Friday, October 12, 2018

A Rough & Tumble Duel

Not all showdowns involved a weapon or had the tincture of muddy fun as one finds in the films The Spoilers or McLintock. I offer this glimpse of fact to illustrate.

The following is from The Sioux City Journal circa 1880s regarding a “Rough & Tumble Duel” that took place between two farmers, Duggan Points and Will Moss. At the heart of the duel, the charms of one, Miss Sallie Craig.

The vicious character of the duel is part and parcel of the rough and tumble tradition. I warn, the account is violent and the character of even witnessing such spectated murder is questionable.

Keep in mind, this was a planned for rough and tumble duel, the accounts of impromptu duels are far more dire.

“The place of the fight was agreed upon as halfway between the respective residents. A man from Loveland seconded Moss, and Point’s brother acted as his second. The fight was not to be conducted to any specified rules, but in the most approved rough-and-tumble style. About sixty people were on the ground, among whom was the girl over whom the contest was caused, to witness the brutal affair. The seconds stood with cocked revolvers in hand and warned no one to interfere. The men commenced fighting fiercely. They used fists, heels and teeth; and in clinching and tumbling about rolled over a large area of ground. The fight lasted fifty-five minutes, and throughout was of the most brutal character. It was brought to a fast conclusion by Points’ strength entirely giving way, and then Moss, with the last efforts of his madness, stamped upon his prostrate foe and crushed in his breast and kicked in his head. The spectators at this overpowered the seconds and dragged the men apart. Points was dying when picked up, and expired soon afterwards. Moss had been severely bitten by his antagonist, having had two fingers, an ear and his nose taken off, and was in a deplorable condition from other injuries.

The account does not offer if Miss Craig was happy with the outcome or impressed by the efforts in her favor.

[The above is research from my day job/avocation/vocation as a fight trainer and combat historian. If this intrigues have a look here or here.]

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Western Quote & Lesson of the Day

The following comes from Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quin, the 4th Earl of Dunraven & Mountearl. This Welsh nobleman travelled to America’s “Wild West” in 1874 to experience its wonders and dangers.

Despite facing grueling hardships on the trail, in camps, climbing mountains, almost losing his life in river fording,  in “near miss” encounters with less than amiable tribes he writes in his book The Great Divide, a memoir of his travel experiences, the following:

“I never have an adventure worth a cent; nobody ever scalps me; I don’t get ‘jumped’ by highwaymen. It never occurs to a bear to hug me, and my very appearance inspires feelings of dismay or disgust in the breast of the puma or mountain lion. It is true that I have often been horribly frightened, but generally without any adequate cause.”

That last sentence there is the kicker.

You’ve got a man who will travel an ocean to journey thousands of miles in a land that could be less than forgiving, and in his own narrative he recounts many exploits that would quail our pampered 21st century brothers and sisters (well, they quailed me, at least) and yet his observation to himself, and advice to us-- Most of what frightens us is nothing at all.

If a man steeped in an environment that could very well kill him comes to that observation, just what are our contemporary selves so stressed about or frightened of?

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Indian Running

My son, you know no one will help you in this world…You must run to that mountain and come back. That will make you strong. My son, you know no one is your friend, not even your sister, your father, or your mother. Your legs are your friends; your brain is your friend; your eyesight is your friend; your hair is your friend; your hands are your friend; you must do something with them.”

The opening quote is the real-world advice offered by an Apache father to his son on the importance of developing stamina, grit, and self-reliance via strenuous effort.

Peter Nabokov’s Indian Running: Native American History & Tradition is a fascinating account regarding the emphasis on running as a warrior conditioning tool, a spiritual practice, or merely a group participatory activity for celebration or competition.

Western fans who like to leaven their reading with history may find much to enjoy in this specialized volume.

Thursday, September 20, 2018


“’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


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.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Top Five from a Modern Master

S. Craig Zahler, author of the excellent, albeit intense novels A Congregation of Jackals and Wraiths of the Broken Land, and writer-director of one of the most memorable western films in recent years Bone Tomahawk will be offering his take on the genre and news about another of his Westerns in the works in an upcoming interview.

Ahead of that conversation he offers his own picks for Top 5 Reads in the genre.

1.      Beyond the Outposts Max Brand

2.      The Singing Guns Max Brand

3.      The Big Sky A.B. Guthrie

4.      Lonesome Dove Larry McMurtry

5.      The Ox-Bow Incident Walter Van Tilburg Clark

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Wraiths of the Broken Land

“Although the gentleman knew that he would be changed irrevocably by the act of killing another man, he admitted to himself that he was already different—aware of his mortality in a physical way and cognizant that his most cherished viewpoints did not in any way alter the world that happened violently around him. The scorpions had shown him that he was not immune to death.”

Friends, this is one gut-punch of a novel. S. Craig Zahler’s second Western [his first, A Congregation of Jackals is also reviewed on this blog] continues to display the author’s heady mixture of gorgeous prose, good grasp of the genre, and almost jaw-droppingly over-the-top set-pieces of violence ever presented on the printed page.

This ultra-violence is no mere effect or grab at exploitation. Some genres are founded almost entirely on the ability to push the limits but often these become exercises in one up-manship leaving any pretense of narrative ambitions in the dust in order to get to the grit, gore and grue to moisten that dust.

Not so with Zahler. This would be a mighty fine novel if it were not so tinged with red, but…I for one, find his violent visions fascinating.

It must be said, this may not be for all tastes. If you enjoyed his prior work, including his excellent films Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99 you will find more to enjoy here.

A great toe in the water—if you read and survive the first chapter you’re in for a helluva ride.

If that chapter turns you off. Proceed no further—things get much worse from there.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018


I've found that all weak people share a basic obsession - they fixate on the idea of satisfaction. Anywhere you go men and women are like crows drawn by shiny objects. For some folks, the shiny objects are other people, and you'd be better off developing a drug habit.”

This neo-Western by Nic Pizzolatto, the creator of HBOs True Detective series is big on bleak observation and long on heart. It is no spoiler to say that it is the saga of a Galveston loan shark enforcer called “Big Country” who on the same day he receives a fatal diagnosis has rumblings that his unsavory employers have less than ideal plans for his already truncated future.

There are big themes here, redemption being one of them. A very fine example of what can be done with old ingredients.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

David Crockett His Life and Adventures

Ere long he found it necessary to oppose some of Jackson's measures. We will let him tell the story in his own truthful words: "Soon after the commencement of this second term, I saw, or thought I did, that it was expected of me that I would bow to the name of Andrew Jackson, and follow him in all his motions, and windings, and turnings, even at the expense of my conscience and judgment. Such a thing was new to me, and a total stranger to my principles. I know'd well enough, though, that if I didn't 'hurrah' for his name, the hue and cry was to be raised against me, and I was to be sacrificed, if possible. His famous, or rather I should say his infamous Indian bill was brought forward, and I opposed it from the purest motives in the world. Several of my colleagues got around me, and told me how well they loved me, and that I was ruining myself. They said this was a favorite measure of the President, and I ought to go for it. I told them I believed it was a wicked, unjust measure, and that I should go against it, let the cost to myself be what it might; that I was willing to go with General Jackson in everything that I believed was honest and right; but, further than this, I wouldn't go for him or any other man in the whole creation.”

This 19th-century biography of Davy Crockett by historian John S. C. Abbott is a load of thoughtful fun. Crockett’s birthplace and stomping grounds are not far from my own homestead and I have to admit a bit of partiality when it comes to his exploits.

What struck me in this narrative was not so much the “adventures” but the political exploits which strike me as pertinent today.

I’ll let Mr. Crockett close out this musing.

“He said, 'I would as lieve be an old coondog as obliged to do what any man or set of men would tell me to do. I will support the present Administration as far as I would any other; that is, as far as I believe its views to be right. I will pledge myself to support no Administration. I had rather be politically damned than hypocritically immortalized.'"-David Crockett on withdrawing his support for Andrew Jackson

Ah, to see such courage and integrity in congressmen and voters/supporters of any and all stripes today…

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

"The Mountain Code"

Jim Webb, in his history Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America offers an interesting [if unprovable] premise on the foundations of the clannish honor, rebelliousness, and ornery combativeness of the people of early Appalachia and the Ozarks. It is a book well-worth reading and discussing [another day, perhaps.]

I find that you can see Webb's theme encapsulated in a few brief paragraphs in a work of fiction, the below is from Forrest Carter's The Vengeance Trail of Josey Wales. [BTW-A mighty fine book itself.]

The [Mountain] Code was as necessary to survival on the lean soil of mountains, as it had been on the rock ground of Scotland and Wales. Clannish people. Outside governments erected by people of kindlier land, of wealth, of power, made no allowance for the scrabbler.

“As a man had no coin, his coin was his word. His loyalty, his bond. He was the rebel of establishment, born in this environment. To injure one to whom he was obliged was personal; more, it was blasphemy. The Code, a religion without catechism, having no chronicler of words to explain or to offer apologia.

“Bone-deep feuds were the result. War to the knife. Seldom if ever over land, or money, or possessions. But injury to the Code meant---WAR!

“Marrowed in the bone, singing in the blood, the Code was brought to the mountains of Virginia and Tennessee and the Ozarks of Missouri. Instantaneously it could change a shy farm boy into a vicious killer, like a sailing hawk, quartering its wings in the death dive.

“It all was puzzling to those who lived within government cut from cloth to fit their comfort. Only those forced outside the pale could understand. The Indian—Cherokee, Comanche, Apache. The Jew.
“The unspoken nature of Josey Wales was the clannish code. No common interest of business, politics, land or profit bound his people to him. It was unseen and therefore stronger than any of these. Rooted in human beings’ most powerful urge—preservation. The unyielding, binding thong was loyalty. The trigger was obligation.”

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Quote of the Week

This is “The Cowboy Code of Ethics” as offered by James Owen in his book Cowboy Values: Recapturing What America Once Stood For.

I’ll admit I’m not the biggest fan of all that Mr. Owen has to say in his book as it seems a bit of historical cherry-picking to get at the best and the brightest, but that’s just me. I do think most will find it hard to quibble with his list of 10.

The Cowboy Code of Ethics

“Live each day with courage.

Take pride in your work.

Always finish what you start.

Do what has to be done.

Be tough, but fair.

When you make a promise, keep it.

Ride for the brand.

Talk less and say more.

Remember that some things aren’t for sale.

Know where to draw the line.”

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Short Story Short Take: "Gunman's Christmas"

We don’t judge a man by the blood he was borned with. We measure him by the blood he’s got in his veins now, ‘cause we figure he made it whatever it is—good or bad.”

I write of this Christmas tale in the month of August as it was my first encounter with the work of Caddo Cameron [the penname of Charles Beeler.] It's a quaint tale with heart, and has the feel of hard-earned authenticity.

That authenticity likely comes from Beeler's own experience working ranches and railroads in the late 1800s.

In this story no new roads are paved, but the old roads feel legit and with the backing of the Yuletide setting it resonates.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Words to Live By

Never double-cross a man. Never back down.”—Philosophy of Noble L. “Dude” Brown, Marshal of Leavenworth, Washington

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Quote of the Week

Dear Sir: I have a warrant here for your arrest. Please come in by Friday and give yourself up. If you don’t I’ll know that you intend on resisting arrest, and I will feel justified in shooting you on sight when I come after you. Yours truly, Elfego Baca, Sheriff of Socorro Country N.M.”—The form letter Sheriff Baca sent to all those indicted by a Grand Jury.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Creed of Violence

“It was God at his most blessed who gave you this.” He touched his head. “So you would know what is right. It was God at his most blessed who gave you this.” And he touched his heart. “So you could feel what is right. And it was God who gave you these,” he grabbed his crotch again, “so you would have the fuckin’ cojones to do what is right even if it means your own death. That is God’s holy trinity on earth. And if you do not live by that you are just useless pockets—”

A cynical, violent and gorgeously written novel positioned during the onset of the Mexican Revolution. Author, Boston Teran, gives us a father-son duo who also serve as the antagonist-protagonist—with the father “Rawbone” spouting some of the juiciest dialogue I’ve read in some time.

Teran draws parallels between the Mexican Revolution and who might really have been behind its inception and todays roil and turmoil in the world. Whether one agrees with the politics or not is irrelevant as the novel itself is a treat.

Fans of James Carlos Blake and Frank O’Rourke will find much to appreciate here.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Land of Little Rain

Man is a great blunderer going about in the woods, and there is no other except the bear makes so much noise. Being so well warned beforehand, it is a very stupid animal, or a very bold one, that cannot keep safely hid. The cunningest hunter is hunted in turn, and what he leaves of his kill is meat for some other. That is the economy of nature, but with it all there is not sufficient account taken of the works of man. There is no scavenger that eats tin cans, and no wild thing leaves a like disfigurement on the forest floor.”

This 1903 work from Mary Hunter Austin can be thought of as a South-westerner’s poetic agreement with Thoreau. In a series of observational walks Austin reveals the beauty of the desert that she sees so ably. She offers evocative expressions of the landscape, insightful commentary regarding the flora and fauna and how to “see” as they do and ends the volume with a few choice comments on the difference between those who live on or close to the land and those who don’t.

While not Western fiction it is a landmark record and love-letter to the environment of the genre.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Chip of the Flying U

This 1906 novel by B. M. Bower [Bertha Muzzy] was the first in a long line of novels to feature the “Happy Family” a loose collective of ranch hands in Montana.

Bower’s work can be declared “ranch romances” but that being said the ranch life is depicted fairly realistically.

This introductory novel follows a romance between the titular Chip and the newly arrived female doctor, Della. The take is old-fashioned but well-told and not a bad read for fans of the early years of the genre.

Side-Note: Our fictional Chip is a bit of an artist and is said to be modeled on renowned artist Charles M. Russell, who illustrated the novel.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western

"I count a lot of things that there's no need to count," Cameron said. "Just because that's the way I am. But I count all the things that need to be counted."

This 1974 novel from counter-culture author Richard Brautigan will surely divide audiences.

On the surface we have a novel about two unusual gunmen, Cameron and Greer, who are on a killing job in Hawaii. After an unusual episode there they wind up back in California and things just get weirder [and more absurd] from there.

Make no mistake, this is no standard western, it isn’t standard for any genre. It is rife with nonsensical episodes, whimsical flights of fancy and yet, it is mighty well written.

Cameron and Greer are suspiciously reminiscent of the titular Sisters Brothers in Patrick deWitt’s excellent novel. Some find The Sisters Brothers to be an eccentric work, well, this one tops that eccentricity in spades.

With that said, I enjoyed this brief novel immensely but recognize it is not for all tastes.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Chatham Killing

I try to show things as they were, warts and all, but the physical descriptions are accurate. I’ve ridden and hunted the land and I can tell you that the Grand Tetons are snow-covered in August. But the snow is too dirty to eat or boil down for coffee, and I’ve tried to paint these things as they are.”

That quote is not from the book, but from an interview given by the author Jack Ehrlich on his approach. That is a mighty fine descriptor of what we find in this hard-bitten 1976 novel.

A young woman has been raped and murdered and our town marshal protagonist attempts to ferret out the culprit and finds out some mighty unpleasant things along the way.

Malignant revelations regarding the girl, those who knew her, the nature of justice, and the nature of the law itself which does not always coincide.

The novel is written as Ehrlich describes his work, truthfully. It may not be pretty, but it is some mighty fine reading.

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Rough Guide to Westerns

Paul Simpson offers this handy little reference guide to the genre. Not only does it contain a core list of 50 Western films, “The Canon”, but numerous side-bars and support chapters offer even more films and film books for exploration.
It may be small in size, but it packs a lot of informational punch.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Hardcase for Hire

Clay Randall, pseudonym for the prolific and reliable Clifton Adams, delivers this 1964 novel starring his series protagonist Amos Flagg.

In this outing, we are asked to ponder what compels a remote ramshackle town in Indian Territory to build an ornate brick opera house in an environment where all live in tents or lean-tos.

It is a terrific opener and the ride to discover “why” is a bit of fun.

I prefer Adams when he writes under his own name as he seems to tackle heavier more serious themes, but this novel is a fine afternoon whiler.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Western Expression of the Week: "Tied Dog"

“Tied Dog” is a Caddo Indian term for a fighter who runs snarling toward a fight but stops before he gets there. Like a dog at the end of a rope.
Tied Dogs are all bark and no bite. All bluster with nothing behind it.
I wager we all know more than a few Tied Dogs. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Fourth Horseman

For a little while he will sit his horse feeling behind him all the lost yesterdays, seeing ahead of him all the empty tomorrows. He will realize then, that for him there is no yesterday and no tomorrow, but only what little is left of today. When he feels that, he will no longer suspect where he is. He will know.

He is at the end of the trail.”

That gorgeous bit of writing can be found on page one of Will Henry’s 1954 novel and there are other such expressive gems to be found within.

But…I’d be less than honest to say that this was a completely satisfying book for me. Where Henry, in this volume at least, shows a perceptive eye his characters felt a bit removed to me. I never quite felt sure why our protagonists or antagonists felt as passionately as they did about certain actions. They seemed to leap and cavort to satisfy plot points in between bouts of beautifully expressive writing.

With that said, it is a well-written novel that seems to walk the tightrope between by-the-numbers formulary tropes and learned observations.

A bit of a puzzler for me.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Comanche Vocabulary

“Yukanibar’u Yunumit’u!”

[Live unconcernedly, live well!]

About four years ago I stumbled across this book in a used-book store. It was written/compiled in the 1860s by Manuel Garcia Rejon and published in Mexico.

The price was $1.

I bought it and for no good reason decided to study the language. This led to other vocabularies, tribal resources and materials from the good folks in the Comanche Nation itself and I am still none too fluent, but I work at it each day.

I am grateful to this book for starting me down this road and any Western fiction fan or Western history aficionado might find some enjoyment in browsing the pages and wrapping the tongue and mind around some of the unusual pronunciations and concepts.

Quote of the Week

One day each must learn that, travel far as he likes, a man takes himself with him for better or for worse.”-Emerson Hough The Covered Wagon

Captain Alatriste

If you are stout of heart, you can be as dangerous as anyone who crosses your path. Or more.”

This 1997 novel by Spanish author Arturo Perez-Reverte is the first in a series of swashbucklers. While it never leaves the shores of Spain Western fans with a soft-spot for Zorro will find much to admire and enjoy here.

The derring-do, the élan, the swords flash fast and fierce. The intrigue and courageous bon mots in the midst of battle perfectly capture the feeling of Douglas Fairbanks, Tyrone Power, or Antonio Banderas as the Spanish don who fights for justice.

To be honest, Captain Alatriste is far better written than Johnston McCulley’s Zorro, but I am grateful to McCulley all the same, for if he had not written Zorro I’m not sure I would have picked up the exploits of Captain Alatriste.

I am glad I did.

A Rough & Tumble Duel

Not all showdowns involved a weapon or had the tincture of muddy fun as one finds in the films The Spoilers or McLintock . I offer this...