Friday, February 20, 2015

Writers of the West Will be on Hiatus Until Further Notice

Remembering Louis L'Amour


1908-1988

Louis Dearborn L'Amour (La Moore) was not only the West's best-selling storyteller, he was the consummate Western man, a pattern for the white-hatted heroes he wrote about. Hardworking and soft-spoken, he was proud of his accomplishments, yet despite rumors to the contrary, he was often shy in his remembrances. L'Amour literally elevated himself by his proverbial boot straps, and in the process, left footprints in the marketing landscape that few writers will be able to fill.

Luck had nothing to do with his success, he said not long before his death in 1988. "Nor have I had any connections or breaks that I did not create for myself. I just tried to write the best I could about things I knew."

There are realities that writers must consider, he was quick to add. "No publisher is going to do anything for you that you don't earn. They simply can't afford to. Once a writer proves he can make money, they will often extend themselves. There's no magic, just hard work."

The work ethic was instilled in L'Amour as a child by his parents in Jamestown, North Dakota. His father, a veterinarian and farm machinery salesman, was involved in local politics. He served as alderman of Jamestown's largest ward for many years as well as deputy sheriff, but he lost his mayoral race. "People in small towns doubled in brass, you might say."

Young Louie enjoyed playing cowboys and Indians, and roughhoused in the family barn, which doubled as his father's veterinary hospital. He did more than his share of reading, particularly G. A. Henty, an Englishman who wrote of wars through the nineteenth century. L'Amour said, "It enabled me to go into school with a great deal of knowledge that even my teachers didn't have about wars and politics."

 The L'Amour family library encompassed some five hundred books, among them the works of Whittier, Lowell, Longfellow, and Poe, as well as popular American and English writers. The youngest of the L'Amour children, Louie remembered reading a five-volume Collier's History of the World while he was small enough to sit in his father's lap.

 "I think all things you read influence your writing to some degree. And if you don't learn anything else, you learn something about living and the use of words."

 His serious reading began at twelve with a collection of biographies titled The Genius of Solitude. "The only one I remember is Socrates, the first chapter, but I remember it well." A book of natural history followed, which he tried unsuccessfully to locate years later for his children. During adolescence, L'Amour immersed himself in books of chemistry, mineralogy, geology, and the history of aircraft.

 His concentrated self-education resulted in boredom with school. "I was just spinning my wheels," he said, "so it was no real hardship for me to leave. I had to go to work to find myself a change." L'Amour left school and Jamestown at fifteen, after completing the tenth grade. Since crop failures were common in North Dakota, and his father's livelihood was linked to the farming community, he decided to find his niche elsewhere. By hitchhiking and riding the rails, he arrived in Oklahoma City to visit an older brother, who was the governor's secretary, but he soon moved on.

"By then I was broke and I got a job in West Texas skinning dead cattle that died from a prolonged drought. They had been dead a while. Some fellow was trying to save the hides and it was the most miserable job, but I learned a lot." The young man's boss was a seventy-nine-year-old wrangler raised by Apaches, who had ridden on war parties with Nana and Geronimo. "He was a very, very, hard old boy but I got along with him fine. He was the first to teach me about tracking and using herbs."

L'Amour left his odorous job, after three months sleeping on the ground and staying downwind from passersby. He had helped skin 965 head of cattle by staking their skulls and tying their hides to the bumper of an early model pickup truck.

 His next job was baling hay in New Mexico's Pecos Valley, across the road from Billy the Kid's grave. He visited the Maxwell home where Billy had been killed, and talked to the woman who offered the outlaw his last meal. L'Amour remembered her as "a pretty sharp old lady who still had all her buttons." He then talked to Judge Cole in Ruidoso, and got to know some thirty former gunfighters, rangers, and outlaws in the area. He regretted not knowing about a number of others.

While wandering about the West, he joined a circus in Phoenix, leaving three weeks later in El Paso. He then hoboed his way to Galveston, Texas, where he hired on as a merchant seaman. His first cruise was to the West Indies, his second to the British Isles. He tried his hand at writing during his travels, but his scribblings didn't include events as familiar as his Western heritage.

 L'Amour's family history is rich in frontier adventure. His maternal great-grandfather was scalped by the Sioux while a member of the Sibley Expedition, following the Little Crow Massacre in Minnesota. Both his grandfathers served in the Union army during the Civil War, and his maternal grandfather taught him military tactics by drawing battle plans on a blackboard.

The novelist was especially proud of his mother's ancestry, beginning with Godfrey Dearborn, who arrived in this country in 1638, an antecedent of General Henry Dearborn, who marched with Arnold to Quebec. He also took part in the second Battle of Saratoga, Monmouth, Sullivan's raid on the Iroquois villages, Bunker Hill, Valley Forge, and the surrender of Cornwallis, among others. Some of the general's diaries were published, and he and his wife corresponded with Thomas Jefferson, exchanging garden seeds.

General Dearborn's son, of the same name and rank, published half a dozen books, but L'Amour was only able to locate one of them, a biography of William Bainbridge, commander of "Old Ironsides." The book was published posthumously by Princeton University Press.

 L'Amour stressed the fact he had never taken a creative writing course, and that his post tenth-grade education had been earned from voluminous reading. While in Oklahoma City, L'Amour assisted Foster Harris and Walter Campbell in their creative writing courses after he began to publish. He later lectured at more than forty institutions of higher learning, principally the University of Oklahoma. He was also a featured speaker for the National Convention of Genealogists in San Francisco.

"I get many questions about people mentioned in my stories—people looking for relatives or family histories—or about conditions at the time, or to clarify some point on which they lack understanding. Few people realize how much language and word usage have changed. Half the nonsense written about Shakespeare would not have happened if people knew more about the language and customs of the time. For example, they write of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, which in those days meant bawdy men."

L'Amour's constant research turned up the little known fact that Wild Bill Hickok's ancestors were tenant farmers on the property owned by Shakespeare. He insisted that credit for the factual unearthing go to English writer, Joseph Rosa.

The novelist's first published story sold to True Gang Life, and a few of his poems were featured in The Farmer's Stockman, an Oklahoma-based magazine. He also wrote boxing articles for a newspaper, sans payment, after meeting two pretty young news reporters in Oregon, who gave him a byline. He was fighting professionally at the time, and knocked out thirty-four of fifty-one opponents during his light heavyweight career. He first stepped between the ropes at age sixteen, and fought more heavyweights than those in his own weight division.

His first short story sales concerned the West Indies, football, rodeo, "detective yarns," and a few Westerns. "I'd grown up in the West and absorbed live background, but I was too close to it. I wanted to write about something far away, you see." He spent ten months in China, and bicycled across India during his twenty years in the merchant marines.

 L'Amour's first big sale was Hondo, originally published in short story form by Collier's Magazine. "Dick Carroll of Fawcett Books asked me to come in, and he said, 'There's a novel here, and I'll buy it.' So I wrote it, and he bought it. Then John Wayne made a movie of it, and suddenly, everyone wanted Westerns."

 The writer had an important decision to make. "Westerns have always been regarded in this country as second rate literature. I didn't agree with that. I never have. The paperback book was regarded as third or fourth rate, and I didn't agree with that either. So I sat down and had a very serious talk with myself. "Do I take the ball and run with it, or do I stay the same course I'm on?

 "I decided to hell with it, that I was going to write damn good Westerns and I would make them accurate. I would show them that Westerns could be history, that they were important. Because to me, this was the most important phase of American history. The Western period, the pioneer period, did more to form American character than anything else done in this country. It should be taken seriously, and more attention should be given to it." The main difficulty he encountered was Eastern prejudice—those in the publishing business raised in the East, with little understanding of life west of the Mississippi River.

 L'Amour did not come into his own as a writer until mid-life, much like English novelist Joseph Conrad, who also spent years at sea before settling down to write. While L'Amour lived in Oklahoma City, he realized "there was something drastically wrong" with his writing. "The short stories I sent out came back like homing pigeons. So I got a bunch of short stories and studied them to see how they were written. I found what I had been doing wrong and that's when I began to sell."

 L'Amour's long-term association with Bantam Books began after his disillusionment with Fawcett, his first publisher, which only produced one of his novels a year. He said, "I have had, all the way along, to lead my publishers, sometimes by the nose. It hasn't been easy."

 Saul David, a Bantam Books editor, told L'Amour he could write three books a year, but it took some persuasion on the writer's part, who liked "to write fast." He admired David's courage and his ability to "swim against the tide. If you told him something could not be done, he'd do it."

 L'Amour maintained the schedule he had worked for years until just before his death, at 81. "I'm not rigid about it," he said. "I work every day, seven days a week, and that's not a problem. However, if something comes up and I want to take a little trip, I do it. I come back and go to work again."

 Rising at 5:30 or 6:00, he'd read two Los Angeles newspapers and The Wall Street Journal before breakfast. His work day then began. At noon he sometimes stopped for lunch, often meeting friends at a restaurant. He said he occasionally went alone at an off-hour to make notes for a forthcoming novel, although he was rarely known to use them. "But, I can discuss it with myself, and the direction the book will follow."

He usually returned to his IBM Wheelwriter after lunch for an hour, or he used that time to read. He would also file mounds of research material crowding his large office. Three-foot stacks of paper neatly flanked three sides of his desk. He had no secretary and didn't want one, because "it would keep me busy finding work for her to do." Only he knew where to file research material so that he could find it. He also answered his own mail, but only a small percentage of some 5,000 letters that arrived annually.

His personal library contained more than 10,000 books, with hinged bookcases revealing floor-to-ceiling shelves behind the visible ones. He also left behind map drawers, much like those on ships, with geographical charts of every country on earth. The world was literally at his fingertips.

 Little physical research was done during his latter years because he had already been there. "Usually I write about places I've been," he said. "I knocked around the world for twenty years, and one of the things I did was file a claim on a mining camp where I had to do a hundred hours work a year to hold it. Sometimes I hired somebody to do it, or miss out on a good job."

Although he only two-finger typed one draft, he admitted to rewriting on occasion. "Usually if I find something wrong, I rewrite the whole page. Occasionally I reread the previous day's work, and that's only when there's been a break in continuity. My feeling is that if one plans to rewrite, one is careless, figuring to pick it up the next time around. I wrote for the pulps and to make any money, one had to produce a lot. I drilled myself in getting it right the first time."

His wife Kathy proofread his work, checking for typos and redundancies. She rarely found misspelled words and no one changed his work, "not even editors. They never have, not since that first sale when the editor sent my story back and said to cut 1,500 words. I thought, 'Ah baloney, I just don't know how I could possibly do that. I hate it." Chuckling, he added: "Now when I look at it, I wonder where all the words went."

 During the mid-1980s, his novels crowded book store racks along with adult Westerns that he hated. "Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, the Brontes, Checkov, Thackeray, and many others, who used sex, did it with wit and charm," he said. "Sex in current books is clumsily done, indicating that most writers really know very little about it. They write like a bunch of small boys out behind a barn. They are crudely lewd. There's no fun in their sex and nobody appears to be having a good time."

 L'Amour advised fledglings to read and write "everything you can. Keep writing, putting words on paper and learn to express yourself. One difficulty I find of people who write is that they don't read enough. And our schools aren't giving enough background in American literature. I think you should have a pretty good idea what's been done before you try to do it. And you can learn some valuable things by writing. I really learned how to write from Robert Louis Stevenson, Anthony Trollope, and de Maupassant."

 A sentimentalist, L'Amour adopted a white dove before his first novel sold. The dove had taken up residence in the novelist's garage and was brought into the house and named Rama-Cita after two deities of East Indian mythology. The name was later shortened to Rama when the bird was found to be male. The dove could be heard throughout the L'Amour's large Spanish-style home as though in an echo chamber, and outlived most of its species as the writer's "good luck mascot."

 Louis L'Amour was visibly proud of his children. His son Beau, at the time of the interview, was a film producer's creative consultant, who wrote in his famous father's wake. His pretty younger sister Angelique also writes. Both L'Amour offspring planned at the time to produce biographies of their father, in addition to the one he was writing at the time of his death. L'Amour wanted to be remembered as a storyteller—a man who told the American story, or one version of it."

 Among his legion of books, Walking Drum, a twelfth century adventure, was the most fun to write. When asked which had been his favorite, he said, "I like them all. There's bits and pieces of books that I think are good. I never rework a book. I'd rather use what I've learned on the next one, you see, and make it a little bit better.

"The worst of it is that I'm no longer a kid and I'm just now getting to be a good writer. Just now."


(Excerpted from Maverick Writers and Westerners: Candid & Historic Interviews)

© 2013 Jean Henry-Mead

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Marlboro Man, Part II


Darrel Winfield refused to discuss the pros and cons of smoking, saying it was up to individual to decide for himself. And as most cowboys have traditionally done on the job "for safety reasons," he chewed tobacco. While working on location, however, he lit up two or three packs a day during a full day's shooting, although they were tossed away and a fresh one lighted for each new take. 

He averaged ten takes for each scene filmed, "but if everything goes well, if myself or the other cowboys or the cameraman don't goof up, it will snap right along."

The cowboy changed clothes often during a day's filming. Shirts and coats were frequently discarded with different colors worn in each setting. During the summer months the crew spent some nights on the open range, rising early to help the rancher move a herd of livestock. Winfield took his own horses on location whenever possible. His favorite was Olen, a sorrel quarter horse he once traded but soon changed his mind.

When Winfield was at home on his forty-acre spread near Riverton, Wyoming, he liked to "lie around the house," do some team roping with his partner, Bill Young, at the Old Timer's Rodeo; trade horses, ride everyday--weather permitting--and collect old saddles, bits and spurs. Winfield and his partner won three of six team-roping championships, competing with as many as 50-100 teams, but called himself an average roper. He rode a modified association saddle made in Montana and collected antique saddles, the oldest dating back to 1906.

The Winfields bought their small ranch in 1974, a year before they moved onto it, and imported his parents from Oregon to serve as caretakers. When the Marlboro ad campaign became lucrative enough for him to quit his cattle foreman's job a year later, they settled into the rustic log house  and found it a better location from which to commute.

Lennie Winfield's husband was gone four days to three weeks during the latter years, and she occupied her time with ranch chores as well as eight grandchildren who lived nearby. "I know it's his job, and I'm just about to get used to his being gone so much," she said. "I pack his clothes and send him off with a big hug and a kiss, and he calls often so we always know where he is."

The couple was invited to a Marlboro company party in Chicago shortly after he hired on as their lead cowboy in 1968. A picture of her husband stretched across four lanes of traffic on Ohio Street, taking Lennie by surprise. When asked how she felt about his image plastered across the country, she replied: "It's kind of exciting to know that it's him, and I know him and he's mine--at least part of the time.They keep him away from me a lot."

Darrell Winfields' five daughters were scattered from Wyoming to California, next door and a teen still at  home at the time of the interview. Their only son worked as a heavy equipment operator for the City of Riverton. Most of the neighbors were aware of the Winfield-Marlboro connection but he wasn't a celebrity in his own community, nor did he want to be. Although he earned a "comfortable living," the cowboy still drove an old Dodge pickup and lived much the same as his pre-celebrity days. Seeing his face staring back at him from billboards and ads welled him with pride. "That's because I'm working for a first-class outfit," he said. "And they, in turn, portray you as a pretty good-looking and macho guy. I think something would be wrong with you if you didn't feel a little bit proud."

(Excerpted from Westerners: Candid and Historical Interviews, Medallion Books.)

Friday, February 6, 2015

Remembering the Marlboro Man

(1929-2015)

Darrell Winfield: cowboy, rancher, rodeo rider, horse trader, ranch manager and Marlboro's original mustached western rider passed away last month at age 85. While employed by the Phillip Morris Tobacco Company, he spent half his time working on location and the rest at his forty-acre ranch near Riverton, Wyoming, where he bought, rode and traded quarter horses. Volumes have been written about his habits, some of them untrue, but most attested to his innate sense of humor, which often embarrassed his charming wife, Lennie.

"People who know him personally understand that he likes to joke around," she said one day at the ranch. "But other people who read about him want to know, 'What kind of man is he?'" As the result of a number of unflattering articles stemming from his humorous quips, one of the world's most photographed cowboys gave few interviews. When he did, he was cautious to the point of uttering one-word answers, unless a particular subject happened  to loosen his lips. When asked about women's rights, he launched into a humorous tirade about male superiority which served to fortify his macho image.

"Deep down you know we're right," he said from his leather recliner. "Men are superior to women in most respects. But I can't talk too loud because I have a wife and five daughters.When you leave I'll be in trouble." Everyone laughed, but a nagging suspicion lingered that he just might be serious. His quip that "women have it made" compounded the feeling that Winfield was a not-so-closet chauvinist, a now outdated label.

The ruggedly handsome, nearly six-foot, once-lanky cowboy was born in Oklahoma in 1929, the eldest of six children. His father, Dapalean Caywood Winfield, farmed, baled hay, ginned cotton, and worked as a millwright before moving his family to California's central valley. Winfield's son, Darrell, attended Hanford schools in the San Joaquin Valley, milked cows at his father's dairy, raised livestock, and did a little rodeoing. He quit high school as a sophomore because his main interest was becoming a cowboy. Two years later he married Lennie Spring, a 16-year-old high school student, and in 1948, moved to Kerman, California, where he worked as a ranch hand until 1960, specializing in livestock.

Winfield next ran a feedlot for the Westside Ranch in Firebaugh until 1968, when he was offered the job of cattle foreman for the Quarter Circle Five Ranch in Pinedale, Wyoming.

Lennie had resisted a move to Wyoming three years earlier because she feared the cold weather. She also didn't want to leave their eldest daughter, who had recently married. Her husband, however, was determined to relocate after flying to Pinedale to view the ranch. The following week, Winfield's boss committed suicide and the cowboy stayed another month to pave the way for a new manager. During that time, he convinced his wife to make the move, telling her he "might become rich and famous."

Three months later, the Leo Burnett Advertising Agency was filming commercials for the Phillip Morris Tobacco Company at the Quarter Circle Five Ranch in Pinedale, where a Marlboro photographer took pictures of cattle foreman Darrell Winfield. A number of professional models were on location for the advertising shoot but Winfield, he decided, looked more like a true Wyoming cowboy.

"Darrell always wore a big hat and mustache," Lennie explained, "so they seen him and wanted to know who he was. They thought he was a real Wyomian. They didn't believe he was a Californian and only here for a few months."

That fall Winfield became the original mustachioed Marlboro man, seen on more billboards and magazine ads worldwide than most present-day super models. "I was pretty happy about it," he said, although they seldom photographed him in the beginning. He continued to work as a cattle foreman in Pinedale for the next six and a half years while taking occasional location trips to nearly every western state. Winfield herded cattle and horses across the television screen until the early 1970s when cigarette commercials were banned from broadcasting. He continued to cowboy on film for billboards and the print media until 1980, when it began to occupy at least half his time. His location trips took him as far as Venezuela.

A photographer and his assistants would settle into a bunkhouse with Winfield on a working ranch and he would be in the saddle at daybreak. "They pretty well have the storyboard written out," he said. "You would gather this little bunch of cattle or chase this horse. It's fairly simple." Depending on the weather and lighting conditions, "the commercials can take only an hour to film. Others may take a week."

A few working cowboys usually served as background, and the Phillip Morris Company used him to "portray an individual who does as he pleases and owns the world." He also believed that the Leo Burnett Ad Agency was "very well read and probably know more about the West--the cowboying end of it--than 90 of the cowboys."

(The conclusion, next week . . . )

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Remembering Fred Grove


1913-2008


I first met Fred Grove at a WWA convention in Santa Fe, New Mexico, during the 1980s, and we became pen pals. Then, when I attempted to write my first novel, Escape on the Wind, he took me under his wing and became my mentor. His advice helped me make the transition from journalism to fiction, as he had done himself many years before. I miss Fred and his letters, which he wrote well into his 90s. And I'll never forget his generosity.
The five time Spur winner was provoked into becoming a Western novelist. When ten-year old Fred was visiting relatives in Fairfax, Oklahoma, a wealthy Indian woman’s home exploded, killing her and two members of her family. The writer recalled details of the 1923 murder conspiracy to appropriate the woman’s money.
Grove’s mother was Osage and Sioux, which thrust the tragedy into sharper focus. He remembers that “the situation was lawless, with county officials apparently doing little to bring the guilty to justice. A subsequent FBI investigation resulted in prison sentences for two while men, one of them a cattleman and leading citizen of Fairfax, the other the son-in-law of the murdered woman.
“Those were the years of fear in Osage County, of rumors and threats. As a boy, this intrigued me, angered me. I wanted to write about it someday, and air those wrongs. Of course, I had no idea how to go about it, but the events stayed in my mind. The Osage murders, also called “The Reign of Terror” by the press, made national headlines.”
A number of years later, Fred met the FBI agent who had directed the investigation, and  they collaborated on a nonfiction book about the incident. But they were unable to find a publisher. “It was very discouraging. I spent a year reading state newspapers on microfilm. But from this came the novels Warrior Road and Drums Without Warriors. The first was written from an Indian’s viewpoint, the second from that of an FBI agent posing as a racehorse owner looking for match races.” His research  sparked his latent interest in quarter horse racing and led to his later Apache frontier novels.
Fred was born on the fourth of July in 1913, in Hominy, Oklahoma, the fourth of five children. His father had been a cowboy in western Kansas during the late 1880s, and later rode with range outfits in New Mexico and Texas, making a cattle drive to northern pastures. He married an Osage woman who was born on the Sioux Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and allotted land in Osage County, Oklahoma. Her maternal great-grandfather, a Frenchman named Henry Chatillon, had guided Francis Parkman on his tour of the plains, which evolved into the classic, The Oregon Trail.
The writer’s parents ranched on his mother’s Osage allotment, where they reared their children. Both of Fred’s brothers died young, which he said, “saddened me considerably.” Determined to write, Fred earned his B.A. degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma, class of 1937, where  sports were his passion.  He was sports editor of the student daily during his senior year and wrote about football, basketball, track, baseball, tennis, swimming and polo. He later worked as sports editor of two daily newspapers before drifting into general news and desk work.
“This was during the depression and you felt lucky to have a job. My first one on a newspaper paid $18 a week and I was glad to have it.” He had intended to write Westerns after World War II,  and interviewed “a lot of Oklahoma pioneers” while working as a reporter for the Shawnee Morning News. “They were wonderful old people who had made the land runs in the state and remembered the 1870s and ‘80s. This further spurred my interests in the West.”
Part II will appear next Saturday.
(Excerpted from my book, Maverick Writers)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Bill Cody, His Grandfather's Clone



Buffalo Bill's grandson not only followed in his boot prints as showman, dude rancher, soldier and entrepreneur, he made history of his own. The unpretentious Harvard Law School graduate surrendered the most American troops in Europe during World War II, married more often than the average American, and lectured to more students about their heritage than any of his fellow countrymen. Among his many accomplishments, he learned to downhill ski at 65.

William Cody Garlow was born at the Scout’s Rest Ranch in North Platte, Nebraska, January 4, 1913. His mother, Irma, (Buffalo Bill’s youngest child) returned to Cody, Wyoming, with her two-week-old son and his older brother Fred and sister Jane. The children were orphaned in 1918 when their parents died two days apart during the influenza epidemic. Their grandfather, William F. Cody, passed away the previous year and his wife Louisa adopted their grandchildren and reared them until her death in 1921.

Bill Garlow was four when his illustrious granddad died. “I remember him distinctly only three times,” he said. “Once at the TE Ranch west of Cody, on his deathbed, and at his funeral on Lookout Mountain.”

Bill and his brother Fred were "installed in a military school" in southern California by their grandmother when they were six and nine. Bill continued his education at the Riverside Military Academy in Georgia, where his grades fluctuated according to the season and he studied six years, instead of four, to graduate. “Periodically I was excellent,” he said, grinning. “And other times I got lousy grades. It all depended on hunting season which started about the same time as school. I had to go hunting first.”

The trim six-footer studied pre-law at the University of Nebraska, graduating in 1936. He then enrolled at Harvard Law School. “Very early in high school I decided to become a lawyer. I visualized justice, equity and all that I wanted to participate in, but when I became a lawyer, I found that it was an entirely different ball game, so I practiced two years and quit.”

Following graduation from Harvard, Garlow enlisted in the army as a reserve commissioned second lieutenant. A platoon leader, he was later promoted to the ranks of captain, company commander and major. In 1944, he was transferred to the 106th Infantry Division and sent to Germany where his troops were caught in the Battle of The Bulge. Surrounded by German artillery troops, Garlow’s 423rd regiment, commanded by Colonel Charles Cavender, was stationed on the Schnee Eifel, attempting to fight its way west to the German town of Schoenberg.

Just before daybreak on December 19, 1944, Cavender gathered his three battalion commanders and staff in a small open field to discuss their next line of action when a German artillery shell fragment killed the officer standing next to Garlow. After the initial volley, American troops assembled to coordinate an attack westward across the hilly Schnee Eifel, but the entire command was caught in the open where artillery fire was inflicting heavy casualties. Colonel Descheneau of the 422nd gathered field officers in a bunker to discuss the graveness of their situation. Food and ammunition supplies had been cut off, and the colonel concluded that the only way to save the lives of the 5,000 men was to surrender.

Garlow volunteered to negotiate the surrender although he and several other men had planned to escape through the woods, with the colonel’s permission. He decided to hand over his gun and borrow white handkerchiefs to wave as he ran an erratic path down the side of the hill into German-held territory. There he was grabbed and stripped of “his most prized possessions.” He spoke no German and was unable to communicate his intent to negotiate a surrender until a young German lieutenant, who spoke English, came to his rescue and ordered his men to return Garlow’s watch, pint of bourbon and candy bars. He was then taken to a major who also spoke fluent English.

John Eisenhower describes the scene that followed in his book, The Bitter Woods:

Turning to the lieutenant [the major] snapped orders in German which Garlow soon learned charged the lieutenant with conducting a patrol of nine or ten men to accompany Garlow back to the American positions. Faced with a tense situation, the young volksgrenedier’s personality instantly changed. He jabbed Garlow in the back with his Schmeisder burp gun. “If this is a trick, Major, you’re dead.” Garlow winced under the painful blow: later turned out his chivalrous enemy had broken two of his ribs. But the lieutenant’s former friendly attitude returned. Keeping Garlow covered, he let the American guide his patrol up the hill to Descheneau’s CP on the Schnee Eiffel, where they found that Descheneau had prepared everything. Weapons were broken . . . 

And many American soldiers were in tears. Garlow, therefore, held what he termed “the dubious honor or having negotiated the surrender of the largest number of American soldiers in the European theatre;" surpassed only by the Bataan surrender in 1942. Members of the 422and and Garlow’s 423rd regiments spent the rest of the war in German prison camps and were awarded purple hearts for the frostbite they suffered as a result of their capture. Garlow was also “unofficially shot in the leg.”

Following the war, he returned to “Cody Country” where he practiced law for two years and helped establish the local radio station. He was one of the founders of KODI, later serving as owner-general manager and on-the-air personality. He then moved to Texas where he “got into the oil business,” the drilling end of it. He went broke after a while, he said, because of his preoccupation with “having a good time and chasing girls.” So he once again returned to the town of Cody, where he established a river float business, later run by his son Kit. In 1969, he married for the fifth time.

His first marriage lasted six months. He married again while a law student at Harvard. The union produced four sons: Bill and Jack Garlow and Barry and Kit Carson Cody. He remarried after his sons' mother died, but was divorced after only a couple of years. A fourth marriage also failed, but he remained happily married to his fifth wife Barbara, some forty years his junior, until his death. Together they purchased a rundown guest ranch and established it as one of the most highly rated resorts in Wyoming. Located on ten acres of leased government land, it lay halfway between Cody and the east entrance to Yellowstone Park, adjoining millions of acres of national forest.

He began making public appearances for the Daisy Air Rifle Company in 1968 when a new line was introduced called the “Buffalo Bill.” The promoters insisted that he legally change his name from Bill Cody Garlow to Bill Cody for the television and radio commercials as well as public appearances. “Bill Garlow just wouldn’t do,” he said. “But I may have already been a Cody because my grandmother adopted me. I never thought to check the courthouse records. So with all my marriages and the change in name, I have the Cody family book well fouled up.”

Buffalo Bill’s grandson appeared on some 3,000 television shows, thousands of radio programs and various promotions during the next nine years. He also lectured to junior high and high school students about their “American heritage” while on the road making public appearances. He talked to “more youth in person than any other American” during 1,171 lectures in forty-two states. At the time of the interview, he still had hopes of speaking to students in all fifty states.

He said, “That’s my kind of pony express.”


(Excerpted from my book, Westerners: Candid and Historic Interviews)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Remembering Dee Brown Part III



Dee Brown wrote his first books during weekends and evenings before his retirement. His schedule was then much more conducive to writing, and he said his literary repertoire would have been small, indeed, if he hadn't lived so long. He credited his librarian's career with his successful literary avocation.

Brown enjoyed writing travel articles but ignored the short story market. His family often accompanied him on research  trips, jotting down their impressions in notebooks. "Most of his vacations over the years were spent in research, and his children accompanied him while they were growing up, but rarely saw him. 

"We went to Wyoming a couple of times and the Black Hills, and I was researching away. They supported me always, but if my work got in their way, they would get a little upset."

His wife once worked as an editor and used to go over her husband's galleys. But that had to change. "She made a lot of extra work for me," he said, "so the last book or two I told her she could read, but don't proofread 'em. She likes to read the proofs before the book comes out, and then after it's in print."

The writer's family served as sounding boards on occasion, and Brown sometimes asked their advice. "I'll say, 'I can't find the words for this.' Just the other day, I said, 'How on earth could this be done? I can't find a solution.' My grandson came up with a fairly good one and my daughter came up with the one I'll probably use."

Some of his projects died in infancy and he destroyed a stack of partially completed outlines and manuscripts several years before the interview. "I've started many books and would see that there was really no book at all. Or that it was too big for me to handle. But I've overcome the problem by starting up something else. And I've never suffered from writer's block for more than a day. It's usually caused by physical weariness of some sort. If I can't write, I simply turn to something else."

Brown agreed that persistence is the key to success. "You just can't give up. There have been times when everything seemed to conspire against getting a book done, and I would feel like turning my back on the whole thing. But I came back and persisted." 

Brown advised fledglings to learn the English language while they're persisting; study words and their meanings. And possibly turn their attention to the media of pictures and whatever form it's going to take--cassettes [DVDs] and TV--"because movies may on their last legs. We may also be seeing the end of Gutenberg's influence in the [21st century]."

Researching yet another Civil War novel at the time of the interview in 1985, Dee Brown read constantly, despite visual problems. "I always keep biographies of a writer somewhere near my bed to read the last part of the day. Until I quit writing," he said, laughing, "and I don't know when that will be. I will always be reading something that has to do with what I'm working on. But for now, it would be more biography than fiction."

(Excerpted from Maverick Writers, Caxton Press)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Remembering Dee Brown, Part II



Dee Brown's list of published books includes eleven nonfiction and twelve novels, three of the latter co-written with Martin F. Schmitt. Brown said that his fictional characters occasionally surprised him by running away with the story, "sometimes to the detriment of the book. They simply will not do what they're supposed to do. They don't  say what I want them to say, and they try to move forward when I want them to recede. I've killed off characters because they began to bother me." 

The author loathed composing with a pencil. "To me there's something cheap about it--it's second   rate." He also disliked ballpoint pens, "You can use soft pens at an angle and get a nice black or blue line that my bad eyes can read. I've tried  word processors, but I think I'm too old a dog to use one. If I were younger I'd certainly go for it because I can see how helpful they must be, and how much time you could save--but time doesn't mean much to me anymore." 

The Saddleman winner lived close to his roots. He was born along the Red River in northwestern Louisiana, where his father, who worked for a large lumber company, was killed when Dee was five. His mother then worked at various jobs to support four children, when women "earned half of what a man made while doing the same work," he said. "That's why I've been an enthusiastic  supporter of the movement to give women equal pay for equal work."

Growing up when reading was prime entertainment, he remembered how the Tarzan books first surfaced in his small town. "I don't recall who owned the first one, but it was passed around to probably two dozen boys and girls who read it and wore it out. Then the others in the series began to be available. They didn't have paperbacks then--you could buy these second hand books for twenty-five cents. But I don't think anybody actually owned them. They simply circulated through the group in school or in the neighborhood."

A good student but poor in math, he began writing letters to St. Nick in the local newspaper. "I always did my best in writing to Santy Claus, but I never thought of writing as something you did for a profession." During high school he read Blue Book magazine, which paid a hundred dollars for short stories. "That's equal to a thousand dollars now and I wanted the hundred dollars. It wasn't the writing that interested me, it was the money, and I  wrote about what I knew."

His family moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, to a house on the edge of the Southern Association Baseball Park. Engrossed in the sport, he decided to write about it. One of his short stories eventually sold to Blue Book, which, he said, "was more exciting than any book I've since published."

Brown worked as staff writer and Linotype operator for his local newspaper before enrolling at the Arkansas State Teacher's College. A library assistance while an undergraduate, he found that he had access to more research material than the average student. He also realized that librarians were "rather pleasant people who enjoyed themselves." That discovery, coupled with his fondness for books, decided his career. He worked later as a first-rung librarian for the Food and Drug Administration in Washington, D.C., gradually climbing to the top of his profession at a research center in neighboring Maryland. During his off-hours he attended advanced librarian's school at George Washington University.

After a three-year stint in the army during World War II, he worked for the Aberdeen Proving Ground's ordinance department where he cataloged weaponry, from tanks to rockets. He then spent more than twenty years as agricultural librarian for the University of Illinois, a job from which he retired and "enjoyed very much."

(The conclusion next week . . . )

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Remembering Dee Brown


 February 28, 1908—December 12, 2002

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee may have been Dee Brown’s best known book, but it wasn’t his favorite. He said, “I got very weary of it and had to take a week off and go away to a different place and never think about t. It was a most difficult book emotionally to write.”
His favorite?  ”That’s  easy. The Year of the Century: 1876 was fun to research and I did a great deal of traveling. I wanted to cover every event of any importance for that year. So I had to immerse myself in microfilm of a dozen newspapers in different cities, and half-blinded myself looking at it, hour after hour.” Brown also scanned popular periodicals of the era, and traveled to Philadelphia “because the centennial of the U.S. was the event around which the book turns.”  

The nation’s hundredth birthday was also the year of Jesse James’ last bank robbery, and “quite a few other remarkable events that happened in the West.”

His most difficult book in terms of research and writing was The Galvanized Yankees, an account of Confederate prisoners who had opted to fight Indians in the West instead of serving time in prison. The retired librarian said, “It was difficult because very little had been written on the subject. I had to do most of it from scratch from the national archives, which is a very difficult place to work. It wasn’t as formidable when I was doing the research, but before I finished, the archives had become entangled in bureaucratic red tape. “

Plots germinated in his mind for years and he filed story ideas in a notebook. “Kildeer Mountain came from an actual event I came across in an historical journal probably twenty-five years ago,” he said. “I put the idea in a notebook and then kept thinking about it as time went on—about how to handle the story.

Creek Mary’s Blood was the same way.  I read a little four or five paragraph item in an old book about Mary Musgrove, and I thought, 'Gee I’d like to write her biography.' Having lived in Georgia, I dug around trying to find the material but there just isn’t enough to even write an article about her. So she wound up in a novel, using the material I gathered over a considerable amount of time.”

His nonfiction books usually required a year or two of research, and if the landscape hadn’t changed appreciably, he traveled to the locale. One of his most pleasant research years was spent on his ninth book, The Bold Cavaliers, which tells of the events leading up to, and including, Confederate raids in Indiana and Ohio during the Civil War. He followed their route from the Tennessee Mountains, where battlefields are still relatively intact.
“But if anything’s changed, I don’t want to see the site.  I’ll avoid going there., and will instead use journals of early travelers for descriptive passages.”  If a city has been built on an historical site, he would only look at an important preserved landmark, deliberately avoided its surroundings.
The quiet southern gentleman didn't know why he wrote. “My God, I’ve never understood it, although it was partially to earn some money. I think there’s a compulsion about writing that no one has ever explained satisfactorily to me. But I think I wrote Westerns back in the 1950s because they were doing so well—as compared to nowadays. There were many more published, and it wasn’t hard to get one accepted. The amount of money you received was just about the price of an automobile. So when I needed a car, I usually wrote a Western.”

(Part II will appear next week. . .)
Excerpted from Maverick Writers, Caxton Press, 1989

Saturday, December 27, 2014

What Inspired My Trilogy


by Heidi Thomas

A casual comment from my dad as we perused photo albums after my grandmother died: “Your grandma rode steers in rodeos,” he said, “and she competed with (world champion rider) Marie Gibson.”

This was the inspiration for my “Cowgirl Dreams” novel trilogy.

As I researched and read other books written about the rodeo cowgirls of the early 1900s, I became fascinated with that era and the drive and courage those women had to compete on the same bucking stock in the same arenas as the men.

Most of these cowgirls started riding out of necessity, to help their fathers, brothers or husbands on their ranches. When the guys got together on a Sunday afternoon and put on an impromptu neighborhood rodeo just to see how long they could stay on the back of that outlaw bronc, the women said, “We can do that too.” And they did.

Many of these women won World Champion Bronc Rider titles at Madison Square Garden, rode with Tex Austin’s Wild West Troupe in London, and competed in Spain and Australia.

In 1885 Annie Oakley, a diminutive sharpshooter in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, paved the way for other women to be recognized in the Wild West show arena. Two years later Bertha Kaepernick (Blancett) was allowed to enter a horse race in Cheyenne’s Frontier Days. But the arena was so muddy the cowboys refused to participate. To entertain the crowd, she was coerced into riding a bucking horse. Despite the terrible conditions, she managed to stay in the saddle and put the men to shame. She continued to compete and often beat such legendary cowboys as Ben Corbett and Hoot Gibson.

A publicist for a Wild West show once said, “Rodeos will never replace Wild West shows for one good reason—they don’t have beautiful cowgirls.” Women have continued to prove him wrong to this day.

Cowgirl is a state of mind, to paraphrase Dale Evans, who goes on to say, “Cowgirl is a pioneer spirit, a special American brand of courage. The cowgirl faces life head on, lives by her own lights, and makes no excuses. Cowgirls take stands. They speak up. They defend the things they hold dear. A cowgirl might be a rancher, or a barrel racer, or a bull rider, or an actress. But she's just as likely to be a checker at the local Winn Dixie, a full-time mother, a banker, an attorney, or an astronaut.”

Although the rodeo world has probably heard more about national female riders like Lucille Mulhall, Prairie Rose Henderson, and Tad Lucas, Montana’s cowgirls ranked right up there with the best. Fannie Sperry, born in 1887, led the way in women’s rodeo when she rode her first bronc at age fourteen. The Greenough sisters are also well-known nationally for their bronc-riding skills.

Montana, where rodeos grew out of the rolling prairie of Big Sky Country, provides some of the West’s richest rodeo heritage and some of the most famous women riders.

Montana cowgirls were intrepid, hardworking, and courageous. They defined the modern term “cowgirl up,” an expression that means to rise to the occasion, not to give up, and to do it all without whining or complaining. It is easy to say “cowgirl up,” however it takes a true cowgirl at heart to live up to the true meaning.

Although she never became “famous”, my grandmother epitomized the cowgirl attitude. With my novels, I set out to tell her story. With my non-fiction book, Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women, I wanted to write about the Montana women, many of whom have not had their stories told on the national stage.

Although it took ten years from the time I started writing my first cowgirl novel until I was published, I was fortunate to find both of my publishers at Women Writing the West conferences.

A casual comment from my dad when I was 12 years old has resulted in four books! One never knows from where inspiration will come.

Cowgirl Up! SynopsisWhen someone says “Cowgirl Up!” it means to rise to the occasion, don’t give up, and do it all without whining or complaining. And the cowgirls of the early twentieth century did it all, just like the men, only wearing skirts and sometimes with a baby waiting behind the chutes. Women leaned to rope and ride out of necessity, helping their fathers, brothers, and husbands with the ranch work. But for some women, it went further than that. They caught the fever of freedom, the thirst for adrenaline, and the thrill of competition, and many started their rodeo careers as early as age fourteen. From Alice and Margie Greenough of Red Lodge, MT, whose father told them “If you can’t ride ’em, walk,” to Jane Burnett Smith of Gilt Edge who sneaked off to ride in rodeos at age eleven, women made wide inroads into the masculine world of rodeo. Cowgirl Up! is the history of these cowgirls, their courage, and their accomplishments.

 Author Bio: Heidi M. Thomas grew up on a working ranch in eastern Montana, riding and gathering cattle for branding and shipping. Her parents taught her a love of books, and her grandmother rode bucking stock in rodeos. She followed her dream of writing, with a journalism degree from the University of Montana. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, won an EPIC Award and the USA Book News Best Book Finalists award, and her second novel, Follow the Dream, won a WILLA Literary Award. Dare to Dream is the third in the novel trilogy, and the newly-released Cowgirl Up! is Heidi’s first non-fiction book.

Friday, December 19, 2014

How a Biography Became a Novel


by Carolyn Niethammer

The Piano Player is my tenth book but first novel. It follows the adventures of two single women friends as they follow their dreams and make their way in the boomtowns of the Old West. The project did not start out as fiction. Thirty years ago, my husband was a young professor at the University of Arizona and one of his classes was The Tombstone Epitaph. The owner of that venerable paper, founded in 1880, had given it to the journalism department to use as a lab paper. The professor not only guided the student reporters, he was also the paperboy. So every other week we would drive to Tombstone to deliver the paper. One day I ran across the historic character Nellie Cashman and after a little research, I was so intrigued that I decided to write her biography.

Nellie was an Irish immigrant who had bounced around several mining areas, before she ended up running restaurants and boarding houses first in Tucson, then Tombstone. She was prominent in the new mining camp and interacted with all the characters who fill the Tombstone history books.

Nellie left Tombstone after it ground to a halt when the mines filled with water in 1886. She wandered around the West, starting and closing businesses, until she joined the gold rush to the Klondike in Alaska in 1898. Her journey and her businesses in Dawson City are well documented. I took a trip to Alaska and Yukon Territory to follow up on research. 

Yet I could not account for the twelve years between when Nellie left Tombstone and started into the Klondike so, at that point, I decided to novelize my story.

A good novel needs some spice and romance and even a whiff of mystery. Since by all accounts Nellie remained a maiden lady, I added a character totally different. Well-born Mary Rose faces family reverses and goes to Tombstone to be an actress. She ends up playing the piano at the Bird Cage Theatre and must learn a completely new lifestyle as Frisco Rosie. She boards at Nellie Cashman’s Russ House, and although the two women are very different, they are both living outside the norms for women of the day in rowdy Tombstone. They end up becoming unlikely friends and allies. Rosie took over the story, although Nellie is usually close by. Together they deal with a lover who turns out to be a murderer, imprisonment in a Mexican jail, near death falling into the icy Yukon River, and disappointment when their quest for gold in the Klondike is dashed.

On every page I tried to show the reality that Nellie and Rosie faced in these boomtowns – the heat and cold, the dust, the difficulty and danger of travel.

As one reviewer wrote: “The main character in The Piano Player is the Wild West itself; …, stretching from scorching Tombstone to the frigid Klondike.”    Another reviewer mentioned that the book covered the years between the end of the Civil War and the start of World War I when western expansion was at its height.

Every few years I would haul out the manuscript, tinker, update it to a new computer system, then go write another of my nonfiction books. By the new millennium, the book was much better, publishing was changing, and small independent publishers were filling niches abandoned by the New York houses. Through colleagues in Women Writing the West, I learned about Oak Tree Press. It seemed to be perfect for The Piano Player. It was, and a year later, in July 2014, Frisco Rosie stepped into the literary world.
___________
           
Carolyn Niethammer grew up in the historic town of Prescott, Arizona, and now lives in Tucson. She is the author of nine nonfiction books on southwest subjects – popular ethnobotanies of western plants, biographies, a book on Native American women and a travel book on southeastern Arizona. Find her work at www.cniethammer.com.  The Piano Player is her first novel and is available in paper and ebook formats from Amazon. (https://tinyurl.com/madl42a)