonard to make melon-farmers cool.]

It is a laconic western oozing with testosterone and cool and a fine way to spend an afternoon.

BTW-The 1974 flick with Charles Bronson as Mr. Majestyk and a script by Dutch is also mighty tight fare.

The Scouts

“Indians raised from childhood to this heighted awareness of the world around them, were a treasure trove of clues to the wilderness. A ...