Friday, May 24, 2019

The Wild West 365 by Michael Wallis

[The following is paraphrased from a single page of the volume.]

So, in 1881, George “Big Nose” Parrott decides to become noticeably richer.
• He attempts to rob a payroll train east of the town of Rawlins, Wyoming.
• Things do not go well and “Big Nose” winds up killing two lawmen in the process.
• He is eventually apprehended and taken to the Rawlins’ jail.
• The citizens of Rawlins decide incarceration ain’t quite good enough so an approximate 200 of them converge on the jail and take him for a short ride where they hang him from a telegraph pole.
• Once he has been displayed long enough, the undertaker delivers the remains to Dr. John Osborne who hopes to discover abnormalities in the brain that led to Parrott’s nefarious ways.
• First, he makes a death-mask of the corpse.
• Then he saws off the top of the skull and finds nothing untoward.
• Being the industrious sort, he proceeds to skin the entire body.
• Dr. Osborne sends the skin to a tannery in Denver with these instructions: “Make a pair of shoes and leave the nipples on.”
• The shoes arrive, but sans nipples, merely chest skin. He is disappointed but still loves the footwear and wears them proudly.
• Incidentally his medicine bag was also made of Mr. Parrott’s exterior.
• Wyoming being a progressive sort of place also housed Dr. Lillian Nelson, the first female physician in the region.
• Dr. Osborne in an act of collegiality gifts Parrott’s skullcap to Dr. Nelson.
• She is touched and uses it as both an ashtray and doorstop till her dying days.
• BTW-The skinless rest of Mr. Parrott was sealed into a whiskey barrel and buried.
• Lest we think Doctors Osborne and Nelson were anomalies and folks looked askance at such behavior.
• Dr. Osborne went on to be popular enough to win the governorship of Wyoming and he proudly wore his special shoes to the inaugural ball.
• He also later served in Congress and as the first assistant secretary of state under President Woodrow Wilson.
• And yes, he wore his shoes.
• Different times, huh?

This magnificently illustrated volume has one entry for each day of the year but that makes it sound like a trivial “fact of the day” book. Wallis has found so many odd, outre, off-the-beaten path aspects of the Wild West they left me shaking my head asking, “How have I never heard of this?”

I have been immersed in Western history for some time, and yes, some here is familiar, but there is such a wealth of the unfamiliar presented this book that it easily soars to the top of my favorite non-fiction in the genre.
Kudos, Mr. Wallis!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Indian Scout Talks A Guide for Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls by Charles A. Eastman

Have you ever wondered why most great men were born in humble homes and passed their early youth in the open country? There a boy is accustomed to see the sun rise and set every day; there rocks and trees are personal friends, and his geography is born with him, for he carries a map of the region in his head. In civilization there are many deaf ears and blind eyes. Because the average boy in the town has been deprived of close contact and intimacy with nature, what he has learned from books he soon forgets, or is unable to apply. All learning is a dead language to him who gets it at second hand.

The intended audience for this 1914 work may have been one of active youth looking to up their outdoor skills, but this grown man in his 50's still found much to enjoy.

It is simple and homiletic but often the resounding texts are. 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Wildwood Boys by James Carlos Blake

He stares at the utterly uninterested stars and berates himself in a howling silence, curses himself for an irresolute weakling and for being the sort of pathetic fool who wishes he could have a moment back again so he might use it properly. Fool! A man takes an action or he does not-and then the moment is fled to wherever all moments in relentless succession do irretrievably flee.

A masterful novelized account of the life of William “Bloody Bill” Anderson and all the rawness of the days of bushwhacking.

It is bloody, profane, poetic, poignant, in short, a work of art. I have no problem elevating Mr. Blake to the status that is usually reserved for Cormac McCarthy.

I enjoy McCarthy’s work but there is something more accessible in Blake and no less beautifully addressed. 

Easily a masterpiece within the genre.

But…not for the faint-hearted or delicate dispositioned, events are portrayed accurately.

Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee by David Crockett

  This 1834 volume is a fine glimpse into the mindset of a legend.   What particularly strikes, this reader at least, is the well he goe...